Nigeria: Will Shar'ia divide the nation?

On 27 January 2000, Shar'ia Law will be implemented in the northern Nigeria state of Zamfara. On 16 January, Elizabeth Kendal, writer of this article, talked with Josiah Fearon, Bishop of the northern Kaduna state. She asked the Bishop if the issue of Shar'ia Law had been brewing for a long time or was it deliberately to test the new civilian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, a committed Christian and the first democratically elected president in over 15 years. "Oh definitely the latter I think. It is really very political and could definitely split the country." Bishop Fearon believes that the northern Muslims are stirring up confusion and trouble, as many in the north want the military back in power. Anglican Bishop Emmanuel Mani of Borno State shares those fears, noting that there has been peace for many years, but now religion is being used to divide the nation.

An anonymous Presidential aide noted that, as these northerners and the military had ruled the country for so long, they are now disgruntled and feeling sidelined because of their new Christian President. They are using the Shar'ia issue to hold the government to ransom. As Chris Abashiya, a leader of CAN (Christian Association of Nigeria), asked at a news conference in Kaduna state on 6 January 2000, "Why talk of Shar'ia at this time? Why didn't we talk when Sani Abacha (former de facto president) was there, when Babangida was there? They were all Muslims and would have supported them." "We have lived with suffering," said Bishop Fearon. "Converts mysteriously disappear, are poisoned or are imprisoned on trumped up charges. With the introduction of Shar'ia it will all be open, converts will be murdered openly with impunity. We must pray for our President," said Bishop Fearon. "He is doing a good job, and he is committed. We must pray for him."

President Obasanjo and Nigeria's attorney general have already declared the implementation of Shar'ia Law as 'unconstitutional and illegal'. Five other northern states are planning to adopt full Shar'ia Law. Saudi Arabia and Sudan are supporting Zamfara state's action. Governor Sani, of Zamfara state has warned Christian leaders to stay clear of his administration policies. He has declared that nothing will deter him from his campaign. Governor Sani's defiance has become the basis for anti-Christian, anti-Obasanjo campaigns across northern Nigeria. On 18-19 December 1999, some 3,000 Muslim youths attacked 18 churches in the central state of Kwara, destroying 14. Police trying to protect the churches were stoned.

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