Nigerian Christians place hope in Muslim leader
ABUJA, Nigeria (BP) -- Christian voters who compose half of Nigeria's population ousted Christian candidate and President Goodluck Jonathan in March 28 national elections, giving Muslim and former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari a clear victory.
Adeniyi Ojutiku, a Southern Baptist from Raleigh, N.C., and expert on Nigerian relations, said Christians were likely discouraged in having placed confidence in Jonathan and the Nigerian and international Christian communities, perceived to have failed them during Boko Haram's terroristic onslaught that intensified around 2009.
"They were disappointed, discouraged and disenchanted. They fell back to their default political leaning, which is to support the northern Muslims that they have always lived with, and they will always continue to live with, since nobody was coming to rescue them," Ojutiku told Baptist Press today (April 1).
"It would appear from the result of the election that there was a firm alliance between the southwest and the northern states, meaning the Yoruba and the Hausa-Fulani North teamed up and supported Buhari," Ojutiku said, "whereas the east, mainly the Ebos and the major minority tribes, voted certainly for Jonathan. So it was more along ethno-regional lines."
As founder of the grassroots Lift Up Now Christian-based outreach to his homeland, Ojutiku has about 2,000 members in Nigeria. Spokespersons told him Christians there felt "they had no choice" but to support Buhari, a Muslim whose support is entrenched in the North.
"They felt that if they partnered with the Muslims in having power returned back to the North, at least maybe they may see some protection. So that to them appeared to be a safer position than to continue to support the supposedly Christian president that was not responding adequately to their needs," Ojutiku said. "And also the CAN, Christian Association of Nigeria, the apex Christian body that's supposed to look after the welfare of Christians across the country, completely turned its back on them. So they were very disappointed with the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, especially the leadership. They were disappointed with other Christians in Nigeria and with the Christians globally because they just did not respond in their times of need."
Historically, Buhari has supported the northern Islamic agenda, but claims to have converted to democracy. The 72-year-old retired general last held power for nearly two years after a coup in 1983. He ran for president in 2011 and lost to Jonathan. The election was followed by rioting that left more than 800 people dead.
In the 2015 election that many considered peaceful and orderly -- the apparent result of a joint, regional military attack against Boko Haram -- Buhari took 15.4 million votes to Jonathan's 13.3 million, Nigeria election officials reported. Jonathan conceded defeat in a phone call to Buhari, marking the first time in Nigeria's history that an opposition party has democratically taken control of the country from the ruling party.
"[Buhari] claims to have had a rebirth in which he now fully embraces democracy. So I think the people, having been fed up with the poor performance of Jonathan, they see a hope in trusting, at least giving him a benefit of doubt and ... giving him an opportunity to prove himself a democrat," Ojutiku said.
Buhari also gained Christian support by choosing Christian vice presidential running mate, Yemi Osinbajo, a law professor, former attorney general of Lagos, and a former Pentecostal pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God, by far the largest active denomination in the country.
"When we look at his preparedness and pedigree, he's a very sound person and is a Christian," Ojutiku said of Osinbajo.
Just one day after his victory, Buhari pledged to defeat Boko Haram, Reuters reported today.
"Boko Haram will soon know the strength of our collective will. We should spare no effort," Reuters quoted Buhari from his first formal speech since winning the election. "In tackling the insurgency, we have a tough and urgent job to do."
Boko Haram has killed an estimated 13,000 in northeastern Nigeria since 2009, mostly Christians, and displaced more than 1.5 million, many of them since Jonathan declared an unsuccessful state of emergency in 2013 in key northeastern states.
Buhari may have some power in appealing to Boko Haram to retreat, Ojutiku told BP.
"Now that Buhari is the president elect, he has the possibility of an appeal to the insurgents," Ojutiku said, "and even though all the factions may not agree to put down their war weapons and stem the tide of their terrorist activities, there will be significant stemming of the terrorist attacks; it will not escalate."
A major challenge of the new government will be in helping displaced Christians return to their home territories and rebuild their lives, Ojutiku said.