Animated Loading
Having trouble loading this page?
Get help troubleshooting.

In Nigeria's tight election, Christian vote is seen as key

Published
An altar boy swings the thurible of incense during a morning service at the Saint Charles Catholic Church, the site of a 2014 bomb attack blamed on Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, in the predominantly-Christian neighborhood of Sabon Gari in Kano, northern Nigeria Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019. With the leading contenders both northern Muslims, Nigeria's presidential contest has been largely free of the religious pressures that marked the 2015 vote, but the Christian vote is bound to be decisive in a race that could sweep the incumbent out of power. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

YOLA, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria's presidential campaign has been largely free of the religious pressures that marked the 2015 vote when Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim northerner, defeated a Christian president from the south who had grown unpopular over his failure to control Boko Haram.

Now, with the leading candidates both northern Muslims, the Christian vote in the upcoming election on Saturday may be decisive in sweeping the incumbent from power for the second time in as many elections in Africa's most populous country.

Nigeria's 190 million people are divided almost equally between Christians mainly in the south and Muslims, like Buhari and his opponent, Atiku Abubakar, who dominate in the north.

Yet religious tensions remain even in an election that offers no clear sectarian choice, underscoring the pervasive influence of faith in Nigerian politics.

An usher and other churchgoers pray at the Living Faith church in the predominantly-Christian neighbourhood of Sabon Gari in Kano, northern Nigeria Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019. With the leading contenders for the Presidency both northern Muslims, Nigeria's presidential contest has been largely free of the religious pressures that marked the 2015 vote, but the Christian vote is bound to be decisive in a race that could sweep the incumbent out of power. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
An usher and other churchgoers pray at the Living Faith church in the predominantly-Christian neighbourhood of Sabon Gari in Kano, northern Nigeria Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019. With the leading contenders for the Presidency both northern Muslims, Nigeria's presidential contest has been largely free of the religious pressures that marked the 2015 vote, but the Christian vote is bound to be decisive in a race that could sweep the incumbent out of power. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
An usher and other churchgoers pray at the Living Faith church in the predominantly-Christian neighbourhood of Sabon Gari in Kano, northern Nigeria Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019. With the leading contenders for the Presidency both northern Muslims, Nigeria's presidential contest has been largely free of the religious pressures that marked the 2015 vote, but the Christian vote is bound to be decisive in a race that could sweep the incumbent out of power. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
An altar boy swings the thurible of incense during a morning service at the Saint Charles Catholic Church, the site of a 2014 bomb attack blamed on Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, in the predominantly-Christian neighborhood of Sabon Gari in Kano, northern Nigeria Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019. With the leading contenders both northern Muslims, Nigeria's presidential contest has been largely free of the religious pressures that marked the 2015 vote, but the Christian vote is bound to be decisive in a race that could sweep the incumbent out of power. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
An altar boy swings the thurible of incense during a morning service at the Saint Charles Catholic Church, the site of a 2014 bomb attack blamed on Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, in the predominantly-Christian neighborhood of Sabon Gari in Kano, northern Nigeria Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019. With the leading contenders both northern Muslims, Nigeria's presidential contest has been largely free of the religious pressures that marked the 2015 vote, but the Christian vote is bound to be decisive in a race that could sweep the incumbent out of power. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)