Sharia Crisis in Nigeria

My television and radio interviews are sometimes preceded with an e-mail pre-interview. Below is a pre-interview with the Voice of America. The program description was:

Religious, ethnic and political unrest have recently triggered violence in Nigeria. The country's Moslem and Christian communities have clashed over the proposed introduction of the Sharia Islamic law. Over the past month, hundreds have died during the fighting in Kaduna, Zamfara and Sokoto. When will this cycle of violence end? Can peace be restored in Nigeria or has recent conflicts destroyed the country's unity beyond repair? On this Africa Journal, we'll discuss the crisis in Nigeria. We'll address the Sharia issue, President Obasanjo's role in ending the conflict and the future for Nigeria.
I am posting my pre-interview notes so that you will understand the inspiration and "the story behind the story" of the things I say on radio and television. The program was broadcast (live for one-hour) on March 16, 2000.


PRODUCER: What are your thoughts on the sharia crisis in Nigeria?
EMEAGWALI: The killing of 50,000 Igbos in northern Nigeria was, in part, due to religious and ethnic differences. Millions of Igbos (including my family) fled to southeastern Nigeria. My family and I lived in Biafran refugee camps during the 30-month civil war. I have posted additional Biafra- related information at:

The roots of the present crisis, I believe, started with a lack of understanding of the Nigerian constitution. As an aside, Nigerian officials invited me to contribute my thoughts on the Nigerian constitution and my 10,000-word statement was posted at

The Nigerian constitution stipulates that we are Nigerians first and then Muslims (or Christians) second. However, some fanatic northern Nigerian elected officials are insisting that Muslims are Muslims first and Nigerians second and, therefore, are entitled to live by the sharia Islamic law. The contradiction is these elected officials were elected through a secular constitution that is the supreme legal document of the land. Each official swore to uphold the constitution. After being elected, some Muslim officials now want that constitution subordinate to sharia law. Proponents of sharia argue that the constitution guarantees freedom of religion while opponents argue that freedom of religion does not mean that Islam will be the state religion and take precedence over the constitution. When a northern Nigerian state adopts Islam as the state religion, it in fact puts the state above the nation and its constitution. In other words, "freedom of religion" does not entitle some northern states to create an Islamic state within the secular state of Nigeria. More specifically, the Nigerian constitution does not permit the adoption of Christianity or Islam as the state religion.

Sharia Law is subordinate to the constitution and to impose it as the supreme law of a state is equivalent to violating and overthrowing the constitution. It is nonsensical for sharia to be superior to the constitution and to operate two sets of contradictory laws in any state, even if most of the state residents want sharia.

An argument often made is that they should allow most of the people in a given state to adopt Islam as their state religion. The latter will be impractical. For example, if they allow most of the people in some northern states to designate Islam as their state religion, then should most of the people in oil-producing states who have demanded be allowed to retain 100 percent of the oil revenues?

In practice, religious fanatics are selectively using sharia law to oppress the poor and women. For example, because the sharia law stipulates the amputation of the arms of those who stole, a Fulani cattle rearer had his hand amputated and, subsequently, bled to death. If we were to amputate the hands of corrupt Nigerians, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha and Mashood Abiola (late Vice President of the Islamic Council) will be amputees.

Sharia forbids prostitution and adultery. They will stone to death or behead adulterers. To avoid tempting men, women are required to cover their faces in public places. Male students are required to seat in the front rows of classrooms while female students sit in the back rows. Later, boys and girls will be required to attend separate schools. Men and women must use separate buses. Women are forbidden from playing soccer. Motorcyclists are arrested and jailed for carrying female passengers. Since soccer, motorcycles and buses were not invented at the time the Koran was written, religious fanatics are obviously using Islam as a pretext for oppressing women.

They have ordered all unmarried ladies to find a husband or lose their employments with the state government while they allow unmarried men to keep their jobs.

Anybody caught drinking will be publicly flogged. They can award only men with beards government contracts.

