Nigeria president appeals to Muslim leaders before vote

Mon Mar 28, 2011 6:06am GMT

By Sahabi Yahaya

KADUNA, Nigeria (Reuters) - Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan appealed to Muslim leaders on Sunday to help ensure that elections next month, which risk stoking regional rivalries, pass off peacefully.

Africa's most populous nation holds presidential, parliamentary and state governorship elections spread over three weeks in April, all of which are set to be fiercely contested.

Jonathan met with the Sultan of Sokoto, one of Nigeria's most influential Islamic leaders, and other senior figures from the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and Muslim umbrella organisation Jamatul Nasir Islam in the northern city of Kaduna.

Nigeria is home to the largest Muslim community in sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for roughly half of the country's 150 million people, as well as to more than 200 ethnicities, most of whom generally live peacefully side by side.

But ethnic and religious rivalries bubble under the surface and the candidacy of Jonathan, a Christian from the southern Niger Delta, has fuelled resentment from some in the north who believe the next president should be a northern Muslim.

Jonathan is running for what would have been the second term of late President Umaru Yar'Adua, a northerner who died last year leaving Jonathan to inherit the country's highest office.

His main rival in the presidential race is former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, a northerner whose reputation as a devout Muslim and a disciplinarian means he has strong grass roots support in large parts of the north.

"Some members of the political class may be very desperate to win the elections by all means," Jonathan said after the meeting, also attended by the Emir of Kano and Shehu of Borno, the leaders of Nigeria's other two main Muslim dynasties.   Continued...

<p>Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan waves to the crowd as he leaves a campaign rally in Kano, northern Nigeria, March 16, 2011. REUTERS/Joe Penney</p>
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