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NIGERIA. A federal republic, Nigeria comprises thirty states plus a Federal Capital Territory at Abuja. The most recent census, in 1991, did not ask questions of religious or ethnic identity, but put the total population at about 90 million; however, several international organizations use population estimates for Nigeria ranging from 100 to 115 million.

Religious Identity and Demographic Patterns. The last official census that was accepted was in 1963, at which time questions of religious and ethnic identity were asked. The overall percentage of Muslim adherents was 49 percent, and of Christian adherents 34 percent; the remainder identified with traditional forms of religion. The major so-called ethnic identity groups were Hausa (Hausa-Fulani), Yoruba, and Igbo. Estimates of the number of language groups in Nigeria range from 350 to 400, with ten major groups accounting for about 90 percent of the population.

It is generally considered that Nigeria is about half Muslim and half Christian at present, since both major world religions have gained over the past twenty-five years at the expense of traditional religions. However, traditional customs still affect the variety of forms in both Christian and Muslim communities. To some extent there is a regional pattern of religious distribution, with high percentages of Muslims living in the states associated with the nineteenth-century Sokoto caliphate and its twentieth-century successor states, such as Sokoto (now Sokoto and Kebbi), Kano (now Kano and Jigawa), Katsina, Bauchi, Kaduna (including Zaria), Kwara (now Kwara and Kogi), and Gongola (now Adamawa and Taraba). In addition, the state of Borno (now Borno and Yobe) has been identified as a Muslim state for about a thousand years and was never conquered during the Sokoto reformist period. Borno has one of the longest traditions of affiliation as a Muslim state in all of Africa.

In the southwest, there has been an indigenous pattern of Islamic culture throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, especially in the Yoruba-speaking states of Oyo, Osun, Ogun, and Lagos. However, Yoruba patterns of religious identification are “mixed,” and even within the same extended family members may be Muslim, Christian, or traditionalist. City-state identities are generally regarded as the predominant factor in Yoruba political life.

The “middle belt” of Nigeria-including such states as Kogi, Plateau, Benue, and the Federal Capital Territory at Abuja-has witnessed a significant number of Muslim converts in the past several decades. The identity of “Three-M-ers” (Muslim, Middle Belt, Minority) has become highly visible in recent years because Ibrahim Babangida, president from 1985 to 1993, is from that area.

While the four geographical areas mentioned above form the bulk of the Muslim population in a zone stretching from northern Nigeria through southwest Nigeria down to the coast, Muslim immigrants or converts can be found throughout Nigeria, including the largely Christian southeast.

Much of the interpretation of these demographic patterns in relation to such factors as ethnicity, age, occupation, and education is a matter of speculation, since the period after the 1963 census has been one of considerable transformation in Nigeria. This includes the civil war of 1967-1970, the oil boom of the 1970s, the recession of the 1980s, and the preparation for return to civilian politics in the 1990s It is not clear how the flow of peoples across national borders in west Africa has affected patterns of religious identity in Nigeria. For example, during the serious Sahelian drought in the mid1970s, large numbers of Hausa-speaking Muslim people crossed from Niger into Nigeria and blended into one of the most rapid processes of urbanization in the world. The question “Who is a Nigerian?” was eased in 1992, when it was ruled legal for Nigerians to have more than one citizenship/nationality.

Religious Organization and Thought. Several recognizable subcategories of identity within the Nigerian Muslim community may be noted: Sufi brotherhoods, anti-innovation legalists, adherents of the caliphal/Medina model, women’s groups, and “big tent” national organizations. It should be added that there are a large number of Nigerian Muslims of all ages and backgrounds who simply identify themselves as “Muslim,” without overt attachment to an organization or school of thought.

In the nineteenth century Qadiriyah affiliation became part of the identity of the Sokoto caliphal leadership. In addition, during the two decades after the death of Usuman Dan Fodio in 1817, the Tijaniyah brotherhood was spread in what later became northern Nigeria by `Umar Futi and his followers. Thus the Qadiriyah and the Tijaniyah became the two major Sufi brotherhoods in the region, especially within the caliphal areas. By contrast, the leaders and scholars of Borno were not for the most part affiliated with Sfifi brotherhoods.

