Thursday, November 05, 2009

A decade of Sharia law in north Nigeria breeds frustration

Aminu Abubakar (AFP) writes,
KANO, Nigeria — A decade after Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north re-introduced strict Islamic Sharia law, the fervour has fizzled while disillusionment is becoming more strident about its patchy application.

Out of Nigeria's 36 states, 12 re-adopted a strict version of Sharia in 1999 nearly a century after it had been abandoned.

But even one of the radical Muslim clerics who in 1999 actively lobbied for Sharia in Kano State, Abba Koki, conceded there were problems.

"People are disillusioned with the insincerity, deception and hypocrisy which characterise the implementation of Sharia," Koki told AFP.

Zamfara State, which pioneered the return to the penal code, last week marked the 10th anniversary with a low-key ceremony attended by the clergy and politicians.

Since the introduction of Sharia coincided with the return of democracy to Nigeria after 15 years of military dictatorship, critics accuse politicians of hijacking the return to Islamic law to advance their own political mileage.

Sceptics say there is little to show that Sharia law has had a positive impact in a region still battling graft, moral decay and searing poverty.

"People?s aspirations for a just and decent society were dashed by self-seeking politicians who hide under the Sharia to promote their personal political interests," charged Koki.

Five years into the law, Koki quit a Kano State government Sharia board in protest at what he called its failure to deliver.

"The clamour for Sharia was motivated by the people?s ardent desire to do away with injustices, corruption, impunity, immorality and other social ills bedeviling our society.

"Instead politicians have used this to seek votes and maintain the status quo after winning elections," Koki said.

Sulayman Nyang, a lecturer in African studies and Islamic affairs at Howard University in Washington D.C. said Sharia was seen in northern Nigeria as a "pacifier in this world of chaos and uncertainties".

"Caught in the crossfires of moral decay and grinding poverty, and very much handicapped by poor leadership and corrupt politicians, many a Muslim who believes in traditional Islam now sees the resurrection of the Sharia as a way out of their disturbing humiliation and low self-esteem," Nyang told AFP.

Nigeria?s return to democracy, also in 1999, saw the emergence of a new political class which included former Zamfara State governor Ahmed Sani Yerima, now a senator, whose campaign promise was strict Sharia.

He won election and made good his pledge by declaring Islamic law in the state at an elaborate event. Eleven other states followed in swift succession.

Yet Abubakar Sadiq, political scientist at Nigeria's Ahmadu Bello University, said none of the rulers at the time genuinely embraced Sharia.

"The northern political elite had come to the end of its political wits" and saw Sharia as "a new cheap and effective" tool for electioneering, said Sadiq.

Voters like Muhammad Nasir, an electronics dealer at Kano city's downtown Sabon Gari market, agree.

"Nothing has changed in the last 10 years, there is nothing like Sharia in all the so-called Sharia states. Politicians are still corrupt, immorality is everywhere ... there are brothels and beer parlours everywhere," Nasir said.

But Kano State governor?s spokesman Sule Yau Sule countered critics as narrow-minded.

"Some people think Sharia is all about stoning to death and amputation, which is a narrow perception. Sharia is about human development, making a person a better being in all spheres and I believe this is what we are doing," Sule said.

In the first two years, several death sentences were passed, none of which were executed.

Four women condemned to death by stoning for adultery had the sentences overturned on appeals.

Sadiq said Sharia judges were initially "overzealous" thinking that the rulers were "sincere and began dishing out capital punishments", but later soft-pedalled.

Out of more than two dozen amputation sentences passed for theft in four states, only two were executed. One of them was on a peasant, Buba Bello Jangebe, for stealing a cow in 2000.

A prominent rights group in Nigeria, the Civil Rights Congress (CRC), wants the federal government to sponsor Jandebe for surgery to replace his limb.

"This we believe is the best gift to celebrate our 10 years of civil rule and the anniversary of the 'launching' of the Sharia," said CRC.

Sharia was first introduced in northern Nigeria by Arab traders around the ninth century. In 1904 the British colonial administration allowed it to be practiced but outlawed the punitive aspects of stoning to death, amputation and flogging.

Nyang also warned of dangers of "misappropriations" of Sharia by Muslim extremists in Nigeria, the most populous black nation seen as pivotal to the region's stability.

Copyright © 2009 AFP.

We left in 1982 when democracy had already been restored but before the reversion to this inequitable code. So 'the introduction of Sharia coincided with the return of democracy to Nigeria ' is not accurate.

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