Gambling is forbidden. No taxes. However, sharia states are insisting on receiving their share of federal revenue derived from taxes. Banks are forbidden to charge interests on loans which, in turn, will lead to the closure of all modern "satanic" banks. (Try applying for an interest-free loan from the World Bank.) Satanic banks will be replaced with Islamic banks. Children will be forced to inherit the debts of their deceased parents.

The Nigerian Muslim fanatics have become what the Igbos called "the outsider who cried more than the bereaved." Sharia is not even enforced in most predominately Islamic nations such as Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Turkey. Efforts to impose sharia law in Sudan lead to a four-decade civil war that started in 1955. Today, the Sudanese government is softening its stance on sharia.

Since its independence in 1960, the military have ruled Nigeria for 28 years. The elected officials do not understand the rule of law, democratic constitution and even the unconstitutionality of the sharia law. Governing a nation without understanding its constitution is analogous to playing soccer without understanding the rules of the game. Because the elected officials do not understand the constitution they swore to uphold, Nigeria is drifting like a ship without a captain. The imposition of sharia law will leave Nigeria with its left foot in the Stone Age and its right foot in the Information Age. Sharia laws were created for primitive societies and cannot be implemented in 21st century Nigeria. By allowing the sharia laws to coexist within the present constitutional framework, Nigeria will be marching self-crippled into the 21st century.


PRODUCER:What is President Obasanjo's role in ending the conflict?
EMEAGWALI: Obasanjo, a born-again Christian, wanted to remain neutral and mistakingly allowed this Sharia controversy to build up and get out of control.


PRODUCER: Sharia law was not implemented under Nigerian Moslem leaders. Why is former presidents Shagari, Buhari and Babangida calling for Sharia law?
EMEAGWALI: First, Nigeria is considered the most corrupt country in the world and it is believed that former military dictator Sani Abacha looted $5 billion from the Nigeria treasury. The Nigerian public is insisting that all previous leaders be probed for corruption. These former presidents are afraid of been probed and are using the Sharia law to destabilize Nigeria and divert the public's attention to the ongoing probe.

Second, Moslem Nigerian leaders did not invest in education and, as a result, Moslems-controlled states are poorer than Christian-controlled states. Sharia law allows Moslem leaders to shift the blame on evil influences of Christians, capitalism and adulterous women. Their hope is that the revival and strengthening of Islam will bring peace and prosperity.

Third, the new elected Moslem politicians will increase their popularity, rally support and win in future elections by adopting Sharia law.

Fourth, the mass retirement of the Moslem dominated military officers, the probing of Sani Abacha and other corrupt Moslem army officers, and failure to meet their demand that the Moslem holy day of Fridays be declared work-free and adoption of the Islamic calendar system, discrimination against Moslems in employment and education.

Fifth, Nigerian Moslems belief that non-Moslems should not rule them and Sharia is another form of self-determination for Moslems.

Sixth, some of these Sharia governors believe that passing Sharia law will earn them a huge financial support from oil-rich Islamic nations.


PRODUCER: Proponents of Sharia law have argued that the governors of the Moslem-dominated states are "fulfilling a campaign promise and meeting the yearnings and aspirations of the electorate."
EMEAGWALI: The electorate in oil-producing Niger-Delta region of Nigeria also yearns to control the prospecting of oil and retain 100 percent of the oil revenue.


PRODUCER: In a true federalism the states will be autonomous and can make their own laws.

EMEAGWALI: We do not and cannot have unlimited federalism which grants unlimited powers to the states.


PRODUCER: Will Nigeria break-up?
EMEAGWALI: Moslems should respect the sovereignty of Nigeria which means that Islamic laws cannot be supreme to government laws. Nigeria is a multi-religious country with hundreds of different religious sects. If each religious sect is allowed to enforce its own unique religious laws, it will result in chaos and anarchy.


PRODUCER: Could Nigeria break-up into several nations?
EMEAGWALI: It will be impractical to break up Nigeria into pocket-sized nations defined by religious, ethnic and economic lines. None of these nations which will be viable as a nation. It does not make sense to encourage the fragmentation of Nigeria into several nations when Kwame Nkrumah, W.E.B. Dubois and Marcus Garvey advocated a United States of Africa. Moreover, Nigerians of different religions and ethnicity have lived together and even intermarried for over a century.


