Muslims will be the majority in Nigeria in the next 20 years, according to a study by the Pew Research Centre. The population is set to more than double, to 117 million, by 2030.
This will mean that Nigeria will become a predominantly muslim country, with 51.5% of Nigerians being of the muslim faith. In a country that has religious tension between christians and muslims (especially in certain parts of the country) I wonder what this ‘takeover’ will mean for peace and stability in the future.
Nigeria is roughly divided, in terms of religion, as a muslim north and christian south – with the centre of the country being a mix of the two faiths. Jos, is located in the central part of Nigeria. The region has rarely been out of Nigerian and African news recently because of the (suggested) religious motivated clashes. 2010 and this year have been a particularly bad time for the city which has become synonymous with violence.
Blame for this has been thrown both ways. People are quick to blame to muslims in the most general of ways. Understandably, perhaps, as most of the people killed in last year’s riots were Christian. But looking underneath the surface of religion, it’s quite clear to see that the typical causes for unrest have more to do with these clashes.
Professor Kabiru Mato of the University of Abuja played down the role of religion in the riots: “I don’t see anything religious. Wherein religion could be the difference between the two warring factions, fundamentally it’s a manifestation of economic alienation. So social apathy, political frustration, economic deprivation and so many factors are responsible.”
A worrying aspect of the data collated by Pew Research is the high number of illiterate muslim Nigerian women. “According to a Pew Forum analysis of the 2008 Nigerian Demographic and Health Survey, the percentage of women of childbearing age who cannot read is three times as high among Muslims (71.9%) as among non-Muslim Nigerians (23.9%).
Some more alarming data from the study – “Muslim women of childbearing age are also much less likely to have received a formal education than are other women in the country; 66.0% of Muslim women have no formal education, compared with 11.2% of non-Muslims. Only about 3% of Muslim women in Nigeria have attended college or university, compared with roughly 14% of non-Muslim women.”
It’s imperative to think about how this vast inequality between the people of the two main religions have an effect on the turbulent nature of central Nigeria, where the two groups mix and interact the most.
The ‘takeover’ of the muslims in Nigeria is by a slight majority, and in itself should not cause any alarm. The percentage divide will still be roughly equal. What must be fixed, however, is the education and prosperity levels between the two groups. Economic deprivation in one group leads to frustration and resentment, which in turn leads to instability and in Nigeria’s case, violence. The government of Nigeria need to turn their focus on not only punishing tose responsible for the clashes, but also to solving these underlying problems.