During the twentieth century the Tijaniyah spread extensively in Kano, the commercial and industrial capital of the north. Because of the social networks that extended out of Kano through the long-distance Hausa trading system, the Tijaniyah spread throughout Nigeria. A reformed version of Tijaniyah emerged that accommodated many of the modernizing developments of the era after World War II. The leader of this reform movement was Ibrahim Niass, of Kaolack, Senegal, but its Nigerian base was in Kano under the leadership of Tijjani Usman and others; the emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi, eventually became the “caliph” in Nigeria.

After World War II, the Qadiriyah also experienced a reformation, associated with Shaykh Nasiru Kabara of Kano. He reauthorized (through his own chains of authority) many of the emirate notables who had been associated historically with Qadiriyah, and he also attracted large numbers of young people to study and

In the period leading to independence (1949-196o) and in the early period of independence (1960-1966), the Sufi brotherhoods were major vehicles for religious organization and identity. The system of social networks allowed for the scale expansion of the Muslim community and facilitated interethnic contact. Importantly, the brotherhoods facilitated the high rates of rural-urban migration occurring in many Nigerian cities.

In the 1970s, with the oil boom providing dramatic changes in Nigerian educational opportunities, many of the younger generation became interested less in brotherhood affiliation and more in Western education and, at the same time, getting back to the basics of the Qur’an and hadith. Brotherhood affiliation is still significant, but it has been largely superseded by efforts to strengthen broader Muslim identity.

Another transformation during the oil boom of the 1970s, accompanying the enormous increase in higher educational opportunities, was the growth at Nigerian universities of Muslim student groups, especially the Muslim Students Society (MSS). Often these students were from families associated with brotherhood organizations, but the need to transcend Sufi identities seemed imperative in the face of secular challenges to the whole idea of religious commitment.

Many of these students were influenced by Abubakar Gumi from Gumi village in Sokoto, who had been grand kadi (Ar., qadi) of Northern Nigeria during the first republic and had then retired to teaching from his home in Kaduna. Gumi had close connections with Saudi Arabian scholars and notables through his involvement in the pilgrimage process. He began to teach and preach a “return to basics”-the Qur’an and hadith-and came increasingly to regard Sufism as innovation.

Gumi formed a network called Izala (Izalah), which directly challenged many of the brotherhoods’ leaders and practices, utilizing radio and television effectively. He was the first to translate the Qur’an into Hausa; when he died in September 1992, it was estimated that his translation had sold millions of copies. His anti-innovation and legalist approach, combined with his emphasis on each person having direct access to the Qur’an, became one of the major Muslim reformations in the 1970s and thereafter.

Even though the real impact of Gumi and the Izala may have been a “back to the Qur’an” movement, it was not a literalist interpretation of classical precedents. He asked his students, many of whom were leaders in higher education, to interpret the Qur’an in the light of modern times. A result in some quarters, however, was a revival of interest in recreating some approximation of the Sokoto caliphal model or the earlier Medina model in their personal lives or in the political communities of Nigeria. Many of the scholars and students who were exploring the ideals and relevance of the Sokoto caliphate and the early Medina model to the contemporary situation were at the major universities within the current boundaries of the Sokoto caliphal states-Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Bayero University in Kano, and Usmanu Danfodiyo University in Sokoto. In practice, many of these teachers and students participate in Nigerian affairs in various ways, but their classical training always creates a dynamic tension between present sociopolitical realities and the ideals of an earlier period.

Another outcome of the focus on original sources was to provoke a reassessment of the role of women in Muslim society. As students and teachers went back to the Sokoto caliphal model or to Qur’anic sources in place of the inherited cultural patterns of the past two centuries, they became more aware of the Islamic emphasis on the education of girls and women. (Indeed, the daughter of Usuman Dan Fodio was a distinguished scholar in her own right.) The opportunities for women in Western education during the oil boom were also strong incentives to consider women’s issues.

