FaithWorld

Nigerian elections seal major power shift to largely Christian south


(Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan casts his ballot in his home village of Otuoke, Bayelsa state April 16, 2011/Joseph Penney)

A decisive election victory by President Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria has shifted power firmly to the largely Christian south from the Muslim north and could reopen political fissures in Africa’s top energy supplier.

Violence swept northern cities, leaving hundreds of people dead and many homeless after Jonathan’s crushing victory over his northern opponent Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler.

“Jonathan’s landslide, though on the surface it appears like a resounding pan-Nigeria mandate, has brought back with a vengeance all the religious and sectional cleavage, not to mention ethnic bitterness,” Olakunle Abimbola of The Nation newspaper wrote in a column.

Many people see the riots as a reaction by the north to being cut adrift from power and say Jonathan will have to tread gingerly to avoid fuelling resentment in the vast impoverished area. So far the president has said his victory is for all Nigerians and his aides have refrained from being triumphalist.

Although Buhari won in almost all Nigeria’s northern states, Jonathan also picked up millions of votes and his northern backers — particularly in the elite — have high expectations.

Nigerian president appeals to Muslim leaders before vote

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(Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan at a campaign rally in Kano, northern Nigeria, March 16, 2011S/Joe Penney)

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has appealed to Muslim leaders to help ensure that elections next month, which risk stoking regional rivalries, pass off peacefully. Africa’s most populous nation holds presidential, parliamentary and state governorship elections spread over three weeks in April, all of which are set to be fiercely contested.

Jonathan met on Sunday with the Sultan of Sokoto, one of Nigeria’s most influential Islamic leaders, and other senior figures from the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and Muslim umbrella organisation Jamatul Nasir Islam in the northern city of Kaduna. Nigeria is home to the largest Muslim community in sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for roughly half of the country’s 150 million people, as well as to more than 200 ethnicities, most of whom generally live peacefully side by side.