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Tuesday, 12 November, 2002, 15:07 GMT
Stoning row hits Nigeria's publicity drive
Miss World contestants now in Nigeria
The beauty queens are there to enjoy themselves

More than 80 contestants have arrived in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, reassured by the federal government's promise that they will intervene if necessary to save the life of a Muslim woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.

The ugly controversy has dogged this year's Miss World beauty contest with some beauty queens deciding to boycott the event to be held on 7 December.


There's no record of anybody who has ever been stoned to death in this country

Dubem Onyia
Nigerian Minister
At Abuja airport they were welcomed to a huge crowd of chaos and pandemonium of music, of drums in the background - a big festive occasion.

Most of the contestants who have arrived, like Miss England Daniella Luan, are determined to take part in this contest.

They are here to enjoy themselves and take part in what for them is a once in a lifetime experience.

Media spotlight

Daniella Luan said: "Well, I've just been assured that it [stoning sentence] has been resolved and it's not going ahead... the Nigerian Government has overruled it".

She said that she did not consider boycotting the event.

The Nigerian Government is desperate to play down the controversy surrounding the convicted woman Amina Lawal, who has a child outside wedlock.

Amina Lawal sentenced to death by stoning  for adultery
Government says Amina will not be killed

This is, after all, an international media event which has the potential to portray the country in a much-needed positive light.

Spokesman for the government on this occasion is the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dubem Onyia, and he has assured everyone that ultimately the federal government will intervene to overturn the stoning conviction of Amina Lawal.

"The federal law takes precedence over the individual or collective Muslim law," Mr Onyia said, stating that Muslim punishments like stoning to death "will never be carried out".

But these laws still exist in Nigeria. What is the federal government going to do to change the laws if that is what they choose, or want to do?

Mr Onyai insisted: the "supreme document in this country is the constitution and once the appeal is made, it will be sustained and the judgement will be thrown away, because there's no record of anybody who has ever been stoned to death in this country".

'Sex hazard'

But that argument does not convince the lawyers defending Amina.

And hers is not the only case. At least three other stoning convictions under Sharia law are currently awaiting appeal.

Hauwa Ibrahim a lawyer acting for Amina Lawal told the BBC:


They are against the beauty pageant because it's all about commercial sex trading

Huseyn Zakaria, Islamic preacher

"As far as we are concerned, we want to stick to our cases and to ensure that Amina's life is not taken away without due process and the rule of law applied in her case".

And if the controversy surrounding Amina Lawal were not enough of a headache for the Miss World promoters, the country's devout Muslims are also angry that the contest is taking place here.

Huseyn Zakaria is an Islamic preacher in Abuja. He says all Muslims in Nigeria are against this beauty pageant.

"They are against the beauty pageant because it's all about commercial sex trading, it's about nudity, it's about immorality.

"It's about exposing the youngsters of the community to a sex hazard," he says.

And yet this beauty pageant will be keenly watched by millions on television here who welcome the idea of such a glamorous event being staged in Nigeria.

Rights and wrongs

But the arrival of the Miss World contestants has at least provoked a debate over the Sharia issue among ordinary Nigerians.

One woman said: "Yeah, I think it's a shame because I mean in the 20th or 21st century, stoning somebody, a human being to death. I think it's a bad thing".

Miss England Daniella Luan
Miss England did not consider boycotting the event

A male bystander added: "If anyone makes a decision they're not coming to Nigeria because of Sharia, it's just unfortunate for Nigeria. But I feel bad, I feel bad on my pride here because I'm looking forward to the event".

So the stage is set for both a beauty pageant and a major political controversy here, with the rights and wrongs of Islamic justice firmly in the spotlight.

The life of a woman, Amina Lawal, and others who find themselves also facing the sentence of death by stoning is hanging very much in the balance.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Dan Issacs reports from Abuja
"The Nigerian government is desperate to play down the controversy"

Miss World row

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12 Nov 02 | Africa
09 Nov 02 | Africa
06 Sep 02 | Africa
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