PRODUCER: Could there by a Jihad or a civil war between Moslem North and Christian South?
EMEAGWALI: Will there be another civil war? In 1966, Nigerian had regional armies with four commander-in-chiefs and the commander of the Biafran army chose to break away from Nigeria. Today, Nigeria has one army and one commander-in-chief and this makes it more difficult to have another civil war.

We should also remember that the north has progressive elements and is not united on Sharia. The problem that the north has cannot be solved by seeking divine guidance or fighting Christians. The North needs to declare a Jihad against illiteracy, overpopulation and AIDS which is spreading like wildfire in Nigeria.


PRODUCER: Former military leader, General Buhari, was quoted as saying: "If we as Muslims want amputation or death penalty, we said we want it because it is our religion and the constitution of the country has agreed that everyone has the right to practise the religion of his choice."
EMEAGWALI: As a former Head of State, Buhari knows that Nigeria is the most corrupt nation in the world. If Buhari were to spend his entire life cutting off the hands of every Nigerian that accepted bribes, the task will remain unfinished. Since Buhari is now being probed for his mismanagement of the Petroleum Trust Fund and he might end up losing his arms and legs, if he is found guilty of corruption.

Cutting off the hands of thieves, stoning adulterers and homosexuals to death, and beheading murderers are as barbaric as making human sacrifice. Christians will allow Moslems to cut of the hands of Moslems or stone their wives to death. We are now in the 21st century and cruel and unusual punishments will not be tolerated in Nigeria or any civilized country.

It is a punishment that will be used to oppress women and the poor. Most Nigerians believe that their former presidents stole money from the national treasury but I do not expect Islamic leaders to cut of the arms Buhari for mismanaging the Petroleum Trust Fund or Ibrahim Babangida for not properly for Nigeria's oil revenue.

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion to Moslems. Freedom of religion, as defined in the constitution, does not mean that the state has the freedom to enforce a particular religion. Freedom of religion is guaranteed to individuals but denied to the states. The constitution requires the separation of state and religion and having an Islamic state is illegal. Islam cannot be an enforced religion but should be left to the conscience of individual Moslems. Freedom of religion means that Muslims are free to carry out the five acts of the Islamic faith which includes praying five times a day; fasting in the month of Ramadan; and traveling to Mecca for the hajj pilgrimage. Furthermore, the Nigerian constitution allows freedom of religion which includes the freedom to change your religion. Under Sharia law, it is a capital offence for a Muslim to change his or her religion. Sharia law enforces Islamic religion upon Moslems while the constitution implies that all religions should be left to the conscience of individuals. Enforcing Islamic religion upon Muslims is equivalent to denying them their freedom of religion.

Nigerian constitution describes a set of rules for governing Nigeria while Sharia describes a contradictory set of rules for governing Moslem-dominated states. Since the constitution is the supreme legal document and since Sharia law is inconsistent and contradictory to the constitution, it cannot be implement within the territorial boundaries of Nigeria. Any effort to implement Sharia is a disrespect to the constitution, it is an act of secession, and it is an attack on the Nigerian s overeignty.

Put simply, the constitution is supreme to the Quran and it will be impossible to make the Quran consistent with the constitution. Any governor that implements Sharia law has executed a religious coup d'etat and overthrown the constitution of Nigeria. Overthrowing the constitution is a treasonable offence that can bring severe punishment. If the majority of the people in Zamfara chooses to implement Sharia, then the majority of the people in Zamfara has chosen to secede from the Republic of Nigeria. This means that Zamfara has declared war upon Nigeria.


PRODUCER: Why can't we have theocratic states?
EMEAGWALI: A theocratic state is one that has a state religion and such states are illegal in Nigeria. The Nigerian constitution clearly required the separation of state and religion. What most non-Moslems have difficulty understanding is that Islam is not merely a religion. It is a comprehensive way of life that tells Moslems that they can marry four wives, amputate the hands of thieves and stone adulterers and homosexuals to death.

