Protection of freedom of Religion in Nigeria


Price: 2000 Naira (BSC, MSC)




1.1 Background of the Study

Freedom of religion or religious liberty is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance. It also includes the freedom to change one’s religion or beliefs[1] and to be absent of any religious beliefs.[2]

Freedom of religion is considered by many people and most of the nations to be a fundamental human right.[3][4] In a country with a state religion, freedom of religion is generally considered to mean that the government permits religious practices of other sects besides the state religion, and does not persecute believers in other faiths. Freedom of belief is different. It allows the right to believe what a person, group or religion wishes, but it does not necessarily allow the right to practice the religion or belief openly and outwardly in a public manner, a central facet of religious freedom.[5]

Historically, freedom of religion has been used to refer to the tolerance of different theological systems of belief, while freedom of worship has been defined as freedom of individual action. Each of these have existed to varying degrees. While many countries have accepted some form of religious freedom, this has also often been limited in practice through punitive taxation, repressive social legislation, and political disenfranchisement. Compare examples of individual freedom in Italy or the Muslim tradition of dhimmis, literally “protected individuals” professing an officially tolerated non-Muslim religion.

In Antiquity, a syncretic point of view often allowed communities of traders to operate under their own customs. When street mobs of separate quarters clashed in a Hellenistic or Roman city, the issue was generally perceived to be an infringement of community rights.

Cyrus the Great established the Achaemenid Empire ca. 550 BC, and initiated a general policy of permitting religious freedom throughout the empire, documenting this on the Cyrus Cylinder.[6][7]

Some of the historical exceptions have been in regions where one of the revealed religions has been in a position of power: Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam. Others have been where the established order has felt threatened, as shown in the trial of Socrates in 399 BC or where the ruler has been deified, as in Rome, and refusal to offer token sacrifice was similar to refusing to take an oath of allegiance. This was the core for resentment and the persecution of early Christian communities.

Freedom of religious worship was established in the Buddhist Maurya Empire of ancient India by Ashoka the Great in the 3rd century BC, which was encapsulated in the Edicts of Ashoka.

Greek–Jewish clashes at Cyrene in 73 AD and 117 AD and in Alexandria in 115 AD provide examples of cosmopolitan cities as scenes of tumult.

The Romans tolerated most religions, including Judaism and encouraged local subjects to continue worshipping their own gods. They did not however, tolerate Christianity until it was legalised by the Roman emperor Galerius in 311. The Edict of Milan guaranteed freedom of religion in the Roman Empire until the Edict of Thessalonica in 380, which outlawed all religions except Christianity.

Religious discrimination is treating a character or team in another way due to the fact of the specific beliefs which they keep about a religion. This consists of cases when adherents of distinctive religions, denominations or non-religions are dealt with unequally due to their specific beliefs, both earlier than the regulation or in institutional settings, such as employment and housing.

Religious discrimination is associated to non-secular persecution, the most excessive varieties of which would encompass cases in which human beings have been carried out for beliefs perceived to be heretical. Laws which solely elevate mild punishments are described as moderate types of non-secular persecution or as spiritual discrimination.

Even in societies the place freedom of faith is a constitutional right, adherents of non-secular minorities every so often voice worries about spiritual discrimination towards them. Insofar as prison insurance policies are concerned, instances that are perceived as spiritual discrimination may be the end result of an interference of the spiritual sphere with different spheres of the public that are regulated via regulation (and no longer aimed particularly in opposition to a spiritual minority).[8]

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Among the plethora of problems that undermine human development in Nigeria, ethno-religious conflicts rank high. Corruption and bad governance which are widespread thrive while rent-seeking politicians exploit ethnic and religious sentiments[9]. The ambivalent role of religion in the Nigerian social and political crisis is complex. As Obianyo[10] observes, religion serves as both a unifying and a divisive factor in Nigeria. It unifies Nigerians who share the same beliefs across ethnic divides, and simultaneously creates a contending relationship between the religious groups.

