More than 60 churches were burned and thousands of Christian-owned homes destroyed in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north after the recent election of incumbent Christian president Goodluck Jonathan, according to the Christian persecution watchdog group Open Doors.
Riots broke out Monday after the preliminary results of Saturday’s vote were announced. Jonathan, who was sworn in as president in May 2010, was announced president over his Muslim opponent Muhammadu Buhari.
“Last year there were more martyrs in Nigeria – approximately 2,000 Christians killed in the northern part – than in any other country in the world,” said Open Doors USA President/CEO Carl Moeller. “Nigeria is such a key country in the spread of Christianity all over Africa.”
“Please join me in prayer for the Christians there, especially for those in the north,” he added.
Muslims complained that the vote tallies were rigged, but independent observers described the election as the fairest in decades.
“The elections for the National Assembly and the Presidency were both credible and creditable and reflected the will of the Nigerian people,” said the Commonwealth observers’ report.
Protesters also wanted a Muslim president to succeed Jonathan. Nigeria, which is nearly equally split between Muslims in the North and Christians in the South, has a policy of alternating between Christians and Muslims in the office of president.
But Jonathan did not serve a full presidential term, being that he took power after his Muslim predecessor, Umaru Yar’Adua, died last year after a long medical battle. Therefore, he is qualified to run for another term.
Though Jonathan is a Christian, one Christian leader in the northern Nigerian state of Kaduna pointed out to International Christian Concern, “Goodluck is not the president just for Christians; he is the president for every Nigerian. Why should Christians suffer because Jonathan won the election?”
Amid the violence, Jonathan said in a televised speech Monday evening that “nobody’s political ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian,” according to The Associated Press.
Yet the massive sectarian violence in Nigeria is not all that surprising. Nigeria has a long and bloody history of Muslim-Christian conflicts that is not just inspired by religion, but also by land and water disputes.
Last Christmas Eve, at least 38 people were killed across Nigeria when armed men linked to the radical Muslim group Boko Haram attacked churches and a busy market in a predominantly Christian area. And in early 2010, more than 500 people in a Christian village were killed in sectarian violence in Jos, an area that lies on the border between the north and south. Local church leaders later clarified that the deadly clash was more about social and economic conflicts than religion.