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Nigerian Christians Protest Muslim-Muslim Ticket as a ‘Declaration of War’

Image: Pius Utomi Ekpei / Contributor / Getty

The field is set for Nigeria’s 2023 presidential election, leaving its Christian citizens in a quandary.

In selecting candidates to replace the current head of state, Muhammadu Buhari, one dominant political party ignored customary protocols ensuring geographic rotation of power, while the other party—in the face of severe warnings—abandoned the customary commitment to religious representation.

Believers may desert them both.

Africa’s most-populous nation is roughly divided between a majority Muslim north and a majority Christian south. An unwritten agreement has rotated the presidency between the two regions. Buhari, a Muslim, hails from Borno State in the northeast.

The first transgression, by geography, happened in May when the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) nominated Atiku Abubakar from Adamawa State, also in Nigeria’s northeast. A Muslim, he chose as his vice-presidential running mate Ifeanyi Okowa, the Christian governor of Delta State in the south.

One month later, the incumbent All Progressives Congress (APC) nominated Bola Tinubu, the Muslim former governor of Lagos State in the south. But since he hails from a Christian region, fears were raised that his Muslim rival for president might sweep the north—viewed by many as a more reliable voting bloc. Speculation was rampant he would choose a Muslim vice-presidential candidate to compensate.

“We will consider such action as a declaration of war,” warned the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), which represents almost all the nation’s Protestants and Catholics. “We … will mobilize politically against any political party that sows the seed of religious conflict.” CAN also opposes any Christian-Christian political ticket as well.

Similar statements were issued by two of CAN’s five blocs: the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria—“Meet us at the polls,” it said—and the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria.

Opposition extended beyond religion.

The civil society Middle Belt Forum warned the APC against breaking Nigerian unity. And a leaked security report—denied by Buhari—said such a choice would destabilize the nation and risk Christian lives.

Tinubu defied them all.

“I believe this is the man who can help me bring the best governance to all Nigerians,” he said on July 10, defending his selection of the Muslim former governor of Borno, Kashim Shettima. “In this crucial moment, where so much is at stake, we must prioritize leadership, competence, and the ability to work as a team over other considerations.”

The vice president of Nigeria holds no formal power. But Christians were aghast at the affront.

“In a country with 100 million people in each religion, are you saying there is no competent Christian who can be your partner?” asked Samson Ayokunle, the outgoing president of CAN. “If you are picking a Muslim, it means you have an agenda.”

Ayokunle, a Baptist, assured that CAN, which this week will rotate to new leadership, has no preference in terms of political parties. Tinubu governed Lagos well, he said, and Abubakar has never picked a fight with Christians.

However, “CAN said loud and clear that we will teach a lesson to any party with a Muslim-Muslim ticket,” Ayokunle told CT. The only complication? “Christians have not been voting enough.”

It may be about to change. Denominations across Nigeria…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on July 26, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

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