Religious Hypocrisy and Fanaticism in Nigeria. The Apex Problem of a Religious Nation

The Contemporary Religions and Religious Issues

Polemic Paper, 2017

31 Pages, Grade: A.1




The Concept of Religion

Functions of Religion

Understanding the Concept of Religious Fundamentalism

Religion and the Nigerian Nation

Religious Hypocrisy and Fanaticism

Religion and Politics in Nigeria

Expression of Religious Sentiments in Nigeria

Negating Classical Religious Tenets/Precepts: The Decline of Christianity and Islam





True religions and religious are now very rare to come by. Religious hypocrisy and fanaticism (fundamentalism) have become the order of the day. These trends negate the cores of religion with fake religious practices and bitter religious superiority contestation, chaos, intolerance and tension (crisis). Until the emergence of Protestantism and religious proliferation in the 15th century, the Catholicity of religion was upheld by the existing ones– Traditional Religion, Christianity (Roman Catholic Church) and Islam, among others, with little or no crisis. The case has become different in contemporary times. The current motives of religions and the religious are now rather human, unethical, biased and materialistic, and thus the emerging endemic religious issues, fuelled by ethnicity, politics, neo/colonialism, linguistic conflicts and capitalism confronting nations like Nigeria and the like over the years. This study is concerned with interrogating and exploring the foregoing problems. It maintains that a nation free from religious hypocrisy and fanaticism is bound to be truly religious and tap hugely from the rich prospects of religion, rather than the current otherwise obtained in Nigeria and the like nations. The ugly development calls for wide aggressive religious re-orientation and reformation, as this paper proposes. It relies on textual materials, besides non-participant observation and intuition, for data. The content-analysis is employed, involving qualitative approach and objectivism.

Keywords: Religion, Hypocrisy, Fanaticism, Apex problem, Religious nation


The highest societal matters arising in our contemporary society nowadays are religious- inclined, while others such as linguistic, political, socio-cultural and economic follow, and of course, now clothed with ‘textiles and ornaments’. ‘Religiousity’ without religion is a great challenge to nation-building in a seeming religious nation like Nigeria. It appears that the higher the number of religions in a nation, the higher and more compounding, degenerating and endemic the social vices therein. What best accounts for this course is religious hypocrisy and fanaticism. The situation presents contradictions to the thrust of religion– morality, faith and pragmatism, ethics and aesthetics. Religious thus seem to have digressed from their classical precepts, thrust, vision, mission and goals for the otherwise in recent times. Also, it thus seems to be an irony or a dilemma of a societal institution tied to faith, clothed with pretence and the reverse of what they (religions) preach/uphold or pursue.

Nigeria, a religious nation, is rather plagued with religious woes, even worse than those of the biblical Egyptian plagues on being recalcitrant to Israelites’ freedom demand and order, perhaps her people– Nigerians– are guilty of worse heinous sins and sacrileges, not just against God Almighty but humanity too, than the then Egyptians’ and Sodom/Gomorra’s. The paradox is that a nation of religiousity without religion is bound to be distressed by religion. It is not an over statement to note that only barely 5% of Nigerians, like her ‘religious chameleon’ contemporaries elsewhere, are truly religious, while others are religious hypocrites, fanatics, entrepreneurs and capitalists, preaching and spreading the negative of classical religious tenets, precepts, mission, visions, goals and what have you. The gross incessant decline of religion in an enlightened and advanced era! What an irony! What a dilemma! What a shame! The three leading religions: Traditional Religion, Christianity and Islam are all pirated now, like the minors, living merely on their past glory respectively, languishing for real faithful and saviours.

