Nigeria’s Election Shows the Country Is Majority Muslim – a Guest Post by Ismail Hashim

Editor’s Note: The below is a guest post by my colleague Ibrahim Hashim. He argues that the victory of a “Muslim-Muslim” ticket in Nigeria’s recent presidential election is a strong indication that the country’s population, rather than being approximately half Muslim and half Christian, is in fact majority Muslim. For my own part, I think Nigeria is quite likely a Muslim-majority country, and I think one can reach that conclusion based simply upon the broadly accepted ideas that the north has an overwhelming Muslim majority while the southwest has a considerable number of Muslims living there. Ismail also points to key demographic trends, namely high birthrates among Nigerian Muslims, especially in the north. I differ somewhat with Ismail when it comes to the question of whether the election results give us much of a sense of the country’s wider religious demography (I think considerable fraud likely occurred) – but I agree with him when it comes to the sense that the victory of the “Muslim-Muslim ticket” is a marker of some underlying demographic shifts. Meanwhile, Ismail’s remarks about what Islam may mean (or not mean) to President-Elect Bola Tinubu are very apt – and the empowerment of Tinubu as an individual does not necessarily mean that Nigerian Muslims have been empowered as a group. – Alex

At first, I was not comfortable with the idea of a “Muslim-Muslim ticket,” which the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party had issued to Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Kashim Shettima as its presidential candidate and running mate respectively. I held this view for several reasons some of which were equally articulated by various analysts, commentators and opinion writers. Like many thousands of Nigerians, particularly Muslims, I also believed that the Muslim-Muslim ticket was a necessary, expedient winning strategy rather than an intrepid move toward the triumph of Islam in a pluralistic country that has been suffering from demographic competition.

In 2015, when Muhammadu Buhari became the flagbearer of the APC, there were indications that Tinubu (a major stakeholder in the political merger that culminated in the sweeping victories of the APC during the 2015 elections) had a strong zest to be picked by Buhari as the latter’s running mate. But the old general refused to do so, obviously to carry along Christians and canvass their support and secure their votes; no farsighted politician would risk hurting the sensibilities of even a small number of voters let alone a big population that once claimed to possess demographic supremacy in the country’s entire population. A Muslim-Muslim presidency was thought – by the Christian population but in fact by many Muslims as well – to be a permanent impossibility in Nigeria’s political arena.

Christians, who are a minority in Nigeria as has been proven now beyond doubt, had been regarding a Muslim-Muslim presidency as a unique Muslim utopian vision and a fruitless attempt of flying a kite either to see how high it would go in the sky or to gauge the direction of the wind. Thus, Nigerian Christians never hid their opposition to the development and spared no effort to fight the bid. In 2023, churches became platforms for homilies on Christian unity and for the mobilization of support and strong, formidable religious support and solidarity in favour of the Labour Party’s candidate, Peter Obi, the only Christian who contested against three Muslims (Tinubu; former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; and former Kano State Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso) in the race for the highest political office in the land. The defeat of Peter Obi as portrayed in the milieu of Christians was interpreted as the fall of the rising Christendom and the failure of the Christian cause in Nigeria. Therefore, not minding the huge irrecoverable costs of putting their eggs in one basket, Christians gathered their voting strength on their own candidate and wholeheartedly threw their support to Peter Obi.

Although like their Christian counterparts, Muslims had also used religious infrastructure to mobilize support for Tinubu and framed casting votes to him as a “political Jihad,” it was understandably impractical since Muslim votes must be inevitably split between the two other contenders, Atiku of the People’s Democratic Party and Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria People’s Party. After all, many northerners were yet skeptical of Tinubu’s nationalism and cosmopolitanism, and he was certainly viewed in many quarters as an ethnic champion and a pursuer of Yoruba agenda, rather than as a devout Muslim. Added to this, the fact that Tinubu’s wife (and an acclaimed pastor for that matter) and the majority (if not all) of his children are said to be Christians, some northern Muslims felt that Tinubu’s victory should in some form be considered as the triumph of Christians.