1.3 Aim and Objective of the Study

The main aim and objective of this study is to analyze the protection of freedom of religion in Nigeria. The specific objective are to:

1. Investigate the threats to religious freedom in Nigeria

2. Examined the law, religion and human rights in Nigeria and

3. An overview of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion

1.4 Scope of the Study

The scope of this study is center on the protection of freedom of religion in Nigeria, overview of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and threats to religious freedom in Nigeria.

1.5 Methodology

The methodology employed in this research project is as follows:

  • Citing the relevant provisions of the law which are known under the law of human right,
  • Judicial precedents
  • Bringing together what other scholars have said regarding freedom of religion in Nigeria
  • The use of illustrations for the purpose of lucidity.

Other sources of law are also the basis of the data for this research work, thus, the Nigeria Law, law textbooks, law reports, Journal Articles on Law and various statutes and cases on the subject matter are the sources of the research.

1.6 Literature Review

With specific reference to religion, generations of scholars have noted the difficulty with universally applicable or essential definitions. The sheer abundance of definitions[11] available at the market of religious scholarship can be both exciting and frustrating. The modern mindset of Western scholarship – whether religious or irreligious, conditioned to discern neat distinctions between the secular and the religious, the spiritual and the material worlds – has increasingly tended to conceptually separate the sphere of religion from other aspects of culture, even when the cultural context of the societies under study do not admit such neat dichotomies.[12] It is interesting to learn that in the context of Europe itself, such distinctions have not always existed. In a rather forceful manner, Peter Harrison has sought to prove that the terms, “religion” and the “religions” emerged in the context of the inter-confessional controversies of seventeenth centuryEurope. These terms and the concepts they imply later came to be extended to include religions outside Christianity.[13] Both social scientists and scholars of the phenomenology of religion school contributed in diverse ways to maintaining the general dichotomy between the religious sphere and others. The initial suspicion phenomenology of religion had of the reductionist inclinations of the social sciences- a suspicion that lingered for a long time- combined with other factors to conceptually, widen the chasm between religion and other spheres of life. Phenomenology of religion’s almost doctrinaire anti-reductionist stance, which maintained that religion was sui generis served to present the religious sphere as fundamentally distinct from the secular one. the approach of the social sciences that churned out popular differentiating opposites such as, „the “spiritual” versus the “material,” the “natural” versus the “supernatural,” the “sacred,” or “holy” versus the “profane,” the “empirical” versus the “meta-empirical”[14]contributed in no small measure to this development. With such preconceptions, much energy in the Western European scholarly enterprise on religion was expended on attempts to discover a general core essence of religion. Modern scholarship, however, prefers multidisciplinary approaches to studying complex phenomena such as religion. The consensus among scholars of religion is that definitions that claim universal applicability must be viewed with skepticism, since the probability that such a definition will ever be found is very low.[15] A widely recognised related problem is the fading away of the distinctions between the religious mode and the secular mode, which previously were thought to beunambiguously clear. Molendijk observes, The clear–cut distinctions between a religious mode, on the one hand, and politics, science and aesthetics on the other, between the transcendent sphere and the secular sphere of everyday life… are no longer evident, although they still inform much research.[16] Acknowledgements of new developments that are closely related to, but exceed the „traditional boundaries‟ of “religion,” have combined with insights from non-Western cultures that do not draw sharp dichotomies between the religious sphere and the secular, to render the exercise of definition even more difficult. Yet, the exigencies of modern scholarship and the growing complexities of contemporary societies demand that religion as a cultural phenomenon is, at least, isolated in an „operational definition‟ for certain practical purposes. Such purposes may be different for the different sectors of society that may require a definition of religion.33 Instead of definitions that pretend to be universally applicable, scholars opt for what has been called “stipulative” or „regulative‟definitions.[17] These are definitions that serve the particular purpose of the scholar. Pascal Boyer describes them as “aspect-specific” and argues that such definitions do not limit but enhance the “condition for better theorizing”.[18] This means, like the previous situation, there will be many different definitions of religion but the debate will not be about whether a definition is true or false. The appropriateness or otherwise of a definition is the more paramount issue. By implication, the modern debate is different from earlier debates because the historical contexts have changed. Ellis and terHaar argue in favour of this trend, Classical sociologists like Emile Durkheim and Max Weber developed theories with a different object from ours in their minds. Both men lived in an age when social scientists fully believed in the possibility of enunciating universal laws governing human behaviour in a manner that few of their successors would do today.[19] Definitions are therefore instrumental and they are meant to draw boundaries around the subject under reference in a particular context for appropriate usage – academic, administrative, legal, economic, psychological, sociological, political, or other.