However, until we rise, become willing and retrace the right ways and attitudes of our past religious heroes and as well tolerate religious pluralism with shared general focus on truth, morality and one faith, devoid of discrimination, religion shall continue to be an endemic problem rather than a solution to our contemporary society. Let’s pause, ponder deep and retrospect for the deserved change (see Robert and Dibie, 2015). Let’s answer some self-posers, like where have we got it wrong? If the thrust of all religions is faith cum morality, why should there be hypocrisy, fundamentalism and fanaticism? Why the religious discrimination? Why the incessant religious crises? Has the theist (one) God Almighty, most Merciful, Omnipotent, Omniscience and Omnipresence become pluralised with religions, the varied yet the same means of worship and belief in Him? Why are we after religion, not God? Apart from linguistic and approach yardsticks, are these various religions not the same? Who has ever seen God physically? If none, why then do we hate one another, God’s physical representatives yet claim we know/love God? The posers are inexhaustible. Our foregoing muse has been given credence to by Obilor (2006:161) thus:

Among the many identifiable ailments ravaging Nigeria are religious in nature. At the heart of the many identifiable solutions to the ailments must include religious solutions. There are many religions in Nigeria. The good news is that Nigerians believe in one God, who is the Father of all, the creator God and the Merciful God. This good news is a sure hope that Nigeria will certainly overcome her distressed condition, especially in relation to the religious ailments. The worst condition of distress is when it is religious in nature. Nigeria is infested with religions. At the heart of Nigeria’s woes are institutional sins. By this, I mean that sin, in its many forms, is the cause of the distress condition of Nigeria.

The above affirms our position that religion is the core source of Nigeria’s problems that degenerate to extreme ethnic hatred, corruption, favouritism, nepotism, jungle justice, etc. - (regional politics), where the elder statesmen of a particular state could swear that Christians (non-Muslims) can never rule the state and vice versa, though the latter very rare, thereby causing and fuelling all forms of political and societal problems, including gangsterism, thuggery, assassination, gerrymandery, oligarchy, anarchy, gerontocracy, etc. unemployment, underdevelopment, illiteracy, poverty, etc. However, when religion is truly practised, the reverse of the aforementioned and lots more would become the case. It begins with religious tolerance, understanding of religious pluralism, practical religions (Puritanism) devoid of attachments, political and economic, and hypocrisy and fanaticism, to interpersonal core and national integration devoid of segregation. Religion and culture form the basic thing that affects development in any given society (Odoh, 2005:132).

The Concept of Religion

Conceptualising ‘religion’ is elusive, as efforts to define religion suffer parochialism among various writers. Religion is simply a belief system of a suzerainty relationship between perceived SUPREME BEING, God, and man, involving reverence, worship, faith, trust and hope from the latter to the former. To this, Onoguere (2008:75) notes, “It is obvious that the concept ‘religion’ can be interpreted as a concrete relationship existing between two different persons, e.g. a man and a Superior BEING, like spirit, gods/God. Moreover, there are promises (oath) both parties are to abide to in order to concretise the relation.” This reflects the etymology of the word ‘religion’, which is traced to the Latin word ‘religere’, meaning ‘to bind together as by oath’ (see Gidigbi, 1976 cited in Lawal, 2002).

Next, Jacob (1977), cited in Lawal (2003), has ascribed ‘religion to vision and revelation of the underlying wonders of a superior being, like God to man. This is an expression of man’s total submission to a supreme being, God (gods), as an inferior, in reward for the perceived wonders of the superior being. The classical definition offered by William (1902:31) has it as ‘the feelings, act and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they consider the divine.’ It has been described as ‘a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things; that is to say, to things set apart and forbidden– beliefs and practices which write into one single moral community… and all those who adhere to them’ (Durkeim, 1947:47). This definition is apt and captures commonly shared concept by scholars in defining religion, belief, practice, moral, community, unite and sacred forbidden beliefs.

To some, religion is solely concerned with places of worship, say, churches, mosques, temples, shrines, etc. along with the clergy and their functions/duties. Ely (1967:269) puts it viz:

…Varied are the beliefs and practices that are identified as religious that they do not lend themselves to any simple characterization. In the West, the idea of God dominates religious thought; without God, there is no religion, which is defined as the relationship between man and the divine. “From Suez East-ward, however”…Such a relationship seems as often as not to be described or describable in terms of movement, as a way.