Freedom of religion does not mean freedom for each ethnic group to pass laws based on its unique customs and traditions or the freedom for Christians to promulgate laws based on the Bible or for Muslims to promulgate laws based on the Koran. The Quran was written 1400 years ago for nomadic Arab societies. We are now in the 21st century and Sharia will be forcing us to accept the norms and values of 7th century societies.

Islam preaches that religion and government are the same side of a coin and cannot be kept separate while Christianity teaches us that religion and government are like two sides of a coin that should be kept separate. As Christ said: "Give unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."


PRODUCER: Why should non-Muslims be concerned since Sharia will not apply them?
EMEAGWALI: Islam is more than a religion: it is a comprehensive way of life that tells Muslims that they could marry four wives, forbids banks from charging interests on loans, and that requires segregation of men and women in most social activities. Since taxis and all public transportation will become segregated, I cannot share a taxi ride with my wife. Banning non-Muslim men from boarding women's taxi has nothing to do with religion. It is segregation of the sexes that infringes on the freedom and constitutional rights of non-Muslims to associate with people of the opposite sex. Since Sharia law regulates the social and economic systems, it will reduce the fundamental freedom of non-Muslims.

Christianity designated Sundays as a day of rest and worship. In Israel the Sabbath or Saturday is their holy day and holiday. Islam recognizes only Fridays as a day of rest and worship. Since Christians are not willingly to annul Sunday as a holiday and because Sunday is a work-free day in most countries, it makes more sense for Nigeria to continue with its current practice of having Sundays as work-free days. However, Nigerian Moslems are arguing that the Sunday holiday was imposed upon them by the British colonial rulers. The issue of Friday as a work free day is politicize since the Islamic faith does not recognize that day as a day of rest. Rather, Moslems believes that all days belong to Allah while Christians believe that Bible teaches that since God created the Earth in six days and rested on the seventh day man must also rest on the seventh day.

The Igbos have their work-free day that occurs every market week of four days. If we start granting every religion and tribe their desire work-free days, Nigerians might have to stop working altogether. Closing schools, offices and businesses on Fridays will affect non-Muslims will mean that we will only work four days in a week. How can we reduce poverty by not going to work?

The constitution does not recognize Arabic as a Nigerian language but Arabic is used on the logo of the Nigerian Army. Six Nigerian naira and kobo banknotes (N50, N20, N10, N5, N1, and 50K) have Arabic and Islamic inscriptions on them.


PRODUCER: What is your response to the arguement that "Muslims are not trying to convert Christians by force and Sharia will only affect Moslems?"
EMEAGWALI: Islam is a comprehensive way of life with its own unique political, social, and economic system. The Koran tells you how to run a country and that banks cannot charge interests on money. ented for 7th century nomadic people that lived in Saudi Arabia. The modern world is different from the world of 1400 years ago which condones the stoning female adulterers to death while men that committed the same crime are not similarly punished.

Limiting the Sharia laws to Moslems will still affect Christians. First, Christians have good conscience and will not allow cruel and unusual punishments such as cutting off the hands of a Moslem thief. Second, Christians and Moslems who commit identical crimes must be punished similarly. Sharia law considers bribery to be a lesser offence than stealing and therefore will not cut of the arms of Sani Abacha. Christians consider corrupt government officials to be thiefs.


PRODUCER: Another point raised is that: "If Nigeria is a democracy and a federation of states then the states should be allowed to chose their own legal system."
EMEAGWALI: There was no referendum asking Moslems to vote for Sharia law. It is corrupt Moslem politicians that are using Sharia as a smokescreen to divert attention from the ongoing corruption probe.


PRODUCER: The northerners are also arguing that "Democracy means that the majority of the people in any state can vote for Sharia laws and the people of Zamfara has voted for Islamic law."
EMEAGWALI: Sharia law is unconstitional and the majority of the people in any state cannot vote to nullify the constitution of Nigeria.


PRODUCER: Can you prove that Sharia Law is not constitutional?
EMEAGWALI: The Sharia law uses the Koran as its constitution. The Quran is inconsistent with the Nigerian constitution. It is impossible for a state constitution to take precedence over the national constitution. To adopt Sharia law is an act of treason, an act of disrespect for the Nigerian people and means that Sharia states have seceded from Nigeria. It will be unthinkable to pass a Sharia law in the United States where Islam is the second largest and fastest growing religion.

