With hundreds of church buildings burned and hundreds of Christians killed following President Goodluck Jonathan’s electoral win in 2011, analysts are concerned about the potential for more anti-Christian brutality as Nigerians once again choose their president. In a country where the ratio of Christians to Muslims is almost equal, the voting is predicted to follow religious divisions and it is Christian Goodluck Jonathan and Muslim Muhammadu Buhari who stand out among the candidates.
With just a week to go before the scheduled election day, Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission postponed the country’s presidential election until 28 March, giving the candidates a further six weeks to campaign. Persistent Islamist violence and mass displacement of people in the north-eastern states has led the Commission to delay the election to allow international troops to retake territory currently under the control of Boko Haram.
The territory under the control of Boko Haram is now around 20,000 square miles, an area the size of Belgium, which they rule as an Islamic state. Islamic law is opposed to democracy as Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau makes clear in a video released on 9 February: “This message is for the people and leaders of Africa. You cannot defeat us… Sit back and rethink. Is your constitution and democracy better than Islam?”
Without the votes of the hundreds of thousands of displaced Nigerians in the northern states of the country, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) said that the elections will not be “credible”.
President Goodluck Jonathan’s support is strongest in the far south of the country, where he is originally from. Unpopular in the northern states, which are predominantly Muslim, his convoy was attacked with stones when he was visiting the region in January. Muhammadu Buhari, by contrast, is almost certainly guaranteed widespread support in the north.
Set against each other in the 2011 elections, President Jonathan’s win led to a spate of Islamist rampages against the Christian minority in northern parts of the country. Over 700 churches were burned, thousands of Christian homes and businesses were set on fire and almost 900 deaths were recorded.