Odoh (2005:133) warns that the definition of religion should be apprehended with caution, and some groupings we describe as religious do not pass or possess the essential characteristics of religious grouping. He has cited the following with further observation: “…Budhaism is described as the noble with fold path” and Japanese nationalist religion (if we must use the European label is called Shinto, “the way of the gods)….confucius message is called by turn the way”, so says Banquet (1950:16).

Looking at the above, one will discover that the ideas of religion here cannot be easily described. This is because all attention centres on rituals and abstract ideas. Beliefs, rituals and objects acquire their sacred quality from people either as individuals or group(s). What some societies consider sacred may be secular to others and those who pursue such sacred thought, feelings or objects may be considered mad. This divine madness can eventually engulf a whole state or society. Individuals acquire practices and attitudes which they consider religion from groups where they live (Odoh, 2005:133-4). This divine madness is what has engulfed a religious nation like Nigeria and thereby manifesting various ‘abnormalities that bedevil her (Nigeria) over the ages.

Although there are legion definitions of religion, just like there are legions of religions, scholars and religions, we only add here, the sharing the definitions proffered by Whawo (1991), Bamisaiye (1998), Lawal (2002) and Omozeghian (2005), that ‘religion is a reconciliation of all man’s concerns with cosmic forces or supernatural beings which he believes can influence his faith either positively or negatively’. This simply highlights man’s eternal fate (hope) in the metaphysical forces or being(s), God (gods), considered supreme and who indeed is/are.

Functions of Religion

Religion performs several important functions for the maintenance of society as a whole. Igbo (2003:183-188) points out the following social functions of religion:

(i) Group integration or social solidarity: Religion serves as a cement which binds [smoothens] people together into an integrated social group. Through the sharing of beliefs and values and the participation of religious rituals and practices, members of a society become united, as one solitary group.
(ii) Maintenance of social control: Many of society’s values and norms as well as its legal prohibitions have their source in religious morality. Specifically, the secular laws which prohibit murder, manslaughter, theft, rape, assault, false witness/evidence, etc. are derived from the divine commandments of God.
(iii) Provision of meaning: It provides meaningful answers to the many questions about life, the universe, origin, miseries, etc.
(iv) The control of stress: It provides an outlet for the control and discharge of stress, frustration and tension. Many religions preach self-denial and rejection of materialism and having faith in the Supreme Being for solutions to problems, thereby bothering or worrying less about life problems that could only be subjected to divine solutions or intervention.
(v) Psychological support: It provides individuals with emotional support during major events in their lives, such as birth marriage and death occasions, usually barked by religious rituals and ceremonies like baptism, wedding and funeral.

Highlighting the religious solutions to the problem of distress in a religious nation like Nigeria, Obilor (2006:165) writes,

Thus religion in Nigeria, especially the Catholic Christianity, has been doing many things to keep people going even in the midst of abject poverty and suffering both mentally and physically. Because the Kingdom of God is also a Kingdom of Justice, peace and freedom, and because the Church exists for the sake of that Kingdom, the church’s mission must also include responsibility for humanization in its fullest sense. The church’s activities in the social and political orders, is justified on the basis of the social and institutional character of sin itself. Since the church is called to combat sin of every kind, the church has responsibility in all areas where sin appears.

Obilor (2006:165) further obliges that the three major religions in Nigeria must be on mission against all forms of sin. The causes of the distressed condition of the nation [Nigeria] are traceable to the hydra-headed forms of human sin. It is not of God. We can only pray and hope that the religions in Nigeria will contribute more to the alleviation of distress in the land and thus lead all to the Kingdom of justice and peace when the distress condition will become a thing of the past. In the same vein, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria (CBN, 2002) lamented on the religious wounds, afflicting Nigeria physically, psychologically, socio-politically, economically, spiritually and morally thus:

Our seemingly incurable wounds are symptoms of a deeper and more chronic sickness, namely sin. This is manifested in our lack of love, lack of concern and selfishness at individual and group levels. The pervasive presence of greed, selfishness, corruption, the culture of impunity, the politics of power rather than development, all contribute to a nation of wounded people.

