By Zikeyi John
Current estimates put the Christian and Muslim population in Nigeria at almost par, though some estimates give a slight edge to Muslims in the country. While the north is predominantly Muslim, the south is predominantly Christian. Yet, these broad categories ignore significant populations of both faiths across both sections of the country.
For instance, the Middle Belt and parts of the North East have significant Christian populations, while the Southwest has significant Muslim population. The balance of the faiths has encouraged a balancing act in the choice of political leaders.
In the country’s history there have only been four heads of state/presidents who were Christians and seven Muslim heads of state/presidents. The Christian heads of state and presidents were General Aguiyi Ironsi, General Yakubu Gowon, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr Goodluck Jonathan. The Muslim leaders have been General Murtala Muhammed, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, General Ibrahim Babangida, General Sani Abacha, General Abdusalam Abubakar, President Umar Musa Yar’Adua and President Muhammadu Buhari. While all of the military heads of state came through coup d’états facilitated by their positions in the military, the political leaders have emerged through an unwritten understanding that power should rotate between the north and south and between Muslim and Christian to breed inclusiveness and cohesion. So far that principle has held at the national level. Given the ethnic and religious mix at the national level and in many states, there has been a deliberate attempt to balance the leadership between the two faiths such that there is a Christian deputy when a Muslim is president and vice versa. This assures most people that at the highest level of decision-making they are represented. This has been the practice over the years but at no time is it more necessary than now when the country is buffeted on all sides by conflicts and cries of partisanship. Yet, the signal from certain quarters raise fears and call us to vigilance.
Balancing the presidency and political offices are central to guaranteeing inclusion in Nigeria. The recently released 2019 Fragile States Index ranks Nigeria as the 14th most fragile state in the world, with a score of 98.5 out of a maximum 120 points, even much worse than Mali. Insecurity and marginalization of ethnic and religious groups have not helped. There are fears that more crises will come if equity takes a flight in the sharing of political offices.
–Zikeyi is the pastor of the Ultimate Power Ministry based in Abraka, Delta State.
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