Nigerians agree despite religious differences

By Razib Khan | August 28, 2010 12:13 pm

I am currently reading Eliza Griswold’s The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam. The first half of the book is about Africa, and much of that is given to religious conflict in Nigeria. Africa’s most populous nation happens to be split down the middle religiously, with a Muslim north and a Christian south, meeting in the “Middle Belt” to contest. Griswold describes a very competitive religious marketplace.

One thing I was curious about though: are the religious conflicts in Nigeria simply due to coalitional fissures, or deep substantive divergences which track the religious differences? To illustrate, if Muslims and Christians share a village, then Christians who slaughter pigs in public places because pork is their primary protein source will likely have tensions with Muslims, who as a matter of substance object to pig slaughter which might pollute the landscape (this is a problem in parts of Southeast Asia where Muslims live downstream from Christians). In contrast, if you have economic difficulties in a region, and it is fractured ethnically or religiously, trivial tensions may quickly exploded into violence. In other words, in the second case religion is just a “quick & dirty” coalitional marker around which inevitable conflicts are going to swirl (in Mauritius Muslim Indo-Mauritians play a “wild card” role between Christian Creoles and Hindu Indo-Mauritians, despite greater substantive religious affinity with the Christians and greater cultural and racial affinity with the Hindus).

To answer this question I looked at the World Values Survey. For Nigeria there was data from 1995 and 2000, so I combined them to increase my sample size. Additionally, I wanted to focus on the Yoruba ethnic group, which is religiously divided between Muslims and Christians. In the WVS the religious categories actually break down further among the Christians, and I selected Pentecostals and Protestants for the Yoruba because of the large N for these groups, along with Muslims. Additionally, I selected Hausa Muslims as a comparison. The Hausa are an overwhelmingly Muslim northern ethnic group, while the Yoruba are a religiously pluralistic southern group (the Igbo of the southeast are as Christian as the Hausa are Muslim).

Please note that the survey was taken during a period of military rule by Hausa strongmen. I included only a subset of questions. You can follow to link to do your own queries.

Mus = Muslim, Pent = Pentecostal, Prot = Protestant. Some cells for Pentecostals are missing because for some questions all Protestants were aggregated together.

QuestionHausa MusYoruba MusYoruba PentYoruba Prot
% Lower Class51342223
% Completed University6.5123623
% No Children35384047
% Married59556348
% Male54544550
% Politics Very Important39201221
% Work Very Important89949691
% Religion Very Important97909090
% Would not like people of difference race as neighbors28251330
% Would not like immigrants as neighbors28201215
% Would not like Muslims as neighbors5.241015
% Would not like homosexuals as neighbors81909084
% Would not like people of a different religion as neighbors361420
% Totally satisfied with life (1-10 scale)228148
% Totally satisfied with financial situation (1-10 scale)16665
%Men should have more right to job than women74604754
% Natives should have more right to job than immigrants87878784
Mean, Ideal # of children5.84.544
% A woman needs children to be fulfilled81939693
% Disapprove of woman has single parent89769277
% One should enjoy sexual freedom2316911
% Marriage is outdated18191113
% Agree strongly that men make better political leaders63564451
% Agree strongly that university is more important for boy46221221
% Very important that a woman is educated807682
% We need radical change in society27322838
% Need larger income differences as incentives (1-10 scale)21254115
% Gov. ownership of business should be increased (1-10 scale)3121219
% The gov. should take more responsible (1-10 scale)31404427
% Competition is harmful (1-10 scale)
% success is matter of luck and connections (1-10 scale)1213413
% Wealth grows so there’s enough for everyone (1-10 scale)28172928
% A great deal of confidence in armed forces4714812
% A great deal of confidence in police4010410
% A great deal of confidence in government416212
% A great deal of confidence in justice system3611108
% A great deal of confidence in women’s movement30171818
Mean, self position Left-Right (1-10)
Mean, rating of political system (1-10)
% Very satisfied with how democracy develops281315
% Favors open borders for immigrants19331432
% Willing to fight for country83605538
% There is a lot of respect for individual human rights251412
% Scientific advances will help84857988
% A religious person97979895
% God is very important in life (1-10)88929386
% Get comfort and strength from religion999998
% Attend religious services more than once a week72855860
% Raised religiously97979390
% Believe in God10099100100
% Believe in Life After Death87808686
% Believe in Hell91939895
% Believe in Sin85979895
% Believe in Devil969899100
% Religious institutions give moral answers856971
% Agree strongly people atheists are unfit for public office656358
% Homosexuality never justifiable (1-10)81849181
% Cheating on taxes never justifiable (1-10)66697960
% Prostitution never justifiable (1-10)77859079
% Abortion never justifiable (1-10)78838272
% Divorce never justifiable (1-10)55647456
% Very proud of nationality78665760

And here’s a correlation matrix:

Hausa MusYoruba MusYoruba PentYoruba Prot
Hausa Mus*0.940.90.93
Yoruba Mus**0.970.98
Yoruba Pent***0.97

The Yoruba and Hausa have a high degree of agreement irrespective of religion, but there does seem to be a tendency for the Yoruba to agree across the religious divide. On the political questions I think the historical context is important. Additionally, it seems that the Pentecostals are the most religiously conservative and enthusiastic of these groups. Because the Hausa tend to be culturally Muslim (though there are a large minority of Hausa Christians in the sample) as a matter of course I was not totally surprised that they were not as zealous as one presumes Muslims to be.


Comments (6)

  1. Mary

    May I be permitted a personal story. This is very interesting to me. My dau-in-law is Igbo. Her youngest brother was at university in Jos, Nigeria during the Muslim riots in January. Several dozens of Christians were killed , possibly more. His Muslim roommates hid him in a relative’s barn. He was there alone for 4 days keeping in touch til his cell phone died. They came back to rescue him and get him to a hospital. He had been beaten badly when their dormitory was broken into and suffered a broken leg. He called my dau-in-law from this hiding place. The roommates were able to find a car and gasoline to drive him to Abuja. There were many checkpoints along the route manned by rogue police(as there is no other kind). He was instructed to appear unconscious so he couldn’t respond to questions and give away his identity by his speech. He recovered but never went back to Jos. Such is life in Nigeria. In this case religious identities were overridden by personal relationships. The Muslim students put themselves in grave danger by helping their Christian friend.

  2. ChristianK

    How can people not believe in Life after Death but believe in Hell?

  3. Religions are naturally divisive and economic and/or social problems only make religions more divisive. Its particularly bad with the authoritarian religions that preach that those who disagree with them are going to hell, all good comes from their god.

    Religions is just one more thing to divide people with and it is completely unnecessary which makes it even worse.

  4. Religions are naturally divisive and economic and/or social problems only make religions more divisive

    you’re looking at one side of the equation. within religious groups they foster trust, cohesion and solidarity.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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