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Nigeria's Sharia split

BBC, Monday 15 October 2001, 16:15 GMT 17:15

[map of sharia
                  areas of Nigeria]

  Nigeria's Kano state, which has seen the latest sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims, is one of a number of northern states which extended the scope of Islamic law last year.

Sharia courts impose strict Islamic laws, including floggings and amputations for transgressions like theft and adultery.

First introduced in Zamfara state, it is now practised, to a greater or lesser degree, in nine others, and has exacerbated differences between the predominately Christian south and the Islamic north.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, who took power in May 1999 after 16 years of military rule, has so far failed to defuse religious tensions, and the economic problems that increase popular discontent.

Move to Sharia

Under Sharia law, Kano has banned prostitution, gambling and the consumption of alcohol.

Since Zamfara brought in Sharia in January 2000, at least one man has had his hand amputated for theft, and a woman found guilty of fornication was given 100 lashes - despite her protests that she had been raped.

And in Sokoto state last week, an Islamic court sentenced a 30-year-old pregnant woman to death by stoning, after she was found guilty of having pre-marital sex.

The man identified as her lover was released, because the court said there was insufficient evidence against him.

In Kebbi state, a man received a similar sentence in September for sodomising a seven-year-old boy.

Neither sentence has yet been carried out.

Constitutional threat

Volunteer vigilante groups have been roaming the streets, keeping an eye open for any transgressions of Sharia regulations.

Local politicians and religious leaders say that crime has dropped sharply in the Sharia states.

They say that floggings are symbolic, not barbaric, and that a fear of punishment promotes lawfulness.

But human rights' groups have complained that these religious laws are archaic and unjust, and create an atmosphere of intimidation against Christians - even though they are not subject to the Sharia.

The pressure group, the Community Development and Welfare Agenda, has said Sharia court decisions were a fundamental assault on the sovereignty and legality of the Nigerian state, because they undermine the national, secular legal system.

Economic differences

Although most people in Kano city are Muslim, large numbers of Christian traders travel to the city.

Recent violence may have been caused as much by economic envy as religious disputes over US military action against Afghanistan.

Thousands of young men in Kano have no jobs and no education, and frustrations over economic hardship leave them prey to political opportunists who want to foment violence.

The pattern has been repeated in several Nigerian cities over the past two years.

In February 2000, more than 2,000 people were killed in religious unrest in Kaduna.

In Jos, last month at least 500 were reported have died in clashes between Muslim and Christians.