Obisesan Oluwapelumi Rachael
Religious freedom is rooted in the idea that individuals should be free to follow their conscience and their deeply held beliefs. In Nigeria, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) guarantees the right to freedom of religion. Thus, Nigeria’s religious landscape is remarkably diverse, comprising Christianity, Islam, traditional African religions, and other minority faiths. This diversity ought to be a source of strength, however, it has been a wellspring of religious tensions and conflicts over the years.
A recent report revealed that there were over 15,000 incidents of violence in Nigeria between 2010 and 2020, a significant portion of which were attributed to religious conflicts. Also, the unfortunate attack on a Catholic church in Owo, Ondo State, in 2022 by gunmen suspected to be members of the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP), which resulted in the death of at least 40 worshippers, is a further indication of the ongoing religious violence in Nigeria.
In this essay, I shall critically appraise the legal framework for the enforcement of religious freedom rights in Nigeria, state its challenges, and also provide recommendations on what needs to be done to make the system more effective.
The cornerstone of religious freedom in Nigeria lies in Section 38 of the Constitution which provides that “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” The provision explicitly grants individuals the freedom to change their religion or belief without fear of persecution or discrimination. It recognizes the significance of religious communities in Nigeria’s diverse society and protects their right to worship, teach, and practice collectively.
Furthermore, Section 10 of the Constitution provides that “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion”. The implication of this section is that Nigeria is a secular state, and that the government of any state or the Federation cannot endorse or promote a particular religion over another.
In addition to these constitutional provisions, Nigeria has also enacted laws to protect religious freedom. The Religious Discrimination (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 2000. Moreover, international treaties and conventions, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Nigeria is a party, reinforces the nation’s commitment to religious freedom.
Instructively, the Nigerian courts have also played a significant role in enforcing religious freedom rights. For example, in Onuoha v. Okafor, which upheld the constitutionality of religious freedom; Iloabachie v. Iloabachie, which highlighted the individual’s right to choose their religion; Akinyele v. Oyo State Government, where the Supreme Court ruled that the government of Oyo State could not ban the wearing of the hijab in public schools.
Despite the above-mentioned framework and judicial decisions, it must also be stated that Section 45(1) of the Constitution outlines the circumstances under which certain fundamental rights, including the right to freedom of religion, can be restricted, such as when it is necessary to protect public security, public order, public morality, or public health.
Despite these legal frameworks, Nigeria still faces significant challenges in upholding religious freedom. These challenges include the rise of religious extremism and violence: It is the belief that one’s own religion is superior to all others and that violence is justified in the name of religion. The activities of these extremist groups, such as Boko Haram, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), and Fulani Herdsmen, have led to attacks on places of worship, abductions, and killings of individuals based on their religious affiliations. These acts violate religious freedom and create insecurity that discourages its practice.
Another challenge is the persistent discrimination and Marginalization of minority groups in various forms. In many cases, minority religious groups often face discrimination in employment, education, and political representation, limiting their ability to exercise their religious freedom rights. Minority religious students might encounter exclusion, harassment, or even biased curriculum materials that fail to acknowledge or respect their beliefs.
Also, the inconsistencies and gaps in Nigeria’s legal framework regarding religious freedom rights can indeed pose significant challenges to their effective enforcement. For instance, Nigeria’s Constitution does guarantee religious freedom, but there have been cases where local and state laws contradict these protections or are not adequately enforced; some states have introduced Sharia law, which is based on Islamic principles, and have implemented it alongside the existing legal system.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR AN EFFECTIVE ENFORCEMENT OF RELIGIOUS RIGHTS IN NIGERIA
First, it is important for the government to strengthen the legal framework for religious freedom in Nigeria by reviewing and revising existing laws to ensure clarity, consistency, and alignment with international human rights standards.The revised legal framework should also consider the complexities arising from Nigeria’s cultural and religious diversity, ensuring that the rights of all religious groups are respected and upheld.
Additionally, the government should initiate media campaigns to encourage religious tolerance, fostering awareness about its significance, discouraging hate speech, and promoting interfaith dialogue for better understanding among religious communities.
The government should draft and enact comprehensive legislation that explicitly protects these rights, while also actively combating discrimination and marginalization. This might involve initiatives to raise awareness about the importance of diversity, training programs to reduce biases, and measures to ensure equal opportunities for all, regardless of their religious beliefs.
Ultimately, the key to building a harmonious and inclusive society in Nigeria lies in upholding the fundamental principle of religious freedom. Despite challenges, there’s room for improvement by tackling limitations, discrimination, and enforcing this right. By doing so, Nigeria can establish a stronger legal framework that safeguard’s individuals’ rights to practice their beliefs without facing discrimination or persecution.
NAME: OBISESAN OLUWAPELUMI RACHAEL
SCHOOL: OLABISI ONABANJO UNIVERSITY (OOU)
CONTACT INFORMATION: firstname.lastname@example.org; 07012499281
 Hereinafter referred to as “The Constitution”.
 Section 38.
 Council on Foreign Relations, Nigeria Security Tracker, CFR.org, updated 01 July 2023, https://www.cfr.org/nigeria/nigeria-security-tracker/p29483 accessed on 30 August 2023.
 Channels Television, “Two more ISWAP terrorists linked to Owo church attack arrested – DHQ,” Channelstv.com, published 2022-08-11, https://www.channelstv.com/2022/08/11/two-more-iswap-terrorists-linked-to-owo-church-attack-arrested-dhq/ accessed on 30 August 2023.
 Article 18
 (1983) LCN/2172(SC)
 (2005) LCN/3327(SC)
 United States Department of State, “2020 Report on International Religious Freedom: Nigeria,” State.gov, published 2020-06-03, https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-report-on-international-religious-freedom/nigeria/ accessed on 30 August 2023.
 Adedokun Sola, “Nigeria Needs to Strengthen Laws Protecting Freedom of Religion,” Premium Times, published 2019-06-23, https://www.premiumtimesng.com/opinion/346905-nigeria-need-to-strengthen-laws-protecting-freedom-of-religion-by-adedokun-sola.html accessed on 30 August 2023.