The fasting president

Abuja, Nigeria - Ramadan is a period of prayer, sharing of love and property with those around one – as well as training oneself to empathise with the hungry and poor.

President Goodluck Jonathan has since the start of Ramadan fasted alongside Muslims in Nigeria in a bid to show that there is really no need for Nigerians to bicker over religious differences.

During the past weeks of the Ramadan, NEXT observed that the Presidential Villa usually comes agog with visitors at the time of the breaking of the fast at dusk.

NEXT gathered that the president meets with different groups of people, mostly on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays of every week to break his fast with them and discuss matters of state. A Presidency source said that during this period he has met with governors of Adamawa and Bauchi states, some senators, about 20 imams from Abuja, principal staff of the Presidential Villa, senior civil servants, senior security officials, traditional rulers and captains of industry.

According to Presidential Spokesman, Reuben Abati, it is not a political strategy or a gesture done to favour any religious group but a private affair by the president. According to him, Ramadan is a time to unite in prayer as “[we] all serve one God”.

“The president has been fasting alongside the Muslims, to show that they all serve one God and that we all unite through prayer,” Mr Abati says. “One feature of the Ramadan period is the breaking of the fast, as they usually break the fast with friends and family members. Every evening when it is time to break the fast, Mr President hosts a cross section of Nigerians who are invited for this purpose. They start at 6:30pm with prayers and then at 7:00pm he eats and also interacts with them.”

Solemn time

He describes the iftar gatherings as a “solemn time,” noting that “it is not an occasion for long speeches”.

According to him, “The imam offers prayers for the nation and since the season begun, this has been done on a daily basis.”

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo also had the habit of fasting during both Ramadan and Lent, a practice Mr Jonathan has, apparently, bought into.

“Ramadan is a time of prayer, sharing and sharing love itself,” Mr Abati says. “I don’t see it as a political gesture and we would be stretching it too far if we say that. The President is a Christian but he is joining the Muslims to fast, I do not think he is doing this to impress anybody or any religious group. Do not forget that this is a private affair and it was not meant to be a public thing. That is why the media has not been invited.”