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The BBC's Barnaby Phillips in Lagos
"It is an extremely delicate mission"
 real 28k

Thursday, 29 June, 2000, 14:54 GMT 15:54 UK
Obasanjo 'worried' over Sharia
Muslims in Kano
About one million Muslims attended the Kano ceremony
The Nigerian Government has expressed concern about the decision of the most populous northern state, Kano, to adopt Sharia Islamic law.

President Olusegun Obasanjo sent his special adviser, Professor Alphonsus Nwosu, to the state to express his worries.

Last week, Kano became the third state in the mainly Muslim north to adopt Sharia, despite strong opposition from northern Christians.

Muslim girl
Muslims are in the majority in northern states

There are fears that Kano's move could revive the sectarian violence in which hundreds have died in Nigeria this year.

Our correspondent in Nigeria says the issue is delicate, and that President Obasanjo cannot afford to adopt an openly confrontational approach with the northern political elite.

Sharia provisions
Based on the Koran
Provides an overall ethical framework for Muslims
Includes prayers, fasting, charity - as well as a legal code
Women should wear the veil
Physical punishment for crimes - including amputation, flogging, stoning

Mr Nwosu told Kano State Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso that President Obasanjo was alarmed by his 21 June declaration of plans to introduce Sharia, which includes punishments such as amputation and flogging.

Since October last year, four northern states have declared Islamic law, with another delaying their plans after violence.

Sources at the meeting said Mr Nwosu reminded Mr Kwankwaso of an agreement reached earlier this year not to push ahead with the expansion of Sharia.

"The president said he would be very brutal in his second year in office with anyone who takes him for granted, by mistaking his calmness for weakness," officials quoted Mr Nwosu as saying.

The Kano governor replied that the declaration last week would not be withdrawn.

"Tell the president that Sharia is in the interest of the state and Nigeria.

"Sharia is irrevocable and we are not ready to surrender our constitutional right to anybody," Mr Kwankwaso said.

Kano is the fourth state to adopt Sharia, Kaduna's plans were delayed after violence

Leaders of the mainly Christian Ibo people have expressed regret at what they say is government helplessness over Sharia.

In February and May, more than 1,300 people died in riots over the Sharia issue in the northern city of Kaduna.

On Wednesday, the Ohaneze, a group representing leaders of the Ibos who were targeted in much of the violence in Kaduna, said the declaration of Sharia in the north was likely to break up the country.

Both President Obasanjo and Mr Kwankwaso are members of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP).

In his message to the Kano governor, the president noted that the adoption of Islamic law was not included in the party's election manifesto.

Sharia delay

Governor Kwankwaso has said the actual implementation of Sharia will not begin for several months while the necessary structures are put in place.

Supporters of Sharia say it will bring peace to Kano and force corrupt politicians to reform their ways.

The authorities have given assurances that Sharia will not apply to non-Muslims, but many Christians have already left Kano.

Ethnic and religious violence in Nigeria has increased since President Obasanjo took office a year ago, ending 15 years of military dictatorship.

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21 Jun 00 | Africa
Analysis: Sharia takes hold
27 Jan 00 | Africa
The many faces of Sharia
17 Feb 00 | Africa
Nigerian flogged for having sex
20 Jan 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Islamic law raises tension in Nigeria
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