On the part of the church, the Bishops reaffirmed their consistent teaching about the church as the family of God, emphasising the necessity of hearts, minds and attitudes to the ways of Jesus, to the gospel values that Jesus lived and died for. Without interior renewal and conversion, they said, we must have to shun violence and imbibe the culture of dialogue, non-violence, unity; peace, tolerance, integration and mutual understanding (see Obilor, 2006). On the way forward, the Bishops noted that the glaring thankless task lies with the government and the church. For the government, they recommended: (i) a call for national conference that will examine the sources of conflict and propose measures to heal the wounds of the divisions; (ii) a call to have the Oputa Panel Report made public; (iii) a call for the reaffirmation by government of the secular nature of Nigeria; (iv) a call for qualitative and functional education at all levels; (v) a call on government to conduct its business in the open and not as if secret cults; (vi) a call to fight corruption beginning from the principal actors of the nation’s policy.

Generally, as attested to by Obilor (2006:166), the three major religions in Nigeria are characterised by: (i) lack of unity among them; (ii) internal (intra) rivalry within each one of them as well as external (inter) rivalry which is pervasive, more devastating and often; (iii) political manipulation of religion; (iv) abuse of religion for selfish motives– religious commercialisation, proliferation and piracy; (v) ethnicity as a religious weapon (ethnic religious incitement); (vi) ignorance of the true worship of God, heightened by religious rhetoric’s and brainwashing; (vii) the existence of false, compromising, sinful, deviant, questionable, unscrupulous and demon-inclined religious leaders; (viii) superiority tendency and identity contestation; (ix) values, norms, methods, perceptions/perspectives, means, approaches, scopes, tenets, doctrines and dogma, and linguistic (language) variances/differences, among them, which are yet alike but usually misunderstood by the different religions. Of course, all religions are one in terms of their pursuit– faith, belief and hope in and worshipping of a conceived unseen Supreme Being– God or god(s). The big and small ‘g’ is a mere Christians’ and Muslims’ superiority linguistic creation to relegate the African religion, because there is no basis for such differentiation. For instance, ‘who are gods?’ ‘Who is god/God respectively?’ Who has ever seen God, apart from the faith-psychological thought/basis envisaged assumption and tales of having had an encounter with God by different individuals, without empirical/pragmatic proves/evidence.

McBrien’s (1984:274) lends credence to our position that all religions are one thus:

All religions are related somehow to the Christian economy of salvation. Apart from this relationship, they have no salvific power; yet their adherents can find salvation, even though their religions are not on an equal footing with Christianity. These many other religions contain many authentic values, though they also are mixed with error, and hence need to be purified. But they do contain elements of the supreme truth and seeds of God’s word, and divine grace works, in them. They deal, therefore, with the one God and with ultimate about human existence. Accordingly, we must support true religious freedom, tolerance and respect. Our relations with other religious bodies should be characterized by acceptance, collaboration and dialogue. Christians can learn from the values of other religious traditions. And there should be charity in any case.

Understanding the Concept of Religious Fundamentalism

The concept of religious fundamentalism has become a prominent phenomenon in international politics, playing an essential role in shaping the main events of the 21st century. The entrance of the concept in the vocabulary of the social sciences in recent times is to designate cum revitalise conservative religious orthodoxy. But originally, the word fundamentalism dates to an early 20th century American religious movement. The movement took its name from a companion of twelve volumes published between 1960 and 1915 by a group of Protestant laymen entitled, The fundamentals: A testimony of the truth. It owes its existence, according to Beeman (2001:12), particularly to the same evangelical revivalist tradition that inspired the Great Awakening of the early 19th century and a variety of millenarian movements. It came to embody both principles of absolute religious orthodoxy and evangelical practices which called for believers to extend action beyond religion into political and social life.

