By Joseph DeCaro, Worthy News Correspondent
ABUJA, NIGERIA (Worthy News)-- In an online video released last week, the militant Muslim group Boko Haram demanded that Nigeria's Christian president either convert to Islam, or resign.
Haram head Abubakar Shekau told President Goodluck Jonathan to "repent and forsake Christianity," otherwise Shekau's followers would continue their violent campaign, but presidential spokesman Reuben Abati dismissed the demand.
"When Nigerians voted overwhelmingly for President Jonathan in the 2011 general election, they knew they were voting for a Christian," he said. "He has the mandate of Nigerians to serve his fatherland. Nobody should imagine that he will succumb to blackmail."
As a Christian from Southern Nigeria, Jonathan's candidacy was already problematic since an unwritten agreement stipulated that candidates from the North and South would alternatively hold the presidency. The previous president, Yar'Adua, a Muslim northerner, had just succeeded a two-term Christian when his untimely death prematurely ended his term, causing many Islamists to want the next president to again be Muslim.
Although Jonathan won the last election by a landslide, more than 800 people were killed and dozens of churches torched during three days of rioting after the election result was announced. Boko Haram has since threatened to cleanse northern Nigeria of its Christians by bombing their churches and attacking their congregations.
Despite Haram's increasingly bloody campaign, the Obama administration has resisted all efforts by U.S. lawmakers to designate the group as a foreign terrorist organization under American law.
Last month, Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing that it's important to understand what Boko Haram is, and what it isn't.
"Boko Haram is composed of at least two organizations," he said. "A larger organization focused primarily on discrediting the Nigerian government, and a smaller, more dangerous group that is increasingly sophisticated and increasingly lethal."
Most Haram followers are determined to discredit the Nigerian government in a violent campaign that began in July 2009 after the group's founder, Mohammed Yusuf, died in police custody.
Boko Haram, whose name translates as "Western education is forbidden," wants to extend Islamic law over all of Nigeria, even though nearly half of the African nation is Christian.