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Last Updated: Friday, 18 April, 2003, 13:28 GMT 14:28 UK
Nigeria's elections in Plateau State
BBC News Online's Joseph Winter
By Joseph Winter
BBC News Online in Plateau State, Nigeria

Plateau State with its mixture of Christians and Muslims and where some 250 languages are spoken is sometimes called a "Miniature Nigeria".

1: South East 2: North 3: North West 4: South 5: South West 6: Plateau State

It is part of the Middle Belt, which divides the largely Christian south from the Muslim-dominated north.

The Plateau State slogan remains "Home of Peace and Tourism" but in September 2001 that image was shattered when clashes broke out between Muslims and Christians in the state capital, Jos.

More than 1,000 people were killed and mosques, churches and houses were burnt after a Muslim man was given a plum local job which the indigenous Christian groups felt should have gone to a member of their community.

Some 18 months later, the city is peaceful but divided between Muslim and Christian areas as fear and distrust remain.

In the Muslim area of Yan Kaji, women walk the streets with their heads covered in Islamic headscarves while the men wear long flowing gowns and the colourful, fez-shaped "Hula" hats typical of Muslims in northern Nigeria.

But turn a corner and the atmosphere and clothes change straight away.

Some Muslims in Plateau State
Muslims: Yan Kaji is a strongly Muslim area

Suddenly there are endless signs advertising different churches, while the men are wearing western-style suits and the women are keen to show off their elaborate hair-styles.

"I have not gone to Angwan-Rogo [a Muslim area] for more than a year," says Jos human rights lawyer, Nankin Bagudu, a Christian.

Complicated politics

With Saturday's presidential election seen as a contest between President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian, and Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim, will the political contest reignite the smouldering religious tensions?

Saleswoman Uche Oranyeli said she would only vote for a Muslim as a last resort.

"If there were no Christian candidates, I would vote for a Muslim, if I knew a lot about him. Otherwise, I would not vote," Mrs Oranyeli said.

She however insists that she is backing President Obasanjo because of his record while in office.

Her colleague Anna Pofi added: "With the conflict in Plateau State, some Christians feel they don't want to vote for a Muslim."

But Nigerian politics is hugely complex and local issues affect most people's lives more immediately than national or international affairs.

Nigerians will also elect their state governors on Saturday and Plateau State's incumbent Chief Joshua Dariye from Mr Obasanjo's People's Democratic Party (PDP) has lost much of his support.

Some say he could have done more to prevent the religious clashes, which broke out while he was on holiday in the United States.

Opposition gains

In last week's parliamentary elections the PDP lost three of its seven seats to the main presidential challenger, Mr Buhari's All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP).

Mr Bagudu, who has been involved in voter education, says that many Plateau State residents would like to vote for ANPP governor candidate Jonah David Jang and for Mr Obasanjo, fearing northern domination if Mr Buhari becomes president.

But democratic elections are relatively new in Nigeria and illiteracy is high, so voting for different parties in the two elections is likely to confuse people.

Muslim School in Plateau State
Muhammad Nasir Abdulmumuni is praying for a free and fair election

The Jos lawyer, Mr Bagudu, says that indigenous community leaders in rural areas felt they had to simplify matters and tell people to either vote for the PDP or the ANPP in both races.

"They felt it was better to vote for a president who they didn't like than have the current governor come back," he said.

Although that illustrates some of the contradictions and problems associated with multi-party democracy in Africa, voting across religious lines means the election period should not lead to renewed communal conflict.

Prayers for peace

ANPP official Sanusi Sani Omar said: "The legislative elections showed that people are voting not on religion but on the candidate."

He says that Christians and Muslims campaigned together and waited patiently to vote in the same queues.

Muhammad Nasir Abdulmumuni, from the School of Higher Islamic Studies says that Islamic leaders are working round the clock, telling Muslims not to engage in political violence.

He feels that violence could only break out if people feel the elections are rigged and points to irregularities elsewhere in the country during last week's poll.

"We are praying to Almighty Allah to make the election free," he said.




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