In the run-up to the 2023 presidential election, the Muslim society in northern Nigeria which, as always, largely relies on the discourses of the clerical establishment in the region, became extremely divided as which of the three candidates Muslims should support. Scholars who were loyalists to northern governors, some of whom were/are among their political appointees, had preached in favor of Tinubu and cast his election as a necessity that Muslims must accept. Other scholars, most of whom were independent and largely young, openly campaigned for Atiku and warned northerners against voting for someone outside their region. The majority of scholars, however, seemed to take a neutral position and advised that Muslims could vote any of the three candidates since each of them is a Muslim. Ironically, this neutral position was popularized and voiced loudly by the outspoken Izala, the Salafi group which in the past used to explicitly campaign for Buhari and make it a religious obligation upon all Muslims to vote for the old general. It appears that Izala decided this time not to openly side with any of the candidates since some people have been launching attacks on the group for asking them to vote for Buhari, but then the group failed to criticize Buhari’s weak leadership. It was even argued that Izala (whose top figures are friends and loyalists to some northern governors) was inwardly supporting Tinubu’s candidacy but it was afraid of the protest and condemnation of its followers and the larger Muslim public. Thus, it decided to exhibit outward neutrality.

Ultimately, the Muslim-Muslim ticket carried the day and, I would argue, reflects Muslims’ numerical majority in Nigeria. And here is why:

Out of 23,377,466 total valid votes cast, 17,275,933 represent the voting strength of Muslims who divided their votes for the three Muslim candidates. No analysis of the results of this election can ignore the possibility of overlaps of votes between Muslims and Christians in favor of each of these three candidates. But cross-over voting was arguably minimal and each candidate might have likely gained from it – the Muslims who crossed over to vote for Obi, and the Christians who crossed over to vote for Tinubu and Atiku, may have partly canceled each other out. So the outcomes of the elections have solidly reflected the religious affiliation and sociopolitical orientation of the voting population. After all the mobilizations in churches and social media platforms, including the voluminous circulars disseminated to all chapels and chapters by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and sister bodies, the results of the election show that Peter Obi had merely scored 6,101,533, less than 27 percent of the whole valid votes cast.

The results of polls, of course, do not map precisely onto the demographics of Nigeria’s population as a whole; reported turnout was low, and there were accusations of fraud, although the seriousness of these accusations has been debated. Yet election results are crucial for arriving at some useful hints about the country’s overall religious demography. The basic fact is that Nigerian Muslims tend to have more children than other groups in the country. Many factors have combined to contribute to the rapid increase of Muslims and give them numerical edge over their counterparts. The Muslims, who still retain the age-old culture of growing extended families, have a prevailing polygamous lifestyle and have not, to a large extent, assimilated to the western childbearing orientation. Research has shown that Muslim women have a higher fertility rate than non-Muslim women. According to the data of the Nigeria‘s National Population Commission, as of 2008, birthrates per woman in the North West and the North East – heavily Muslim-majority zones – stood as 7.3 and 7.2 respectively, while in the South it was less than 5 children per woman.

In terms of how demography plays out in politics, Nigeria’s democracy has since 1999 been characterized by zoning and rotation between the two major regions and religions (North and South and Islam and Christianity). And although many politicians have adopted zoning and rotation in the spirit of carrying everyone along, rotation based on faith is not necessarily equitable or representative vis-à-vis the population. For instance, Muslims in Gombe State account for about 75 percent of the population yet the state has been electing a Muslim and Christian governor and deputy governor for over two decades. In Kaduna State, until 2019 when Governor Nasir El-Rufai chose a Muslim deputy governor, the state has been pairing a Muslim and Christian for these two powerful ranks. Other examples can be confidently cited and it is Muslims who make the most concessions. In states like Plateau and Benue, however, which although having a sizable population of Muslims (perhaps more than 40% in Plateau and more than 25% in Benue), no Muslim has ever been selected as deputy governor since the return of the present democratic dispensation in 1999. 

