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Monday, 4 November, 2002, 18:35 GMT
Minister defends Nigeria's Sharia law
Sule Lamido met the BBC's Mike Embley
Sule Lamido met the BBC's Mike Embley
Nigeria's Foreign Minister Sule Lamido has defended the use of Sharia law, despite the fact that the Islamic courts have been condemned by the West.


Currently practised in almost a dozen northern states, Sharia courts impose punishments, including floggings and amputations, to those found guilty of committing crimes such as theft and adultery.


I am first and foremost a Muslim

Sule Lamido
And he added that he would be willing to abide by Sharia law.

Under international pressure, the Nigerian federal government has declared the strict Sharia punishments unconstitutional, but has done little to challenge them.

In an interview for BBC HARDtalk, Mr Lamido defended the right of Muslims to live by Islamic law.

He said: "Modern Nigeria cannot impede the right of Muslims to be Muslims."

He said: "Before I am a minister, I am first and foremost a Muslim."

"I stand by Islam. If I have committed any fornication, I will also equally submit myself to that religion."

Tensions

There has been rising tension between the country's Christians and Muslims since Sharia courts were introduced two years ago.

Sharia: Criminals can be punished by amputation
Sharia: Criminals can be punished by amputation

Although the punishment laid down by the courts applies only to Muslims, Christians in the mainly Muslim northern states are beginning to feel threatened by their increasing influence.

More than 3,000 people have been killed in clashes between Christians and Muslims in the north of the country.

Two years ago in Kaduna state, more than 2,000 people died following the announcement of plans to introduce Sharia law there.

But Mr Lamido dismissed claims of ethnic tension in the country and said that suggestions of religious clashes were simply a "misunderstanding" and a "deliberate distortion of events in Nigeria."

Border dispute

During the interview Mr Lamida also spoke about the recent dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon over the disputed Bakassi peninsula.

Ownership over the 1,000-square-kilometre (400-square-mile) patch of swamp has implications for offshore fishing and oil rights.

Bakassi fishermen
Bakassi fishermen: Concerned for the future
Last month the International Court of Justice (ICJ) awarded sovereignty of the region to Cameroon.

But a row erupted when UN officials claimed that the Nigerian President, Mr Obasanjo had agreed to abide by the ruling of the ICJ at a meeting with the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and President Paul Biya of Cameroon.

President Obasanjo denied making the agreement and said that he would never give a "blank cheque" without knowing which way the ICJ would rule.

Mr Lamida showed that they are still no nearer to accepted the ruling - and reasserted Nigeria's claim on the area.

He said: "People who are inhabiting Bakassi have been there before the beginning of the beginning.

"While we have respect for integrity of the judges, there are a number of things which have been overlooked."

This interview can be watched in full on Monday 4 November on BBC World at the following times:

BBC World (times shown in GMT) 0330, repeated 0830, 1130, 1530, 1830, 2330



HARDtalk with Tim Sebastian is broadcast Mon - Friday on BBC World and BBC News 24
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