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Monday, October 18, 1999 Published at 18:13 GMT 19:13 UK

World: Africa

Nigerian Christians challenge Sharia plan

Zamfara State will introduce Sharia law on 27th October

Christian leaders in Nigeria have protested against a plan to introduce Islamic Sharia law in northern Zamfara State from the end of October.

The State Assembly in Zamfara has passed a bill to introduce the Sharia penal code from 27th October which would include such punishments as amputation for those guilty of theft and flogging for those caught drinking alcohol.

The BBC correspondent in Nigeria, Barnaby Phillips, says the state governor, Mr al-Haji Ahmed Sani, is determined to press on with his project, which is now being keenly discussed across Nigeria.

But the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, the Methodist prelate Sunday Mbang, has told the BBC that the introduction of Sharia is worrying, coming at what he calls a dangerous period in Nigerian history with democracy still very much in its infancy.

Christians across Nigeria are lobbying Nigeria's president, Olusegun Obasanjo, himself a devout Christian, arguing that the move is not compatible with the constitution.

They say the constitution only allows Sharia courts to rule on family matters and that there is no provision for bringing in an Islamic public penal code.

A report in the Nigerian newspaper The Guardian says another Christian leader has spoken against the plan.

"The constitution of Nigeria says the nation is a secular one, and not a religious state.

"As far as we are concerned therefore, the declaration of any state is a secession plan and we are expecting [the] Federal Government's reaction to such a declaration," it quoted the Secretary-General of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) the Venerable Samuel Akinola as saying.

However Zamfara's attorney-general says the constitutional guarantee of freedom of worship entitles any state to introduce sharia if its people desire it.

Growing controversy

The governor of Zamfara says the new code will not apply to Christians living in the state.

"The entire people of Zamfara State are 99 per cent Muslims and all of us want to be good Muslims.

"But to be good Muslims, we have to have Sharia to govern our lives because God has told us that any Muslim who does not accept Sharia is not a good believer," The Guardian quotes him as saying.

Mr Sani says his administration has decided to send officials to Saudi Arabia and Sudan to obtain materials for use by Sharia courts in Zamfara, the paper adds.

The BBC correspondent says the move has created a growing controversy in Nigeria where relations between Christians and Muslims are often strained.

He says other states in northern Nigeria have indicated that they would like to follow Zamfara's example.

Muslims are in the majority in the northern part of Nigeria but there is a substantial Christian minority.

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