Religion in Nigeria

Religion in Nigeria

Several religions in Nigeria coexist, helping to accentuate regional and ethnic distinctions. All religions represented in Nigeria were practiced in every major city in 1990. But Islam dominated in the north and held strong numbers in the South Western, Yoruba part of the country. Protestantism and local syncretic Christianity are also evidence in Yoruba areas, while Catholicism predominates in the Igbo and closely related areas. Both Protestantism and Catholicism dominated in the Ibibio, Annang, and the Efik lands. The 1963 census indicated that 47 percent of Nigerians were Muslim, 35 percent Christian, and 18 percent members of local indigenous congregations. If accurate, this indicated a sharp increase in the number of Christians (up 13 percent); a slight decline among those professing indigenous beliefs, compared with 20 percent in 1953; and only a modest (4 percent) rise of Muslims. There has been growth in the Christ Apostolic Church (the first Aladura Movement in Nigeria) and the Aladura Church, an indigenous Christian sect that was especially strong in the Yoruba areas, and of evangelical churches in general, spilling over into adjacent and southern areas of the middle belt.

In general, however, the country should be seen as having a predominantly Muslim north, a mixed Christian and Muslim Southwest and a non-Muslim, primarily Christian South East and South-South, with each as a minority faith in the other's region.


Islam is the largest religion in Nigeria and is a traditional religion in West Africa. Nigeria has one of the largest Muslim populations in Africa. Islam came to Northern Nigeria as early as the eleventh century and was well established in the major capitals of the region by the sixteenth century, spreading into the countryside and toward the middle belt uplands. Shehu Usman dan Fodio established a government in Northern Nigeria based on Islam before the advent of Colonialism. The British Colonial Government therefore established indirect rule in Northern Nigeria based on the structure of this government. Islam also came to South Western Yoruba-speaking areas during the time of Mansa Musa's Mali Empire. The Yoruba's colloquially referred to Islam as "Esin-Mali" or some will say "Esin-Mole", which means religion from Mali. Muslims in Nigerian practice the Maliki school of jurisprudence and are mostly Sunni Muslims, The Shia Muslims of Nigeria are primarily located in the Sokoto State, [ [ BBC NEWS | Africa | Nigerian Shia base knocked down ] ] [ [ Attack on Shi'as in Nigeria | Jafariya News Network ] ]


Christianity is the second largest religion in Nigeria, after Islam. The World Factbook and the World Almanac both list Christians as comprising 40% of the population, with Muslims 50% and indigenous religions 10% [ [] CIA World Factbook - Nigeria]

The ecclesiastical provinces of the Church of Nigeria are: Lagos, Ibadan, Ondo, Bendel, The Niger, Niger Delta, Owerri, Abuja, Kaduna and Jos. [cite web | author= | year=| title=Site of the Church of Nigeria | format= | work= | url= ] Its primate is Peter Jasper Akinola. [cite web | author= | year=| title=Site of the Church of Nigeria | format= | work= | url= ] The Church of Nigeria has about 17 million members. [cite web | author= | year=| title= Site of the Gazette ( Colorado Springs) | format= | work= | url= ]

The Nigerian Baptist Convention has about 3 million baptized members. [cite web | author= | year=| title= Site of the Nigerian Baptist Convention | format= | work= | url= ] The Archdioceses of the Roman Catholic Church are: Abuja, Benin City, Calabar, Ibadan, Jos, Kaduna, Lagos, Onitsha and Owerri. [cite web | author= | year=| title= Current Dioceses in Nigeria (Catholic Hierarchy) | format= | work= | url= ] It has about 39 million members in Nigeria. [cite web | author= | year=| title= Washington Post | format= | work= | url= ] Cardinal Francis Arinze is a Roman Catholic Cardinal from Nigeria. [cite web | author= | year=| title= The Guardian on Arinze | format= | work= | url= ]

Roman Catholicism

Church of Nigeria

The Anglican Church of Nigeria is the second-largest Province in the Anglican Communion, as measured by baptized membership, after the Church of England. It gives as current membership "over 18 million" [ [ Church of Nigeria: ] ] , out of a total Nigerian population of 140 million. Anglicanism is only one of Nigeria's several Christian Denominations.


