Religion and the making of Nigeria
A review of Professor Olufemi Vaughan’s book, Religion and the making of Nigeria
P ROFESSOR Olufemi Vaughan’s book supremely holds the reader’s interest, fittingly fires her curiosity, and graciously gives her the pleasure of an intellectual high. It tells—with ease and fluid prose—the complicated but important story of Nigeria’s state-society development in the context of, in interaction with, and in antagonistic and agonistic relationships with religious forces.Vaughan argues that religious forces are decisive within the process of state formation, civic association, political mobilization, and political culture in Nigeria. Religion and religious identity are important not only for individual citizens’ self-understanding, but also for conception and realization of the national project, “the making of Nigeria.” This book demonstrates that state formation finds itself increasingly between the rock of religious past and present and the hard place of welding different groups, ethnicities, kingdoms/empires into “one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity.” To the extent that the Nigerian project has gone on this far is a testament of leaders and ordinary citizens’ capacity to take a diagonal path between the rock and the hard place.
Vaughan demonstrates a similar capacity to take a diagonal path between regnant intellectual debates. He deftly navigates and yet avoids falling in line with the scholarship that maintains that Nigeria’s state formation process began with Britain’s subjugation of the peoples and groups that came to be known as Nigeria. In the same spirit, he does not tell the story of Nigeria’s state formation along the usual lines of historical periodisation. He demonstrates that the Nigerian state and society started before 1914, before Lord Lugard’s amalgamation. He captures the continuities within the local settings that fashion the character of the Nigerian state. In his analysis, colonial activities or the rupture that was colonialism are not elevated beyond everything else. Colonialism is just one of the factors that have been mixed with local agency, indigenous skills, memories, institutions, and religions to fashion the Nigerian state.
Vaughan’s perchance for taking the lonely intellectual pathway in search of truths is most amply demonstrated in the way he presents the Nigerian story of religion and state formation.He shows two forces playing in a common field over a long period of time. Christianity and Islam, interacting together in one common field of state-society formation over a long time. Scholars often resort to other common fields (violence, class/economic interests, etc.) when analysing how these two world religions interact on the Nigerian soil. But Vaughan, the Oxford-trained political scientist and historian and renowned scholarchose a different common field of interaction: state-society formation. This is, perhaps, the oldest, widest, most continuous, and longest running field of play so far. How does this approach change the way we interpret inter-religious dialogues, comparative religion, state, civic culture, pluralism, and religion and political theory?
Vaughan shows a way forward. I admire Vaughan’s book for his attention to historical analyses, critical engagements with cutting-edge paradigms and theoretical perspectives, and the large and penetrating lens that he brings to elucidate his research topic. All these are made possible, in part, by his use of a robust methodology that is well suited to understanding Nigeria’s structural and systemic problems and for providing appropriate responses to them. His book adopts the methodology of longue duree of history, enabling him to provide a robust or sophisticated perspective on the nature, logic, and dynamics of the problems confronting Nigeria. His book nudges the reader to move his or her gaze from well-worn binary oppositions to the grand and longue duree process of state formation, institution building, and search for state legitimacy. He does this by clearly showing how the forces, logics, and ethos of religion (Islam, Christianity, African traditional religions), indigenous social institutions and traditions, and Western ideas and practices intersect and intertwine in the long and ongoing processes of state formation in Nigeria.
Religion and the Making of Nigeria shows that at the root of the state formation process are religion/religions and the values, attitudes and sensitivities it (they) promotes. Second, religion is not something external to the state formation process, it is integral to the whole process. Religion is an internal process that powers the state formation process from within and also powers the agency of major actors and their followers. Religion is not a tool the key actors in the nation’s history take from a toolbox to tackle the state formation process. There is no binarism/duality: religion here and state over there. Religion is part of the referential totality of the horizon of the state formation; it is part of the purpose, process, meaning, and spirit of the state formation, and helps to make sense of the state-society formation itself. Religion and state formation are part of one large and complex process of development, yet he shows us how to parse them for analysis and understanding.
By way of reaching conclusion, let me state that Vaughan’s book has implications for how we think about socio-economic development in Nigeria. His book demonstrates that at the root of Nigeria’s development or civilisation is a non-material core of values, religion and ethics. We cannot foster our civilisation or development if we ignore religion and religious difference.
- Wariboko is the Walter G. Muelder Professor of Social Ethics, Boston University, USA.