Nigeria's Next President Almost Sure to be Muslim

January 12, 2007

Source: International Herald Tribune

Wire Service: AP

ABUJA, Nigeria: The minarets of the national mosque and the main cathedral's tower soar to equal heights over Nigeria's capital, neither eclipsing the other.

Religious leaders engineered the parity of spires to promote unity amid sectarian violence unleashed at the end of military rule in 1999. Just as deliberately, following eight years of rule by an elected southern Christian, all the main political parties have nominated northern, Muslim candidates for this year's presidential race in a fractious nation split between Muslims and Christians.

While there are some accusations the Christian-to-Muslim hand-over stems from corrupt dealmaking, there's also a sense that even a crude check on long-term dominance by any regional or ethnic group may be better than a free for all.

"If I have my chance, I'll try to do good by you. If you do my people bad, I'll do bad for you," says Innocent Ike, a 25-year old Christian who works in a book stall selling Bibles. "Now we all do good works for each other."

The 140 million people of Africa's most-populous nation are roughly split between a south dominated by Christians and once controlled by Europeans and a Muslim north, where Arabs traveling across the Sahara Desert established their footholds. Followers of traditional religions make up a small minority.