The people in this category had a set of well defined fundamental values. These values for them were in opposition to more modern ideas. They originally maintained that it is important to stick to what faith (the Bible) tells them. Today, the term is deployed to qualify religious extremism wherever it is found. Religious fundamentalists believe that religious doctrines or propositions are absolute and immutable. They abhor change of whatever kind in religious matters. They find change oppressive and troubling and thus their emergence is seen in the form of an orthodox restatement of traditional and conservative religious patterns. Tamas Patak, in his recent work entitled, Against religion (Patak 2007:27), lists what he sees as ‘criss-crossing similarities’ –family resemblances in certain basic beliefs, values and attitudes that characterise the various religious groups labelled fundamentalist:

i. They (fundamentalists) are counter-modernist. Fundamentalist tendency manifests itself as an attempt by ‘besieged believers’ to find their refuge in arming themselves with an identity that is rooted in a past golden age. And this identity is acted out in an attempt to restore that ‘golden past’ (p.29).

ii. They (fundamentalists) are generally assertive, clamorous and often violent. This tendency is manifestly evidenced in the militancy, threats, intimidation and sometimes violence on the part of the religious extremists.

iii. They (fundamentalists) are ‘the chosen’, ‘the elect’ and ‘the saved’. It is from this conviction that they usually consider themselves ‘privileged and burdened’ with a special mission on behalf of their deity and for the benefit of the world. Pataki notes that this attitude ‘is not restricted to fundamentalist groups but is a prominent mark of all of them (p.29).

iv. Public marks of distinction. They consider this as a surest way of maintaining their sense of superiority and distinctive identity; not only for the purpose of maintaining that distinctive identity, but also as ‘part of the narcissistic struggle to be considered unique and special’ (p.30).

v. That there is only one true religion and one correct way of life, and this must be defended against in roads with other religious and secularism. In their mentality, there is no room for religious pluralism and there is no middle ground: ‘You are either with us or against us’ (p.30).

vi. That there is an inerrant holy book, prophet or charismatic leader to whom literal obedience is mandatory. With this tendency any contrary treatment of their holy book or revered personage is visited with any protestation possible.

vii. That law and authority comes from God, and every plausible legal structure must source its strength and provision from the holy book.

viii. Female sexuality must be controlled and clear impassable boundaries must be established between men and women. This is premised on the belief that female sexuality is associated strongly with “animatisms” and pollution, giving rise to taboos on certain sexual practices (p.32).

ix. Sexual behaviour is a major concern of all fundamentalists. The concern is expressed especially in reference to the fear of and opposition of homosexuality.

x. Fundamentalist and nationalism converge: It is the belief of the fundamentalists that moral life according to the will of God can only be fully lived in a society of fellow practitioners of the belief. This can only be achieved through God’s rule, theocracy. Hence, the struggle to bring about a government that can ensure the enthronement of God’s will in governance.

It is instructive to note that these tendencies are evident in the activities of the Boko-Haram movement in Northern Nigeria. However, many critical observes are not so much worried about the fundamentalists, believing in certain fundamentals, but their sense of judgement about moral and religious absolutes and their virtual lack of tolerance and accommodation of other views in the society that is heterogeneous and increasingly pluralistic. However, it is worth noting that the features listed above by Tamas Pataki capture reasonably what we consider here to be religious fundamentalism/fanaticism.

Religion and the Nigerian Nation

Nigeria is a religious nation, with three most pronounced religious: traditional African Religion, Christianity and Islam, whereby Christianity and Islam incessantly struggle with bloodshed for superiority, popularity, population increase, secularism and more rights, since inception. We are thus inclined to ask: would the absence/non-emergence of both but the original, African Traditional Religion, practised hitherto, have been better than the present mixture? The affirmative is both ‘No!’ and ‘Yes!’ First, because before the advent of Christianity and Islam to Africa/Nigeria there existed rarely any religious problems, as sanctity was rather maintained by all for fear of the immediate repercussion of one’s misdeeds, unlike now. On the other hand, their coming had brought various changes, positive and negative, yet with the positive ones preceding the negative regardless of the enormous emerging and endemic religious problems such as ethnicity, religious politics, corruption, religious commerce and economy, religious-inclined (social) vices, etc. that engulf a religiously mad nation like Nigeria. Well, opinions on the above would definitely vary among individuals and groups.

