Overview of Religions in Nigeria

Since the dawn of civilization, religion has existed. We could say that religion was necessitated by the dire need of the human spirit to find meaning to natural occurrences, the need for purpose, the need to be accountable. But whatever the initial motivation was, it is clear that religion has come to stay, it has come to change the way we live our lives, religion has defined the standards for morality—standards for good and bad.

Today, people believe in life after death, people look up to a spiritual deity to come to their aid when life tosses some coins of distress their ways, people need that solace. The Nigerian people are not much different. In fact, in a survey conducted to access the penetration of religion in different countries, African countries topped the chart with Ethiopia on the first place down to China on the last place. Based on a Washington (RNS) research, three-quarters of the population of sub-Saharan Africa considers religion very important. Well, it suffices to add as well that the United States occupies the position of the most industrialized religious country.


Talking religion, in this article we would look at the most predominant religious groups in one country in the continent—Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation. Before we look at the respective religions, it is worth mentioning that a recent survey conducted showed that 50% of the population subscribes to Islamic religion, 40% to Christianity, and the remaining 10% to any of the others including the indigenous African Traditional Religion.


  1. Christianity

Founded by a Jewish Nazarene known as Jesus Christ, this religion has lasted over 2300 years. It came into the country when the Benis and Deltans were colonized by the Portuguese, around the 15th century. The religion is widely divided across denominations from Catholic to Anglicans to Pentecostals and Jehovah Witnesses, with each practicing a slightly different flavor of the religion; by flavor is meant “a slight addition or subtraction of a doctrine” from some other denomination. This is the same way many religions tend to become after so many years of existence, take Hinduism as a case study; it has existed for more than 4000 years.

The religion has majority of its followership in the South-Southern, South-Eastern, and South-Western parts of the country. The Pentecostal churches include:

  • Redeem Christian Church of God (RCCG)
  • Winner’s Chapel
  • Christ Apostolic Church
  • Deeper Christian Life Ministry
  • Christ Embassy
  • Synagogue Church of All Nations
  • The CommonWealth of Zion Assembly
  • Foursquare Gospel Church
  • And so on


The denominations, in a sense, have a sort of attendance determined by ethnicity and geography. Take Catholic churches for example, the church has an extreme attendance in the East as opposed to the west, and same goes for Redeem, which has massive attendance in the west as opposed to the east. Perhaps that has to do with how they were introduced into the country, or it has to do with the similarities between the Igbo language and the Latin spoken by the Roman Catholics.


There are also a handful of Christians in the Northern part of the country as well.


  1. Islam

Mohammed, a prophet from the Arabian parts of the world, founded this religion around the same time that Christianity came into Nigeria. He is often referred to as the “last Messenger” from God after the Prophet Isa (who is known a Jesus Christ). His followers are known as Muslims.

Wikipedia has it that the history of the religion in Nigeria can be linked back to the regime of Mai Idris Alooma (1571—1603) of the Borno Empire, around the 9th century. (Mai means king). Usman Dan Fodio went on to propel the teachings, which the king had initially allowed to spread.


The religion, unlike Christianity, allows for polygamous marriages. This led to proliferation in marriages (including early marriages) and consequently led to the explosion of the Muslim population. In fact, Nigeria currently has the largest Muslim population in the continent. There are a good number of Muslims in the West too, but far fewer number in the East and South.


In the same way that Christianity has denominations, Islam also has its own groups: the Sunni and the Shia Muslims. The Sunnis are the minority group and they majorly are pat of the Sufi brotherhood, and they follow the Qadiriyya, Mouride, and the Tijaniyyah movement. The Shi’ites are the majority. The Shi’ite leader in Nigeria is Ibrahim Zakzaky who is under government custody at the moment.


Unfortunately, while the meaning of “Islam” is peace, the religion is largely associated with radicalism and violence. This is because there are extremist groups (jihadists and terrorists) that claim to have ties with the religion and so go on to perpetrate dastardly acts and crimes against humanity.


  1. African Traditional Religion

This is the indigenous religion in vogue prior to the interference of the western voyagers. This is not to say, however, that the religion is extinct; far from it. The religion is still woven into the cultures of many tribes and areas of the country. Although there were a number of aspects of the African religion that condoned certain despicable acts that, in this age, would be out of place with ethics, the religion also embodies its own blessings.


By whatever name it is known, whether Voodoo or witchcraft, there wee elements of the African Traditional Religion that has proven to improve the quality of our modern lives. From the powerful pieces of art that emanated from the skilled efforts of those who sculpted their deities to the herbs that still perform their “magic” that came from the pots of the native doctors.


While the igbos worshipped Amadioha and Idemili, the Yorubas worshipped the Ifa, Ogun, Sango, and so on. One of the things that go with worshipping these gods is the sacrifices that go with it—fetish / blood rituals.


The smoke from the gun-powder explosion of this religion still lingers till today, and in fact, there are still a handful of devout practitioners of the religion.


  1. Hinduism

This religion entered into the country through the Indians and Asians. The religion, as you must have read above, has been in existence for over 4000 years, and has so many variants. It has a handful of followers in Nigeria mostly in the moderately to very developed parts of the county like Lagos and Abuja.

  1. Chrislam

This is somewhere between Christianity and Islam; they are those who believe everything about Christianity and Jesus Christ, but then also believe that Mohammed was God’s messenger and so an extension of the heavenly agenda beyond Jesus.


  1. Grail Movement

Founded by Abd-ru-shin, who like Shakespeare who said “there is more in heaven and on earth than are contained in your philosophies”, proposes that heaven and earth contains more than are contained in all the major religions.


  1. The Reformed Ogboni Confraternity

Mostly perceived by people as a secret cult, this group has a handful of followers sparsely spread across some major cities in the country. Ven. Archdeacon Ogunbiyi founded it in Nigeria in 1914.


  1. Atheism

This is not so much of a religion but it is also a body of beliefs as well. Its mostly practiced by academics and scientists, and the fundamental belief is that there is no God. This is different from Agnostics who do not claim that there is no God; they instead claim that the religious folks who preach the existence of such a deity should bear the burden of proving beyond reasonable doubts. This movement is gaining a loud followership in the country already.

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