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Nigerian Christians Explain High Stakes of 2023 Presidential Election

Image: Michele Spatari / AFP / Getty Images

Christian leaders in Nigeria are convinced: The outcome of Saturday’s election is crucial.

Against a backdrop of widespread insecurity, persecution, and corruption, on February 25 a record 93 million registered voters will decide the presidency of Africa’s most populous nation. And for the first time since the restoration of democracy in 1999, no candidate has a military background.

One contender is a Christian.

Christianity Today interviewed seven Nigerian Christian leaders, and five directly declared support for their fellow believer, Peter Obi. None indicated any other candidate. And of the 18 candidates seeking office, Obi is one of only three projected to have a realistic chance.

But with no clear frontrunner, Nigeria may face another presidential first—a runoff election. In a nod to the nation’s ethnic diversity, a first-round winner must claim 50 percent of the overall tally as well as at least 25 percent of votes in 24 of 36 regional states.

The West African nation of about 220 million—nicknamed the Giant of Africa—contains roughly 370 ethnic groups, speaking 520 languages.

Each leading candidate represents one of the three largest groups. Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is a Fulani Muslim from Nigeria’s north. So is outgoing president Muhammadu Buhari, who at age 80 is completing his second of two constitutionally limited four-year terms.

Bola Tinubu, a Yoruba Muslim from the southwest, represents Buhari’s All Progressive Congress (APC). The incumbent party won elections for the first time in 2015 when Tinubu, the former Lagos governor, offered his considerable political heft. He now openly proclaims it’s “his turn” for the presidency.

The PDP and APC are traditionally Nigeria’s two strongest parties.

The third candidate is Obi, an Igbo Christian from the southeast. A political free agent formerly with the PDP, the Catholic politician joined the then-minor Labour party last May just prior to the primaries. Now he is riding a wave of youth-led popularity, with many seeing in him an alternative to an aging political class.

Beyond the ethnic, regional, and political aspects to the race, there is also the religious: Nigeria is roughly divided 50–50 between Christians and Muslims. All these factors contribute to making this year’s contest far different than the norm. And unwritten rules that in the past attempted to ensure social cohesion have been discarded.

The presidency is understood to rotate geographically between the majority-Muslim north and majority-Christian south. But this election the PDP decided instead to stick with five-time failed candidate Abubakar, perhaps in part to seize the traditionally unified voting bank of northern Fulani peoples that helped bring Buhari to power.

More painful to Christians is the failure of the APC to nominate a split religious ticket. In choosing Tinubu as a southern Muslim, the party feared losing the northern vote and assigned a northern Muslim as his running mate. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN)—which represents Protestant, Pentecostal, Catholic, and independent churches—pledged to oppose the Muslim-Muslim ticket, outraged at the breach of religious-political protocol.

Rather than submit to political machinery, Obi struck out on his own. Beside disrupting what had been an emerging two-party system, he also represents the political ambitions of the Igbo.

Following a series of military coups in the 1960s, many Igbo were driven from their homes in northern Nigeria. And in fleeing to their heartland in the southeast, some pronounced the creation of an independent republic. The resulting civil war from 1967–1970 killed thousands; some say the election of an Igbo president would represent a moment of national healing.

The government has made strides to ensure a transparent voting process this year by instituting biometric safeguards on voter identity. But at least 23 officials are being investigated for alleged roles in illegal registration, as authorities scrubbed 2.7 million names from the list.

Additionally, past elections have been impacted by violence and many fear repetition. There have been more than 125 attacks on federal election offices, with 280 polling stations closed in insecure areas. Already one senate candidate has been assassinated, a Labour politician in the Igbo-majority southeast state of Enugu.

Meet the Candidates

Obi’s campaign does not focus on ethnicity but on competence and youth. At age 61 he is the youngest of the main candidates, and his supporters label themselves “Obidients” in reference to the social movement that has rallied around him outside of traditional political structures. Both as a businessman and as former governor of the southeastern Anambra state, the philosophy graduate earned a reputation for thrift and left behind a budget surplus while investing in education and paying salaries on time.

His critics point to his name being mentioned in the offshore accounts investigation known as the Pandora Papers—though Obi was never charged—and a likely inability to govern smoothly if victorious, since he lacks a political base in the halls of government. The Labour party has only two representatives in the House, one in the Senate, and zero governors in the states. To assist in the north, he has chosen a Muslim vice president from the northern Kaduna state.

