Nigeria's political candidates trumpet their religion on the campaign trail

Nigeria's Muslim and Christian politicians play up their religious background in campaigns, but actual religious figures running for office have been relatively mum on the issue.

Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters
A man walks past an election banner for Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and Vice President Namadi Sambo before the start of a campaign rally in Lagos on March 1, 2011. Africa's most populous nation is due to hold presidential, parliamentary and state elections in April.

Here's the problem with my flying visits to Lagos - I never remember to bring my camera. Worse, I managed to lose the USB cord for my Blackberry. This means that when I happen upon random pieces of awesome I may not be able to take a picture.

Like incumbent Gov. Babatunde Fashola's campaign poster on Lagos's BRT buses, for instance. It's basically a big yellow poster with the governor smiling at you. Below his picture are the words, in bold, purple letters:



Don't you just love "God Sent Me" rhetoric? This is not nearly as flagrant as current President Goodluck Jonathan's "vote me for the will of our Lord" (I can't find this ad on the 'net, not even on Goodluck's YouTube channel), but it's just as funny. Downright hilarious.

On the whole, though, I've found watching campaign ads in Nigeria has been interesting. Muslim and Christian politicians in Nigeria like their religious signaling overt. Some of Muslims make the extra effort to be seen with Chief Missioners of huge megamosques like NASFAT and Ansarudeen. Indeed, Lagos Gov. Fashola spent the first couple of months as Lagos governor cozying up to Muslim leaders, even so far as going after women dressed "indecently" around his government's headquarter's. Christians ones, from Goodluck Jonathan himself onwards, make sure they're seen with megachurch pastors like Redeem's Adeboye and Canaanland's Oyedepo.

This is especially interesting to watch because we have one pastor running for president and one pastor on a ticket as a vice presidential candidate, neither of whom is throwing his religiosity in the faces of Nigerian voters. Why does this realpolitique on the part of these pastors – nobody wants to scare away those Northern and Yoruba Muslim voters – not ring true for these other political aspirants?

I wouldn't go as far as calling this religious hinting in campaigns a trend, though; it's pretty much just an extension of Nigeria's collective religious nature. But it's certainly worth pointing out/rolling one's eyes at/bursting out laughing about.

Guess which of those I'm doing?

– Saratu Abiola is a Nigerian journalist who blogs at Method to the Madness.

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