Nigerian youth and religious bigotry


A paper presented by Chimezie Judemary Udechukwu

An African proverb says “if you think you are too small to make a difference, then you haven’t spent a night with a mosquito”. This my food for thought for you as I bid you welcome on board our short journey of reflecting into the Nigerian Youths and Religious Bigotry.


Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI while addressing the youths of the world in the 2013 World Youth Day in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil says Young people are known for their beauty, their strength, their creativity their vitality, their exuberance and their resilience; but they need to the right direction and motivation so as to channel these qualities to bear true witness to Christ.

In this era of globalization, advanced technological awareness, and the attendant launch of the New Media [Social Media], socialization has been redefined. With more man hours spent on this virtual world, only those who are internet savvy [techy in the language of today] can learn and be instructed, thus changing the entire scope of socialization.


Since pre independence struggles, youths are have been active in determining the affairs of this country. The Enahoro’s and Azikiwe’s were young men who led multitudes; propagating ideologies with rich oratory, fine argument and Prolific writings. Ojukwu too was young, so was Gown, and Idiagbon. Whether on the positive or negative sides, youths have played vital roles in shaping the course of this nation. In the early decades after independence, young people were much more concerned about the arts, oratory, chivalry, leaning towards political ideologies [especially in the cold war era]. But at the turn of the 21st century, we have seen a paradigm shift in the thinking of young people especially Nigerians. This perhaps we can attribute to unpopular policies, absence of welfare scheme for the youth, the activities of unscrupulous politicians, the spread of religious extremism and the near collapse of the education sector.

There are about 236 institutions of higher learning in the country [Federal, State, Private – Universities, Polytechnics, Colleges of Education], and these institutions graduate up to 500,000 graduates every year. Thus, the Federal Bureau of Statistics has placed unemployment rate at 26%. The percentage of the self-employed has also been placed at 36.3%, and they constitute 13% of the entire population, just as the number of graduates unemployed is 83% out of the 26% of the total unemployed.

There has been a huge departure from the values of our founding fathers as a nature – honesty, diligence, hard work, perseverance, discipline, patience, consistency, the reward for labour and industry. The ibu anyi danda [the load does not crush the ant] igbo philosophy is lost. In as much as we complain of our failing education system, we must be quick to add here that our youths have become mentally and intellectually lazy, a stone throw away from being Tabula Rasa’s. This is a breeding ground for religious bigotry.

The period between childhood and maturity [adulthood] characterized by freshness, exuberance, vigor and vitality and innovation. While some argue that it spans from 15- 28, others say 18 – 35 while there are those who argue that it is from 16 – 40. Whichever be the case, one fact we cannot hide is that at this stage, they are very impressionable.
Religious Bigotry
In defining this concept, many of us seated here will be quick to point at non Catholics, Muslims and perhaps even Animists [Traditional worshippers] but the term simply means among others; racism, narrow-mindedness, chauvinism, bias, intolerance or prejudice towards a religion other than one’s own. Since religion in itself signifies the belief in, worship and devotion to a Supreme Being, as Catholics, God, it therefore means that even as Catholics we have religious bigots among us.


As we have noted earlier, religious bigotry is embedded in intolerance, and the youths, are the active drivers of any ideology. So religion, which in itself is quite ideological, can be attributed to the various acts of violence resulting from the activities of youthful bigots. Thus we can safely infer that there exist a relationship between growing spate of religious bigotry and the demographic composition of the country, which is largely youthful.

This youthfulness with its numerous challenges as enunciated by Bishop Mathew Kukah [the Msgr] in his address to the delegates of the 2nd National Youth Day Celebration, Abuja in 2010 includes unemployment, insecurity, godfatherism, sexual abuse, urbanization, exclusion, loneliness / emptiness, indifference, poverty, uncertainty and frustration.

Religious bigotry is in the league of religious fundamentalism, a set of religious beliefs based on a literal interpretation of a religious text; they are embattled forms of spirituality, which have emerged as a response to a perceived crisis. Another offshoot of bigotry and fundamentalism is terrorism. It is a form of political and institutional violence of the fundamentalist that challenges the legitimacy and authority of the state. It has been used throughout history at various times and by various groups especially religious sects to express their anger at the government. Fundamentalists have no time for democracy, pluralism, religious toleration, peacekeeping, free speech or the separation of church and state. Fundamentalisms all follow a certain pattern. Fundamentalists see themselves as engaging in a conflict with enemies whose secularist policies and beliefs seem inimical to religion itself.
Nigeria is said to be among the most religious nations on the earth but this is not translated in the spirituality and piety of its people. Unfortunately, the major culprits and victims of religious bigotry are young people because they possess the innovation and energy. This is clearly evident in the horrendous display by the Boko Harm Sect from starting out as an Islamic sect with a puritanical, conservative, literalist approach to Islamic theology sometimes in 2002, in Maiduguri, Borno State, North – eastern part of Nigeria to becoming an armed group with scores to settle against the Nigerian state for the murder of its leader, Muhammad Yusuf in cold blood in July, 2009; Boko Haram has continued to wreck untold havoc on the Nigerian people especially those in the North east region, military institutions and government establishments. Fatality figures are in the thousands while hundreds of millions of Naira worth of properties have been lost. An example of bigotry unchecked.