Muslim women in Nigeria have usually reflected the ethnolinguistic cultures of which they were a part. Thus, in the predominantly Hausa-Fulani emirates, urban women in the twentieth century have tended to be secluded. Muslim women in Borno have generally been less secluded and in recent years have been very active in educational and commercial pursuits. Muslim women in Yoruba societies have not been secluded and are virtually indistinguishable from non-Muslim Yoruba women in many respects. In the Muslim/Middle Belt/ Minority areas women have tended to be educated, and they have no tradition of seclusion.

In the mid-1980s the impact of the spread of education began to be felt more clearly among Muslim women. Some participated in organizations such as Women in Nigeria (WIN), which was widely regarded in Nigeria as “feminist.” Others, educated through the secondary or university level, began to reclaim their own sense of Muslim identity. One result of this trend was the organization of the Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN). This group was established in the 1980s to give coherence to

Muslim women’s organizations throughout Nigeria; it focused on the need to counteract the role of custom in Nigerian Muslim society. By the 1990s there were about four hundred member organizations in FOMWAN, distributed throughout Nigeria but with a majority in the Yoruba-speaking areas. Each state selects representatives to a national committee, which publishes a magazine, The Muslim Woman, and holds annual conferences on topics of special concern. The main language of communication is English, and FOMWAN acts as a liaison with other national and international Muslim women’s groups. Many of the leaders of FOMWAN are also active in state and national affairs. Lateefa Okunnu of Lagos has served as president of FOMWAN and has also been presidential liaison officer in Lagos State. In October 1992 she was appointed by the president of Nigeria to be national organizer for one of the two political parties, the National Republic Convention, during the transition to civilian rule.

The emphasis on national-level activities reflects a widespread concern among Nigerian Muslims that they not be divided by sectarian loyalties. During the 1960s there was an attempt in northern Nigeria to form an ecumenical Muslim movement called the Society for the Victory of Islam (Jamatul Nasril Islam). Later, during the military periods, the ecumenical “big tent” approach was broadened to the national arena, mainly through the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (SCIA). The head of the Supreme Council was the sultan of Sokoto, the vice president was the shehu (shaykh) of Borno, and the secretary was a leading Yoruba Muslim lawyer. In a sense, this format reflected an emerging establishment with ties to the political, economic, and military sectors within Nigeria. With the succession of Ibrahim Dasuki to the sultanship in 1988 (partly because of his close association with the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs) the council took on a new importance. It had to deal with a wide range of Nigerian Muslim identities and values and also try to serve as an effective liaison with its counterpart, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).

Relationships to Transnational Patterns. The nationally based federations of Muslim groups, such as FOMWAN and SCIA, tend to mirror the existing international system and are often seen as an intermediate step toward closer cooperation within the global Muslim community (ummah). It should be noted, however, that the Sufi brotherhoods, the anti-Sufi legalists, and the adherents of the classical model are also essentially transnational. How then do these groups relate to broader global trends?

The Sufi brotherhoods include transnational and national forms of community organization. Because of their grassroots nature and their connection with longdistance trade, the branches of the Tijaniyah in particular have close ties throughout West Africa. (The reformed Tijdniyah is based on the mosque in Kaolack, Senegal.) The Tijaniyah in general is also connected to mosques in North Africa with Tijani affiliation, such as the tomb of Ahmad Tijani in Fez, Morocco, or some of the clan mosques in Algeria. Likewise, the reformed Qadiriyah has ties to the Qadiri mosques in Iraq. Because of the traditional Nigerian pilgrimage routes through Sudan, there are connections to the Tijdni and Qadiri networks in Khartoum and elsewhere in Sudan. Some members of the Sokoto caliphal dynasty had close ties to the Mahdi in the Sudan in the 1880s. Other members migrated to Sudan as a result of the British conquest of northern Nigeria at the turn of the twentieth century. In the late colonial period, the British actually encouraged contact between Nigeria and Sudan because the pilgrimage link was seen as a reinforcement of the policy of indirect rule. A number of distinguished Nigerian Muslim legalists studied the higher levels of Arabic in a school near Khartoum, and the Sudanese penal code was a model for reforms in northern Nigeria in 1959.

