As Nigeria's most populous northern state formally declared Islamic Law (Sharia) on Wednesday, cheers of joy and cries of "Allah Akbar", or "God is great" echoed throughout the center of Kano. The overwhelming Muslim majority of Kano (90 percent of the population) provided a strong foundation for the approval of Islamic Law. But the celebrations have been overshadowed by recent violence that has claimed the lives of many.
The establishment of Sharia has put the government of Kano on a direct collision course with Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who has been accused of corruption and mismanagement. Thousands of cheerful celebrants flooded the streets as the federal government dispatched large numbers of state police forces and anti riot units.
Kano, a state with a population of 8 million, is the fourth northern Nigerian state to establish Islamic law. Before Kano, the Sharia movement's most recent rise was last October, in the state of Zamfara.
The news of Zamfara's adoption of Islamic Law quickly spread across the 19 northern Nigerian states, most of which may soon follow suit. However, hopes were temporarily dashed after the death of nearly 2,000 people in religious riots between Muslims and Christians in the state of Kaduna.
In the aftermath of Kaduna's bloody contentions, the federal government and the governors of the 19 states in the north agreed to put the introduction of Sharia on hold, and return to the existing "penal code." The agreement's main aim was to avoid further deterioration of Muslim-Christian relations in Nigeria.
However, the adoption of Sharia was not completely dismissed. According to PANA, the Lagos-based Nigerian news agency, the understanding was to establish a committee comprising of Muslim and Christian leaders whose mission would be to open "dialogue on those aspects of Sharia not included in the (existing) penal code." To date, no committee has ever been assembled.
Beginning this week, the Sharia movement has gained momentum. The joining of Kano now increases the northern states governed by Sharia to four, including Zamfara, Niger and Sokoto. The Muslim dominated northern state of Katsina banned prostitution, alcohol and gambling on June 19th, as one of several moves expected by the House of Assembly before officially accepting Islamic Law. On June 21st, officials in the state of Jigawa announced August to be the month in which it will implement Sharia. Despite recent violence and a lack of support from the federal government, the northern Muslim states' upholding of Sharia appears imminent.
President Obasanjo reportedly played down fears that the declaration of Sharia in Kano would spark public unrest. Yet increasing criticism of Obasanjo and his southern Christian government was the reason behind the government's exertion of pressure on northern state governors. The steady growth of Sharia practicing states is likely to create more problems for Obasanjo.
His already unstable government has been the subject of heavy criticism for corruption and mismanagement. These charges which were recently repeated after Obasanjo's pardon of Salisu Bahari, the former speaker of the Federal House of Representatives who was imprisoned on charges of perjury and forgery. His release has caused many to lose faith in Obasanjo's credibility and legitimacy.
Leaders in the Muslim majority states in the north, which have dominated Nigeria's federal governments in the past, have taken matters into their own hands by seeking a peaceful alternative to an inept Obasanjo.
The Muslim governors and the federal government are expected to resume their behind-the-scenes confrontation, where each will strive to consolidate power and greater influence over the other. Even though breakouts of violence are easy to predict under such circumstances, major bloodshed could be decisively prevented if both parties decided to respect the boundaries of one another. Among several challenges facing the indebted and impoverished nation of Nigeria, the launching of Sharia in the northern states might be one of its greatest. While violence has marked its recent past and fear of violence is engulfing its present, the future of Africa's most populous nation remains worrisome.
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