Nigeria’s Federalism, Religion and Secularism 


On February 23, 2020.  By Ebitimi Weigha

Nigeria was amalgamated (i.e. merged together the various different sections of peoples and tribes into one national entity) by the British in 1914, gained political “Independence” on Saturday, 1st October 1960 and became a “Republic” on Tuesday, 1st October 1963. Nigeria, a country acclaimed to be the giant of Africa, in her years of nationhood, is the most populated black nation in the world. She has to her credit and recognition a written Constitution being manoeuvred for the self-styled democratic governance of this huge population, made up of peoples of different religious free will, tribes and cultural backgrounds. In Nigeria, Christianism, Islamism and traditionalism are religions most widely practised. Religion being a faith-based practise is capable of influencing on governance and the behavioural attitudes of every believer of their faith. That notwithstanding, Nigeria has assumed a “Secular State”.

Secularism, as it stands, therefore; is simply the separation of governance from religion. It is the exclusion or total rejection of religion from political or civil affairs of any state administration. Being an ancient belief of some ancient Greek and Roman philosophers like Marcus Aurelius it has developed and expanded to reach different corners of the world including Nigeria’s Federalism.

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However, the term Secularism is somewhat new as it was first introduced by the English author George Holyoake in 1851. In the 1700’s different philosophical authors and this fashionable, modern-day Age had proposed its application in society. The Renaissance authors also gave rise to Secularism and Idealism in their works adapted from Classicism (models or principles, characterized by the regularity of form and restraint of expression). Thus, secularism was formally born or started during the Renaissance but found its sure grip in the 18th century during the Age of Reason intellect as basis for knowledge.

The concept and its application grew stronger with the French revolution carrying until today. The most secular states in modern-day times tremendously have overturned the number of non-secular states. However, some secular states do not apply it fully and still observe some religious rites like holidays. Such is the case with Nigeria’s Federalism.

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The Nigeria state, however, does not have a defined state religion because of different practices of a large number of its citizens. This is a peculiarity with Nigeria in having Christianism, Islamism, and Traditionalism (all religions). The entire nation observes both the Islamic and Christian holidays and puts aside money in its budget for different purposes for these religions.

Hence; secularism in Nigeria has advanced with recent democratic constitutional dispensations. Since its emergence, religion holds the role or status as the basis for law and all other legalities. It is the sole source of law and everyone is expected to obey its rules and regulations and failure to do so results in the punishment of the guilty person or persons by religious decree. Therefore, the proper role of religion in every society is to lay down the rules or laws to be followed by every member. It also encompasses the entire life of a person, from his or her birth, daily activities and even to beyond life. Religion is absolute: as acclaimed by all to be a divine decree from the Almighty.

Thus, religious rules have been around for a long time due to religion and their willing followers. It can also be seen from the time of its emergence and evolution from animism to polytheism and finally monotheism, all religions allow for the belief in power or deity that sets rules. These rules have been sometimes to the advantage of society and governance.

* Animism defines the followings:

1. The belief that nature has a soul: the belief that things in nature, such as trees, mountains, and the sky, have souls or consciousness.

2. Belief in an organizing force in-universe: the belief that a supernatural force animates and organizes the universe.

3. Belief in the existence of separate spirit: the belief that people have spirits that do or can exist separately from their bodies.

* Polytheism – is the worship of or belief in multiple deities, which are usually assembled into a “pantheon” (i.e. temple) of gods and goddesses, along with their own religions and rituals.

* Monotheism Belief in single God: that there is only one God, as found in Judaism, Christianism, and Islamism

* Secularism In political terms; is the principle of the separation of government institutions and personnel mandated to represent the state from religious institutions and religious dignitaries. The attainment of which is termed Secularity.

The principles of secularism which protect and emphasize many of the freedoms we enjoy are:

Separation of religious institutions from state institutions and a public sphere where religion may participate, but not dominate.

Freedom to practise one’s faith or belief without harming others, or to change it or not have one, according to one’s own conscience.

Equality so that our religious beliefs or lack of them doesn’t put any of us at an advantage or a disadvantage.

Once again, the separation of religion and state or governance is the foundation of secularism. It ensures that religious groups do not interfere in affairs of governance, and the state does not also interfere in religious affairs.

While Nigeria is a nation of many denominations and religions and large sectors of the population do not hold, or practice, religious beliefs.

Religious Freedom

Secularism seeks to ensure and protect freedom of religious belief and practice for all citizens. Secularists want freedoms of thought and conscience to apply equally to all believers and non-believers alike. They do not wish to curtail religious freedoms.

Secularism seeks to defend the absolute freedom of religious and other belief, and protect the right to manifest religious belief insofar as it does not impose on the rights and freedoms of others. Secularism ensures that the right of individuals to freedom of religion is always balanced by the right to be free from religion.

* Secularism is about democracy and fairness

In a secular democracy, all citizens are equal before the law and legislature. No religious or political affiliation gives advantages or disadvantages and religious believers are citizens with the same rights and obligations as anyone else.

Secular democracy champions universal human rights above religious demands. It upholds equality laws that protect women, children, people and minorities or foreigners from religious discrimination. These equality laws ensure that non-believers have the same rights as those who identify with a religious or philosophical belief.

Equal Access to Public Services

Under secularism every citizen shares: hospitals, schools, the army, the police, paramilitary and the services of local authorities. It is essential that these public services are secular at the point of use, so no-one is disadvantaged or denied access on grounds of religious belief or non-belief.

Weigha, Professor of Biblical Exegesis, is a theologian and National Executive Council (NEC) member of the Association of Christian Theologians (ACTS), Nigeria.


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