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By Paul Otakagu


The quest for the imposition and expansion of Sharia law has been one of the most divisive issues in politics and social relations in Nigeria. The quest for the imposition and expansion of Sharia law in Nigeria was initiated by a few northern governors and the movement quickly gained support among some Muslim politicians eventually spreading to 12 northern states of the country’s 36 states. (Lewis, 2002). This movement, implies the extension of Sharia law from a “voluntary civil code in Muslim-majority states to the prevailing criminal and civil system in these states.” The movement for the expansion of Sharia law in Nigeria has sharply exacerbated sectarian conflicts and religious tensions. The Muslim public in the northern states, has substantially embraced the movement toward Sharia law as the preferred “other alternative” law that will ensure that order, justice and moral legitimacy will follow their course in Nigeria. The quest for the imposition and expansion of Sharia law in Nigeria has been associated with the wide spread abuses of human rights especially women’s rights as well as increased social violence, insecurity and unabated corruption in Nigeria. The increasingly stringent enforcement of Sharia law has aggravated sectarian divisions and crisis in several northern states and its strong repudiation and resistance in the southern region of Nigeria has continued to fuel violence, social unrest and political instability in every part of Nigeria leading to the international perception of Nigeria as a human right pariah (abuser). (Lewis, 2002).

The violence and instability afflicting Nigeria is varied in several dimensions. The first dimension which has so far been determined in this paper hinges on the historical rivalry and tension among incompatible multi-ethnic groups (Azar, 1990) that eventually resulted in the Nigeria-Biafra war (1967-1970). The root causes of this war which could largely be attributed to gross marginalization and exclusion of the Igbos in everything Nigerian, is still very much unresolved until date. The other dimension is a religious one. It might be hard to imagine how Christians have co-existed with Muslims over time in Nigeria without frequent intermittent religious misunderstandings, clashes and violence. Of course they have been lots of them. Lewis, P. (2002) noted that since 1999, there have been more than 40 incidents of major violence with a toll of perhaps 100,000 lives lost. Nearly every region has been affected including the major cities and a number of rural areas. Ethnic and political factors often mingle in regional tensions continue to set northern, western, eastern and southern regions of Nigeria against one another.

A lot has been written on the motivations and the activities of the ferocious terrorist group, Boko Haram in the Federal Republic of Nigeria especially since the return to civilian democratic administration in 1999 with the erstwhile military regimes still disguisedly in power. It could be argued that Boko Haram as a terrorist group has its major convictions in the writings of both Koran and Sharia law especially where it encourages “Jihads”. Islam Jihadist movements such as Boko Haram believe in jihads. All Muslims are taught that jihad in Islam is very important. This informs why they see nothing wrong in killing because it is part of their religious beliefs. They fight to comply with their religious texts without considering the adverse consequences of such jihadist movement such as sufferings and wars. The Muslim majority, the Sunnis consider it the most important worship for Allah while the Shia Muslims, the second largest denomination after the Muslim Sunni, believe it as one of the pillars of Islam. It is no doubt, while throughout Muslim history, jihad is engrained in the mindset of especially the radical and extreme Muslim believers. What is urgently needed in the Muslim political and religious world, is not just reconciliation between the Muslim extremists and other Muslim society but the reconciliation between Muslims and their literal understanding of the writings of their Holy Book, the Koran. (AbdiRahman, 2015).

Boko Haram literally means that “anything western is forbidden”. It follows that the new found democratic peace in a civilian democratic government is in its very self, forbidden. It equally follows that education is also forbidden. The initial motivation of Boko Haram agenda was largely perceived by some of the Northern elites and the public as a movement whose mission was to correct the corrupt leadership regimes in Nigeria that are the major drivers of the suffering and unimaginable poverty (Paul Collier et al. 2004) being experienced especially in the northern region of Nigeria. This political motive was largely rooted on their religious convictions as well. It is sad to note as has been observed by AbdiRahman, M. J. (2015) that Islamic extremists support change through revolution and violence rather than through democratic processes. The Muslim world should amend any Koran readings that preaches violence against peace which is the foundational claim of Islam. Unless Muslims agree to review their traditional belief system that informs their perceptions of the world outside of the Muslim world, there will always be conflicts between Muslims on the one side and the rest of the world on the other side.

