The Christian Vote is Crucial in Nigeria’s Tight Presidential Election

An altar boy swings the thurible of incense during a morning service at the Saint Charles Catholic Church, the site of a 2014 bomb attack blamed on Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, in the predominantly-Christian neighborhood of Sabon Gari in Kano, northern Nigeria Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019. With the leading contenders both northern Muslims, Nigeria’s presidential contest has been largely free of the religious pressures that marked the 2015 vote, but the Christian vote is bound to be decisive in a race that could sweep the incumbent out of power. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Ask worshippers at St. Charles Catholic Church what they want most from Nigeria’s presidential election, and the answer is peace.

“We don’t want any more bloodshed in Nigeria,” said Everistus Suburu, vice chairman of the church in the northern state of Kano. “We are tired of (Islamic extremist group) Boko Haram.”

The presidential campaign has been largely free of the religious pressures that marked the 2015 vote when Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim northerner, defeated a Christian president from the south who had grown unpopular over his failure to control Boko Haram.

Now, with the leading candidates both northern Muslims, the Christian vote may be decisive in sweeping the incumbent from power for the second time in as many elections in Africa’s most populous country.

Nigeria’s 190 million people are divided almost equally between Christians mainly in the south and Muslims, like Buhari and his opponent Atiku Abubakar, who dominate in the north.

Across northern Nigeria, where street scenes are rich with Islamic customs and mosques, people of different faiths have co-existed over the decades, even joining forces in recent years to fight Boko Haram, which opposes a secular Nigeria.

Yet religious tensions remain even in an election that offers no clear sectarian choice, underscoring the pervasive influence of faith in Nigerian politics.

It’s not certain which of the top two candidates Christian voters will support, or if they will vote as a bloc.

In a bit of last-minute drama, the electoral commission decided early Saturday, just hours before polls were to open, to postpone the election until Feb. 23. The commission’s chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, cited “very trying circumstances” in logistics for the balloting, including bad weather affecting flights and fires at three commission offices in an apparent attempt “to sabotage our preparations.”

The delay has deepened the sense of mistrust and frustration some northern Christians feel toward Buhari’s government.

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SOURCE: Crux Now, Rodney Muhumuza; The Associated Press