Second, Nigeria has a secular constitution which forbids states from favoring or adopting a state religion. In Sharia states, Islam will be taught in public schools while Christianity will not be taught in the same schools. Zamfara State Ministry of Religious Affairs is entirely composed of Muslims.

Moreover, Sharia law is not written or codified law and is not even recognized by the Nigerian police. Therefore, no Nigerian could be arrested for breaking Sharia laws. What is happening is that lawless mobs are now enforcing Sharia laws. These mobs do not even understand how and where to jail the people they have arrested. We now have chaos, anarchy and jungle justice. Because the Quran is not codified by the National Assembly or state House of Assembly, the police cannot arrest any Nigerian who broke Sharia laws. Because substantial portions of the Quran is contradictory and inconsistent with the constitution, it will be impossible to codified it. Therefore, Sharia will never be implemented in Nigeria without drastically amending the constitution.

The constitution guarantees freedom from discrimination but Sharia enshrines gender discrimination by stipulating that female adulterers will be stoned to death while male adulterers will walk free. Every Nigerian knows that adultery is committed primarily by Nigerian men. If I were to spend my entire life stoning Nigerian men that cheated on their wives, the task will remain unfinished.

Like in Saudi Arabia, Quran will become the constitution of the Sharia states. To insist that Nigerian Muslims will be governed by Islamic law is equivalent to declaring the constitution to be null and void. The constitution is the supreme legal document --- and it is supreme to the Quran, Bible or Torah.

In the Nigerian constitution, Moslems are equal to non-Moslems and women are equal to men. In Sharia law, Moslems are superior to non-Muslims and men are superior to women. Islam teaches that non-Muslims can be enslaved and, in fact, Moslems in Sudan are still selling non-Muslims as slaves.

In the Quran, men are a degree higher than women. For example, men can marry four wives and divorce any wife at will by pronouncing "I divorce you," three times in succession. Women cannot divorce their husbands by merely pronouncing "I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you."

Applying Sharia Law to only Moslems means that Moslems will be punished differently for the same crime. Suppose a Moslem and a Christian rob a house, the Moslem will have his hand cut off while the Christian will get a few months in prison.

If Sharia is constitutional, then it will be constitution for Southern states to declare Christianity as their state religion and the Bible as their official constitution. Like Islam, Christianity has several sects such as Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists and so on --- which makes it impossible to decide which version of the Bible to adopt.


PRODUCER: Why should Christians be concerned about Sharia law that only applies to Muslims?

EMEAGWALI: It is discriminatory and unconstitutional to have a different set of laws for different sexes, ethnic and religious groups. Under Sharia, women and non-Muslims cannot testify in cases involving muslims; the relatives of a Muslim murder victim can demand the life of the murderer but the relatives of a non-Muslim cannot make a similar demand.

The Sharia law is divinely ordained and unchangeable. This takes Nigeria back to the 7th century when Prophet Mohammed founded Islam.

Since Moslem women must always wear full-length dresses and have their faces covered, they cannot participate in the Olympic Games.

It is unconstitutional to create a "Sharia Republic of Zamfara" within the "Federal Republic of Nigeria."

Just because the law was passed by the state House of Assembly does not make it constitutional. It is a violation of basic human rights and unconstitutional to stone adulterers to death; to amputate the limbs of thieves. It is adequate punishment to imprison thieves. The Sharia practice of cutting off the hands of thieves in offensive to most Nigerians and will never be tolerated.

The human live is sacred and it is inhumane and barbaric to amputate the arm of your neighbor for stealing your chicken. The state passed an unconstitutional law which is automatically null and void.

The Bible teaches "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and to God the things which are God's," which, in other words, urges the separation of state and religion. On the other hand, Islam is total religion that does not have provisions for the separation of state and religion.


