Nigeria holds po litical and economic prominence in Africa. A major oil pro-
ducer with a population of 180 million (in 2015) and more than 250 ethnic groups,
Nigeria is home to millions of Christians, Muslims, and adherents of indigenous
religions. With complicated relations between Christians and Muslims in the
Northern and central regions of the country, Nigeria is one of the world’s major
laboratories for the study of religious- based conflict and reconciliation. While
many scholars have focused on recurring Christian- Muslim confrontations as
an aspect of endemic sectarian conflict in Nigeria— showing how an obdurate
po litical class exploits ethno- religious divisions to mobilize collective po litical
action1—I contend that Christian, Muslim, and indigenous religious struc-
tures are integral to the formation of the modern Nigerian state and society.
Specifically, I will analyze how the under pinnings of religious doctrines, the
nature of social structures, and the proclivities of the po litical class have shaped
the evolution of modern Nigeria since the turbulent nineteenth century. I am
persuaded that the intersections of these competing religious traditions— Islam,
Chris tianity, and indigenous religions— are decisive in the making of modern
Starting with a major Muslim reformist movement— the Sokoto Jihad—
in con temporary Nigeria’s vast Northern Region, and a Christian evangelical
movement, propelled by the influential En glish missionary organ ization called
the Church Missionary Society (cms), in Atlantic Yoruba communities in
southwestern Nigeria during the nineteenth century, I argue that Muslim and
Christian structures made up the foundation on which the Nigerian colonial state
was grafted in the early twentieth century. In what later became the Northern
Nigerian Protectorate, the Sokoto Jihad of 1804–1808 transformed not only
the Hausa city- states, but also shaped the geopolitics of their neighbors to the
south, especially the diverse communities in con temporary central and north-
eastern Nigeria (modern Nigeria’s Middle Belt region) as well as the Yoruba
region in the southwest. As the Sokoto Jihad consolidated a theocratic con-
federacy (the Sokoto Caliphate) under the control of Fulani Muslim reformers
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