This piece is co-authored by Leonard Leo
With the unfortunate – and yet much anticipated – death of Nigerian President Umaru Yar’ Adua, it is unclear how the people of Nigeria will come together under Goodluck Jonathan’s leadership and prepare for the 2011 elections. Following the end of military rule in 1999, an unwritten agreement has stipulated that the presidency rotate between the north and the south, ensuring equal representation of both regions and religious communities. Moreover, it ensured a peaceful transition for President Yar’ Adua when he came to power in 2007. Yet, President Yar’ Adua’s failing health left the country in a state of uncertainty throughout his presidency, which enabled other levels of government to function with limited accountability.
The latter point is of particular concern. While most cases of religious persecution involve clear violations by a state actor, there is another, and sometimes more sinister, threat to freedom of religion when governments fail to punish religiously motivated violence perpetrated by private citizens. This breakdown in justice— known as "impunity"— sows the seeds of terrorism.
The Nigerian government’s failure to respond or act swiftly in addressing rising violence in the north contributed to a climate of impunity that has exacerbated regional and ethnic differences. Coupled with the feeling of many in the north that they were never fully represented during their rotation for the presidency, President Jonathan must now face the greatest test to Nigerian democracy since the end of military rule – whether it can survive outside the rotation system of power and, whether north and south, Christian and Muslim, will be willing to address the breakdown in justice in the north.
The issue came to a head recently when Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan used the nuclear security summit in Washington to publicly deny that his country is facing a horrific wave of religiously motivated violence. He was responding to Christian-Muslim riots that took place in northern Nigeria in March, resulting in at least 500 deaths. According to President Jonathan, these incidents were the product of ethnic, tribal, or economic tensions.
Trent Franks is a Republican Congressman for the 2nd District of Arizona and has spent most of his life working on children’s issues and trying to build a better future for all children.