Five Questions on...Religion in Nigeria


Five Questions on...Religion in Nigeria

John Campbell

08 Jul 2014

Boko Haram continues to dominate the headlines on Nigeria, but no extremist group exists in a vacuum. John Campbell explains the religious context of the country, looking at its religious map, the place of the traditional religious establishment, and the South's response to northern violence.

Five Questions on...Religion in Nigeria

The Five Questions

1. What is the religious map of Nigeria?

2. How public is its religious expression?

3. What confidence does Northern Nigeria hold in its Islamic establishment?

4. Where does Boko Haram's understanding of Islam come from?

5. Has the South had a militant response to Northern violence?


In Northern Nigeria, Muslims owe religious and secular obedience to traditional Muslim leaders.

"Islam is different in the North from Islam in the South. In the North, Islam is so-called 'emirate Islam': Muslims owe both religious and secular obedience to traditional Muslim leaders (the Sultan and emirs and so forth). In the South, in Yorubaland, Islam is essentially affiliative; in other words, you choose to be a Muslim much as you might choose to be a Presbyterian... The result is most Yoruba families include both Muslims and Christians, and they celebrate each others religious holidays. In the North, if you are born a Muslim and you convert, from a certain perspective you are committing treason, and in traditional society you would be subject to the death penalty. Obviously, in secular Nigeria murder is murder, but the traditional view is that to leave Islam is a form of treason." — Ambassador John Campbell

The views expressed by this author remain solely their own and are not to be taken as the view of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. 

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