At age 70, Tinubu also promotes his competency and justifies his Muslim vice presidential choice by saying it reflects the principle that religion should not be a factor in politics. With a Christian wife ordained in a leading Pentecostal denomination, Tinubu downplays any fears of sectarianism. Once exiled for his pro-democracy activism among those who helped lead Nigeria away from military rule, he is credited with generating growth as governor of Lagos, the economic capital, and aims to replicate this success on the national stage.

His critics say that despite increased revenues, Lagos lagged in infrastructure development while political patronage distributed the spoils. Twice cleared on corruption charges, Tinubu was also named in a US Justice Department report about heroin trafficking, though he settled via fine without an establishment of guilt.

At age 76, Abubakar is relying on his long political history while campaigning on a platform of reuniting a divided country—noted by his Christian vice presidential partner from the southern Delta state. An oil sector businessman and former vice president under Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian who served as president from 1999–2007, Abubakar led that administration’s economic team and instituted a series of successful reforms. Charitable, he established the American University in his northern Adamawa state, which offered scholarships to some of the Chibok girls abducted by Boko Haram jihadists.

His critics say it will be difficult for Abubakar to unite a nation when his controversial geographic candidacy divided his own party. Also accused of cronyism, he is named in a US Senate report for transferring “suspect funds” but faced no trial, while accusations have never been proven in Nigeria. And many Christians are concerned that in transferring power from one Fulani to another, Muslims will continue to dominate the nation’s top offices. Husband to four wives and 28 children, Abubakar controversially deleted a tweet condemning the mob murder of a Christian university student accused of blaspheming Islam.

“My vote is for Peter Obi,” said Emiola Nihinlola, president of the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary (NBTS) in southwest Nigeria, citing Obi’s performance as governor. “There are good reasons to fear that a Muslim-Muslim presidency will lead to greater discrimination of Christians.” “My preference for president is…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on February 24, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Re-Election

Flag Cross Quran


The election is over, and there were no surprises. President Sisi won re-election with 90 percent of the votes cast. His opponent – 3%. Spoiled ballots – 7%. Overall turnout – 41%.

It is a respectable show of support. Critics say the best candidates were discouraged or prevented from running. They say the government mobilized to get out the vote. They say the media was either complicit, or bullied.

Decide between them, God. But bless the Egyptian people in their choice.

And now, and continue, bless the Egyptian head-of-state.

Give him wisdom to handle the ongoing challenges. Economy. Water. Reform. Terror.

Give him wisdom to handle the coming choices. Constitution. Legacy. Politics. Friends.

Lead him, God. May he seek your leading.

And with him, Egypt entire. Let these be four years of peace, stability, prosperity, and justice.

May all surprises be welcome. May all turn out to the good.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: How Many and Why

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In the coming days Egypt will vote. The question is not who, but how many.

The incumbent is expected to win in a landslide. Even his opponent supports him.

But with so little at stake, so much is at stake, God: Legitimacy, at home and abroad.

No doubt the president is still popular. In the eyes of many he saved a nation.

No doubt the economy is taking its toll. In the eyes of many his policies impoverish.

Egyptians can endure, God, and strengthen them in it. They can also vote, as they have demonstrated repeatedly.

Increase their agency. May they use their voice wisely.

So this week upcoming, God, take the pulse of the nation.

Are Egyptians enthused and eager to show it? Drive high the turnout.

Are Egyptians content and at peace with affairs? Let continue the mandate.

Are Egyptians accepting but with disappointment? Interpret well their absence.

Are Egyptians opposing but without like choice? Make positive their anger.

God, Egypt is at a critical moment. Elections communicate the will of the people.

May they speak, may they be heard, and may they be respected—at home and abroad.

Give Egypt four good years through the man of your choice.

You know the who and the many. Make clear the how. Bless fully the why.

Lead Egypt to peace and prosperity.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Candidates Set

Flag Cross Quran


After much drama, the result may be straightforward. The presidential election will pit the incumbent against the head of one of Egypt’s smaller parties.

The candidate, who registered at the last minute, is also on record as one of the incumbent’s strongest supporters.

Some say he is there for show. He says he is there to win, but also in support of Egypt’s democratic development.

Without him, the election would be referendum.

So God, develop.

May these elections spur conversation on government policy.

May they spur growth of all allied parties.

May they give options to forces inclined toward a boycott.

