By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent
ABUJA, NIGERIA (Worthy News) – Nigerian Christians expressed concern Monday after two Muslims were sworn in to lead volatile Nigeria as president and vice president.
Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who became Nigeria’s 16th head-of-state Monday, is a southern Muslim. He picked former Borno state governor Kashim Shettima, a northern Muslim, as his vice president.
The move by Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State, was seen as appeasing Nigeria’s Muslim-majority north which has the largest voting bloc in the country.
However, it drew the ire of Christians who say it went against the tradition of mixed-faith tickets for the presidency at a time of massive Islamic attacks in several parts of the country.
Yet, President Tinubu defended his decision saying he went for competence over “primordial interests.”
Not everyone agrees. “At last, Nigeria today got a Muslim president and a Muslim vice president. What we were afraid of is now here,” said Paul Jongas, a Christian evangelist and farmer. “I am very much concerned. Because very soon Islamic law will be introduced across the country,” he told Worthy News. “Christian persecution will increase. We have no voice now,” Jongas said.
“Please pray for us,” he added. Jongas, who has been in close contact with Worthy News about recent attacks, was forced to move from other areas to the relative safety of Abuja, the capital.
He remains concerned about the future of his wife and children in a nation now led by Muslims, where tens of thousands of Christians have reportedly been killed over the last two decades.
Human rights activists say Christians in Nigeria suffer persecution from an agenda of enforced Islamisation, especially in northern Nigeria, which has gradually been spreading south.
“Since the northern states declared allegiance to Sharia (Islamic law) in 1999, this enforced Islamisation has gained momentum, by violent and non-violent means,” noted advocacy group Open Doors. “Attacks by Islamic militant groups have increased consistently since 2015, but the government has failed to prevent the rise in violence, which affects all Nigerians, but particularly Christians.”
More than 50,000 Christians have been killed in Nigeria by Islamic groups, including Fulani herdsmen and others, within two decades, several rights groups and researchers say.
The Nigeria-based International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) said recently that at least 52,250 people were killed over the past 14 years in Nigeria “only for being Christians.”
The anti-Christian violence forced millions to flee, the group said in its report “Martyred Christians in Nigeria.”
The violence is most pervasive in the north, “where militant groups such as Boko Haram, ISWAP, and Fulani militants inflict murder, physical injury, abduction, and sexual violence on their victims,” Open Doors said.
“Christians are dispossessed of their land and their means of livelihood. Many live as internally displaced people or refugees.”
Open Doors also noted that in the “Sharia states of northern Nigeria,” Christians face “discrimination and exclusion as second-class citizens.” Christians from a Muslim background “also face rejection from their own families, pressure to give up Christianity, and often physical violence,” the well-informed group explained.
It was unclear whether Tinubu would be able or willing to ease tensions after he took over from Muhammadu Buhari, who stepped down at the end of his two terms.
Observers view the 71-year-old as the political “godfather” of the southwest region and its most influential figure, who decides how power is distributed among his many acolytes.
But Christians doubt whether security will improve under his leadership. On Monday, he only hinted at employing more security personnel to tackle the security crisis, including kidnappings for ransom.
The new president is also under pressure to tackle the economic crisis in Africa’s most populous nation.
Inflation has been running at its highest rate for nearly 18 years, one in three people is unemployed, and the output of the vital oil industry is shrinking, according to official data.
Tinubu admitted these challenges in his speech but pledged his team would release an “economic roadmap” in the coming weeks. However, he already cautioned that interest rates were too high.
Additionally, he faces legal challenges from two opposition candidates who claim Tinubu’s victory was manipulated.
Officially Tinubu won the February election with 37 percent of the vote, followed by his main rival, Atiku Abubakar, polling 29 percent, and Labour’s Peter Obi receiving 25 percent.
Tinubu said he was “spreading his hand across the political divide” and described the election as “hard-fought and of a better quality than previous ones.”
He also said that women and young people would feature prominently in his administration.
Supporters say that as a former governor of Lagos, he revitalized Nigeria’s commercial hub. His allies believe he will take the same “technocratic and thoughtful approach” to running the country of more than 200 million people.
But if it’s up to the opposition, he won’t rule Nigeria for long, with a ruling by the election tribunal on their case expected within the next six months. Opponents of the new president also said he has “lost the vitality” he used to have when forcefully modernizing Lagos as governor.
There have been questions about his health after he spent months in 2021 in London while being treated for an undisclosed illness.
He shrugged off the criticism, saying the job “does not require the fitness of an Olympic athlete.” His aids point out that U.S. President Joe Biden is older, at 80.
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