1.8 Definition of Terms

Human Right:Human rights are moral principles or norms that describe certain standards of human behaviour and are regularly protected as natural and legal rights in municipal and international law

Freedom of religion:Freedom of religion or religious liberty is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.

Non-discrimination: meaning that there is no ‘right to discriminate’; in respect of claims for religiously-motivated refusals to provide goods or services to same-sex couples, courts have consistently held either that the requirement to provide goods and services to the public in a non-discriminatory way is not an interference with religious freedom, or that such interference is justified by the goal of combating discrimination.

[1]“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. The United Nations.

[2] YOUR RIGHT TO RELIGIOUS FREEDOM. Retrieved 15 May 2020

[3]Davis, Derek H. “The Evolution of Religious Liberty as a Universal Human Right”. Archived from the original on 1 February 2008. Retrieved 5 December 2006.

[4] Congress, U. S. (2008). Congressional Record #29734 – 19 November 2003. ISBN 9780160799563. Retrieved 3 September 2011.

[5]“What in the World is Religious Freedom?”. Religious Freedom Institute. Retrieved 28 November 2019.

[6]Cyrus Cylinder,

[7]Richard A. Taylor; E. Ray Clendenen (15 October 2004). Haggai, Malachi. B&H Publishing Group. pp. 31–32ISBN 978-0-8054-0121-9.


[9]Amundsen, Inge 2010. Good governance in Nigeria: A study in political economy and

donor support. Norad Report 17/2010 Discussion. Oslo: Norwegian Agency for Development

Cooperation., Source: –

Retrieved 25 March 2012.

[10]Obianyo, Nkolika 2010. Behind the curtains of State power: Religious groups and the struggle

for ascendancy in Nigerian public institutions – A critical appraisal. Africa Development,


[11]It said that as early as 1901 James Leuba listed forty-eight definitions in an article. See Molendijk, „In Defence of Pragmatism‟ in The Pragmatics of Defining Religion, 3.

[12]W. L. King, for example, observes that the attempt to find „some distinctive or possibly unique essence or set of qualities that distinguish the religious from the remainder of human life, is primarily a Western concern.‟ (W. L. King, „Religion‟ in M. Eliade (ed.) The Encyclopaedia of Religion (New York: Macmillan, 1987) Vol. 12, 282.

[13]Peter Harrison, Religion and the Religions in the English Enlightenment (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, paperback edition, 2000) 9&10

[14]Jan Platvoet, „To define or not to define,‟Platvoet&Molendijk, Pragmatics of Defining Religion, 251.

[15]This is not just a recent lesson learnt. William James, the American Psychologist, in his Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) dismisses the viability of any attempt to arrive at universal definition of religion. (quoted by David Wulf, „Psychologists Define Religion‟ in Molendijk and Platvoet, The Pragmatics of Defining Religion, 208).

[16]Molendijk, „In Defence of Pragmatism,‟ 6.

[17]Molendijk, „In Defence of Pragmatism,‟ 9. See also, Platvoet, „To Define or Not to Define,‟ 260

[18]Pascal Boyer, „Religion as an impure subject: A note on Cognitive order in religious representation in response to Brian Malley,‟ in Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 8/2(1996) 212.

[19]Ellis and terHaar, Worlds of Power, 14 &15.

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