Christian religious education for a culture of peace in nigeria

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Nigeria Interfaith Youth Forum-March 2006



Emmanuel Ande Ivorgba

(Executive Director)

Africa Christian Youths Development Foundation

Being text of a paper presentation at the Stakeholders Meeting organized by the Nigeria Interfaith Youth Forum at the Solomon Lar Amusement Park, Jos-Nigeria from 17th -18th March 2006


In attempting to discuss this topic beneficially, we will begin by clearly defining our terms with rigour and exactitude to avoid any possible misconceptions in the mind of the reader or listener.

A Christian is one who is a follower of Jesus Christ, that is, a person who believes and practices the tenets of the Christian faith as presented in the Holy Scriptures. Education, on the other hand, as defined by Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English is the process by which your mind develops through learning at a school, college or university. Secondly, it is the Knowledge or skill gained from being taught1.

In discussing Christian Religious Education, we therefore refer to a process of developing a person’s mind, in which the Christian religious teachings are incorporated and are indeed central to all other aspects of knowledge or skills acquired in a particular setting.

Culture is defined in terms of the “ideas, beliefs, customs and attitudes that are shared and accepted by people in a society”2. In relation to the above topic, Our question will be, what are those ideas, beliefs, customs and attitudes do we have in Nigeria towards peace as a way of life and what role has Christian Religious Education played in the past, now in the present and will play in the future to enhance peace and its sustenance? Peace itself is not just the absence of conflict or war but beyond that, a “beneficent adjustment of harmony between the individual and his Creator on one side, and his fellow men on the other side”3.
To deal with the topic effectively, I will approach it from a Theological-Philosophical dimension lacing it with good doses of pragmatism and personal religious experience. Beginning with the History and Origins of Christian Education through missionaries in Africa and specifically Nigeria, we will briefly examine the role of Culture in fostering peace and then see how Christian Religious Education can bring its influence to bear on Culture. Subsequently, we will discuss practical and workable strategies for fostering peace through Christian Religious Education and then we will summarise the work and conclude.
In New York City, at the United Nations Plaza, there is a statue erected to commemorate the end of the 2nd World War and on the plaque on the Statue is a quotation taken from the 2nd Chapter of Isaiah Verse 4 in the Holy Bible and it reads in part “….. they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into ploughshares; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”4 .This talks about a time yet to come, but between now and such a time conflicts among men and nations and groups as a result of divergent views, and will remain part of the reality of life. In as much as this appears to be a theological position, our role as leaders and educators will ultimately be to reduce the magnitude, frequencies and probability of occurrence or manifestation of such divergent views using education as a tool to achieve these lofty goals.


Christian Religious Education in Nigeria began with the advent of Missionaries and Mission agencies in Mid 1800s. It was not infact deliberate. It was introduced in the form of Evangelism and as part of western missionary enterprise5. In other words, it was not altruism that made the Missionaries introduce education in Nigeria.

Prior to the coming of the Missionaries, communities had their own traditional systems of education and in some parts of the country; Islamic Religion had already been entrenched. In trying to visualise the cohabitation of Christianity and Islam in Nigeria, from a point of view of “Ecology of Religion” in the etymological sense of the word, their coexistence would naturally be gladiational, at best adversarial for the following reasons:

  • Each religion has to come to a new environment in the garments of the sending culture.

  • There is in every religion the human element which is the vehicle of the divine. There is also the diabolical.

  • Entry into a different religious worldview without love, respect and humility, and abandoning ones critical faculty often generates conflict6.

Several factors and interplay of various motives were behind the introduction of education in Nigeria by the various groups and organizations. The Missionaries for instance, saw the educating of the indigenous population as a means of facilitating their conversion to Christianity. The Colonial administrators saw in educating the local populace a means of producing a literate being who would run errands for him as a domestic hand messenger or orderly and at best a clerk. Both approaches to education were based on giving to the African what was considered to be best for him, and not necessarily an educational system which was in accordance with his cultural heritage and sociological environment and one that was aimed at projecting and promoting the African Personality (Kaunda K. in Makulu H 1971).
Protestant missions came into Nigeria ahead of Catholic Missions, Even though the North and West of Nigeria were under Muslim influence; the missions were still able to make some inroads in the East and the South. Their aims and objectives and strategies differed from each other. While the Catholic missions sought to provide moral and religious education (1971) and to bring Christian influence to bear on pagan communities, the Protestant missions aimed at training the young by giving them liberal education to create well prepared, well instructed and proven congregations. For Protestant missions, education and the building of schools, hospitals and centers for elementary industrial training were all integral parts of evangelism. The need for such services were great and the potentials abundant, and this led to the rapid emergence of several mission agencies overseas within a very short period between the last decade of the 1700s in UK and the early decades of 1820 in the US. The Church Missionary Society was established in 1799, Baptist Missionary Society established in 1792, London Missionary Society in 1795, Edinburgh and Glasgow Missionary Society in 1796 all in the United Kingdom. In the US, the US Wesleyan Missionary Society was established in 1813 and the American Bible Society in 1816.These all had similar practices which could be summarized as follows:

