As previously established, colonialism incited a gradual deterioration of traditional religion in Nigeria. The advent of colonialism in pre-independence Nigeria meant the arrival of European education, religion, and the notion that certain behaviours were “civilised” and others were not.
As a result of the colonial policy of rewarding those who assimilated well into European culture, we gradually began to see the Western style of life as more desirable than our own. Eventually, traditional religions were relegated to the side lines while we all swore allegiance to either Christianity or Islam. This way of thinking was undoubtedly ruinous, as religion has a profound impact on the lives of most Africans, so much so that religion cannot be studied in isolation from African life.
However, Nigerian religions are often demonized, often associated with evil
characters and bad intentions. This is largely because, unfortunately, Nigerian popular culture
has adopted the same anti-traditionalist view of Nigerian religion touted by the colonisers. Nollywood films often perpetuate the narrative that the traditional religions of the villages are evil while the Christian religion in the cities is good and wont to overcome the darkness of juju. From the outset, Nollywood scenes were littered with lurid scenes of ritual murder and sacrifice perpetrated by antagonists looking to get rich quickly.
As a result of this one-sided narrative, traditional Nigerian religious rituals have become associated with sinister deeds and bad intentions. The word “ritual” itself in Nigeria has become associated with blood money, seemingly backed up by sensational news headlines. However, not all indigenous Nigerian religious practices carry this stigma.
Despite colonial attempts at suppression, a large proportion of Nigerians still retain some allegiance to aspects of their age-old religious practices. Indeed, a lot of reverence remains for our traditional religions. Most Nigerians may still consult traditional healers when sick or believe in the power of traditional gods and goddesses to protect them.
Christianity does not bar us from celebrating our communities’ traditional religious festivals, such as the Eyo Festival of Lagos, the Argungu Fishing Festival of Kebbi among others. We must do away with the stain that colonialism has left on our traditional expressions of spirituality. As most Nigerians have shown, traditional beliefs and practices are very much compatible with the two mainstream Nigerian religions. Therefore, we must simultaneously disregard and put an end to the popularized trope that traditional Nigerian religions are in any way morally corrupt or uncivilized.
Funmilayo Adetokunbo A-A, a political and International Affairs Analyst, writes from Somerset, England, United Kingdom.