How Nigeria’s presidential election causes fear among Christians

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By Fábio Canetti Galão

A country with a vast record of political, ethnic, and religious conflicts, Nigeria goes to the polls this Saturday (Feb. 25) to choose the successor of the Muslim president Muhammadu Buhari.

One group is paying particular attention to this year’s election in Africa’s most populous country: Christians.

Open Doors placed Nigeria in sixth place in its latest ranking of countries with tremendous persecution of Christians.

The violence occurs mainly in the country’s north by Boko Haram, the Islamic State of West Africa Province, and Fulani militants.

Although the entire population of the region suffers from these extremist attacks, Christian communities are more targeted and point to negligence on the part of the government in combating this violence.

In 2020, the European Parliament pointed out in a resolution that Buhari was re-elected in 2019 “with the promise to defeat the violent extremism undertaken by Boko Haram and other terrorist groups.”

Still, the Nigerian government has “created the vacuum within which Islamic extremism can flourish.”

Last year, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Northern Christian Elders Forum (Noscef) expressed concern that Nigeria’s two major parties, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) – the latter Buhari’s party – would present slates for the presidential election in which the candidates for president and vice president would both be Muslim.

“We will not support a Christian/Christian slate or a Muslim/Muslim slate. Politicians may talk politics, but we have long since stated our point of view.”

“Any party that tries a same-religion slate will fail,” CAN pointed out in a statement, citing concern that a government with a Muslim president and vice president may continue to turn a blind eye to violence against Christians – or that the situation will get even worse.

“Even with a Muslim/Christian government, the Church still faces hell. God only knows the number of Christians killed in the last seven years without anyone being arrested or prosecuted. Imagine what it will be like if we have two Muslims in power?” he fired back.

Finally, the PDP presented a slate with a Muslim presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, and a Christian vice president, Ifeanyi Okowa. However, the APC opted for two Muslim candidates, Bola Tinubu (for president) and Kashim Shettima (for vice president).

African election polls are not as reliable as those conducted in Europe. The leader in the elections is Peter Obi of the Labor Party, a Christian with Muslim Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed as his running mate.

However, political analysts point out that voter turnout is historically low in Nigerian elections, especially among the youth, a segment Obi has excellent support.

Christians are so vital in this year’s presidential election that the APC Christian Leaders of the North announced support for Obi over his own party’s slate late last year.

“Certainly, the slate with candidates of the same faith from the APC aims to shame Christians and give them and their religion a second-class socio-political status within their own country.”

“In particular, it is a validation of the discrimination and oppression imposed on Christians in northern Nigeria, where they are today denied jobs, promotions, contracts, and admission into prestigious and higher economic potential courses in state colleges simply because of their religion,” the association pointed out in a statement, in which it accused Bola Tinubu of “having no respect for Christians and Christianity.”

In a recent article published on The Conversation website, Adeyemi Balogun, professor of history of religion at Oxum State University, preached the need for religious diversity among public officeholders to combat intolerance within the state and spread that view to the entire Nigerian population.

“Mixing religion with politics does not bode well for the ongoing tension in many parts of the country. These tensions can seriously damage the already fragile Nigerian state,” he warned.

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