Baptists in Nigeria are hoping for an upturn in their country’s fortunes following the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua.

Although Yar’Adua’s passing was an “agonizing moment” for the nation, said Rev. Solomon Ishola, general secretary of the Nigerian Baptist Convention, he believes the country can benefit from a more focused leadership.

Yar’Adua, a Muslim, died on May 5 following a long battle against heart ailments. He was 58.

Ishola said that the former president “meant well for the nation” and that he was a man of great integrity. However, because of Yar’Adua’s ill health, which required treatment in Germany and Saudi Arabia, the country has experienced a period of political limbo.

Ishola said Baptists are “grateful and delighted” that there is to be no vacuum in leadership now that acting president Goodluck Jonathan has been sworn in.

Jonathan has around 12 months to make his mark ahead of a general election in 2011. Already he has pledged his “total commitment to good governance, electoral reform and the fight against corruption.”

Ishola said Jonathan can make a difference, citing electoral reform, the economy and improving infrastructure such as roads and hospitals. “We are extremely grateful to God that something new is happening in our nation,” Ishola said.

“As a nation we can now focus on the issue of governance. We expect better days, although we know it’s not going to be dramatic,” he said. “As Baptists, we have to challenge him, for he does not have much time. But we will pray for him and with him.”

Ishola said he didn’t believe that Yar’Adua’s failing health was a significant contributory factor in the recent ethnic and religious violence in Plateau State, which has seen hundreds of Christians and some Muslims lose their lives.

Ishola added that he most appreciated Yar’Adua when he was governor of Katsina state. “We did not hear of any religious conflict at that time,” he said.

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