News Analysis

A disappointing election result for Nigeria’s Christians

Buhari: the north's 'Mr Clean' (Getty)

Nigeria’s recent presidential election was won by incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari. International observers expressed overall satisfaction with the way it was conducted.

Any political event in Nigeria entails controversy, however. Fundamentally this is because of the country’s great ethnic, religious and regional complexity. The election was first due to be held on February 16, but very early that morning INEC, the body responsible for conducting elections, announced that it was being postponed by a week. Officially the cause was logistical problems, but various dark reasons were widely alleged.

Great outrage was expressed over the disruption caused by the postponement. Many Nigerians had travelled long distances to vote, including Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, the former president of the country’s bishops’ conference. In vain, he had hastened back from a conference of West African bishops in the Ivory Coast.

The election did take place as re-scheduled on February 23. Although it was on the whole violence-free, there were complaints that voting materials did not arrive at polling stations on time and that the newly recruited officials did not know how to use the card readers (electronic voting authentication devices).

Altogether 73 candidates were standing. The main contestants were the President, representing the All Progressives’ Congress (APC), and Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), a former vice-president. Both are Muslims from the north, but each had a Christian running-mate from the south: respectively, current vice-president Yemi Osinbajo, a Yoruba and Pentecostal pastor, and Peter Obi, an Igbo Catholic who as former governor of Anambra state earned plaudits for his prudent and honest management of the state’s finances. (The same could not be said of every governor.)

Buhari has a large following among the Muslim masses of the north, seen by them as “Mr Clean”, dedicated to fighting corruption. But it is hard to point to any great success on his part; certainly nobody has been tried for corruption in the past four years.

Christians have complained that Buhari’s appointments have consistently favoured his Hausa-Fulani fellow Muslims, although many Muslims would themselves say that he depends heavily on the “Katsina mafia”, people from his own state in the far north of the country. Christians tended to favour the PDP, and predictably the party did well in states with a Christian majority. The APC was on the whole victorious, however, with more than 15 million votes to the PDP’s 11 million. The PDP is going to court to challenge the result, claiming that it has “real figures” that contradict the official result.

Buhari has said that the next few years are going to be “tough”, presumably meaning economically. In this sense things are tough enough already: youth unemployment stands at an all-time high, and this may explain why only about 35 per cent of those qualified to vote did so. Clearly, disillusionment with both the main parties was widespread, and the future does not look bright.