PRODUCER: Why should christians be concerned if the law will not be applied to them?
EMEAGWALI: The argument made is that if Sharia law is enforced in Mecca and Medina it should be enforced in Northern Nigeria. Saudi Arabia has only one dominant religion: Islam. Northern Nigeria has three dominant religion: Islam, Christianity and traditionalist.


PRODUCER: How are women treated under Sharia Law?
EMEAGWALI: In Sharia, a Moslem can divorce his wife by saying the word "talaaq" (I divorce you) three times in succession and the women must live his house within minutes and return to her mom and dad. Marriage is serious contract involving children and is supposed to last a lifetime. We cannot make divorce easy by allowing it to end in three words pronounced in a state of anger.

Men do not have to state their reasons for divorcing their wives. Women have to go to court to divorce their husbands.


PRODUCER: In a newsgroup, someone asked: "I cannot understand why the law-abiding Christians of Northern Nigeria should fear the Sharia Law, UNLESS THEY ARE CRIMINALS. The Sharia Law is enforced in Mecca and Medina, which are the two most peaceful cities of the world, as statistics can testify."
EMEAGWALI: A secular constitution requires the separation state and religion. Christianity, Judaism, or Buddhism accepts separation of state and religion. On the other hand, Islam is a comprehensive way of life with its own unique political, social, and economic system. Islam does not accept the separation of state and religion and the Sharia law must be implemented alone, not alongside the secular constitution. It considers the Quran as the supreme divine and legal documents that can only be interpreted by Islamic scholars. Under Sharia law, Islamic religion, government and law are one. The Nigerian secular constitution and the Sharia law are like two passenger trains carrying Christians and Moslems traveling on a single track in opposite directions. A head-on collision and/or civil war is unavoidable, unless the Sharia law or Nigerian constitution is entirely renounced.

Second, you cannot conduct the affairs of a society solely on Islam without it affecting Christians.


PRODUCER: Will a sovereign national conference help resolve these issues?
EMEAGWALI: In theory, the goal of the Sovereign National Conference will be to (1) enable the various ethnic nationalities to decide how best to live together; (2) abandon the present constitution imposed upon Nigerians by the military dictatorship; and (3) remedy the inadequacies in the present constitution.

The down side is that the delegates will likely spend months arguing and might never reach a compromise. Moslems will want Sharia law to be constitutional. Oil producing states will arguing that they should retain 50 percent of the oil revenues. The Yorubas will want a confederate state of Oduduwa. And so on.

The majority of the former Nigerian rulers were devout Moslems who accepted and respected the constitution. The late Ahmadu Bello, who was the spiritual and political leader of Nigerian Moslems did not implement Sharia. Other Moslem presidents such as Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Murtala Mohammed, Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, and Abdulsalami did not implement Sharia.


PRODUCER: Can I get a summary of the events in Nigeria?

EMEAGWALI: Below is a timeline for the Sharia crisis in Nigeria. TIMELINE

13th Century
Arab traders brought Islam to Northern Nigeria

15th Century
Europeans brought Christianity to Southern Nigeria

English law replaces both Islamic and traditional African laws

May 29, 1999
Governor Ahmed Sani Yerima of Zamfara state took office and swore to defend the secular constitution.

October 22, 1999
Governor Ahmed Sani Yerima proclaimed Zamfara a theocratic state governed under a Sharia law

January 1, 2000
Sharia law took effect in Zamfara state

January 27, 2000
Sharia courts were set up

February 21, 2000
Christian demonstrations against Sharia ended in a three-day violence in Kaduna. Prior pro-Sharia demonstrators were not attacked.

February 28, 2000
Igbo-speaking Christians in Aba (southeastern Nigeria) launched a retaliatory attack at Muslim minorities. The revenge attacks spread to southeastern cities such as Umuahia, Owerri, Uyo and Onitsha.

February 29, 2000
Nigerian government bans Sharia

March 1, 2000
Obasanjo addressed the nation about Sharia

March 2, 2000
Former Muslim presidents (Shagari and Buhari) criticize the banning of Sharia

March 13, 2000
The northern states supporting Sharia law (Zamfara, Kaduna, Kano and Sokoto) plan to continue with Sharia


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