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Tuesday, 7 January, 2003, 12:44 GMT
Analysis: Nigeria's Sharia split
Zamfara state sign
Zamfara was the first state to introduce Sharia
Thousands of people have been killed in fighting between Christians and Muslims following the introduction of Sharia punishments in northern Nigerian states over the past three years.

Lawali Isa had his right hand cut off after being convicted of robbery
Convicted thieves have their hands amputated
Sharia courts impose strict Islamic laws, including amputations and death by stoning for transgressions like theft and adultery.

First introduced in Zamfara state, it is now practised, to a greater or lesser degree, across the north, and has exacerbated differences between the predominately Christian south and the Islamic north.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, who took power in May 1999 after 16 years of military rule, has so far failed to defuse religious tensions, and the economic problems that increase popular discontent.

Move to Sharia

Under Sharia law, Kano has banned prostitution, gambling and the consumption of alcohol.

In Zamfara, single-sex schools and taxis have been introduced.

Click here for a map showing the Sharia states

Since Zamfara brought in Sharia in January 2000, several people have had their hands amputated for theft, and a woman found guilty of fornication was given 100 lashes - despite her protests that she had been raped.

A young woman, Amina Lawal, has been sentenced to death by stoning after she was found guilty of having extra-marital sex.

Following protests from around the world, the federal government has promised that no-one will be stoned to death but the sentence still hangs over her head.

President Obasanjo has been criticised by both sides of the Sharia debate for trying to steer a middle course.

Christians say he should take firm action to end Sharia punishments, while his criticism of the Islamic courts has alienated many Muslims.

Constitutional threat

Volunteer vigilante groups have been roaming the streets, keeping an eye open for any transgressions of Sharia regulations.

Kaduna policeman
More than 2,000 have died in Kaduna's religious riots

Local politicians and religious leaders say that crime has dropped sharply in the Sharia states.

They say that floggings are symbolic, not barbaric, and that a fear of punishment promotes lawfulness.

Even some of those who have had their hands amputated accept it as being the will of Allah.

But human rights' groups have complained that these religious laws are archaic and unjust, and create an atmosphere of intimidation against Christians - even though they are not subject to the Sharia.

The pressure group, the Community Development and Welfare Agenda, has said Sharia court decisions were a "fundamental assault on the sovereignty and legality of the Nigerian state", because they undermine the national, secular legal system.

Economic differences

Although most people in northern Nigeria are Muslim, large numbers of Christian traders travel to the region's cities such as Kano and Kaduna, which have both witnessed religious clashes.

Muslim girls in Zamfara
Separate girls' schools have been established

The violence may have been caused as much by economic envy as religious disputes.

Thousands of young men in Kano have no jobs and no education, and frustrations over economic hardship leave them prey to political opportunists who want to foment violence.

The pattern has been repeated in several Nigerian cities over the past three years.

In November 2002, more than 200 people were killed in religious unrest in Kaduna, sparked by a row over the Miss World beauty contest.

In the same city, more than 2,000 were killed in riots in February 2000.

In the central city of Jos, at least 500 were reported have died in clashes between Muslim and Christians in September 2001.

With the political temperature rising ahead of April's elections, Sharia is bound to be used by Mr Obasanjo's rivals, especially from the north.

And some fear this could mean more religious violence.

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09 Sep 01 | Africa
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