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Nigeria election strife targets Christians

ABUJA, Nigeria (BP)–Nigeria’s government imposed curfews and created a special commission to investigate violence that has targeted Christian homes, businesses and churches after a northern Muslim was defeated in the country’s April 16 presidential election.

Supporters of Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler who polled about 31 percent in the balloting, took to the streets in four states of northern Nigeria, according to media reports. Buhari supporters lodged complaints of vote rigging even before election results were announced. After reports that incumbent Goodluck Jonathan received 57 percent of the vote, gangs of Buhari supporters launched looting and burning sprees.

The violence killed at least 120 people, injured hundreds and displaced thousands, the Reuters news service reported.

Some of the violence has targeted Christians, who are especially easy targets in the country’s predominantly Muslim northern states, according to a statement from the Christian Solidarity Worldwide human rights organization.

“Your prayers are urgently needed for Nigeria as post-election violence has spread to three northern states. Christian communities in these areas are particularly vulnerable,” CSW said. “The Anglican Bishop Henry Ndukuba of Gombe and his family had to be escorted to their home by two squads of armed police after their Sunday church service. Supporters of the Congress for Progressive Change have been burning churches and vicarages and looting Christian business since Saturday evening, with ‘al majeris’ [Islamic students], who are minors, spearheading the attack in order to deter a more robust official response.”

At least two churches have been burned and Christian homes and businesses were looted in Kaduna and Zaria, the CSW statement said. One man reportedly was murdered in Zaria as he tried to stop a mob from burning a church.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is divided north and south along lines that include tribal and religious differences. The country has a long history of official corruption and state-sponsored vote fraud, but European Union observers said this presidential ballot was Nigeria’s fairest election in decades, according to South Africa’s Globe and Mail news service.

Nigeria’s economy has grown at least 6 percent in recent years and it has vast oil and mineral resources, the Globe and Mail said. Between 1960 and 1999, however, officials are estimated to have stolen more than $440 billion and the proportion of Nigerians living in poverty has increased from 49 percent to 77 percent since 1990. Public education and health systems are near total collapse and electrical outages are “a daily fact of life,” the news service reported.

An estimated 62 percent of the country’s citizens are younger than 24 and young people turned out in massive numbers to support Jonathan, who used Facebook to court the youth vote and even recruited staff who worked on Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, the Globe and Mail reported.

Jonathan announced April 21 that voting for governor and state assembly positions in its 36 states would continue on April 26 as planned, with security forces mobilized to guarantee free and orderly elections, news services reported. He also announced a judicial commission would be set up to investigate the causes of the violence.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor and senior writer Mark Kelly.

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