  • Creating new communities of those converted by moving out of the heathen environment to a Christian homogeneous community

  • Building Mission Stations or compounds

  • Assisting the Missionary to ‘replace’ the tribal chief by making the most important building-the “Mission House”.

  • The next most important building was the Church followed by the school in that order

  • The schools were generally boarding facilities supervised by the missionary educationist or his wife.

  • The Mission Compound stood in stark contrast to the surrounding community

  • For the Tribesmen, association with Christianity offered an attractive way of life and privileges such as education, medical services and industrial training. Fascination for the Whiteman’s knowledge and the promise of a better life were more compelling factors for their conversion rather than faith and understanding of Christian teachings.

While the motivation for education was evangelism for the missionary, for the tribesmen, it was a way of entering into the mysteries of western technological civilization. To this end, education helped to facilitate the spread of European civilization in Africa. Tribal institutions contrary to this were discouraged or suppressed. There was a tendency to measure every part of the African life by the European standards.

To avoid conflicts among the numerous Protestant missions in some areas, certain ‘agreements’ were reached by which missions confined their work to homogeneous groups. As a result, some tribes became fortunate depending on the missions agency that covered their area since missions varying amount of both personal and material resources. Today such tribes are still enjoying that advantage.
The issues of curriculum content and policy were extremely in the hands of individual mission agencies until government became interested in Education when they issued grants of 30 pounds in 1872, distributed among Anglican, Wesleyan and Catholic missions in Lagos. In 1873 no grants were given out but in 1874 the grant increased to 100 pounds to each agency. By 1876 it had increased to 200 pounds for each mission agency. Because “he who pays the piper dictates the tune”, in 1882, there was a promulgation of an ordinance by the British Administration in Nigeria- the declaration of religious neutralism in matters of education. There was also a divergence of opinion on content and purpose of education. While the government was trying to intellectualism, the missions wanted spirituality.
The schism which began to grow wide eventually led to the formation of the Phelps-Stokes Commission which visited Africa between 1922-1925. It was a major watershed in Africa’s educational policy. The commission made a plea for religious and moral education as the basis for lasting education. It stressed character training and other major inputs itemized below:

  • Called attention to the need for clear objectives in education to build effective systems of education as well as the need to take into account children’s environment and role in society.

  • The importance of language

  • Clarification of objectives of education to train masses and to educate future leaders and train people to pass conventional tests required by professional schools.

  • Adoption of education to conditions of life.

In 1952, there was a Cambridge Conference on African Education and in 1961, the Addis Ababa Conference on the development of Education in Africa held. There, far reaching measures on African education were arrived at. In 1962, there was another Conference for Higher Education in Africa, during which participants expressed the desire to exclude religious education from secondary school curriculum. There has been a lot of criticism of missionary educational activity in Nigeria, but whatever the failings, we can still identify quite a good number of major contributions made by these missionaries to the growth and development of our societies and communities. Among these contributions include:

  • Preservation through writing of major Nigerian languages- Ibo, Yoruba, Efik, Nupe, Hausa, etc, thus creating linguistic homogeneity. For instance, we have what is called “The union Ibo” into which the Bible was translated synthesized three major indistinguishable dialects. This became a bond unifying the third largest West African tribe. (Ayandele 1966).

  • They also facilitated the social and moral development of the Nigerian people.

  • They made the administration to create law and order in place of inter tribal wars and anarchy. They ensured the suppression of abominable crimes repugnant to Christian morality, like Mary Slessor did in the abolition of killing of twins in the Eastern part of Nigeria.

