Lagos, Nigeria, Oct 22, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- Nigeria’s vice president accused “religious leaders” of impeding efforts to rid the country of corruption ahead of a February election that has elevated tension between Christian leaders and government officials in the country.
Speaking at an economic summit Monday, Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said that the “the Nigerian elite,” including “religious leaders” have intervened in his efforts to remove corrupt officials from their posts. The vice president also mentioned that business and political leaders have also tried to influence his political decisions.
Osinbajo did not elaborate on his comment about the intervention of religious leaders in the country’s governance, or clarify whether he meant Muslim or Christian leaders. In recent months, however Christian leaders in the country have accused the presidential administration of failing to take a proactive approach to mitigate inter-religious violence.
On Oct. 8, a prominent Nigerian pentecostal leader criticized Osinbajo for not doing more to protect the interests of Christians in the country.
“The day Osinbajo entered government and became Vice [President] to Muhammadu Buhari, he changed,” said Bishop Emmah Gospel Isong, Publicity Secretary of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, as reported by the Nigerian Daily Post.
Osinbajo was previously a pastor at a parish of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, a pentecostal denomination founded in Nigeria in the 1950s. In addition, Osinbajo and his wife created a non-governmental organization in 2007 “dedicated to the promotion of Christian ethics and orderliness,” according to the Vanguard newspaper. Osinbajo recently took steps to reform the Nigerian police, and fired the head of Nigeria’s spy agency.
Nigeria is preparing for a general election set for February 2019. The country’s Catholic bishops have repeatedly called for free and fair elections, urging citizen to reject illegal voting practices, namely buying and selling votes.
Nigeria’s 2015 election, in which President Muhammadu Buhari was elected, was roundly condemned by politicians and journalists. The election was postponed amid outbreaks of Boko Haram violence in the country’s northern regions, and the election commission struggled to distribute voter identification cards. Reports of voter intimidation in the country were rampant.
The Nigerian bishops have spoken frequently to criticize president Buhari, whom they have admonished for failing to respect the religious freedom of Christians, and for being slow to address attacks on farmers by nomadic Fulani herdsmen.
President Buhari is himself Muslim and a member of the Fulani tribe. Though reports suggest that Christians are not the exclusive victims of the violence, the bishops accused the president in June of harboring a “double standard” against Christians when in came to enforcing the law and punishing the perpetrators of crimes.
In the most recent violent incident, 55 people died Oct. 20 in a dispute between young Christians and Muslims in a marketplace in northern Nigeria. The Vanguard newspaper reported that the violence was temporarily halted by police, but Christian Adara youth later mobilised and attacked Muslim Hausa residents, burning homes.
President Buhari condemned the incident and asked that citizens choose dialogue, patience and tolerance to prevent crises from escalating into violence.
“The Plateau Massacre,” which occurred June 21-24, 2018, was another notable eruption of violence between largely Christian farmers and Fulani herders, most of whom are Muslim, over limited natural resources. The conflict left more than 80 dead, including children and pregnant women.
“It can no longer be regarded as mere coincidence that the suspected perpetrators of these heinous crimes are of the same religion as all those who control the security apparatus of our country, including the President himself,” the country’s Catholic bishops said in a June 29 statement following the massacre.
“Words are no longer enough for the President and his service chiefs to convince the rest of the citizens that these killings are not part of a larger religious project.”
“While we vehemently condemn any shedding of human blood and ask the Police to speedily arrest and prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes, we must point out the double standards applied by the same Police any time the herdsmen are attacked and killed. In this latter case they react very swiftly and the law promptly takes its course. Would that the same swiftness be applied to all cases,” the bishops wrote.
The religious makeup of the country is almost equal between Muslims and Christians, at about 49% of the total population each, according to Pew Research Center.