By Bashir Abdulrahman
ON November 10, 2022, I received an audio clip of a man speaking to ostensibly a group of Christians on the necessity of the leading Christian candidate – Peter Obi – winning the 2023 presidential election.
According to the speaker, if a Christian wins this election, it would prove that the Christian population in Nigeria is higher than the Muslim one. Given that there is no evidence of competence being determined by faith, nor is there evidence that the effects of corruption discriminate based on faith, the question is whether faith-based politics is for the general good or sectional benefit.
The question of whether the Nigerian Christian population is larger than the Muslim one is related to the one about whether the South is more populous than the North. Southerners argue that they are more in number. And if that is the case, then the Christian population is larger than the Muslim one since the south is majority Christian.
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The reason for these disputations is simple – since we practice a democracy, which implies majority rule, then a larger Southern Christian populace would control Nigeria’s politics and thus its wealth since religion in the North and tribe in the South are the bases for political power.
In any case, this piece is not about who might win based on religious votes in 2023. It attempts to use deductive logic to determine which of the two regions/faiths could have a larger population. It is purely an intellectual exercise.
I am not sure that is a good thing because Southerners repeat the cliched argument that it is impossible for the North to be more populated since (according to them) the North is a desert, and the South is a lush forest. If the points raised here gain wide circulation, they could become a cliché too. Cliches are annoying because those who use them trot them out with a smirk as if they are saying something original.
I have never bothered about the arguments regarding which section is more populous. I suppose being a Northern Muslim, who is (or is supposed to be) favoured by the status quo would account for my indifference. However, goaded by the referenced audio clip, I decided to examine the claim and see if I could reason out:
1 – If the North is more populous than the South, and,
2 – If the Christian population is larger than the Muslim one.
Nigeria’s population in 2022 is estimated at 218 million by the National Population Commission (NPC) and estimated at 216 million by the United Nations. These estimates are extrapolations from a 2006 census that put the figure at 140 million.
The first census, done in 1952, put the population at 31.6 million. The next in 1962 was cancelled when sections of the South brought forward figures that showed an increase of 200 per cent over the census of 1952. Another was done in 1963, putting the figure at 55.6 million. This figure was accepted because it maintained the existing demographic distribution. No census was held again until 1991, where the NPC came up with a figure of 87.5 million, much less than the World Bank estimate of 120 million. One of the things that made the credibility of the censuses doubtful is that each region maintained its share of the population based on the original 1952 census.
Except for the 1952 census, all other ones have been disputed by southern Nigerians.
I am examining the issue from one perspective peculiar to Nigeria (the first point about our censuses) and four that are applicable globally. At the end of each point, I state my conclusion. If the Northern/Muslim population is bigger, it is not something we should be proud of, for reasons which I will explain later.
1 – Census of 1952: this was done during the colonial period. While there is credible evidence that the British liked Northerners more than Southerners, I would think they would conduct an accurate census for the simple reason of self-interest. They were in Nigeria to extract our wealth. An accurate enumeration would enable more effective plunder. Thus, that census can be accepted as accurate. Further, given that the colonial government was descended from that of William of Normandy who conducted an accurate census of England after 1066, which in turn was descended from Rome, an entity that 2000 years ago was conducting censuses across a region much much larger than Nigeria, then it can be accepted that that census was a reasonably accurate one conducted by a technically proficient bureaucracy. This would give a larger starting base for the north.
2 – Geography: all over the world, plains support larger numbers of large animals. it is in the plains of East Africa that herds of gazelles, wildebeest, antelope, zebra, elephants numbering in the millions are found. It is in the plains of North America that herds of bison and pronghorn exist. This means that plains are more supportive of life than forests. Since humans are animals, it stands to reason that the conditions that are conducive for large mammals would benefit us as well. The plains in Nigeria, are in the North, which by the way, is not a desert.
In addition, the forests of the South are home to mosquitoes transmitting malaria which has been one of the biggest killers of humans ever and that would mean lower population and higher mortality. The forests are also home to the tsetse fly which is deadly to large domestic animals thus depriving them of an important source of protein, thereby reducing nutrition, vigour and reducing life span. Absence of large animals also means less power to process food, like mills to grind grains for bread and thus provide additional nutrition. All these factors favour the North.
3 – History: Another aspect of history in favor of the North is the slave related to geography, virtually all of the largest political entities in history (Chinese in the plains of the Huang He & Yangtze, English in the plains of England, Mesopotamian empires, Egypt on the Nile, the plains of Italy and France, the Gangetic plain in India) have been on plains, plateaus or valleys. Very few were in the forests.
Thus, given that the north of West Africa (which includes Northern Nigeria) has had more empires and kingdoms than the south, it stands to reason that the north is more populated. Northern Nigeria has had Kanem-Bornu, 7 concurrent Hausa city-states (each of which was probably larger and more populous than any southern polity), Nupe, Jukun Empire and Sokoto In the south, there have only been Benin and Oyo.
Large, complex political entities only emerge in places that have a large, dense population. trade. For almost 300 years, Southern Nigeria was one of the prime sources of slaves for the Atlantic slave trade.
