Written By Tim Cocks | From Reuters
As Nigeria approaches its most divisive and closely fought election since the end of military rule in 1999, its leaders are having to reassure voters that Africa’s most populous nation will remain in one piece.
The Feb. 14 vote pitting President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian popular in his southern oil-producing Niger Delta region and in the east, against former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim favored in the north and religiously mixed southwest, is already proving violent, with the electorate in Africa’s biggest economy more polarized than for decades.
“Despite the much-vaunted fear that our nation may not survive the elections … I remain optimistic that we have … the maturity to rise above the challenges,” Senate President David Mark told parliament last week.
“Our nation will not disintegrate after the elections.”
Ever since 1914, when Britain carved Nigeria out of a swathe of West Africa that was home to diverse peoples speaking more than 500 languages, it has been dogged by the question of how viable it is as a unified nation state.
However, most analysts say that even if serious bloodshed follows the election, as many expect, the worst-case scenario of a break-up of a country of 180 million people remains unlikely.
“Nigeria has an enormous capacity to absorb risk,” the International Crisis Group’s Africa director Comfort Ero said. “While there are significant concerns about the elections, we are not predicting break-up.”
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