Published: 14:00 GMT Daylight Time - Wednesday 30 March 2011
Tension builds ahead of Nigerian presidential elections
Country/Region: Nigeria, Africa
Nigeria is gearing up for presidential elections amid fears that rising sectarian tensions may intensify as a Muslim candidate seeks to oust the sitting Christian president.
|What future will the next president create for Nigeria's Christians?|
Muhammadu Buhari, former military ruler of Nigeria (1983-85), of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), is seen as the main challenger to President Goodluck Jonathan of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) in the poll on 9 April. Two other candidates from the North are also running.
Nigeria, which is divided between the majority-Muslim North and a largely Christian South, has been beset by spates of sectarian violence in recent years, especially in the Middle Belt states where the population is more evenly mixed.
Trouble erupted again on Christmas Eve, 2010, with anti-Christian attacks in Jos, Plateau State, where dozens of people were killed in co-ordinated blasts. The incident sparked months of further violence between Christian and Muslim communities, which has left at least another 120 people dead.
Amnesty International has warned of rising violence ahead of the elections, which have historically been marred by trouble and allegations of fraud. The human rights watchdog has urged the authorities to act to stem a growing tide of political, ethnic and religious unrest that threatens to disrupt the elections.
Because of Nigeria's split Christian and Muslim population, it has become conventional for the presidency to alternate between a Christian and a Muslim. An informal pact to this effect exists within Mr Jonathan's party, which has won every national poll since the end of military rule in 1999. Mr Jonathan's candidacy was opposed by some quarters of his party for this reason. But the former vice-president has been leading the country for less than a year, having taken over the presidency when Umaru Yar'Adua, a Muslim, died in May 2010.
The PDP's selection of Mr Jonathan is likely to have angered Muslims in Nigeria, where the religion of candidates often takes precedence over their political agenda. It may increase Mr Buhari's chance of success. He has made clear his intentions to use his power, if elected, to promote Islam, which will clearly appeal to Muslims while intimidating Christians - especially those living in Plateau State and the North.
Elements of sharia have already been introduced in twelve Northern states, and Muslim extremists are looking to extend Islamic law to Plateau State. Although Christians in the North were promised that they would not be made subject to sharia, in practice they have to submit to it in some respects. Churches in the North also suffer discrimination, in education, employment and the construction and repair of church buildings. These conditions would probably worsen under a Muslim president.
And whoever wins the election, Christians will be bracing themselves for further violence. If Mr Jonathan holds onto the presidency, they may become targets of disgruntled Muslims who feel a Muslim should have taken over the office. But if Mr Buhari emerges triumphant, Islamists may feel they can attack Christians with impunity.
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