The majority of Christians are found in the south East and South-South. A few isolated mission stations and mission bookstores, along with churches serving southern enclaves in the northern cities and larger towns, dotted the Muslim north. Christianity in Yoruba area traditionally has been Protestant and Anglican, whereas Igboland has always been the area of greatest activity by the Roman Catholic Church. Other denominations abounded as well. Presbyterians arrived in the late seventeenth century in the Ibibio, Annang and Efik land and the Niger Delta area and had missions in the middle belt as well. The works of the Presbyterian Church in Calabar from Scotland by missionaries like Rev Hope M. Waddell in the late seventeen century and that of Mary Slessor of Calabar being examples. Small missionary movements were allowed to start up, generally in the 1920s, after the middle belt was considered pacified. Each denomination set up rural networks by providing schooling and health facilities. Most such facilities remained in 1990, although in many cases schools had been taken over by the local state government in order to standardize curricula and indigenize the teaching staff. Pentecostals arrived mostly as indigenous workers in the postindependence period and in 1990 Pentecostalism was spreading rapidly throughout the middle belt, having some success in Roman Catholic and Protestant towns of the south as well. There were also breakaway, or Africanized churches that blended traditional Christian symbols with indigenous symbols. Among these was the Aladura movement that was spreading rapidly throughout Yorubaland and into the non-Muslim middle belt areas.

Missionary Work and Christianity in Nigeria

Apart from Benin and Warri, which had come in contact with Christianity through the Portuguese as early as the fifteenth century, most missionaries arrived by sea in the nineteenth century. As with other areas in Africa, Roman Catholics and Anglicans each tended to establish areas of hegemony in southern Nigeria. After World War I, smaller denominations such as the Church of the Brethren, Seventh-day Adventists and others worked in interstitial areas, trying not to compete. Although less well-known, African-American churches entered the missionary field in the nineteenth century and created contacts with Nigeria that lasted well into the colonial period.

Offshoots of European Denominations

African churches were founded by small groups breaking off from the European denominations, especially in Yorubaland, where such independence movements started as early as the late nineteenth century. They were for the most part ritually and doctrinally identical to the pavent church, although more African music, and later dance, entered and mixed with the imported church services. A number also used biblical references to support polygyny. With political independence came African priests in both Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations, although ritual and forms of worship were strictly those of the home country of the original missionaries. By the 1980s, however, African music and even dancing were being introduced quietly into church services, albeit altered to fit into rituals of European origin. Southern Christians living in the north, especially in larger cities, had congregations and churches founded as early as the 1920s. Even medium-sized towns (20,000 persons or more) with an established southern enclave had local churches, especially in the middle belt, where both major religions had a strong foothold. The exodus of Igbo from the north in the late 1960s left Roman Catholic churches poorly attended, but by the 1980s adherents were back in even greater numbers, and a number of new churches had been built.

Combination with Traditional Practices

The Aladura, like several other breakaway churches, stress healing and fulfillment of life goals for oneself and one's family. African beliefs that sorcery and witchcraft are malevolent forces against which protection is required are accepted; rituals are warm and emotional, stressing personal involvement and acceptance of spirit possession. Theology is biblical, but some sects add costumed processions and some accept polygyny.

Social Class and Religion

Major congregations of the larger Anglican and Roman Catholic missions represented elite families of their respective areas, although each of these churches had members from all levels and many quite humble church buildings. Nevertheless, a wedding in the Anglican cathedral in Lagos was usually a gathering of the elite of the entire country, and of Lagos and Yorubaland in particular. Such families had connections to their churches going back to the nineteenth century and were generally not attracted to the breakaway churches. All major urban centers, all universities, and the new capital of Abuja had areas set aside for the major religions to build mosques and churches and for burial grounds.

Inter Ethnic Conflict

Interethnic conflict generally has had a religious element. Riots against Igbo in 1953 and in the 1960s in the north were said to be fired by religious conflict. The riots against Igbo in the north in 1966 were said to have been inspired by radio reports of mistreatment of Muslims in the south. In the 1980s, serious outbreaks between Christians and Muslims occurred in Kafanchan in southern Kaduna State in a border area between the two religions.

Indigenous Beliefs

Alongside most Nigerian religious adherence were systems of belief with ancient roots in the area. These beliefs combined family ghosts with relations to the primordial spirits of a particular site. In effect the rights of a group defined by common genealogical descent were linked to a particular place and the settlements within it. The primary function of such beliefs was to provide supernatural sanctions and legitimacy to the relationship between, and the regulations governing, claims on resources, especially agricultural land and house sites. Access rights to resources, political offices, economic activities, or social relations were defined and legitimized by these same religious beliefs.


