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Tuesday, 12 November, 2002, 03:00 GMT
Beauty queens arrive in Nigeria
Miss Nigeria Chinenye Ivy Ochuba (centre) with other contestants at a Gala in London  on November 10
Beauty queens in the eye of a storm
More than 80 beauty queens taking part in the Miss World pageant have arrived in Nigeria in the face of bitter controversy over a woman sentenced to death by stoning under Islamic law.

They will spend three weeks touring the country and taking part in publicity events before the new Miss World is chosen on 7 December, after the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

We shall rise to defend any Nigerian even to the point of saying: 'No'

Jerry Gana, Information Minister
Amina Lawal received the sentence from an Islamic Sharia court in the northern state of Kano after being convicted of adultery.

But Nigeria's Information Minister Jerry Gana has said that the government would intervene if necessary to save her life.

A number of beauty queens have dropped out of the contest in protest against Amina's case.

Representatives from Costa Rica, Denmark, Switzerland, South Africa and Panama all failed to arrive in Abuja after announcing that they would boycott the event, reports the Associated Press news agency.

She lost her appeal against a conviction for adultery in August and is now taking her case to a higher court.

Constitution Supreme

Speaking to the BBC's Network Africa programme, Mr Gana did not say exactly how the government would prevent the killing.

He however said that if, at the end of the legal process, Ms Lawal was still facing the death penalty, the government would use the federal constitution to stop the sentence from being carried out.

We know she's not going to be stoned to death

Guy Murray-Bruce, Promoter
He said: "The federal authority would not allow any Nigerian to undergo inhuman treatment. The federal constitution is supreme. The federal republic would have enough courage to say: 'No'."

The promoter of the event, Guy Murray-Bruce of Silverbird Productions said he was not bothered by the controversy.

He said: "It's being magnified by people. We know she's not going to be stoned to death. We know it's political."

The president of Miss World, Julia Morley, has said most of the invited beauty queens have accepted assurances that Amina would not be killed and have changed their minds about boycotting the event.


Mr Gana's remarks is a clear sign of how apprehensive the Nigerian authorities have become to negative publicity over the staging of the Miss World contest.

The BBC's Dan Isaacs, in Lagos, says they want the event to portray the country in a positive light, but the controversy over the stoning sentence threatens to overshadow the glitz and glamour of the occasion.

Amina Lawal
Amina Lawal had a baby outside marriage

The Justice Minister, Kanu Agabi, has said that, under Nigerian law, it is not possible for central government to interfere with the Islamic justice system unless an appeal reaches the federal supreme court in Abuja.

But legal experts have questioned this opinion, saying that the constitution does allow for direct challenge by central government at any stage.

That the government has so far chosen not to do so is a clear indication of the political sensitivities involved, our correspondent says.

With national elections just a few months away, President Olusegun Obasanjo needs the support of the Muslim north to win a second term of office.

To challenge a judgement of an Islamic court would certainly not help his chances of a re-election.

Nigeria's Jerry Gana on BBC's Network Africa
We will not allow any Nigerian to be inhumanely treated
Miss World Promoter Murray-Bruce on BBC
We know she is not going to be stoned to death

Miss World row



See also:

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