(RNS) A northern Nigeria Muslim leader who promised to pursue a nonreligious agenda as president will now have to deal with an Islamic terrorist insurgency that has wreaked chaos in the country’s north.
Muhammadu Buhari, 72, a former military ruler and a Muslim, beat incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, 57, a Christian from the country’s south, in a race held under the shadow of Boko Haram violence.
Not all Nigerians are happy with Buhari’s election, given his past human-rights record as president from January 1984 to August 1985. During that time, he imprisoned journalists and opposition activists without trial and executed drug traffickers by firing squad.
But Nigerians, both Christian and Muslim, hope he is better-suited to battle Boko Haram, despite being a Muslim himself.
During a campaign rally, Buhari criticized the insurgents for attacking churches and mosques and killing schoolchildren in their sleep while shouting “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great.”
And while in the past he supported Shariah in the north, he has denied that he is a radical Islamist.
Many people from the north, the epicenter of Boko Haram violence, have described him as a man of decency, integrity and a sense of justice who could fight the Islamists.
Christian leaders hope Buhari can quickly tackle Boko Haram. The group is responsible for the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls.
“The first task: The people want Buhari to deal with insecurity, then corruption,” said the Rev. John Bakeni, secretary of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri.
On Tuesday (March 31), Jonathan conceded defeat to Buhari, paving the way for a peaceful handover of power.
Earlier, Catholic bishops in a statement had urged all political parties to accept the results and join their supporters to keep peace.
“This is the only country we have and it is everybody’s task to keep it as one,” said Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria.
Abdallah Kheir, a religious scholar from Nairobi’s Kenyatta University, studied in northern Nigeria and said Christians were disappointed with Jonathan.
“There were no tangible attacks against Boko Haram during his period,” Kheir said. “When the attacks were finally launched against the Islamists, Nigeria in general viewed this as a political move made to attract votes.”
Buhari, by contrast, was known to be good at building rapport when he was president.
by Fredrick Nzwili