Politicians do not toy with the matter of votes, but they also adapt to changing political realities and sometimes the calculations about what makes for electability in one election no longer apply in the next contest. 2023, in other words, is not 2015. The 2023 presidential election will go down in history as a solid testimony establishing the fact that Muslims can determine their political fate and can win election of the highest political office in the land without needing to have a Christian on the ticket. And going by the case study of Plateau and Benue states, one may be justified if he alleges that had it been that it were Christians who possessed similar numerical strength of Muslims, no one could guarantee that they would concede the position of vice president to the Muslims.

Meanwhile, the effects of the election continue to reverberate in the country. Many Muslim northerners who did not vote for Tinubu are now identifying with his success. I suspect that there are two major reasons for this. One is that the opposition of Nigeria’s Christians for the Muslim-Muslim presidency is conversely reawakening Muslims to consider the election as a political triumph of Islam. Secondly, if not because Christians are counting the outcomes of the election as a sheer loss based on faith grounds, Nigerians are jubilating that the election is marking the end of Buhari’s leadership and putting a halt to the pains of Nigerians over his draconian policies. After all, there are solid indications that the Naira redesign policy will either be eradicated completely or chiefly reviewed once Buhari is gone.

Despite the foregoing arguments, a question that may yet beg for an answer is, does the faith of a president necessarily ensure that his coreligionists will enjoy the dividends of democracy better than those with whom he does not share his faith? No clear-cut answers can be supplied to this question. Tinubu, ironically, appears to be only a nominal Muslim, as shown by his seeming inability to correctly recite or translate the first chapter of the Qur’an – a chapter whose recitation is essential to the correct performance of daily prayers. Yet Tinubu has, by picking a Muslim as his running mate, audaciously accomplished what many other Muslim politicians could never mull over, let alone try. If Tinubu’s victory points to Muslims’ demographic majority, that victory does not necessarily mean that Islamic values will now be more thoroughly represented in the land’s high office.

Ismail wrote from Souss, Southern Morocco, and can be reached at

Nigeria: Readings on the Upcoming All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Primary, May 29-30

Nigeria’s ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), will hold its presidential primary on May 29-30. The APC candidate can be considered the frontrunner, at least at this early date, for the open 2023 presidential election (current President Muhammadu Buhari is term-limited). Watch out, reader – there’s a lot of speculation out there in the press! But here is some interesting commentary:

Vanguard, May 22: “Seven days to the presidential primary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), there is palpable anxiety over the speculation that [former Lagos State Governor and southwestern powerbroker] Asiwaju Bola Tinubu may dump the ruling party at the federal level if the exercise, scheduled for May 29 and 30, is manipulated against him. Tinubu is one of the front runners in the contest for the APC presidential ticket ahead of the 2023 general elections.”

Punch, May 22: “All the presidential aspirants in the All Progressives Congress, except a former  Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, are open to the idea of the candidate of the party emerging through consensus, Sunday PUNCH can confirm. The consensus method will entail the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), anointing one of the aspirants, while the others simply step down for him as was done during the March 26 national convention of the APC, which produced Senator Abdullahi Adamu as the chairman.”

Daily Trust, May 23: “Daily Trust learnt that political leaders within the ruling APC in South West are mounting pressure on presidential aspirants from the zone to agree on a consensus candidate ahead of the primary so as to approach the convention venue from the position of strength…Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; former Speaker of House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole; Chairman of Nigerian Governors’ Forum and Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi as well as former Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun; the Senator representing Ondo North Senatorial District, Robert Ajayi Boroffice and Serving Overseer of the Citadel Global Community Church, Nigeria, Pastor Tunde Bakare are the presidential aspirants from the South West.”

Vanguard, May 22: “Senate President and frontline presidential aspirant under the All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr Ahmad Lawan has refuted reports of him withdrawing from the presidential race to pursue another term in the senate.”

