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Church Suggests Way Out of Sharia Crisis

Panafrican News Agency, 15 September 2000

Lagos—A group of Nigerian Christians has asked the federal government to review the country's constitution to make it truly secular as a way out of the Sharia crisis in the nation.

There should no longer be room for special provisions for any religion within our constitution, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) said in a three-page communique issued Friday after a five-day conference in Kaduna, north of the country.

Though the constitution prescribes secularity for the country, its ambiguity on Sharia has been capitalised upon by advocates of the Islamic legal code, which has been introduced in at least six of states in the predominantly-Moslem northern Nigeria.

The adoption of the religious law has pitched Christians against Moslems in multi-ethnic, multi-religious Nigeria, made up of 36 federated states.

A plan to introduce Sharia in Kaduna state, also in the north, led to clashes between adherents of the two main religions in February and May, causing hundreds of death and destruction to property.

We call on government to address the Sharia issue with the seriousness and sense of urgency that it deserves with a view to finding solutions that will bring the nation back to unity and harmony, the statement said.

Government should desist from favouring one religion over others, it said.

The bishops said reports they obtained from the states that have adopted Sharia were contrary to claims that the Koran-based law would not affect non-Moslems in such states.

Now, from reports reaching us and from what we have been able to observe, it is sad to have to say that our original fears were well founded.

The reality on the ground in the states that have adopted the Sharia shows clearly that non-Moslems are being negatively and unjustly affected, the clerics said, adding: They (non- Moslems) are being unjustly deprived of their legitimate means of livelihood. Fanatics are being encouraged to molest law-abiding citizens without cause.

The government has consistently said that the Sharia issue would soon blow over, and has largely remained ambivalent on the issue so as not to be accused of favouring one religion over another.

But the bishops disagreed, saying while the Sharia crisis lasted, there are Nigerians suffering and wondering if the state is interested in the welfare of all citizens.

We cannot continue along these lines and still pretend that we want a united, peaceful and prosperous nation, they added.

Sharia has emerged as the most divisive issue in Nigeria since its return to civil rule 29 May 1999, with many opposed to it even calling for a break-up of the country.

But Moslems have maintained that the adoption of the law is in line with the tenets of their Islamic faith.