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Nigerian Constitution emphasizes the right to justice, equity and fair play as they concern every member of the Nigerian nation. It is increasingly becoming difficult for the long time marginalized and politically and economically excluded people of the south-eastern extraction of Nigeria will continue to endure these ills inflicted on them even before the Nigeria-Biafra civil war. The religious conflicts being perpetuated by the unenlightened ideologies of the radical religious groups in existence in Nigeria, adds another flavor to the already existing unmet social needs’ grievances of the Igbos. These factors prepared the current grounds for the on-going Independent People of Biafra secessionist movement (IPOB) agenda. It becomes a common philosophy and logic especially among an average Igbo youth to believe that the chance of their surviving in a country that exclude and marginalize them politically and economically, do not want them to embrace western education and lifestyles and do hate and fight them in the name of religion, is bleak. The current version of the IPOB movement uprising in the south-eastern region of Nigeria that has lasted more than ten years at the moment is largely attributed to these unmet needs, agitations and fears of the Igbo people.

The leader of the contemporary “Indigenous People of Nigeria” (IPOB) is MaziNnamdiKanu (MNK) who founded the IPOB movement in 2012. He was arrested in 2015 by the Nigerian security forces and later on released. He was rearrested in June 2021 and still in Nigeria security custody up until date for increased radical ethnic incitements, segregation and treasonable felony. Radio Biafra stationed in London is the channel through which MNK and other pro-Biafra activists fight for the freedom of the Biafra people and criticizes the corrupt Nigeria government practices.

In the IPOB movement is witnessed the resurgence of some unresolved historical grievances of the Igbos against the Nigeria government that led to the Nigeria-Biafra war (1967-1970) which claimed the lives of more than one million civilians. Some of the structural causes of the on-going IPOB movement conflict which have been determined in this paper include ethnic discrimination, political and economic exclusion of the Igbos, heavy military presence and extra judicial killings in Igbo land in the name of religion. There have been other pro-Biafra groups that emerged after the civil war like the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and the Biafra Zionist Movement. These groups set up the stage for the rise of the present enlarged group namely the IPOB. The Federal High Court in Abuja, Nigeria in September, 2017 labelled IPOB movement officially as a separatist and terrorist organization and is seen as such under Nigeria’s terrorism Act.


It has to be established at this point of our enquiry that the continuous increment in the activities of radical Islamic movements and agendas in Nigeria will no doubt, continue to threaten the stability of Nigeria’s nascent democracy and the political stability and the cohesive peaceful existence of one Nigeria. The peaceful, stable, orderly and democratic means of changing government in such conflict prone and precarious nation with adequate protection of human rights challenge is an instance in this regard. It has been the writer’s concern from the onset of this paper to determine the extent religious freedom has been undermined in Nigeria. In this tract of the paper, it will be the writer’s quest to determine various possible solutions recommended as ways forward from the current state of Nigerian affairs.

Kinsella, D. et al. (2009) rightly observed that it has been seen that democracy, transparent and corrupt free governance are generally essential to the achievement of peace and stability of any nation. The role of democracy in mitigating religious violence and historical grievances and agitations of groups of people within states cannot be over-emphasized. Democratic governments allow grievances to be expressed in nonviolent ways like through strikes and protests for instance unlike the nondemocratic rebellious ways like civil wars, civil unrest and terrorist activities of some Muslim extremists like Boko Haram in an “authoritarian less democratic political system” like Nigeria. Democratic governments are usually inclusive, abhors marginalization of a group over another group and recognizes basic human rights and freedom of the people. The present government in Nigeria should be very cautious of ensuring that democratic principles are enthroned and practiced in Nigeria bearing in mind that democratic states with democratic principles are less likely to engage in civil wars and other violent religious and ethnic factions.

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In order for justice, equity and fair play which constitutes the very essence of the Nigerian Constitution to be truly implemented in Nigeria, the principle of “distributive justice” should be called to mind. The systematic exploitation and marginalization of the southerners in favor of the northerners from the richly endowed mineral and natural resources that are ironically located mainly in the southern region of Nigeria projects another insight in making sense of some of the reason behind these agitations and self-determination movements in the whole discourse of this paper. The question of ensuring a fair and unjust sharing of political power and the resources of the nation without showing undue favor to one particular region or ethnic group with similar religious affiliations over another group is an on-going daunting challenge of the country, Nigeria. Distributive justice entails that the societal goods are fairly and equally shared. It assumes that there is a large amount of fairness in the distribution of goods. According to Anthony Jordan (2021), equal work should provide individuals with an equal outcome in terms of goods acquired. Distributive justice is therefore absent when equal work does not produce equal outcomes or when an individual or a group acquires a disproportionate amount of goods. This seems to be the case in the present examination of incessant impunity in which most political leaders of the country Nigeria has over time displayed high rate of sectionalism, tribalism and nepotism in the political affairs of the country. This political culture has to be uprooted from the political mindset and consciousness of the future political office aspirants of the nation. Aristotle’s concept of “distributive justice” requires the state to act equitably in its distribution of goods among its members. Justice consists in this sense the realization to the greatest possible extent, a distribution that renders to each a “fair share” of the goods of the society. (Rescher, 1965).

