By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
ABUJA (Worthy News) – Devoted Christians already suffering from Islamist attacks in several parts of Nigeria faced more difficulties Thursday as the government changed the nation’s currency design causing shortages and wreaking social havoc.
The currency move came ahead of Saturday’s presidential elections in Africa’s most populous and volatile nation, where thousands of Christians have been killed in recent years.
“It is hard to get money here now because of the sudden changes,” said 17-year-old Samson Adedotun, a Christian student in the southwestern town of Alakuko.
He spoke as fights broke out near automated teller machine (ATM) lines in several areas of Nigeria as people desperately tried to cash their money.
People queued for days to withdraw a maximum of around $40, witnesses said.
Cash shortages are so severe that many cannot buy food or medicine, despite having money in the bank. As frustration mounts, angry protesters have burned down banks.
Samson, who studies science, told Worthy News that many youngsters try to leave Nigeria. However, he wants to stay despite the turmoil. “Christians here pray to God for safety, and some leave this country. But as for me, I have faith that it will get better someday,” he stressed. I often visit the Redeemed Christian Church of God,” a Pentecostal church, he said.
“And I know God’s will for me will be done in Jesus’ name,” added Samson, who lives with his three brothers and mother in Alakuko, 535 kilometers (332 miles) southwest of Abuja, the capital.
Amid the social upheaval, observers say Saturday’s election has sparked unprecedented interest among young people.
Many are tired of being ruled by a perceived old guard who they say has done little to improve their living standards or chances of getting a job.
That has given a fringe-party candidate, running against two long-familiar politicians in their 70s, a real shot at the presidency for the first time.
At 61, former governor Peter Obi is the youngest of the three frontrunners for Nigeria’s top job in this weekend’s presidential election.
Claiming he is the only candidate offering real change, Obi, a wealthy businessman from southeast Nigeria’s Anambra state, has emerged as a powerful force in the race.
He challenges ex-Lagos governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu, 70, of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and 76-year-old ex-vice president Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Under Nigeria’s presidential system, incumbent Muhammadu Buhari can’t run again for president, but few will shed tears over him leaving office, the turmoil suggests.
Ahead of the latest cash crisis, President Buhari’s eight years in power have been overshadowed by security concerns, with thousands being killed in Islamist violence.
“Nigeria’s presidential election will be held amidst soaring ethnoreligious tensions, gross insecurity, and the threat of widespread election-related violence,” explained Elizabeth Kendal, an international religious liberty analyst and advocate.
“Nigeria has a population of 220 million, around half identifying as Christian. Those most at risk are minority Christians in the Muslim North and all ethnic Igbo living outside the South East,” she noted. “The Igbo is Nigeria’s most Christian (98 percent), most industrious and most widely dispersed tribe.”
The turbulence added to economic decay, soaring unemployment, heightened insecurity, and an exodus of the educated elite.
And if that were not enough, his tenure is now clouded by a botched currency conversion and gasoline shortages. A decision by Nigeria’s government to replace its currency with newly designed bills plunged the nation into chaos.
Most Nigerians turned in their old currency, called the naira, as they were told to do in October by the Central Bank of Nigeria.
But when they tried to withdraw the new notes from banks or even informal money brokers, they were stunned to find that few were available.
The cash crisis is seen as a significant, unpredictable factor in an election that was already Nigeria’s most wide-open race in years, analysts say.
“Yet me and my brothers and mum try to manage, somehow,” said Samson, the student talking to Worthy News.
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