Nigeria faces a directional choice in the presidential election: President Buhari wants to continue governing, while his most promising rival focuses on economic reform. Both are Muslims. A disadvantage for the Christians in the country?
Interviewer: Before voting this Saturday, the Catholic bishops appealed to citizens to support free and fair elections and not to allow their votes to be bought under any circumstances. The appeal of the bishops suggests that things might not always be right in these elections. What is your assessment?
John Seibel (missio press officer): For the catholic church in Nigeria it is the highest goal that elections are free and fair. This is even more important than the outcome itself, because only free and fair elections strengthen democracy. The phenomenon of vote-buying, for example, is not new, but it has recently become more noticeable. People there "sell" their votes not out of low political awareness, but because they are simply desperate and poor. Therefore, the ie of free and fair elections is a litmus test for the church on how strong democracy is in Nigeria.
The church is also involved, for example with Bishop Matthew Kukah, in the "National Peace Committee," which has brought about a peace agreement between the main parties, because they hope that the situation will remain calm after the elections and there is definitely concern that the incumbent President Buhari – if he loses – will not accept this defeat.
Interviewer: A total of 73 candidates are standing for election. One of them is the current president Muhammadu Buhari. The moderate Muslim had, among other things, taken office with the promise of stopping the Islamic terrorist militia Boko Haram in the north of the country. How successful has he been in this respect?
Seibel: When we talk to our missio partners in Nigeria, he has not been very successful, even though he has tried. Boko Haram is still very active. A short time ago, the governor of Borno, a state in northeastern Nigeria, was attacked at an election rally. This shows that Buhari has not made any progress with the fight against terrorism.
One reason for this is also the military. Because for the military, of course, Boko Haram and fighting terrorism is always a reason to say, "We need more financial resources". Experience shows that these financial resources flow through corruption into channels that do not serve the fight against terrorism.
Interviewer: Now Nigeria, with its natural resources, is actually a rich country. But only a few benefit from this. What figure has Buhari cut in the fight against poverty??
Seibel: Even there, our missio partners consistently say he has not succeeded. Poverty has not gone down. Archbishop Kaigama sometimes even talks quite desperately about poverty being a monster in Nigeria. That is also the cause of many problems in Nigeria. Boko Haram is also one of the causes of poverty in the north of the country.
But poverty also causes conflicts that increasingly occupy the country: For example, between the herders from the north, who belong to the Fulani ethnic group and are Muslims, and the farmers further south in the countries, who are farmers and mostly belong to Christian ethnic groups. Because of poverty, because of the climate catastrophe, these herdsmen are forced to look for new water sources and this leads to conflicts with the farmers. These conflicts are then again misused religiously and it is claimed that this is a religious conflict. In reality, it is an economic conflict due to poverty, which is simply not being fought in Nigeria as it should be.
Interviewer: Atiku Abubakar is the name of Buhari’s most serious competitor. What does he stand for?
Seibel: It actually stands for economic success. He has also built a large and successful business conglomerate in the logistics, oil and gas sectors. He has also founded a university, kindergartens and schools, and is active in the media. In this respect, he is also a beacon of hope for many, because he is personally successful – regardless of the extent to which this success is also due to corruption.
What is important for the church and also for the Christians in Nigeria: He employs Christians and Muslims equally in his company. In this respect, religion plays no role for him and he is considered liberal.
Interviewer: In Nigeria, about half of the population are Muslims, while 45 percent are Christians. But the two favorites for president are now both Muslims. What role could that play? Is this a disadvantage for the Christians in the country??
Seibel: The Catholic Church and our missio partners are always trying to present to the public that political elections are not a matter of life and death, that it is not a religious ie either – regardless of whether the president is a Muslim or a Christian – and that it is about improving living conditions and the political system. That is, the question of whether that will have a negative impact on Christians is not the most important question.
Our experience is also that the religious affiliation of a politician in Nigeria does not necessarily have political consequences for members of other religions. In this respect, I don’t think that this is a disadvantage for Christians in the country, but it is really about politics and not religion. This is what the Catholic Church in Nigeria always tries to tell voters and its people: Don’t let your religion be politically instrumentalized. It’s not a religious ie. It is a political question.
The interview was conducted by Moritz Dege.