Christians, Muslims and Traditional Worshippers in Nigeria: Estimating the relative proportions from eleven nationally representative social surveys

Andrew McKinnon* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
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The absence of census data on religious identification in Nigeria since 1963 leaves much uncertainty about the most basic religious composition of the country. It is generally accepted that identification with traditional worship declined over the middle of the twentieth century as identification with Islam and Christianity increased, leaving these the two dominant religious groups in the country. The current relative proportions of Christians and Muslims has often been the subject of conjecture, guesswork and assertion, as have trajectories of growth or decline.
Where researchers have used sound data to address this question, they have often drawn on a single survey, or, if on multiple data sources, it is unclear how the different estimates the data provides are reconciled. This paper seeks to address these gaps to construct a better picture of the religious composition of Nigeria, and to consider the trajectory of change.
This study presents data from 11 nationally representative surveys of adults conducted between 1990 and 2018. Surveys include four waves of the World Values Survey, five waves of the Afrobarometer survey, The Pew Tolerance and Tension survey, and the Nigerian General Household Survey of 2010.
The results show that identification with Christianity is likely to have been the majority among Nigerian adults through this period. Evidence suggests that identification with Christianity was still growing in the first half of the 1990s, to a high point of 69% of the adult population. This growth was associated with the tail of the decline of identification with traditional worship. Thereafter identification with
Christianity has declined in proportional terms as identification with Islam has increased. Evidence is consistent with literature that suggests that this change is driven by differences in fertility, rather than by religious identity switching.
Conclusion and Implications
Trends presented suggest that the Muslim-identified population is likely on track to have become an absolute majority of Nigerian adults, possibly within a decade with widespread implications, including for electoral politics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-315
Number of pages13
JournalReview of Religious Research
Issue number2
Early online date8 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2021


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