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Spread of Sharia law does not threaten Nigeria, says President - Independent, UK

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  • Zafar Khan
    Spread of Sharia law does not threaten Nigeria, says President By Karen MacGregor in Abuja http://news.independent.co.uk/world/africa/story.jsp?story=297171 21
    Message 1 of 1 , May 21, 2002
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      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
      and Muslims.

      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
      the decision.

      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
      Democracy Party.

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