With the rule of Nigeria's first Christian president coming to an end, Africa's most populous country could be facing a make-or-break transition. All the leading contenders for the presidency are Muslims, including Umaru Yar'Adua from the ruling party of current president Olusegun Obasanjo.

So far, all signs point to a peaceful handover following April's elections. But Kenya-based Nigerian evangelical leader Tokunboh Adeyemo said many Christians have expressed disappointment that Obasanjo, a Baptist, endorsed a Muslim governor from a northern state. He urged Christians to understand the context.

"[Obasanjo] was respecting a gentleman's agreement," Adeyemo explained. According to a 1998 memorandum of understanding agreed to by Obasanjo, the Nigerian presidency must alternate between a Christian and a Muslim. Christians, predominant in the south, and Muslims, concentrated in the north, have clashed for decades.

According to Adeyemo, Obasanjo's heir apparent is "a moderate Muslim, not a fanatic."

"If [Yar'Adua] wins," Adeyemo said, "there should be no reason for Christians to fear."

Still, some do. In Akure, capital of Ondo, a largely rural southern state, Iyabode Okoro worries that a return to Muslim control would marginalize Christians.

"Even now with a Christian president, the persecution is not abated," said Okoro, who runs the family-focused Christian Heritage Ministries with her husband, Stanley. "We continue to hear of church burnings from time to time and to hear of deprivation of people's rights because of their faith."

Okoro said Muslim leaders would not be politically capable of imposing Shari'ah law across all Nigeria. But in some northern states, moves to install Shari'ah over the last few years have contributed to greater ...

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Christianity Today
Nigeria's Touchy Transition
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April 2007

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