The Guardian, May 22: “In the APC, the deal initially seems to have been concluded that the presidential ticket of the ruling party will go to the South in line with an old, unwritten agreement put together when the party was formed in 2014 [sic, it was 2013]. This was why until about a week ago, all the aspirants in APC except Kogi Governor, Yahaya Bello, were southerners. It is also the reason why all the big wigs in the South in all the three geo-political zones are in the race. However, the calculation changed when the APC failed in its determination to coerce or compel the opposition PDP to also follow suit. When it became apparent that PDP will not yield to the game of presenting an all-southern candidates election, the APC suddenly changed gear. And guess who was first used to send the clear signal that APC may also join the PDP in presenting a northerner as its candidate? The incumbent Senate President, Dr. Ahmed Lawan.”

Premium Times, May 22: “Last week, statutory delegates in Kaduna State pledged their votes to the former governor of Lagos State, Mr Tinubu. Their governor, Nasir Elrufai, had asked the delegates who they would give their votes at the convention, and in a unanimous voice, they pledged to give them all to Mr Tinubu, who is also the national leader of the party. However, in the usual twist that has characterised the race, 48 hours after, Mr El-Rufai guided the same delegates to pledge their support to the former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi.”

BBC Pidgin has a useful breakdown (towards the end) of the delegates by region.

Nigeria 2023: Five Presidential Aspirants to Know

On February 25, 2023, Nigeria will hold presidential elections. Current President Muhammadu Buhari (elected 2015, re-elected 2019) is term-limited and cannot run. The open presidential race will have major implications for the future of Nigeria and for West Africa and beyond.

Major politicians are starting to declare or at least strongly telegraph their candidacies, especially in advance of the presidential primary election for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), slated to be held on May 30-31 of this year, and the primary election for the former ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) on May 28-29. The APC is expected to “zone” its candidate to southern Nigeria, as a power rotation after eight years of a northerner in the presidency.

Here are five names to know, including both APC and PDP candidates:

  1. Bola Tinubu: The Governor of Lagos State from 1999-2007, Tinubu has played a central role as a powerbroker in southwestern Nigeria and in national politics. He is widely considered the leading architect of the 2013 inter-party merger that created the present ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Tinubu declared on January 10: “I have the confidence, vision and capacity to rule, build on the foundation of Mr. President, and turn Nigeria better. I’ve done that before in Lagos State. You’ve seen that experience and the capacity to turn things around and that is what we are doing.”
  2. Yemi Osinbajo: Nigeria’s sitting Vice President since 2015, Osinbajo also hails from Lagos, where he was Tinubu’s Attorney General from 1999-2007. As Vice President, Osinbajo has often been particularly visible at moments when Buhari has been on extended medical leaves and my impression has been the Osinbajo travels internally within Nigeria more than Buhari does. Osinbajo announced his intention to run for president on April 11. He presented himself as a voice for ordinary Nigerians: “I’ve stood where you stand and sat where you sit. I know and I understand our hopes, aspirations and fears from a place of relatable proximity; and I believe that in those hopes and aspirations are the seeds for the great Nigeria that we all desire.” For whatever it’s worth, Tinubu is Muslim while Osinbajo is Christian; both belong to the APC.
  3. Rotimi Amaechi: Current Minister of Transportation and former Governor of Rivers State (2007-2015) in the Niger Delta, Amaechi is yet another APC aspirant for president. Announcing on April 9, Amaechi highlighted his long experience in elected and appointed positions. He said: “I pledge my heart, mind and soul to the task of building a Nigeria in which every child can go to school, every young person can find work or support to start a business, every citizen can travel safely around the country and sleep at night knowing that law and order prevails and every Nigerian feels included, heard, and respected.”
  4. Atiku Abubakar: Former Vice President (1999-2007) and runner-up in the 2019 presidential election, Abubakar is from Adamawa State in the northeast. He declared his candidacy on March 23, outlining a five-point agenda that emphasizes national unity, security, economic development, education, and the devolution of power to the states and local governments. As in 2019, Abubakar seeks to contest on the PDP ticket.
  5. Bukola Saraki: Member of a major political dynasty from Kwara State, Saraki served as Governor (2003-2011), Senator (2011-2019), and Senate President (2015-2019). The political landscape is shifting fast in advance of the PDP primary, but Saraki has recently been part of a four-candidate alliance advocating for a PDP unity candidate; the other members of the alliance are Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal (elected 2015, re-elected 2019), Bauchi State Governor Bala Mohammed (elected 2019), and the investment banker Mohammed Hayatu-Deen. Notably, many of the PDP’s top candidates are from the north, as is outgoing President Buhari.