May they give voice to the people in endorsement or change.

Some say the result has been predetermined. With you, God, it has, and make clear the path.

Allow these elections to move Egypt straightforward. Dramatic or not, guide her to peace.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Settling the Field

Flag Cross Quran


It is the highest post in the land, and therefore the most critical.

Fill it with the man of your choosing, but give the people a valid choice.

One once-popular candidate revised his desire to run.

One once-powerful general fudged his ability to run.

One once-marginal activist decried the procedures to run.

One still-notable politician tests the waters to run.

One still-controversial professor might be the first female to run.

One still-flamboyant chairman lingers, perhaps the only to run.

God, bring forward the right and true. Shield Egypt from ill agenda and lawless ambition. Give her candidates of judicious mind and servant heart.

And of them, of all them, give wisdom to the people.

Four years is a long time, God, and these four years are critical.

Settle the field, and settle the nation.

In her candidates, and of the one, lead her free to fields of peace.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Candidates Pending

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Presidential elections will take place in Egypt sometime this coming spring. The incumbent is expected to run for a second term.

But as of now no opposition is certain. There is time, and there are those who are interested.

A former prime minister and presidential runner-up is meeting with his party to determine best course of action. He declared his intention abroad, maintained he was prevented from leaving, then got deported, and is now back home.

Another candidate, an army officer, declared his attention and was then detained. He broke regulations and engaged politically while still commissioned and wearing his uniform.

A third, a leftist human rights lawyer who also ran previously, declared his intention early and often. But a court case is pending that might bar his candidacy. Only those with clean record may seek office.

God, sift them to let your choices remain. Sift Egypt, to bring your choices forward.

Many or few, make her president known. For the good of Egypt, for the good of the world.

Some say the good will come via strong competition, cementing democratic gains achieved in the constitution.

Others fear a strong contest will shake Egypt’s stability, and a change in course will threaten the economy.

God, you know.

Guide Egypt through this crucial coming period. Teach her the ways you want her to walk. Honor her people in all of their choices. Give her good leaders who rightly fear you.

For peace. For freedom. For sovereignty. For flourishing.

In truth, for all, these are always pending, awaiting your ultimate fulfillment. Give Egypt vigilance and wisdom, God, to secure the present as best she can.




Friday Prayers for Egypt: Election Turnout

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Help Egypt to know herself, and to know what she has done. When millions of people vote, this should be straightforward.

But how many millions? In one sense it doesn’t matter, as Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was elected with 97 percent of the vote. Spoiled ballots outpaced his only challenger.

With referendum-like numbers, however, turnout means everything. Some put the figure as low as 10 percent, but officially it reached 47. Local sparring exit polls are not always the most reliable, but during the contest the Egyptian media was in a frenzy over empty polling stations. Last minute decisions by the official election commission granted a national holiday for day two, and then decided to extend the vote to a third day.

If truly 47 percent, Sisi’s total is a respectable number, indicating widespread support. By contrast, Morsi’ election victory of Shafik in a highly contested race was only four percentage points higher.

If truly less, God, two scenarios are possible. First, a still popular Sisi had people fraudulently inflating his numbers to make up for an apathetic public. Second, his popularity itself is inflated, the people are not behind him, and perhaps are still behind Morsi.

But official numbers are official for a reason, and must be demonstrated false no matter the impression. The European Union’s observation team appears to validate the figure.

God, if there is fraud, expose it. Build Egypt on a solid foundation, that her house not collapse in the sand at the first onset of storm.

But if by contrast, God, you have exposed the fraud of the Brotherhood and rallied Egyptians around a better foundation, give confidence to the people and state to move forward together.

Either way, God, once he is inaugurated, bless President Sisi. May he be a wise and true man who governs well. Refine him, and may the people and state hold him accountable for all faults, preventing any to come. Help him to fulfill his charge.

And may he encourage the structuring of a system that builds institutional accountability, for a stronger foundation than that of any man.

To build well takes time, God, but it also takes skill and sincerity of intention. Give Egypt all that is necessary, and include in this blueprint a deep knowledge of where she stands.

For it is not just the turnout over one man’s candidacy, God, nor the hope millions have invested that he can put things right. It is still over the essential questions of identity, justice, and empowerment – which have plagued Egypt for years.

Unite Egypt around what is right and true, God. If uniting around Sisi is a first step, bless it and grant a second. If it is a false step, hold her footing that she may regroup. Either way, give peace and stability and discernment of spirit. Bless Egypt, her state, and all her people.



