Nigerian’s President Calls For Reconciliation

Friday, March 2, 2001 | Tag Cloud Tags:

Islamic Law is Suspended Following Disastrous Religious Conflicts
by Obed Minchakpu

ABUJA, , March 2 (Compass) — In a nationwide broadcast Wednesday night, March 1, Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo called for reconciliation between Christians and Muslims following two weeks of bloody clashes that have left hundreds dead.

“What we must do now is to begin to return to the fundamental faith that life, all life, is sacred. There is nothing in our culture that even remotely justifies the cynicism with which so many of us today respond to acts of lawlessness and wickedness,” Obasanjo said. “We have lost our senses of outrage and moral sensitivity. The casualness with which we react to corruption and other forms of criminal behavior does not come from religious faith or from cultural tradition. We do not have any such religions or cultures.”

Four days of clashes that began February 20 between Muslims and Christians in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna led to the killing of over one thousand persons, according to sources in the health care system who did not want to be identified. Thousands of people were left homeless and at least 36 churches were destroyed, along with several mosques. Property damage was estimated at over five billion U.S. dollars. The city was put under a 24-hour curfew.

Dozens were also killed in the southeastern towns of Aba and Umuahia on February 28-29 during clashes between Muslims and Christians apparently reacting to the Kaduna riots.

“What I saw was disheartening and upsetting,” Obasanjo said. “The devastation was so massive. It seemed as though Kaduna had overnight been turned into a battlefield.” He added that what he saw there was “mindless killings and maiming, the wanton destruction of property, the fear and uncertainty on the faces of those who survived the carnage, and pervasive mutual suspicion.”

“I could not believe that Nigerians were capable of such barbarism against one another,” the president said.

On February 29, the Nigerian government suspended the implementation of “sharia,” the Islamic legal system. Last year, several northern Nigerian states had proposed the full implementation of Islamic law, which greatly increased religious tension in the area. The drive to instill sharia is blamed for the riots.

The decision to suspend the implementation of Islamic law was made after an emergency meeting of Nigeria’s National Council of State held in the capital Abuja earlier the same day. The council is comprised of Nigeria’s Federal Executive Council, all Nigeria’s past presidents and heads of state, and all state governors.

Nigeria’s Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, while addressing a press conference in Abuja after the meeting, said they have agreed that with regard to Islamic law, the states that have it should reverse to the civil law that has been in operation in the country since Nigeria’s independence. He said the country’s penal code already contains all the essential elements of sharia law, and there should be no reason for stirring up religious sentiments to cause conflict in the country.

“If we find that there are people who have fueled this crisis, who have subverted the state, we would, of course, take them on, and hand them over to the law enforcement agencies, and these law enforcement agencies will deal with them accordingly,” Abubakar said.

The national president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev. Dr. Sunday Mbang, said an early resolution of the controversy would be the only way to halt what he described as “an impending disaster” in Nigeria.

Copyright © 2000 Compass Direct News Service.
Used with permission.

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