Nigeria’s budding democracy struggles with religious-tribal politics

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The race for the presidency in Nigeria steers closer and closer toward ethno-religious lines as politicians exploit public disenchantment on north-south, Christian-Muslim parity. All three major opposition parties have nominated northern Muslim candidates.

Since President Goodluck Jonathan won the presidential ticket for the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, there has been protests in the northern states of Nigeria. Observers say the protests resulted from politicians designating youth gangs and then sending them into the streets.

“The delegates should have thought that the choice of President Jonathan would provoke religious sentiment, which is very dangerous,” Tanko Yakasai, a spokesman for the group, told AFP.

According to reports, mass text messages on mobile phones were sent condemning northern state governors as “the enemies of the north and Islam” for supporting Jonathan instead of Muslim northerner Atiku Abubakar, who challenged the president for the nomination.

“The whipping of religious sentiment in the north against … President Goodluck Jonathan is a dangerous development to the sustenance of democracy and national peace and stability.

“Certain political forces are no doubt exploiting this public disenchantment, especially the religious aspect of it,” Shehu Sani of the northern Civil Rights Congress Organization was quoted as saying.

The ethno-religious sentiments are however evident in both ends of the political field.

“It is equally true that politicians and Christian clerics in the south are also using religion to promote and rally support for Jonathan against northern candidates,” Sani added.

Northern Elders Assembly, which challenged Jonathan’s candidacy in court, blames northern Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) delegates who supported the president.

“We have resolved to renounce our membership of the PDP for the injustice meted on the north over the zoning arrangement and have started consultation on which of the northern candidates to vote for in the presidential election,” Ahmad Yazid Rafindadi, a man who led the protest in the Nigerian state of Katsina, told reporters.

Jonathan became president in May after the death of President Yar’Adua, who had not finished his first term, leading some to argue another northerner should take his place, in line with an arrangement within the PDP that says its candidates should be rotated between the mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south every eight years.

There have been fiery sermons delivered in mosques urging Muslims not to vote for PDP candidates, local media reported. Hundreds of Muslim youths took to the streets of the northern cities of Kaduna, Bauchi, Katsina and Hadejia at the weekend in protest, burning PDP flags and membership cards.

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