My Egyptian Run-Off Election Prediction

To open, and to be clear, I have no idea who will win this election. Both Ahmed Shafik and Mohamed Morsy took about equal shares in the first round, the revolutionaries are divided between them and many are boycotting, and who knows what the average Egyptian wants, or if he chooses to vote at all.

Of course, this is simply the difficulty from the polling perspective. Things are equally unclear about the suspicions of manipulation. The status quo opinion, especially after the dissolution of parliament, is that that state is working on behalf of Ahmed Shafik. This is reasonable, but it is also open to other conspiracies.

So amidst this mass of confusion I will wade: Mohamed Morsy will be Egypt’s next president.

First, from simple vote analysis: Both Shafik and Morsy captured about 25% of the electorate. Running amidst many other candidates, it is fair to say this represents the natural constituency of both.

In third place was Hamdeen Sabbahi, who represented the non-regime, non-MB vote. A great proportion of his supporters will boycott, and the rest will likely be split equally between the two as their conscience settles on the lesser of two evils.

In fourth place was Abdel Munim Abul Futuh, and somewhat significantly behind him was Amr Moussa. Abul Futuh’s votes will likely go to a fellow Islamist, while Moussa’s will shift to the civil state advocate. It’s probable most of these voters also are not thrilled about their final choice, but there are more of Islamist ilk, so Morsy gets the edge.

That leaves the undecided. Actually, these might not matter at all. Turnout for the first round of elections was only 46%; it is expected to be lower for the run-off. Both Shafik and Morsy have powerful political machines, so these will probably cancel each other out.

But if the non-committed voter chooses, I think he will have more inclination to lean toward Morsy. Shafik does not have a project; his campaign is based on the promise of a return to stability with a heavy dose of accusation against the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood has lost a significant portion of its popularity since their triumph in parliamentary elections, but this sentiment is probably weakest (or least recognized) among the non-politicized voter. For these, Morsy represents either 1) the choice of a ‘Muslim’ president, or 2) the choice of change.

I think these factors will push the edge to Morsy in the end.

Second, no prediction is worth its weight unless it deals also with the underlying issues of interest and possible manipulation. Again, though murky, here is my best shot.

The first issue concerns outright vote fraud. In all that follows, I have no evidence to present, but only a reading of the tea leaves. I do not expect state sponsored cheating.

The reason is legitimacy. The military council won legitimacy by protecting the revolutionaries during the initial eighteen days of protest against Mubarak. They have since lost most of this legitimacy as they have navigated the transition, but their promise was to deliver civilian rule through a democratic process.

The only way for the military to salvage legitimacy is to fulfill their promise. Fraud would evaporate it. So would brute force or coup d’etat. The military likely desires to continue playing a role in Egypt’s politics behind the scenes. The only way for this to occur is to preside over legitimate elections, no matter the outcome.

Have they steered the outcome, through the apparatus of the state? Perhaps. The question is toward whom.

It is easier to guess at whom they have steered it away from. The first elimination was of strong, independent candidates. Omar Suleiman (of the intelligence services), Khairat al-Shater (of the Muslim Brotherhood), and Hazem Abu Ismail (of the Salafis) were all disqualified on procedural grounds – all with legitimate, explainable, though somewhat tenuous reasoning.

The second elimination was the most challenging. This was the electoral contest which promoted the strident partisan candidates over revolutionary centrists. It is far too uncertain to assert the military ‘arranged’ or even ‘steered’ this outcome. Yet it is reasonable they were not displeased by the winning candidacies of Shafik and Morsy, both of whom represented the major players of the old regime.

For the second issue, it is in this context the recent dissolution of parliament and likely assumption of constitution writing can be understood.

If Shafik wins, the constitution will be written under friendly circumstances, while the election of a new parliament would likely see a less dominant Islamist presence.

If Morsy wins, the constitution still stays out of the hands of Islamists, while the absence of a parliament denies the Brotherhood a second source of legitimacy. In this scenario, Islamists are even less likely to win parliament, as the people – already wary of the MB – will keep them from having a strong mandate.

A Morsy victory will set off alarm bells among many, and for those unfavorable toward the Brotherhood there is reason for concern. The presidency will allow gradual Islamist population of the general bureaucracy. A Brotherhood triumph could set a pattern for other nations, and their success could transform the map of the Middle East. The alarm for many will be that geopolitics has shifted, and the powers-that-be (i.e., the US) now favor Islamist rule.

