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Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 21:50 GMT 22:50 UK
Sharia law 'reaches' Nigeria's south
Soldier and civilian during religious clashes in Jos, September 2001
The introduction of Sharia has sparked relgious clashes
Muslim leaders in Nigeria say they have introduced Islamic Sharia law in a southern state for the first time.

In defiance of the authorities in Oyo State, the Supreme Council of Sharia says it has carried out a ceremony in Ibadan's central mosque to inaugurate a panel to rule on civil matters in the region.

Safiya Husaini and baby Adama
Safiya Husaini became pregnant outside marriage

The leaders say the panel will be empowered to decide on matters such as marriage, divorce and land disputes.

The BBC's Kabiru Yayo in Ibadan says the secretary general of Nigeria's Supreme Council for Sharia, Alhaj Nachu Baba Ahmed, was among Muslim leaders from northern Nigeria who attended the Ibadan ceremony.

Islamic code

He says there have been moves to introduce a less radical form of the Islamic code in the southern state of Oyo in the past.

But the state authorities have so far refused to allow their applications there.

A more radical version of the Islamic code - covering crimes - has been introduced in a number of states in the mainly Muslim north of Nigeria over the past two years, provoking much controversy and, in some cases, violent protests.

The law insists on stoning for adultery, amputation for theft and flogging for the lesser Islamic crimes of alcohol consumption and sex before marriage.

Click here for a map of Sharia states

Nigeria's federal government - under severe international pressure - has condemned the strict punishments handed down by Sharia courts.

But, in response, authorities in the north are equally adamant that the Sharia legal code is something all good Muslims should live their lives by.

Of particular concern to human rights organisations is the increasing unanimity among northern political leaders over the issue of Sharia punishments.

Violent clashes

President Olusegun Obasanjo, himself a devout Christian, has said he would prefer more humane punishments to be handed down by the Sharia courts.

But he has stopped short of condemning Islamic law outright, stressing that Nigeria is a complex multi-religious country.

Nigeria has in the past seen violent clashes between Muslims and Christians over the issue of Sharia.

Observers say the move in Oyo state could trigger tensions and further threaten Nigeria's stability.

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See also:

26 Mar 02 | Africa
Nigeria in crisis over Sharia law
22 Mar 02 | Africa
Stoking Nigeria's Sharia fires
18 Mar 02 | Africa
Nigeria stoning decision delayed
19 Oct 01 | Africa
Nigerian appeals Sharia sentence
14 Sep 01 | Africa
Nigerian sentenced to stoning
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