The present and future leaders of Nigeria are called to reexamine the Organization of African Unity (OAU) Charter on Human and People’s Rights issued in June, 1981. Article 18 of the African Charter notes that, “the state shall have the duty to assist the family which is the custodian and the foundation of morals and traditional values recognized by the society.” (Howard, 1982). This is very important in understanding that the quest for radical Islamization of a country with its secular government and Constitution for instance originates from the family, which is “the natural unit and basis of the society.” To get it wrong in the family tantamount to getting it wrong in the society at large and vice versa. The government should pay particular attention in this regard and must ensure that Western education (formal education) that naturally follows family education (informal education) which seeks for the transformation of the society for good should not be forbidden nor ignored.

The African Charter acknowledged the significance of women’s rights. It stresses the fact that the state shall ensure the elimination of every form of discrimination against women and also ensure the protection of the rights of women and the fundamental rights of all human beings as prescribed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). This is important, because women’s rights are also human rights. Therefore, there should be contentious effort on the part of the state towards ensuring that the traditional stereotype roles ascribed to men and women in a typical African indigenous setting will be altered to achieve a more gender balanced-role which emphasizes inclusive and realistic equality of roles to both genders. (Rwiza, 2010).

It is to be very much recommended to all well-meaning Nigerians, the provision of the African Charter’s Article 27, paragraph 2 which states that, “the rights and freedoms of each individual shall be exercised with due regard to the rights of others, collective security, morality and common interest”. (Rwiza, 2010). It should be noted that in a country where the rights and freedoms of the citizens of any group of people or region of the country are threatened and rampantly undermined that such country’s political and economic stability will equally be threatened and undermined. No true democratic nation thrives in a situation of political, ethnic and religious misunderstandings, tensions, clashes and violence like it is with the Nigerian current situation.

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Both the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (1948) and other Declarations and the Nigerian Constitutional Provisions of Human Rights and Respect of Freedom of Religions or Beliefs examined in this paper, made allusion to the right to change one’s religion and the right to refrain from professing or practicing one’s religious beliefs. The Koran and the Sharia laws’ writings and teachings which continue to encourage Jihadist movements, death penalty to an apostate, limited legal rights of the members of those religions recognized by Sharia law like Christianity in an Islamic state and the hostile life of a non-Muslim in an Islamic state is deeply troubling. What is more troubling is the quest to impose and expand the Sharia law in a federal and constitutional state, Nigeria. It has been the writer’s quest in this paper to determine that such quest as Islamizing the whole Nigeria through the imposition of Sharia law, should be reversed and eradicated in the mindset of all Nigerians if the nation will continue to live in peace as one nation.

The consequences of ingrained hatred and animosities that were sown in an incompatibly multi-ethnic groups of people with different socio-cultural, political and religious inclinations from the time of Nigeria-Biafra civil war has not been abated. It has been rather exacerbated with religious violence that often emanates from the resistance to Islamic extremists activities by especially the Igbo people. What follows in this precarious situation of survival was the resurgence of the repressed and persistent grievances that caused the Nigeria-Biafra civil war with a modern version seen in the present secessionist agenda of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) movement.

Governments of the Federal Republic of Nigeria should always bear in mind that for lasting peace and stability to return to Nigeria, they should play by the democratic rules of ensuring that justice, equity and fairness which incidentally is the very essence of the Nigerian Constitution. Democratic governments are usually inclusive, abhors marginalization of a group over another group and recognizes basic human rights and freedom of the people. The present government in Nigeria should be very cautious of ensuring that democratic principles are enthroned and practiced in Nigeria bearing in mind that democratic states with democratic principles are less likely to engage in civil wars and other violent religious and ethnic conflicts.

When the state begins to help the family to nurture from the early stage of the individual’s developmental growth those core and inalienable values of respect for human rights and freedom of religions or beliefs then it will be hoped that the society will thrive and survive in an environment that uphold these fundamental human rights. The future of such state will be bright since such state will continue to appreciate and value the respect of human rights with all that concern women as well, rejects hostile and irrational Islamic religious teachings and movements, uphold the principle of “distributive justice”, abhors marginalization and the exclusion of a group of people over another group in the distribution of both political and economic resources of the country, Nigeria.

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The Choice Flame Newspaper is geared towards blazing the trail in modern journalism, committed to smart, truth-centered, in-depth and objective reporting on the Church and society through quality contents that empower and elevate the human spirit. It is the publication of the Catholic Diocese of Enugu with the aim to dispel darkness.
Admin Administrator
The Choice Flame Newspaper is geared towards blazing the trail in modern journalism, committed to smart, truth-centered, in-depth and objective reporting on the Church and society through quality contents that empower and elevate the human spirit. It is the publication of the Catholic Diocese of Enugu with the aim to dispel darkness.

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