Nigeria's Presidential Election: The Christian-Muslim Divide

Source Organization: Pew Research Center

03/22/2007 - If Nigeria's presidential election takes place as scheduled on April 21, it will mark the first transfer of power from one elected civilian president to another in the country considered the key to stability for all of West Africa. But the campaign leading up to it is already serving as a reminder of the sharp Christian-Muslim divide in Africa's most populous country.

Nigerians will be choosing the successor to President Olusegun Obasanjo, a born-again Christian who has served two four-year terms. While Obasanjo's eight years as president symbolized an era of Christian control, even before he took office in 1999 political leaders began talking of alternating the presidency between the country's largely Christian south and predominately Muslim north. After considerable infighting and the disqualification of several would-be contenders, all of the country's major political parties have now chosen Muslims as their candidates.

Nigeria's population of some 140 million is divided nearly equally between Christians and Muslims. The importance of that divide is well illustrated by the fact that religion - not nationality - is the way in which most Nigerians choose to identify themselves. In a May-June 2006 survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 76% of Christians say that religion is more important to them than their identity as Africans, Nigerians or members of an ethnic group. Among Muslims, the number naming religion as the most important factor is even higher (91%).1

The appetite for major political change, however, extends across the religious spectrum. Large majorities of both the country's Christians (94%) and Muslims (97%) say they are dissatisfied with conditions, and the discontent extends to virtually every major secular institution. Large majorities of both groups say they trust the national government only a little or not at all (86% of Christians, 84% of Muslims). These strongly negative opinions extend to the military (80% of Christians trust it only a little or not at all, as do 68% of Muslims) and city and local government.

Read the full article Nigeria's Presidential Election: The Christian-Muslim Divide on the Pew Research Center Web site.

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