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Last Updated: Monday, 14 April, 2003, 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK
Nigeria's elections in the north-west
By Dan Isaacs
BBC, Zamfara, north-west Nigeria

At a political rally in the small town of Marudun, a musician strums a tune on a small local guitar, called a kontigi.

1: South East 2: North 3: North West 4: South 5: South West 6: Plateau State
He sings praises to the visiting politician and his party.

The atmosphere is festive, the money is flowing.

"We support democracy," says one bystander, "it is only at election time that the politicians bring us anything. The promises they make for the future we no longer believe."

This state of Zamfara in the far north of Nigeria is one of the poorest in the country.

The people here hoped that when democracy came four years ago, after decades of autocratic military rule, it would bring prosperity: that their basic needs would be addressed.

What they got instead were promises, but little real change.

Sharia law

One promise made by the politicians was that the introduction of a new Islamic legal code would provide the basis for justice and equality for all.

Amina Lawal
Amina Lawal is appealing against death by stoning for adultery
Prior to this Islamic or sharia courts had only dealt with civil matters.

Now they also deal with criminal cases involving Muslims. And most contentious among the new punishments are the stoning to death of adulterers, the amputation of limbs of those convicted of theft, and flogging for the drinking and selling of alcohol.

Zamfara was the first state to enact these new laws three years ago.

Eleven other northern states soon followed - although some stopped short of adopting the harshest of the sharia punishments.

The move was popular partly because people saw the existing justice system as corrupt and favouring the rich and well-connected.

The new Islamic laws were supposed to change all that.

Proponents of Islamic law stressed that sharia should not be looked at simply as a system of punishments, but also of welfare for the poor - an Islamic society with a moral code that cared for the weak and protected their interests.

Broken promises

But three years on, the mood has changed.

Taxi
Conservative Zamfara state has introduced women-only taxis
People see that the politicians have rapidly adopted the old ways of patronage and corruption, and the promises to the poor have remained largely unfulfilled.

"People have lost confidence in the politicians now," says local journalist Ibrahim Dosara, "they no longer trust them to deliver social amenities to them, and it has also created a lot of opposition to them."

That's not to say people have lost belief in sharia as a way of life for Muslims, far from it. Political analyst Abubakar Sadiq makes this clear:

"No Muslim can deny sharia. But the fact is that it has been politicised, and the politicians who claim they are implementing sharia, are using sharia to oppress. People supported them expecting that they would implement sharia with honesty, but they have not."

Nevertheless, the arrival of the politicians in Maradun town, brings a sizeable crowd. They've come to see Alhaji Bala Mande.

He's challenging the incumbent Zamfara governor, Ahmed Sani Yerima, seen by many as the principal architect of the extension of sharia laws.

Political fight

It is perhaps an irony of Nigerian politics that despite people's disillusionment with 'political sharia', Governor Yerima remains a popular figure and Bala Mande will have a tough job unseating him.

Governor Ahmed Sani
The governor is likely to be re-elected
"We expect the politicians to give us water, light, hospitals and education," one man tells me in the crowd.

"It is not the politicians job to bring us sharia. Sharia is for the individual and his own god."

The mood is changing and so it the approach of the politicians.

Gone is the Islamic rhetoric of four years ago, to be replaced by pragmatic promises to improve the lives of ordinary Nigerians.

The same promises, phrased in different terms, but few are convinced by the change in style.




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