  • They also facilitated mobility by ensuring safety of travel without the risk of being enslaved in Yorubaland or Iboland or elsewhere in Nigeria.

  • They also contributed to social and moral regeneration through churches and schools as well as preventing the demoralization of society

  • The objective of education for the missionaries was also to discourage children from participating in their parents’ pagan practices. Character training was emphasized along with spiritual development. They were mainly interested in primary education for converts. They felt that further education would only make them opt for secular work to improve themselves socially and morally. However, Christianity could not be deeply rooted because the intellectual development required to match the principles of the new faith was not available. Traditional morality was however destroyed without an appropriate replacement.


Our earlier definition of culture culled from the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English states: the ideas, beliefs, customs and attitudes shared by people in a society. The Nigerian society is a pluralist one with a multiplicity of cultures. The Culture of the people in various parts has been largely influenced by the prevailing religion in the area. To the North a mingling of Islam and local culture, in the East Christian and local customs coexist while in the West, there is a close juxtaposition of Christianity and Islam and traditional religion even within family units.

African traditional society was generally peaceful society internally. Crisis often arose in between neighboring communities because they were perceived as different-strange, especially where the language was different. There was the dichotomy of “we” and “them”. Ignorance of the other groups facilitated fear and distrust. The missionaries prevailed on governments to enact laws that were assiduously enforced. The enforcement of these laws ensured peace. However, the fear of traditional institutions of enforcement in African societies was greater than the fear of the white man’s laws. With the suppression of traditional institutions and their replacement with foreign laws that lacked ‘bite’, moral decay and degeneration set in within the African society. Several areas of African life were not covered by the European laws. For instance, to the best of my knowledge, I stand to be corrected, up till date in the Western world; there are no laws against cannibalism and human sacrifice.
Culture facilitated peace through the forging of alliances between groups. Members of the groups involved recognized and honored such alliances and recognized hostile and friendly groups. Intra-communal peace was facilitated by culture through strict enforcement of communal laws and corporate recognition of acts that constituted abominations within the societies. Culture helped to foster peace through the instrument of fear, not the rightness or wrongness of the action, but the fear of the penalty when discovered.

Christian education’s influence on culture has been mainly to demystify issues and eliminate prevailing ignorance that persisted as a result of superstitutious beliefs among the people. Ideas, beliefs and customs shared by people were shaken and faulted by the White man’s reasoning and scientific facts with often seemingly magical and miraculous demonstrations. For instance, twins were been killed in certain places in Nigeria because they were seen as bad omen and brought disaster on a community. The intervention of Christian Missionaries showed these beliefs to be false over time. In various areas of human life, scientific knowledge about diseases, illnesses, hygiene and medicine were brought to bear on daily living. These yielded results that forced prevailing ideas and thinking to change.

The influence of Christian education culture can be seen in the light of the confrontation between the Christian religion and the African traditional religion. The Christian religion won in the face- off. The concept of the “Fatherhood” of God common to most religions in the form of a supreme Being, or a Creator or a Lord of the universe, the idea of retribution in an after-life and issues of morality, clearly articulated in the Christian faith and found in traditional societies in various shades has given the Christian religion an edge.
Religion itself in any form is made up of vertical and horizontal relationships. Relationship with God is vertical and relationship with fellowmen, which is horizontal. Religion is an encounter between the divine and human. Divine is transcendent, spiritual, all-powerful, all perfect. The human is material, limited, corruptible and prone to error. In its divine dimension, religion consists of divine revelation, communication of divine will to man. From this perspective, religion is sublime, ideal, perfect and infallible. (Ikenga-Metuh E.1992). In its human limitations, it is thus imperfect, fallible and can be abused. When such abuse occurs, the result is fanaticism, bigotry and ultimately, a disruption of peace. The Igbo Proverb says that ‘wherever a spirit is speaking, a human being is there’. This leads us to the issue of evolving strategies for fostering peace through Christian religious education.

There is a fundamental relationship between peace and human rights which is grounded in justice. Any structure which deprives persons of their human rights and dignity and prevents justice from being realized, force men to resort to violence or war” (Archbishop Fernandez quoted by Ikenga-Metuh E. 1992).

