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Vol 41 No 5

Published 3rd March 2000


Nigeria

In God's name

The agitation for Islamic law is as much political and ethnic as it is religious; its proponents have weakened and divided the North

The government appears to have negotiated a respite in its latest crisis. On 29 February the governors of five northern states said they would stop plans to enforce Sharia (Islamic law). Vice-President Atiku Abubakar led negotiations with the governors and persuaded them to back down - at least for now. Among the political weapons at his disposal was cutting finance to those state governments which ignored central government on the issue. Yet the Northern establishment is split over Sharia. Many of the older more pragmatic generation of Northern leaders see it dividing and weakening the region and would welcome Abubakar's move to stop it. Yet a younger generation of Northern politicians, several of whom owe their rise to military rule over the past two decades, believe that Sharia is an important political and cultural tool for the North to fight against Southern domination. The Sharia crisis is much more than a quarrel between elites, though. The campaign for Sharia now enjoys mass support in the North. A demonstration in its favour in Zamfara State last October drew several hundred thousand supporters from other Northern states. Campaigners have again shown their ability to gets tens of thousands of supporters onto the street in recent weeks. Once Sharia is instituted, it is difficult for Muslims to suspend it without appearing to act against God.

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