Local power-sharing institutions and interreligious violence in Nigeria

Jonas Bunte, Laura Thaut Vinson

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articlepeer-review


News reports of clashes between Muslims and Christians in countries such as Nigeria are increasingly common. Yet, interreligious violence erupts only in some communities but not others. Under what conditions does religious identity become the fault line of communal violence? We argue that informal power-sharing institutions on the communal level are essential in shaping the incentives of potential perpetrators. We provide both qualitative and quantitative evidence for our claim that districts in which informal power-sharing agreements exist are less likely to experience interreligious violence. We conducted interviews with community leaders in 38 Nigerian districts to trace the process by which local power-sharing institutions exert influence on actors’ incentives to engage in religious violence. We complement this with quantitative analyses of a new dataset capturing interreligious violence on a subnational level. The analyses show that the overall degree of interreligious violence is significantly lower in districts with power-sharing than in those without. We also identify two causal mechanisms through which informal power-sharing institutions operate. First, these institutions affect the incentives of elites to appeal for cooperation. We show that the rhetoric of elites in districts with power-sharing is significantly more conciliatory. Second, power-sharing affects the general population’s perception of the interreligious tensions. Individuals living in districts with power-sharing institutions are less likely to experience religious diversity as threatening. Local-level informal power-sharing institutions are therefore an important foundation for communal peace and interreligious cooperation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49 - 65
JournalJournal of Peace Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

Austrian Classification of Fields of Science and Technology (ÖFOS)

  • 502027 Political economy

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