The above quotation would serve as a starting point in thinking about strategies for peace. Deprivations of rights and dignity and the inhibitions or suppression of avenues for justice are threats to peace wherever such occur.
The Christian religion teaches that man was made in the image and likeness of God. The Christian education curriculum needs to go beyond this to clearly state that ALL men, irrespective of race, tribe, creed or color are made in God’s likeness and are entitled to dignity and rights. The Christian religious education curriculum should begin to focus on the elimination of ignorance about other faiths from basic primary level. It is amazing the level of ignorance that exists between Christian denominations; talk less of the Muslim or Buddhist religion. This ignorance breeds fear and the antidote to ignorance is knowledge. Knowledge can be acquired through education.
A higher dimension of eliminating ignorance is to establish an exchange program between mission schools, where Christian Kids are selected and sent to Islamic Missions schools and vice versa. When these kids complete their education, they would certainly become ambassadors and peer group educators. NGOs have a major role and responsibility to play in this respect. There are Peer group educators for HIV/AIDS awareness and other life threatening issues, and so why not Peer group educators for religious harmony and peace?
Also there is a compelling need to de-emphasis dichotomies in Christian religious education, with particular reference to the “we” and “them” syndrome mentioned earlier. Early teaching of respect for other religions and instructions on how to approach other religions and their adherents with love, respect and with a sense of humility, rather than the scornful disdain and superiority mentality, will also enhance and facilitate peace.
The peddling of ideas and concepts for instance, the idea of “religious tolerance” should be completely discouraged, especially by the media. The idea of tolerance implies something that is bad. The Longman’s Dictionary definition of tolerance says “a situation that is tolerable is not very good, but you are able to accept it”. Firstly it is judgmental and secondly, it is only a matter of time before the tolerance limit is exceeded and peace is disrupted. Concepts like religious accommodation would be more appropriate to achieve our objectives of peace in an ecology of religion – using the word ecology in the etymological sense.
The esoteric nature of the language of some of the Holy Books also creates an aura and mystery about them. Languages like Arabic, Latin and Hebrew sound mysterious and exotic to the African mind. These languages can be demystified by being taught openly. NGOs have a special role to play in this direction. The learning of these languages will to a large extent eliminate ignorance about others.
Education is a crucial part of socialization. Care needs to be taken to run psychological profiles on those involved in educating others to ensure that they are balanced and unbiased in their presentations and closely monitored to prevent the indoctrination of innocent youthful minds along destructive lines. In this respect, the Christian religious education curriculum has been changing; however more needs to be done. Mission schools now employ teachers who, to the best of their knowledge are balanced and stable and such schools are attracting good patronage as a result of their performances. However, these schools are quite expensive. NGOs can partner with such schools and subsidize or give scholarships to the previously mentioned peer educators from other faiths to attend such schools.
In summary therefore, if we are to achieve peace in a multi religious society, education becomes a very useful instrument in this direction. Religion influences culture and the Christian religion in particular has had and still has a very strong influence on culture in Nigeria. There is a need to reshape the curriculum of Christian education with emphasis on eliminating and developing minds that can think clearly, unfettered by the shackles of religious bigotry and fanaticism. This can be achieved as one of our Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), if we embrace justice, human rights and equity in our dealings with all men, irrespective of tribe, language, faith, color or religious affiliations. In Nigeria, as in the rest of Africa, our religions are generally anthromorphic. Our religious practices should be more anthropocentric.


    1. Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, 3rd Edition, England (1995) Pearson Education Limited

    2. Ibid.

    3. Ikenga – Metuh E. (1992) Religion as an instrument of Peace in Nigeria in Religion and peace in a Multifaith Nigeria. J.K Ohipona (ed) (1992) Ile-Ife Nigeria O.A.U. pp 10-20.

    4. Dakes F.J. (1991 Dakes Annotated Reference Bible. Georgia, USA: Dakes Bible Sales Inc.

    5. Makulu H.F. (1971) Education, Development and Nation building in Independent Africa. London: SCM Press Hel.

    6. King N.Q. (1971) Christians and Muslims in Africa. New York: Harper and Ron Publishers.

    7. Ayandele E.A. (1966) The Missionary Impact on Modern Nigeria 1842-1914: A political and social Analysis. London: Longman Group Ltd.

    8. Elliot K (1970) An African School: A record of Experience. London: Cambridge University Press.

© Emmanuel Ande Ivorgba 2006

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