BBC Pidgin has a list of the major APC aspirants and a separate list of the major PDP aspirants; both lists include a number of governors and former governors not mentioned above for reasons of concision.

Nigeria: Thoughts on the PDP’s Nomination of Atiku Abubakar

Yesterday, 7 October, Nigeria’s former ruling party (the People’s Democratic Party or PDP) selected Atiku Abubakar as its nominee for the 2019 presidential elections. Abubakar served as Nigeria’s Vice President from 1999-2007, the first eight years of the PDP’s sixteen-year reign.

Abubakar has been a party’s nominee for president once before. Late in the second term of President Olusegun Obasanjo (also served 1999-2007), the two men fell out, partly over power struggles and partly over the issue of Obasanjo’s desire to overturn term limits and obtain a third term. In 2007, Abubakar was the Action Congress’ nominee. He placed third in the general election that year, taking 7% of the vote; the winner was Obasanjo’s hand-picked successor, Umaru Yar’Adua, while Muhammadu Buhari (Nigeria’s current president, elected in 2015) took second place. Atiku also eyed presidential runs in 2011 and 2015, although in 2015 he backed Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC). He then left the APC in 2017 and returned to the PDP.

Abubakar hails from Adamawa, in the far northeast. His political rise, ironically, was through the network of Yar’Adua’s older brother, the late Shehu Yar’Adua (1943-1997). In 1998, he won the gubernatorial election in Adamawa, but was quickly tapped as Obasanjo’s running mate. It’s worth mentioning here that S. Yar’Adua was Obasanjo’s second-in-command when the latter was military head of state from 1976-1979.

Returning to the present, Abubakar has defeated or outmaneuvered a slate of other prominent northern politicians, including various governors and senators to become the PDP nominee. These politicians include Senate President Bukola Saraki, of Kwara State; Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, of Kano; Governor Aminu Tambuwal, of Sokoto; and former Governor Sule Lamido, of Jigawa. Some of these governors only recently rejoined the PDP after several years in the APC and a transitional phase in the “Reformed APC.”

In victory, Abubakar is emphasizing the theme of “let’s get Nigeria working again.”

Other candidates are pledging their support:

As of now, I do not rate the PDP’s chances highly. In fact, they are exposed to some of the same dilemmas that confront the ruling APC: (1) only one person can be the nominee, which creates restlessness among other politicians and can lead to repeated party-switching; and (2) seniority, and money, weigh heavily in parties’ selections of presidential nominees, meaning that the nominees are not always the best candidates, nor are they always well positioned to promise genuine change to voters. The PDP had to pick a nominee, of course, but picking Abubakar may now make them vulnerable to some of the defections that have plagued the APC this year (and that plagued the PDP during the lead-up to the 2015 elections). Meanwhile, one wonders whether the prospect of choosing between Buhari and Abubakar will not leave many southerners indifferent, not just because both candidates are northerners but also because both men represent the class of military officers and their proteges that have dominated presidential politics for decades. Abubakar, moreover, seems to me to be someone with clout and influence but without widespread personal popularity. Buhari, despite his many weaknesses as a president and a candidate, still has a charisma that Abubakar lacks. If figures such as Kwankwaso, Saraki, Lamido, and Tambuwal remain with the PDP and successfully peel their states out of Buhari’s column, the PDP and Abubakar might be able to put together a winning map that includes parts of the north, the middle belt, and the southeast (and here I mean both the South East and the South South). But I’m a bit skeptical that that will happen.




World Politics Review Article on Nigeria’s 2019 Elections

Yesterday I had a piece out with World Politics Review, looking at the approaching February/March 2019 elections through the lens of intra-elite shifts and some of Nigeria’s multi-faceted problems. The piece amplifies some of the themes from this post, and it would be well worth reading Matt Page’s latest for Quartz, which deals with some of the same developments.

As always, comments welcome below.