At a time when Nigeria "lost its moral compass", spiralling into sectarian violence, President Olusegun Obasanjo, helped preserve national unity by encouraging Northern Muslims to continue working within the political system.
To that end, he helped convince the ruling PDP to agree that in 2007 their candidate would come from the Muslim North. This was revealed at a recent meeting in Washington DC by John Paden, professor of international studies at George Mason University.
"Now, whether that's true or not, everyone in the North believes that in 2007, the president will be a Northern Muslim," the scholar said at a discussion on Sharia and the state of Muslim/non-Muslim relations in Nigeria at a meeting sponsored by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in Washington DC.
"The president's accommodation makes sense," Paden said, "because there are three experienced Muslim candidates waiting in the wings. Vice President Abubakar Atiku is one, General Muhammadu Buhari is another, and General Babangida is a third, Each has constituencies and different backgrounds and experiences in the North itself. And so, no one wants to pull themselves out of the game at this stage and say, 'we've given up on constitutional politics, when our main man could be it'."
Paden praised President Obasanjo for the way he reacted to the "divisive and sometimes bloody confrontations" over Sharia, by reassuring Muslim Northerners of their place in the political life of the nation, which "has in a curious way kept hope alive ... and kept the Sharia [controversy] off the front pages".
Since 1999, the year Obasanjo was first elected president, 12 northern states have expanded or announced the expansion of Sharia. After a celebrated case where a Nigerian woman was sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery, the USCIRF sent a delegation to Nigeria to examine religious freedom.
Following the trip last September, the USCIRF issued a statement saying it "remains concerned about the ongoing...