Tuesday, February 3, 2015

RLPB 295. Nigeria: violence looms ahead of elections

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 295 | Wed 04 Feb 2015

By Elizabeth Kendal

Nigerians will go to the polls on Saturday 14 February [subsequently postponed to 28 March] to elect federal and state parliaments and a president. On 28 February, Nigerians in 29 (of 36) states will return to the polls to elect state governors. Unlike previous years, these elections will essentially be a contest between the People's Democratic Party (PDP), which has ruled Nigeria since its return to democracy in 1999, and the All Progressives Congress (APC), a new party formed in February 2013 when several PDP defectors joined a merger of four leading opposition parties. There is widespread expectation that this will be the closest contest to date, with a presidential run-off likely. It is also expected that violence could erupt along political lines and quickly evolve into a religious conflict.

Though actually a secular party, the PDP is widely regarded as a Christian alliance with a strong presence in the south. The PDP's manifesto enshrines the principle of 'zoning' or power-sharing, which sees the PDP rotate its presidential candidates between north and south every two terms. In 1999 and 2003 the PDP presidential candidate was a southern Christian. In 2007, when it was the north's turn to field the candidate, the Muslim former governor of Katsina in Nigeria's north won the presidency for PDP. When he died unexpectedly in May 2010 his Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian from the Niger Delta region, assumed the presidency. Jonathan was then elected president in 2011. The Nigerian constitution does not mandate 'zoning' and does allow for candidates to be elected twice. Therefore Jonathan is within his rights to stand for re-election with his current Vice President, Namadi Sambo (60), a Muslim from the volatile Middle Belt state of Kaduna, as his running mate. However, northern Muslims believe it is the north's turn to hold the presidency, not the least because the opposition is playing this card for political gain. Therefore this could see Jonathan and the PDP lose some support across the north.

The APC is widely regarded as a Muslim alliance with a strong presence in the north. While the APC accuses the PDP of pandering to Christians, the PDP accuses the APC of being a 'Muslim Brotherhood' or 'janjaweed' ticket. [The janjaweed are horse-borne militants.] The APC's presidential candidate is retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari (73), a former military dictator who has contested the presidency three times (in 2003, 2007 and 2011). Buhari is hugely popular in the north. In 2011 he campaigned on an Islamist platform, telling Muslims they should not vote for a Christian. Before the 2011 polls Buhari warned that rioting would ensue if he were cheated of his victory by the rigging of polls. Subsequently, 2011 saw the worst election violence in Nigeria's history, with some 800 lives lost over three days. In 2012 Buhari likened the struggle between the predominantly Muslim Hausi-Fulani north and the predominantly Christian Yoruba and Igbo south as a fight between a dog and baboon, warning: 'If what happened in 2011 should happen again in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood.'

As in 2011 Buhari is attempting to 'launder' his image of being an Islamic fundamentalist by taking a southern Pentecostal Christian pastor as his running mate. Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (55), a Christian from Lagos State, served as that state's Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice from 1999 to 2007. He is also a pastor with the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), the wealthiest and most popular Pentecostal church in Nigeria with some 23,880 parishes in Nigeria and a membership of 12 million.

clever campaign:
ihavedecided to vote buhari
(no turning back, no turning back!)
While the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) have thrown their support behind the PDP and are endorsing Jonathan for president. Despite this, polls indicate that Buhari is gaining traction in the mostly Christian south. Pastors who support Buhari have been assuring believers that Nigeria simply cannot be Islamised as 'we are too educated'. 

Despite a peace pact between Jonathan and Buhari, hate-speech and incitement are widespread. Ibrahim Shema, the PDP Muslim governor of Katsina state, was filmed in November addressing a political rally in which he likened the opposition to 'cockroaches'. He then asks, 'If you see a cockroach in your house what do you do?' The crowd responds, 'You kill it,' to which Shema adds, 'crush them'. Goodluck Jonathan has poured vast sums of money into pacifying the Niger Delta region; now militants there are threatening to return to conflict if Jonathan is not returned to power. The PDP and APC are accusing each other of fuelling the Boko Haram insurgency, which brings us to the problem of insecurity across the north. How will Nigeria's well over a million displaced persons (IDPs) vote when the electoral law states that voters must vote where they are registered? How will voting take place in war-wracked Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states -- especially in Borno where Boko Haram either totally or partially controls 20 of 27 Local Government Areas? The nation is polarising, the stakes are high, the economy is struggling due to record low fuel prices and there is widespread disillusionment, disappointment and anger.


* draw his faithful believers close, that they may find their security, peace and comfort in him. Pray especially for Christians in the volatile Middle Belt states and for the exceedingly vulnerable minority Christians in the Sharia states of the north, especially if voting does not go the way Muslims want it to go. Please pray for the Church in Nigeria: Psalm 46.

* protect, preserve and provide for his people; may they stand firm in faith and not only endure but shine as lights for his glory. 'The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want ...' (Psalm 23).

* use his awesome strength to still 'the tumult of the peoples' (Psalm 65:7).

UPDATE: For election results see RLPB 307 (27 April 2015).
Buhari wins by 3.1 million votes. Jonathan's gracious concession and appeal for peace defuses a tense situation.


Nigerians go to the polls on Saturday 14 February. These elections will be the closest fought yet and it is expected that violence could erupt along political lines and quickly evolve into a religious conflict. Northern Muslims are angry that Goodluck Jonathan (a southern Christian) is standing as the People's Democratic Party's candidate, resulting in Jonathan and the PDP losing support in the north. Meanwhile, the opposition All Progressives Congress's candidate, Muhammadu Buhari -- an Islamist hugely popular in the Muslim north -- has been gaining ground in the south, especially since he appointed a Pentecostal pastor as his running mate. Hate-speech is pervasive, as are threats of violence. Please pray for Nigeria, and especially for the Church in the volatile Middle Belt and in the Sharia states of the north.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).