Spread of Sharia law does not threaten Nigeria, says
By Karen MacGregor in Abuja
21 May 2002
Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria's President, has said he
does not see the adoption of Sharia law by a dozen
states in Nigeria as a threat, amid international
pressure on him to amend laws calling for execution by
stoning for Islamic crimes such as adultery.
Religious and ethnic clashes have cost thousands of
lives in Nigeria in the past two years and the
restoration of strict Islamic law in 12 of Nigeria's
36 states has sparked bloody riots between Christians
Now with more harsh Sharia punishments pending,
including stoning, whipping, amputation and execution,
and the prospect of Sharia being extended to at least
one state in the predominantly Christian south, the
issue might tear the country apart.
"To say Sharia must be removed from Islam is like
saying that the 10 commandments must be removed from
Christianity," President Obasanjo, a devout Christian,
told The Independent. "Sharia is not a new thing and
it's not a thing to be afraid of. What we need is
Sharia law had been the experience in parts of the
country "since time immemorial", he said, adding that
the federal government would not dispute the rights of
states to use it.
On 25 March, an Islamic appeal court dismissed Safiya
Husaini's sentence of stoning to death for adultery on
technical grounds, after it provoked global outrage.
But last month Amina Lawal, 30, became the second
woman to be sentenced to death for adultery when an
Islamic court in northern Katsina convicted her. The
mother of three has appealed.
The Sharia issue was under the spotlight again last
week when an Islamic court in Jigawa sentenced Sarimu
Mohammed, 50, to death by stoning for raping a
nine-year-old girl ? the first death sentence imposed
on a man for rape or adultery under re-introduced
Sharia law. Mohammed, who was caught by neighbours,
also got 100 strokes of the cane and a fine.
In Bauchi, Adama Yunusa, who is 19 and pregnant, was
sentenced to 100 lashes for having sex with her
fiancé. And earlier this month Muslim clerics in Oyo,
in the mostly Christian south, said they would apply
Sharia for the first time to civil matters, such as
divorce and land disputes, involving Muslims there.
President Obasanjo's federal government, mindful of
the danger of fanning religious tensions, is
attempting to grapple with the Sharia problem through
compromise. He said problems arising out of applying
"ordinary" and Sharia law side by side could be dealt
with constitutionally, by requiring states to impose
equal sentences for equal offences nationwide.
Last month, the Justice Minister declared certain
sentencing aspects of the Sharia system
unconstitutional and the federal government has asked
states using it to modify their laws. Muslim leaders
in these states indicated that they intend to ignore
Sharia was not a problem when practised by genuine
Islamic adherents, President Obasanjo insisted. "Only
when it is political it becomes something to worry
about." But everything will be political in the year
leading to elections in April 2003 ? and in Nigeria
politics tends to spark violence.
In January, hundreds of people reportedly lost their
lives in religious clashes in Jos. The elections will
be a severe test, because never before has the country
? ruled by the military for nearly 30 out of 40 years
since independence ? held a successful second
democratic poll. Violence that followed elections in
1983 gave the military a pretext to topple a civilian
Widening legal disparities between the Muslim north
and Christian south may aggravate tensions.
In February, worried by the unrest, President Obasanjo
held a meeting of parties and groups to look at ways
of ensuring peaceful, free and fair elections. While
the meeting was taking place, 10 people were killed in
clashes between rival factions of his own People's
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