Army sent to quell religious conflict in northern Nigeria

Tuesday, February 22, 2000 | Tag Cloud Tags:

KADUNA, Nigeria, 22 February 2000 (Newsroom) – The Nigerian government dispatched soldiers early Tuesday to help state police quell riots between Christians and Muslims over the proposed implementation of Islamic law. More than 20 people have been reported killed since Monday morning.

Despite the imposition of an indefinite dusk-to-dawn curfew by the state government Monday night, fighting continued Tuesday morning in the major streets of Kaduna. Many churches, mosques and shops have been destroyed and dozens of people injured.

The Kaduna riot is the first major incident over the introduction of Sharia (Islamic law) in the northern part of the country. Zamfara state Governor Ahmed Sanni triggered the controversy by adopting Sharia in his state in October. At least seven of Nigeria’s 36 states, all of them in the north, nearly have completed the process of enacting Sharia. The Christian and Muslim populations in Kaduna state are almost even. Christians are in the majority in the southern part of Kaduna while Muslims dominate the northern part of the state. Nigeria is nearly evenly divided between Muslims and Christians. The northern part of the country is predominantly Muslim, while the south is largely Christian.

Muslim supporters of Sharia contend that Christians would not be affected by the stricter laws, which prohibit consumption of alcohol, permit caning and amputation of limbs, and call for separate schools and public transportation for males and females. In Zamfara, however, there have been numerous reports of Christian women waiting for hours until a bus that transports females arrives.

Although federal government officials have insisted that Islamic law is unconstitutional, no one has moved to stop the northern states from introducing Sharia. President Olusegun Obasanjo, who describes himself as a born-again Christian, has said he believes "the issue will die off soon."

The Kaduna incident should serve as warning that it will not, contends Lagos-based lawyer Steve Adaramoye. The introduction of Sharia is a serious matter that deserves an immediate and firm response, he said. "The federal government can no longer be indifferent to the Sharia issue," Adaramoye insisted. "It is a time bomb."

Fighting began early Monday when Muslim youths clashed with Christians who had gathered from Kaduna and neighboring states to protest the imposition of Sharia and to counter pro-Sharia rallies staged by Muslims in Kaduna state. Christians said they were returning from the Kaduna government house where they had gone to protest the adoption of Sharia by the state House of Assembly when a confrontation ensued. Islamic youths barricaded the road, protesters said, preventing the Christians from returning to the southern part of the city. In the ensuing melee, many lives were lost.

Reacting to the clash in the city of Kaduna, the Rev. Mathew Kukah of the Roman Catholic Secretariat accused the Muslim youths of disrupting a peaceful and legitimate protest.

The Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Maccido, the supreme head of Muslims in Nigeria, warned in a statement Monday night that unless the Kaduna situation was handled with caution, the violence could spread to other parts of the country. He called the incident "a dangerous and a very serious threat to peace and unity of this great nation."

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Used with permission.

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