Interviewer: Nigeria is quite a religious society. Religion is very deeply ingrained here. And often it takes quite conservative, sometimes violent forms. What are your thoughts on religion in Nigeria and what it means for anarchism and organising more broadly?
Sam: I’ll say that religion and religious practices have entered a new phase in Nigeria. Before the advent of colonialism, our people were mostly African religionists, who worship our small gods – gods of thunder, gods of river, and such other gods. With the coming of colonialism, the two main global religions – Islam and Christianity – became a predominant force in the lives of Nigerians.
The rivalry and competition between the two religions has tended to play down the fact that not all Nigerians are Christians or Muslims. Even in the North-central, you are talking about pagan tribes and different forms of African religion that take place in those places. But today Nigeria is profiled and stereotyped as a Christian South and a Muslim North. Yet if you go to the North you find a lot of non-adherents to Islam, you come to the South as well you find a lot of non-adherents to Christianity.
But I would say that in the past 20-30 years the singular influence of Christianity and Islam has been considerably negative on the society in the sense that both religions have become sources of manipulation, political manipulation of ordinary people. When you hear that there is a religious riot in the North, a religious riot in the East, when you go down and examine the issues, they are not basically religious. Politicians are using religion to manipulate the ordinary people into fighting for the political positions and beliefs of the elite.
Religion has become an instrument of manipulation, exploitation, deceit, and large-scale blindfolding of ordinary people in Nigeria. It is one of the elements militating against social consciousness and the development of the working class, as a class, in Nigeria. The development of a class of the dispossessed, the oppressed, the marginalized, who feel and share common interests and are keen to fight for those common interests. Religion is thrown in as a wedge, as a source of conflict among ordinary people. Like Karl Marx said, religion becomes the opium of society. Every little thing is covered, is given a religious coloration, when it is actually not. It is a tremendous setback to the development of social consciousness in Nigeria and the rest of Africa as a whole.
Interviewer: Yes. You’ve already touched on it, but those religious divisions are often related to (but not solely related to) ethnic divisions, and race, and gender as dividing people from each other. What are your thoughts about that?
Sam: Well the problem we have is not really race as such, it is about religion, it is about ethnicity. Much of religion in Nigeria and Africa is geographical. You find that religion tends to conform to certain ethnic boundaries. When you hear about a Fulani, you imagine a Muslim. When you hear about an Igboman, you imagine a Catholic Christian. When you talk about the man from the middle belt of Nigeria, you’re talking about an evangelical Christian. So, much of our religious differences have become geographical in nature, in the sense that certain ethnic boundaries are coherent also with certain religions. The people have been made to see these differences as permanent features of life, not things you can overcome. The truth is that before the commodification of exchange and the means of sustenance in our society, before the monetization of the economy, people related with one another, and did not mind about religious differences. Everybody believed your religion ought to be a personal issue to you. But with the politicization of religion, the way we are seeing it today, social differences have been magnified by politicians, who use it to manipulate and control the mass of the population.