The theology expressing and protecting these relationships centered, first, on the souls of the recently dead, ghosts who continued their interest in the living as they had when they were alive. That is to say, authoritative elders demanded conformity to rules governing access to, and inheritance of, rights to resources. Indigenous theology also comprised all of the duties of the living to one another and to their customs, including their obligations to the dead ancestors whose spirits demanded adherence to the moral rules governing all human actions. The second pantheon were the supernatural residents of the land. These spirits of place (trees, rock outcroppings, a river, snakes, or other animals and objects) were discovered and placated by the original founders, who had migrated to the new site from a previous one. Spirits of the land might vary with each place or be so closely identified with a group's welfare that they were carried to a new place as part of the continuity of a group to its former home. In the new place, these spiritual migrants joined the local spirit population. Such deities developed from an original covenant created by the founders of a settlement between themselves and the local spirits. This covenant legitimized their arrival. In return for regular rites and prayers to these spirits, the founders could claim perpetual access to local resources. In doing so, they became the lineage in charge of the hereditary local priesthood and village headship and were recognized as "owners of the place" by later human arrivals. Both sets of spirits, those of family and those of place, demanded loyalty to communal virtues and to the authority of the elders in defending ancient beliefs and practices.


In addition to ensuring access to, and the continual fertility of, both land and people, the spiritual entities protected their adherents from misfortune, adjudicated disputes through trials by ordeal or through messages divined by special seers, and punished personal or communal immorality through personal and group failures, sickness, drought, fires, and other catastrophes. Special practitioners were in control of supernatural forces to heal illnesses, counter malevolent intentions by others and/or the ghostly entities, and diagnose witchcraft--the effects of malefactors whose personal spirits might cause harm, sometimes without the actual knowledge of the evildoer. Protection against misfortune was strengthened by charms, amulets, and medicinal products sold by the practitioners. In everyday life, misfortune, sickness, political rivalries, inheritance disputes, and even marital choices or the clearing of a new field could be incorporated and explained within this religious framework. Given these beliefs, causal relations were stipulated and explained through the actions of supernatural entities, whose relations to the living involved interventions that enforced morality and traditional values.

Secret Societies

As with many peoples around the world, especially in Africa, the adult men were organized into secret societies that imitated the activity of the spirits in maintaining the moral order. In the 1980s in Igboland and in similar societies in neighboring areas, social control and conformity to moral order was still enforced by secret societies. The Ekpe society of the Efik, Ibibio, Annang people of southeastern Nigeria is a strong example. The Ekpe society developed Nsibidi writing of Africa. In the 1970s, this pattern was observed spreading into small, originally autonomous communities of the southern middle belt at the northern rim of Igboland. Generally, adult men received some training and were then initiated into membership. In 1990 memberships were more selective, and in some places such organizations had died out. Specifically, these societies enforced community morality through rituals and masked dances. During these performances, secret society members imitated the spirits. They preached and expressed displeasure with and gave warnings about individual and communal morality, attributing accusations and threats to spirits of place and family who were displeased with their human charges........

Sorcery and Witchcraft

Sorcery and even witchcraft beliefs persisted and were discussed as forms of medicine, or as coming from "bad people" whose spirits or souls were diagnosed as the cause of misfortune. There also were special ways in which the outcomes of stressful future activity, long trips, lingering illnesses, family and other problems could be examined. Soothsayers provided both therapy and divinatory foreknowledge in stressful situations.

Traditional Religion among the Yorubas

In the city-states of Yorubaland and its neighbors, a more complex religion evolved that expressed the subjugation of village life within larger polities. These city-states produced a theology that linked local beliefs to a central citadel government and its sovereignty over a hinterland of villages through the monarch. The king (oba) and his ancestors were responsible for the welfare of the entire state, in return for confirmation of the legitimacy of the oba's rule over his subjects. In Oyo, for example, there were a number of national cults, each with its own priests who performed rituals under the authority of the king (alafin) in the public interest. Shango, god of thunder, symbolized the power of the king and of central government; Ogboni represented the fertility of the land and the monarch's role in ensuring the well-being of the kingdom.

Conflicts with Newer Beliefs

In 1990 these indigenous beliefs were more or less openly practiced and adhered to among many Christians and Muslims in various parts of the country. In many Muslim and Christian households and villages, a number of the older religious practices and beliefs also survived. On the other hand, research indicated that many, especially younger people, believed the older traditions to be apostasy so that it was common, particularly in rural areas, to see mixtures of local beliefs with either Christianity or Islam. And in some instances, although the overall trend was away from indigenous religions and toward monotheism, older people suffered such mental and physical anguish over denouncing inherited beliefs that they abandoned the newer one.

Reviving Traditional Practices

Organizations seeking to revive African Traditional Religions back to its pre-colonial state include the Neo Black Movement of Africa which was founded at the Ekehuan Campus University of Benin, Nigeria. The Black Axe Confraternity have stemmed from this movement and have since been denounced by the founding body.