The effect of that slave trade has been well documented. It led to warfare and societal collapse. It stands to reason that a society which has suffered war and continuous exportation of a significant proportion of its populace would be smaller than one which did not suffer the same.
4 – Culture: in the past 60 years, one of the countries with the largest population growth has been Niger Republic, Nigeria’s northern neighbour. Women there on average have at least 6 kids each. The people in Southern Niger and Northern Nigeria are the same, speaking the same languages (Hausa, Kanuri, Fulani) and having the same religion (mostly Islam).
Thus, the only division among them is an arbitrary one created about 100 years ago. Since culture only changes slowly, it is not unreasonable to expect that northern Nigeria would have the same child-breeding practices. Speaking of religion, Islam encourages polygamy, and since it is the dominant religion in the north, that would be another factor encouraging population growth.
A cultural practice among Southerners and Christians that would argue against them being more populous is their westernisation. They are more educated and richer than Northerners/Muslims. Further, their education does not discriminate between the sexes. In fact, in the Southeast, girls are more likely than boys to pursue higher education. Given that education makes women to have fewer kids, and since the South has been more educated for longer, this would mean that their population has been growing more slowly for a long time. Further, in a middle-class or urban setting, a child is a liability because of school fees. In a rural setting, a child is an asset because of its labour value. The south is more urban than the North.
5 – Politics: this point is about whether Muslims or Christians are more in number. Nigeria’s sectional politics means that it would be difficult for a person from a religious or tribal minority in a state to become that state’s governor. The fact that from 1999 to date, there have usually been more Muslim governors than Christians can be taken as a proxy for that issue since more Muslim governors mean more Muslim majority
The above are not definitive arguments. But even if they were and could be used to prove that the North/Muslims are more populous, that population is not something we should be proud of. Our large population is a liability to us. It is a poor, uneducated, backwards mass of people.
I am simultaneously proud of being a northern Fulani Muslim, and ashamed of it. It is shameful that we, who were the most advanced when the white man came, who were given political control of the country, who have benefited most from the country’s oil wealth, are the most backward.
Anytime a Nigerian is celebrated outside Nigeria, it would turn out to be a Southerner or Christian. When the US says Nigerians are the most educated immigrants, it is Southern Christian Nigerians that are being discussed. The only Nigerian Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, is a Southerner, so is one of the most celebrated mathematicians, late Professor Chike Obi. Another is a celebrated computer engineer, Philip Emeagwali. Another is a famous doctor, Dr. Bennet Omalu, who was portrayed by Will Smith in a movie. One of them, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, is currently the head of the World Trade Organization.
They produce the best musicians, authors, actors, bankers, lawyers, and everything both inside and outside Nigeria. Conversely, it is southerners that have also given Nigeria a bad name. They are the bulk of the drug peddlers, human traffickers, online scammers, and illegal immigrants. This coin, one side fame, the other notoriety, is evidence of the dynamism of their culture. They strive for advancement, even if it is via a negative route. I admire and envy them.
The person who sent the clip to me probably did so to line me up in the defense of Islam since the clip also claimed that Nigeria would become a full member of Organization of Islamic Cooperation if it has a Muslim head of state for 10 straight years.
There is nothing about that in the OIC charter. But even if it were true, does that mean if I think the Christian candidate is better qualified to govern, I should vote for a Muslim just so we can be in OIC? What is the benefit to me as a Nigerian of being in OIC? What is the benefit to me as a Muslim of being in OIC?
In any case, given that most of the world’s best countries are majority Christian and most of the worst are majority Muslim, and if the religion of the rulers had anything to do with those conditions, then voting a Christian might be a good thing.
Further, if the clip was sent to me to get me to vote for a Muslim, I’d say that while Obi is Igbo and Christian, he is neither THE IGBO CANDIDATE nor is he THE CHRISTIAN CANDIDATE (despite endorsements by Pastor Sarah Omakwu and Pastor John Hayab).
There are many people who would vote for tribal reasons, party loyalty and perceived competence. To assume that a win by the Christian candidate means most Christians voted for him is just poor reasoning.
Every country has something unique about it. Nigeria has many unique things about it. One of those things, which is both advantageous and disadvantageous is our demographic composition.
I think Nigeria is the only country in the world that does not have a majority. By this, I mean no section has an overwhelming majority. The two big religions are virtually at par.
In tribal make-up, there are three big ones – Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo. Combined, these big-3 are probably not up to 50 per cent of the country. Thus, the country is quite fragmented, making it difficult for one side to oppress the other (a good thing), but also making it difficult to agree on objectives and to focus on meeting them (a bad thing).
Of all the countries in the world, Nigeria aspires to be most like the US. We often talk enviously about how George W. Bush was governor of Texas, while Jeb Bush was governor of Florida. We dream about a time when meritocracy would be the basis of government rather than the current nepotism and sectionalism.
The good thing about democracy is that these sorts of things have a chance to happen. I hope it happens in Nigeria, where tribes would be groups of like-minded people, whose points of difference would be about political ideology and policy. Not language and religion.
*Bashir Abdulrahman writes from Abuja. He can be reached via [email protected]