In Jn 17: 18-21 Jesus expresses His desire for oneness and unity among the peoples. Ecumenism aims at promoting cooperation and universal Christian unity on one hand while Inter Religious Dialogue seeks to engage in rich dialogue that among the various religious organizations in the country. The Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN and the Nigeria Inter Religious Council, NIREC are bodies established to see to this.

Msgr. Jerome Madueke also addressing the 2010 NYD Delegates notes contemporary Catholic Youth are urged to drink from the wellspring of Christian tradition of prayer. A neglect to drink from authentic spring of Christian spirituality constitutes a sin of omission which risks supplicants to drink poison.  He further advised that works of great mystics - such as Sts. Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, the teachings of Sts. Augustine, Francis De Sales, Alphonsus Liguori and the great spiritualties of Sts. Theresa of the Child Jesus, Maria Faustina etc., be introduced to young people for their spiritual edification.

The gift of piety begets in the human heart a filial affection for Abba Father. An intimacy develops thereof that devotionally grows. True Friendship provides an opportunity for the expression of love and affection, the avoidance of pain; also, it shows the virtue in tolerance; the folly in anger, the emptiness in jealousy; the beauty of forgiveness and the necessity of repentance, as well as the bond of family and the respect for the sanctity and dignity of human life. This is what ecumenism calls us be and to do. We must each other as part of God’s creation irrespective of religious affiliation. Piety nourishes relationship with neighbors, devotion to one to duty to one’s family and society. Without justice and charity, spirituality becomes vain, and faith smothers and dies [Jm. 2:14-20; 1:22-27: 1 Jn 4:12].   
Gov. Babatunde Fashola in his address to an Interfaith Conference organized by the state in May 2014 urged religious leaders to eschew hate messages from the pulpit and avoid politicking as much as possible. He cautioned that they must avoid situations where grievances are ventilated merely on religious grounds as this is capable of degenerating to breaching of the peace in the State. From the same conference which I attended as a delegate from Archdiocesan CYON, it was observed that;
·       That no faith is superior to another. Hence, unhealthy criticism, unfounded accusation, unholy rivalry, ungodly comparison and unwanted provocation will not promote peace rather they are capable of dividing and creating disharmony.

·       No religion encourages unlawful killing, shedding/drinking of blood, slavery, abduction, forced marriage etc. rather, all religions preach peaceful co-existence, love and unity hence Boko Haram and their activities does not have place or support in any religion and are condemned in totality.
·       That parents have not been paying attention to the proper upbringing of children at home hence youths have been exposed to external influence of those who radicalize and render them anti society.

·       That there is high rate of poverty and unemployment in Nigeria which does not respect or exclude any faith and which have rendered youths frustrated and socially vulnerable to those who recruit them for anti-social and destructive purposes.

In the light of the aforementioned, it was resolved that;
1.               That religious leaders should use their privileged position as custodians of the pulpit and minbar responsibly to emphasize the equality and unity of both Faiths, encourage harmonious, peaceful coexistence, stress values and teachings that unite the two Faiths.

2.               That religious tolerance should be introduced and taught in schools in Lagos State to emphasize similarities in the two Faiths.

3.               That parents should show more interest in the upbringing of their children to reduce or avoid their exposure to negative influence by bad elements in society and should not allow their economic aspiration to destroy the family as foundation for a good society.

4.               That the activities of Boko Haram do not in anyway represent the tenets of Islam and are condemned in totality and the government is urged to use every means possible to secure the lives and property of citizens and bring the Boko Haram insurgents and criminals to justice.

5.               That government and religious organizations must act to reduce the high rate of poverty and unemployment in Nigeria generally by creating wealth and jobs to reduce frustration among youths and prevent their recruitment by those who use them for anti-social and destructive purposes.


My fellow young people, we have in us, physical energy, vitality, human strength, mental power, life exuberance, human capabilities all towering towards the zenith of our lives. Our age is the age of achieving goals, successes and realizing dreams. Do not let anyone drag you into any unnecessary religious unwholesome scruples. Life is to short to be spent on fulfilling other people’s unhealthy whims and caprices.

Live, Learn, Love! Indeed we are can be one and the world can truly be peaceful!
May the Peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding, be you all.
Remain rooted and built up in Christ, firm in the faith… Col. 2:7
I thank you for listening/

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  1. Thought provoking. This applies not only in Nigeria though. The Youths constitute the largest percentage of the world's population today and when their energy isn't properly channelled, it could lead to catastrophes.

    1. The Mazeedah is that people with evil agenda manipulate the energies of the young and get them to channel it wrongly. This is why the youth must become self aware especially of his environment and ensure that he knows when he is being manipulated.