Islamic Law Issue A Factor In Nigeria Bloodshed, Churchman Says

Patrick Goodenough | Pacific Rim Bureau Chief | Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Islamic Law Issue A Factor In Nigeria Bloodshed, Churchman Says

( - Violence in northern Nigeria that has cost more than 200 lives has less to do with Muslim anger over the Miss World beauty contest than over the question of implementing Islamic law, a leading churchman claimed Monday.

The Muslims instigating the bloodshed hoped to bring about a crisis that would lead to the removal of the state governor, whom they regard as an enemy for not giving his full support to Islamic law or shari'a, according to Josiah Fearon, the Anglican Bishop of Kaduna.

He was speaking in a statement released through the Barnabas Fund, an international aid organization working among Christian communities in Islamic societies.

Nigerian and international media reports have tied the rioting to anger over an article in a Nigerian newspaper that questioned Muslims' opposition to the country's hosting of the Miss World contest early next month.

This Day, a Lagos-based daily, had said that if Mohammed was alive today, he "would probably have chosen a wife" from among the beauty queens.

The article caused uproar and Muslim leaders, claiming blasphemy against the founder of their faith, issued threats against the paper and editors, prompting several published apologies.

Nonetheless, violence erupted, resulting in the deaths of more than 200, while more than 1,000 people were injured. The Red Cross of Nigeria reported that 11,000 people had fled from or been driven out of their homes.

According to Fearon, Muslim youths running amok turned on local Christians without provocation, stabbing, beating and burning to death scores of people, and looting or torching more than 20 churches.

Counter-attacks by Christians resulted in the deaths of Muslims and the destruction of several mosques, he said.

According to the Kaduna-based Civil Rights Congress, at least 22 churches and eight mosques were destroyed.

Miss World organizers at the weekend evacuated the participants to Britain, where they are now seeking a new venue for the Dec. 7 finale.

Fearon and the Barnabas Fund questioned the view that anger over the article and the beauty contest was the sole reason for the rioting, with the bishop saying it had merely provided an excuse for violence instigated by leaders with a political agenda.

They noted that the governor of Kaduna state, Alhaji Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, has resisted a campaign by Islamic leaders to have shari'a law fully implemented in the state, which has a large Christian population, unlike most parts of northern Nigeria.

Eleven other northern Nigerian states have fully introduced shari'a in the past three years, a development Barnabas Fund said had been "to the detriment of their non-Muslim Christian minorities who have begun to see their freedoms eroded."

But because of the size of the Christian community in Kaduna - about 40 percent - Makarfi had only allowed partial application of shari'a, in Muslim-majority areas.

"This has infuriated Islamic religious leaders who are trying to oust him from office," the Barnabas Fund said.

Fearon said the governor had become a clear target of rioters' anger in recent days.

"Abuse, slogans and songs were chanted and shouted against him," said the bishop. "Makarfi's election posters have been defaced, stripped from walls and burnt on bonfires outside Government House.

"Our people had nothing whatsoever to do with either the [newspaper] article or this [beauty] contest, but we have been victimized by Muslim rioters for political ends," Fearon said.

Kaduna has seen serious religious violence in the past related to the shari'a issue. In March 2000 up to 2,000 people were killed in rioting there.


On Monday, the situation in Kaduna was reported to be calm although a nighttime curfew was still being enforced.

Meanwhile, faced with the loss of the Miss World contest, the Nigerian government has blamed the international media.

Information Minister Jerry Gana was quoted as saying the media had tried to sabotage the Miss World contest by blackening Nigeria's image.

"There's an international conspiracy just to show that an African country like Nigeria cannot host this thing. I think Nigerians should be really angry with the international press," Gana said.

President Olusegun Obasanjo told CNN Monday that "irresponsible journalism" was to blame.

Nigeria won the right to host the annual event because Miss Nigeria won last year's Miss World title. It would have been the first time an African country apart from South Africa had hosted the contest, seen as a major achievement for Nigeria.

The pageant, now in its 53rd year, is watched on television by more than two billion viewers worldwide, according to the Miss World website.

Even before the offending This Day article was published, the 2002 event had faced controversy.

Some countries called for a boycott because a shari'a court in another northern state, Katsina, had sentenced a Muslim woman to death by stoning for adultery.

The Nigerian government assured the organizers the sentence would not be carried out.

No stoning death sentences have yet been carried out in Nigeria's shari'a states, although a number of convicted thieves have had their hands amputated in accordance with the penal code.

In the end, only five countries pulled out.

There were also safety concerns for the participants after Islamic groups vowed to disrupt an event they said promoted promiscuity. Those concerns prompted organizers to postpone the event until the end of Ramadan, the Muslim fast month.

Like Sudan, Nigeria's population is divided along religious lines, between a predominantly Muslim north and a mostly Christian and animist south.

Before it was moved to the UK, the Miss World finale was to have been held in central Nigeria, far from the trouble of recent days.

Speaking in London, Miss World organizer Julia Morley laid the blame for the crisis on the reporter who wrote the This Day article.

( correspondent Stephen Mbogo contributed to this report.)

See Also:
Miss World Pageant Moves To London After Violent Clashes (Nov. 25, 2002)
Chanting 'Down With Beauty,' Nigerian Muslims Kill Dozens (Nov. 21, 2002)

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