Nigeria condemns Sharia punishments

  • From: "Muslim News" <editor@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 21 Mar 2002 15:48:32 -0000

The federal government of Nigeria has declared that the strict
implementation of Sharia law is illegal under the country's
constitution. 
"A Muslim should not be subjected to a punishment more severe than would
be imposed on other Nigerians for the same offence," Justice Minister
Godwin Agabi has written in a letter to northern states.

The letter, which signals an important shift in government policy, makes
no reference to any specific case. But it comes as Nigeria is gripped by
the trial of a woman convicted of adultery and sentenced to death by
stoning by an Islamic court. She is due to hear the outcome of her
appeal next week. 

Instability threat 

Mr Agabi's letter, quoted in several Nigerian newspapers, says that any
court "which imposes discriminatory punishment is deliberately flouting
the constitution." 

"The stability, unity and integrity of the nation are threatened by such
action," the minister said.
Mr Agabi urged state authorities "to secure modification of all criminal
laws of your state so that the courts will not be obliged to impose
punishments which derogate from the rights of Muslims."
Criminal punishments such as stoning, amputation and flogging have been
introduced in many of Nigeria's majority Muslim northern states over the
past two years. 
The BBC Lagos correspondent says that, with less than 12 months to go
before elections, the letter must be seen in political terms. 

President Obasanjo received significant support from northern Muslims at
the last election, although he himself is a Christian from the south. 

Our correspondent says that a combination of Mr Obasanjo's personal
distaste for Sharia punishments, and hard-nosed calculation of votes to
be won among those disillusioned with Sharia have swayed the federal
government to make its first condemnation of harsh Islamic penalties. 

International appeals 

A ruling on the adultery case of Safiya Husseini is expected on Monday. 
She had a child following a divorce, but says the father is her former
husband and the child was conceived when she was still married. 

Pregnancy outside marriage in the Sharia states of northern Nigeria,
even for a divorcee, can be considered as adultery and punishable by
death. 
The case has provoked widespread international concern and calls for
clemency. 
President Obasanjo has himself made it clear he would prefer the
sentence not to be carried out.

Source: BBC

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