Initially, the Nigeria nation (society) comprising of over 350 ethnic groups, was classically involved in the African Tradition Religion inherent to each of these tribes until the advent of Christianity in the South by the European missionaries and that of Islam in the North by the Arabian missionaries, who then began labelling the indigenous religion and means of worship cum the worshippers as ‘pagans’, ‘fetish’, ‘paganism’, idols//idolatry’, ‘juju’, etc., all to convince and convert the people. This mission, they accomplished successfully and implanted the Nigeria’s two main religions– Christianity and Islam, which brought along with them the endemic incessant religious problems that have been ravaging Nigeria over the ages.

In the 1932 census, 50% of the population was registered as ‘pagans’ and it later declined to 34% in 1952, reduced further to 18% in the 1963 censures while in 1991 nobody indicated being a traditionalist, which implies that we have two main religions: Christianity and Islam (Odoh, 2005:136). In reality, this is however not so. Hypocrisy and fanaticism account for such decline. If ATR is now extinct, why do we still see people practising the very kind of religious rites that those proudly known to be its adherents doing so? Who are those that politicians and the like often meet secretly for spiritual powers? Why do we hear some of the so-called believers say: If it takes dropping the Bible/Koran first to go diabolical, I will do so first in this/that matter? Nigeria is turned a hypocritical and fanatical religious nation by her believers of the two major religions.

Although they claim to be believers, not pagans, most of them still dine and wine with devil himself too, like those of their contemporaries. While (most) Muslims believe and use ‘charms’ but drop them at home or outside the mosques for prayers, the Christians can either easily renounce their faith at critical situations at gunpoint, just as Peter did in the Bible, or contact the traditionalists for various spiritual assistance, fortunes or divinities. It is crystal clear that almost all of those caught in money rituals and the like in Nigeria have always claimed to be Christian or Muslim faithful, mostly with various religious titles. That is pretence in the highest order. What do we say of the involvements of pastors and Imams in rituals and all forms of atrocities? The Christians seem to even be worse. An Abuja pastor once asked his married church woman to bring her only new born baby boy for ritual. She did, but they were both caught while he was pounding the baby in a mortar. The so-called real pagans never did/do such. They reject another person’s blood for your sacrifice for fortunes or wealth. The Saturday Vanguard of 26 July, 2014 contains an article entitled by Cypril Ozor Sacrilege: Pastor who impregnates married women and their daughters, says God directs him to do so. Cyril writes,

The pastor reported claimed that he had sexual intercourse with women in his ministry as a result of directives from the Holy Spirit and with the consent of their husbands, if married, but for the single ones, a spiritual directive. Ngwu (Timothy) until his arrest, was a sanitary officer and statistician with the National Bureau of Statistics, one time Assistant Catechist at St John’s Catholic Church, Ihe-Umudikwere, Nsukka, where he inducts married women and young girls seeking solution to their problems or favour. He was chased out of the Catholic Church and he started his own church… The two women indentified as Calista Omejo and Assumpta Odo confirmed that they left their husbands to live with the General Overseer on the prophetic injunction to do the will of God. The statement noted that Calista revealed that she had 10 children for her husband but was later impregnated by the General Overseer and that the baby died later. She also said that she gave out her daughter to the General Overseer to be impregnated, an act she described as ‘the fulfillment of the will of God ’….The pastor said that God had given him five wives and 13 children, apart from other concubines he had following the prophetic directive to do the will of God…(p.38-9).


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Religious Hypocrisy and Fanaticism in Nigeria. The Apex Problem of a Religious Nation
The Contemporary Religions and Religious Issues
Ebonyi State University  (New Frontier Ind. Research and Publications Int'l, Makurdi, Benue, Nigeria)
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Religion, Hypocrisy, Fanaticism, Apex problem, Religious nation
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Odey Simon Robert (Author)Eric Ndoma Besong (Author), 2017, Religious Hypocrisy and Fanaticism in Nigeria. The Apex Problem of a Religious Nation, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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