Other religions


Judaism is practiced by about 40,000 people (about 0.02% of the Nigerian population), mainly members of the Igbo tribe in eastern and the Ibibio, Annang, and Efik southern Nigeria. Judaism is believed to have an ancient presence in the country, and in the region as a whole (see Jews of Nigeria).


Hinduism spread to Nigeria mainly by immigration of Hindus from India and of Hare Krishna Missionaries. Many Nigerians have converted to Hinduism mainly due to efforts of ISKCON Missionaries.
ISKCON has inaugurated the Vedic Welfare Complex in Apapa. Hinduism [ [ "Adherents by Location"] ,, Accessed May 19, 2007.]

Altogether including Nigerians of Indian origin and NRIs there are 25,000 Hindus in Nigeria. Most of them live in Lagos, the former capital of Nigeria []

Bahá'í Faith

After an isolated presence in the late 1920s,Citation
authors = Universal House of Justice
title = In Memorium
journal = The Bahá'í World of the Bahá'í Era 136-140 (1979-1983)
volume = XVIII
publisher = Bahá'í World Centre
pages = Table of Contents and pp.619, 632, 802-4
year = 1986
url =
isbn = 0853982341
] the Bahá'í Faith in Nigeria begins with pioneering Bahá'ís coming to Sub-Saharan West Africa in the 1950s especially following the efforts of Enoch Olinga who directly and indirectly affected the growth of the religion in Nigeria.Citation
last = Mughrab
first = Jan
title = Jubilee Celebration in Cameroon
periodical = Journal of the Bahá'í Community of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
year = 2004
url =
] Following growth across West Africa a regional National Spiritual Assembly was elected in 1956.cite web | url = | title = The Bahá'í Faith: 1844-1963: Information Statistical and Comparative, Including the Achievements of the Ten Year International Bahá'í Teaching & Consolidation Plan 1953-1963| author = Compiled by Hands of the Cause Residing in the Holy Land | pages = p. 22, 46] As the community multiplied across cities and became diverse in its engagements it elected its own National Spiritual Assembly by 1979cite web | last = MacEoin | first = Denis | coauthors = William Collins | title = Children/education (Listings) | work = The Babi and Baha'i Religions: An Annotated Bibliography | publisher = Greenwood Press's ongoing series of Bibliographies and Indexes in Religious Studies | url = | pp. see entries 60-63, 80, 139 | accessdate = 2008-03-26] and had 1000 Bahá'ís in 2001.cite web
title = Republic of Niger for August 29
work = Operation World
publisher = Paternoster Lifestyle
year = 2001
url =
accessdate = 2008-05-18


Chrislam is a blend of Christianity and Islam that takes practises from both the Bible and the Koran. It hopes to quell religious feuds among Nigerians. [ [ "In African, Islam and Christianity are growing - and blending"] ,, Accessed May 19, 2007.]

The Grail Movement

Nigeria has become an African hub for Grail Movement, inspired by the work of Abd-ru-shin, principally In the Light of Truth: The Grail Message. [ [ "Grail Movement - Nigeria"] ,, Accessed May 19, 2007.]

The Rosicrucian Order

right|frame|Martin Luther's seal] The Rosicrucian Order, Ancient Mystical Order Rosæ Crucis (AMORC) is a worldwide mystical, philosophical, educational, humanitarian and fraternal organization devoted to the investigation, study and practical application of natural and spiritual laws. Membership is open to both men and women of the age of 18 or older. Its eclectic character and tolerance towards all beliefs is demonstrated by the fact that adherents of various religious persuasions can be found amongst its membership. [ [ "Region Three covers Nigeria"] ,, Accessed May 19, 2007.]


Freemasonry is a fraternal organization. Arising from obscure origins (theorized to be anywhere from the time of the building of King Solomon's Temple to the mid-1600s), it now exists in various forms all over the world, and claims millions of members. All of these various forms share moral and metaphysical ideals, which include in most cases a constitutional declaration of belief in a Supreme Being. [1] []

The Reformed Ogboni Fraternity

A fraternity incorporating references and insignia from the original Ogboni, is based on ancient rites, usages and customs. Established in 1914 by the Ven. Archdeacon T. A. J. Ogunbiyi. Membership is open to all adults who embrace a non-idolaterous faith in God. The fraternity is headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria. In 1996 it had about 710 conclaves/Lodges or Iledi in Nigeria and overseas. []

ee also

* Church of Nigeria
* Catholic Church in Nigeria
* Jews of Nigeria
* Aba Nigeria Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints



* [ Christianity in Nigeria]

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