By Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye
Nigeria’s lead opposition party has accused other politicians of asking the country's Muslim voters to cast their ballots in favor of Muslim candidates in the national elections scheduled for next month, according to local media reports. On Thursday, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, national publicity secretary of the All Progressives Congress, issued a statement saying that those who had long attempted to use religion to divide voters were doing so once again.
"They are hoping that by further inflaming passion with the highly emotive issue of religion, they can revive their shriveling political fortunes,” the statement said. Without appearing to target specific individuals or parties, it accused some politicians of circulating “satanic leaflets” that would pit Christians against Muslims. “Nigerians should not be taken in by this cheap plot,” the statement added.
Nigeria's People's Democratic Party, however, responded to the statement as if it were being accused of creating such a plot, saying that the All Progressives Congress' presidential candidate could benefit from such behavior and was merely trying to find a scapegoat, ostensibly for religious divides in the country. According to NGRguardiannews.com, the People's Democratic Party released a statement of its own that said, "The PDP needs neither religious nor ethnic cleavages to campaign and win the 2015 presidential elections."
Although some of its more vague claims did not appear directed at the People's Democratic Party, the statement by the All Progressives Congress did highlight a previous situation where it said its opponent had used religion to try to garner votes. In early February, the vice president of Nigeria, Mohammed Namadi Sambo, urged voters not to be deceived by religion when voting in elections. During a campaign for the People’s Democratic Party, he said, “When people bring the issue of religion to deceive you, our party has more Muslims than APC [All Progressives Congress].” He then compared the number of Muslims in the People’s Democratic Party’s leadership with the lack of Muslims in the All Progressive Congress’ leadership, asking, “Which between the parties has more Muslims?”
The All Progressives Congress said in its statement that its party was more diverse than the People’s Democratic Party had portrayed. “We ask Nigerians to disregard anyone peddling religion as a tool for securing votes in any part of the country. Faith is a personal thing to individuals and no responsible government will seek to use religion to divide the people,” the party said.
Nigeria has more than 250 ethnic groups and has something of a geographic religious divide, with the south of the country being predominantly Christian and most Muslims living in the north. Bloomberg has reported that in Nigerian elections, ethnicity and religion historically have been influential among voters than actual policies and platforms, saying that politicians stir up ethnic and religious sentiments in their favor.
National elections in Nigeria are set for March 28, postponed from Feb. 14 after military leaders said they would not be able to provide security for the elections, as it was fighting Boko Haram, the militant group that controls much of the northeast of the country. On Wednesday, the Nigerian army claimed that its forces had killed more than 300 of Boko Haram's militants.