The anti-innovation legalists often have close ties to some of the official levels of religious activity in Saudi Arabia; Abubakar Gummi was central to this link. There is strong acceptance of the nation-state boundaries as appropriate units for international cooperation among Muslims, reflected in the model of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which is often associated with a Saudi approach to international relations. On the other hand, the emphasis on non-Arabic Qur’dnic interpretation-especially through the Hausa language-creates a strong incentive for localism and Nigerian-based reforms rather than slavish imitation of Arab cultural models.

The adherents of the caliphal or Medina model have a strong sense of ummah or community of believers, but with due provision for trust (amanah) relations with people of the book and for tributary (i.e., taxation) relations with “pagans.” Within the modern national state system, there is a strong sense of federalism with insistence on local autonomy, especially for Muslim communities that want to follow a shari`ah model. Yet Nigerian Muslim links are clearly with the classical idealized past rather than with any particular contemporary community. Insofar as there are like-minded communities of believers throughout the world-whether in Africa, the Arab world, the Persian world, Asia, western Europe, or the Americas-there is a sense of solidarity that transcends nationalism and nation-state loyalties. The military regimes in Nigeria have often been suspicious of such adherents because of their obvious transnational loyalties.

The national umbrella organizations in Nigeria, including women’s groups, seem to welcome the national focus of their activities. They appear at ease in dealing with a variety of other national religious groups and nongovernmental organizations. The leaders of such organizations tend to have higher education and to be fluent in English. The national nature of the annual pilgrimage seems to reinforce the appropriateness of the nation-state unit and of international organizations like the OIC. The strength and the weakness of such national umbrella groups are their closer identification with national-level sources of political power than characterizes the other types of Muslim organizations in Nigeria.

In conclusion, the large scale and complex nature of Nigerian society, combined with the rapid transformations associated with “riding the tiger” of an oil-based economy, make it difficult to generalize about the demographics, organizations, belief patterns, and international linkages of particular segments of the Nigerian Muslim community. What is clear is that a legacy of reformation continues as print and electronic media allow both vernacular languages and languages of wider communication to expand the awareness of all Nigerians with regard to the larger changes going on within the Muslim world and the global economy as a whole.

[See also Islam, article on Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa; Qddiriyah; Sokoto Caliphate; Tijaniyah; and the biography of Dan Fodio. ]


Clarke, Peter B. West Africa and Islam. London, 1982. Historical overview, with many case references to contemporary Nigeria. Coles, Catherine, and Beverly Mack, eds. Hausa Women in the Twentieth Century. Madison, Wis., 1991. Historical and anthropological case studies that provide insight into Muslim women in northern Nigeria.

Gbadamosi, T. G. O. The Growth of Islam among the Yoruba, 1841-1908. London, 1978. Classic study by the Dean of Humanities, University of Lagos.

Hunwick, John O., ed. Religion and National Integration in Africa: Islam, Christianity, and Politics in the Sudan and Nigeria. Evanston, Ill., 1992. Contributions by scholars presented at a conference in May 1988.

Last, Murray. The Sokoto Caliphate. London, 1966. Classic study. The Muslim Woman, 1990-. Journal of the Federation of the Women’s Association in Nigeria (FOMWAN), available from the Federation at P.O. Box 29, Minna, Niger State, Nigeria.

Olupona, Jacob, and Tonin Falola, eds. Religion and Society in Nigeria: Historical and Sociological Perspectives. Ibadan, 1991. Selection of articles on religion and cultural life, human welfare, economics, politics, and nation-building.

Paden, John N. Religion and Political Culture in Kano. Berkeley, 1973 Early study of the Sufi brotherhoods in northern Nigeria. Paden, John N. Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto: Values and Leadership in Nigeria. London, 1986. Background on religious policies and developments in the 1950s and 1960s, especially reflecting power politics in Kaduna.

Sulaiman, Ibraheem. A Revolution in History: The Jihad of Usman Dan Fodio. London, 1986. Sympathetic but scholarly account of ideas of the nineteenth-century reformation that led to the Sokoto caliphate. Usman, Bala, and Nur Alkali, eds. Studies in the History of Pre-Colonial Borno. Zaria, 1983. Conference papers from Ahmadu Bello University History Seminar, 1972-1973.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/nigeria/

  • writerPosted On: June 15, 2017
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