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5/25/2023 Nigeria (International Christian Concern)As Bola Tinubu, the declared winner of the 2023 Nigerian presidential race, prepares to take office on Monday, he is inheriting a country with deep religious fault lines. His predecessor, fellow APC party member Muhammadu Buhari, has done little to reduce religious violence in his two terms in office. In fact, religious persecution has worsened during his tenure, with the violence today threatening basic rule of law across the country’s Middle Belt and northern regions. 

Tinubu’s victory in the February 2023 vote has deepened tensions across the country. Election officials in Nigeria reported a compelling 37% of the vote to the second-place finisher’s 29%. However, international election observers were quick to criticize the vote. “The elections fell well short of Nigerian citizens’ legitimate and reasonable expectations,” said a report authored by international election observers, “Failures… and unchecked political violence before and during the elections overshadowed incremental administrative gains achieved in the pre-election period, and impeded a substantial number of citizens from participating in voting.” 

Deepening the divide, only 27% of eligible voters participated in the election, meaning that Tinubu’s victory netted him just 9.3% of eligible voters—hardly a compelling electoral mandate in a country already struggling to find common political ground. 

Despite campaign promises to marginalize areas that did not vote for him, in his acceptance speech Tinubu promised to represent the interests of all Nigerians. 

Time will tell which promise Tinubu intends to keep. Tinubu abandoned the long-standing tradition of presidential candidates choosing a running mate from a different faith when he chose Kashim Shettima, a fellow Muslim and former governor of Borno State, to join him on the APC ticket. His choice sparked harsh criticism among non-Muslim leaders who felt that the decision marginalized the interests of other religious groups. Others, though, have suggested that Tinubu will come to office eager to counter the message sent by his choice of vice president and disprove the doubts of local and international observers. 

Tinubu comes to power amid raging religious violence in many parts of Nigeria, especially in the central and northern regions of the country where terrorist and militant groups are waging an effective war against government forces and targeting peaceful communities. 

Nigeria has dealt with significant internal violence for years, mostly at the hands of the Boko Haram terrorist group and militant Fulani herdsmen. Tens of thousands have been killed or abducted by these two groups, and hundreds of thousands have been internally displaced. 

Meanwhile, the government—under both Christian president Goodluck Jonathan and Muslim president Muhammadu Buhari—has failed to provide any kind of effective response to the violence or adequate protection to vulnerable communities regularly targeted for their religion, such as in southern Kaduna State where certain Christian communities have been attacked by Muslim extremists repeatedly over the years. 

If Tinubu is serious about quelling the violence in Nigeria, one factor that he must address is religion. Though not the only factor at play—lack of economic opportunity is another—it is a major one, and one that he crucially cannot afford to ignore. 

Whether through programs to counter religious extremism or through special efforts to provide security for vulnerable Christian communities in violence-torn areas, Tinubu can make significant strides towards peace only if he is willing the address the religious tensions at play in his country. 

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