While shifting alliances are possible, even on a legitimate basis of popular rule, my gut still imagines it not to be the case. I think the US and the Egyptian military are fundamentally averse to the Brotherhood.

This blog has done a good job at making the case why the military might not mind, or even favor, a Morsy victory. Chief among them is that it gives the military a cover for a civilian – and in particular an Islamist – to take the fall for all coming problems, natural or instigated.

A popular theory in Egypt claims that the military yielded parliament to the Brotherhood to give it just enough rope to hang itself. Indeed, their popularity has suffered as observers discovered them as a manipulating faction dedicated to the preservation and increase of its own power.

This theory can be extended to give them the presidency in order to complete the job. Losing parliament and the constitution divests them of the tools necessary to cement their control, and leaves the president to flail in the wind.

If indeed the powers-that-be want to rid the region of the specter – and promise – of the Brotherhood, this may be a far better strategy than repression.

Unfortunately, it is a dangerous and illegitimate game – if it is being played at all. The point here is to examine why a Morsy victory may be allowed, or may be accepted, or may even be encouraged.

Of course, Shafik could win, either along the lines of status quo conspiracy, or along the lines of popular legitimacy.

Parliament may have been dissolved because it violated the law. The constitution may revert to the military because political parties could not agree on the writing committee. One should never dismiss the simple and obvious explanations.

Yet even these, I venture to guess, will lead to a Morsy presidency.

Unfortunately, too often in Egypt, there is an angle behind every obvious. This will continue until Morsy, or Shafik, or the continuation of the revolution is able to install transparency as a hallmark of government.

May this day come, through the rule of whomever.

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Parliament Dissolution and Presidential Run-Off


Tomorrow Egyptians go to the polls to elect their first freely chosen chief executive. Yet they go under a cloud of uncertainty. A judicial decision rendered their chief democratic achievement obsolete: Parliament is dissolved.

The ruling found its composition unconstitutional, following a precedent which dissolved parliaments before. Yet its timing – days before the election – was odd, prompting accusations of a democratic rollback on the part of the military.

Yet the accusations were rather muted. That is, many didn’t mind seeing the parliament go. The biggest victim – the Islamist majority – failed to protest significantly either. On the contrary, they urged people to head to the polls, to continue the revolution with the ballot.

Once there, people face three choices: The candidate of the old regime, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the choice of spoiling the ballot. The third choice will have no impact on elections, but will provide a tally of every voter choosing none of the above.

God, give wisdom to Egypt’s people. First and foremost, should they even go to vote? Many say their participation is an endorsement of the flawed, and perhaps manipulated, process. Yet if your endowed responsibility to support one’s nation demands a vote, guide those who seek your will. Which president will serve Egypt best?

But God, the sad reality is that some might prefer the other candidate to win, only to see him fail before Egypt’s many challenges. Sadder still is that this could be your will as well.

Too much is obscure, God. Did the court rule against parliament on pure legal reasoning or on political considerations? If political, in favor of whom? Does dropping an assembly of Islamists allow a representative committee to draft the constitution? Or does it compromise the concept of representative government no matter which result is actualized?

Are Islamists the best path toward open and civil government, or the embodiment of its opposite?

Is the old regime properly reformed after the revolution to rule justly, or itching for an opportunity to settle scores?

God, how can Egyptians choose? It is not an election about higher vs. lower taxes or the proper scope of guaranteed health care. It is in essence a choice of direction for a nation – but without much certainty over the reality of either candidate. It is not a decision between shades of spin, but between truth and lies – but without much evidence in either direction.

And all the above presupposes there is not a deal between the old regime and the Islamists to divide power regardless.

God, lift Egypt. May these elections be a cause of celebration over the event, if not the outcome. But may the hope be greater: Give cause also to celebrate the outcome, if only months and years later.

Steady Egypt, God. The decisive moment has arrived and signs are not encouraging. From here events may either stabilize or begin to spiral out of control. There is the chance as well the status quo of confusion carries on. Keep Egypt from harm, God. Protect her people. May none choose violence to protest their loss.

But where loss is unjust, God, give ways to continue the struggle. Set right all wrongs. Elevate righteousness and curb manipulation. Create of Egypt a place where your values incarnate. Bless this land and its people.

Prepare them for whatever comes next.