Nigeria: Obasanjo on Sharia Crisis, 03/08/00

Nigeria: Obasanjo on Sharia Crisis, 03/08/00

Nigeria: Obasanjo on Sharia Crisis
Date distributed (ymd): 000308
Document reposted by APIC

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Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights++security/peace+ Summary Contents:
This posting contains the March 1 speech to the nation by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, on the crisis concerning the implementation of Sharia law in several states in northern Nigeria.

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For more links and background, see APIC's newly updated Nigeria page (, as well as additional links to news, data, and more in APIC's regional pages:

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Special Page on Floods in Mozambique and Southern Africa

As this is written, the international relief operation in Mozambique is finally into high gear. So is the debate about to what extent the response to catastrophic floods in Mozambique and neighboring countries was too little and too late, illustrating yet again the double standard of the world's response to crises in Africa.

Yet there are also significant new features in the response to the crisis. Fundraising and volunteer contributions from within Mozambique, from neighboring South Africa and from around Africa (the Organization of African Unity, Malawi, Ghana, and other countries) are at much higher levels than in previous African natural or human-caused disasters.

Nevertheless, there is the usual danger in response to international crises, that the world's attention will be fleeting -- more focused on the dramatic helicopter rescues or immediate relief needs than on the rebuilding efforts that Mozambicans repeatedly stress must be built into the response. It is also likely that international agencies will get greater resources than their Mozambican counterparts, and that existing Mozambican and regional organizations will be weakened rather than strengthened by some outside efforts.

Mozambican government spokespeople, as always, are gracious, expressing sincere thanks for whatever help comes in. As one wrote privately in a recent e-mail, however, "I am in favor of direct support to Mozambican institutions from people such as yourselves, to serve as a counterweight to all the big governments, UN, etc., who are now piling in and of course expecting to take everything over completely."

The new Africa Policy page on the floods gives links to multiple sources for updated information, and also includes a wider selection of material received by APIC than can be posted to the Africa Policy distribution list. In particular, we are prioritizing tems that in our judgement contain significant information directly from Mozambique and neighboring countries, or that relate the crisis to wider issues of reconstruction and sustainable development.


Text of Speech ( March 1, 2000) Following Religious Crisis That Claimed Hundreds Of Lives in Kaduna and Parts of Southeastern Nigeria and Suspension of Full Implementation of The Sharia in Zamfara, Sokoto and Niger States

President Olusegun Obasanjo's address
to the nation on Sharia crisis

Wednesday, March 1, 2000

Fellow Nigerians,

I speakto you againtoday with a sadand heavy heart, having recently returned froma visit to Kaduna, where I saw the carnage and devastation resulting from the recent disturbancesinthatcity. Ihaddecidedto makea personal visit there, because I was very concerned by the securityandotherreportsIwasgettingfromthe officialsontheground. Icouldnotbelievethat Nigerianswere capableofsuchbarbarism againstone another. But whatIsawthere wasperhapseven more gruesome in detail.

Oncethedisturbancesstarted,Iwasnaturallyin constant touch with the Kaduna State Deputy Governor, who was in chargein the absence ofthe Executive Governor, andwho continuouslykeptmeabreast ofdevelopments there. I didnot orderthetroops inrightfrom the start, becausethe normalprocedure in suchmatters is thattheGovernor oftheStateconcerned mustfirst indicatethat thepolicestrength athisdisposal is unable to contain the disturbances, and then specifically request formilitary assistance. Or, inspecial cases, the police throughthe Inspector-General could make such arequest. OncethatrequestcamefromtheDeputy Governor, Iimmediately ordered thattroops should move in, to support thepolice and take necessary measures to put an endto the killings anddestruction in that city and its environs.

As soon as the disturbancesbegan to die down during the week,I senta Ministerialdelegation toKaduna, with instructionsto bringmeafirst handreportof the situation there. The delegation's reportwas incredibly galling. I, accordingly,decided to travel to Kaduna, to see things formyself. And what Isaw was disheartening and upsetting. Thedevastation was so massive, it seemed asthoughKadunahadovernightbeenturnedintoa battlefield. Myvisit confirmedin everysingle detail allthereportsIhadbeengetting -themindless killingsandmaimings,thewantondestructionof property, the fear anduncertainty on the faces of those whosurvivedthecarnage,andthepervasivemutual suspicion.

It was clearto me that whilea toll was being taken of the massive losses that attended the disturbances, it was necessary to immediately begin the process of healing and reconciliation. I metleaders of the factions and groups involved-thereligiousand politicalleaders,the workersandthe leadersofthought. We exploredall possibleways ofbringingthe carnagetoa permanent halt, and reached agreement on a number of issues.

But what I foundmost astonishing was the discovery that a majorityof thosewho diedin thedisturbances were Nigerians whohad lived alltheir livesin Kaduna, and could nottruthfully call anywhere elsetheir home. All sosuddenly, peoplewho hadbeen theirneighbours for decadesturned onthem,and massacredthem. And yet, those whowere responsible for thesemurders claim that theywere actingindefenceof faithorreligion. I cannot believe that any religionin this day and age can sanction the taking of innocent life.

While in Kaduna, we alsotook time to show our gratitude to those few Nigerians who had gone out of their way, and at greatrisk to theirown safety, todo whatever they couldto putan endto thebloodshed. Wevisited His Royal Highness the Emir of Zaria and community leaders in Zaria, who hadshown exemplary courage in their vigorous efforts both to prevent and to contain the bloodshed.

Just beforewe left Kadunafor Zaria,the painful news cameof thedisturbances inAba,a citywehad just visited two dayspreviously. The disturbances there were startedbyagroup ofrenegadeswhowere underthe misguided but fatalimpression that they were taking due revenge forthe murder oftheir kith andkin in Kaduna whose bodies were brought back on a trailer. When all the statistics of thedevastation in Kaduna, Kachia, Aba and Umuahia are recorded, we will find, I am sad to say, that this has been oneof the worst incident of blood-letting that this country has witnessed since the Civil War.

And all this at atime when we do have a Constitution in place, when wehave duly elected representatives both at the local, state and federal levels, when the fundamental freedoms of worship andspeech, and the freedom from all forms of discriminationare guaranteed to every citizen. We cherish and uphold these fundamental freedoms.

These acts cannot, and must not go on. We must bring to a verypromptendthetemptationto alwaysresortto violenceinanydisagreement betweengroups,whether religious orethnic or political. Wemust rid ourselves of thementality ofmurderousness that stemsfrom fear and suspicion of the other person. We must rediscover the value of dialogue.

AstheVice-Presidenthasannouncedinhispress briefing, theNational Council ofStates met yesterday, Tuesday,February29,2000,anddeliberatedonthe alarming security situation in the country.

TheCouncilwas deeplysaddenedbyrecent eventsin Kaduna, and bysubsequent events in AbiaState, both of which have led toenormous loss of lives and destruction of property. The Council strongly condemned these events, and called for an immediate cessation of hostilities, and ofthese actsofsenseless murderanddestruction of property.

The Council also reviewed the remote and immediate causes ofthedisturbances,andnotedthat thePenalCode currentlyinforceintheNorthernStatesis
substantially based on Sharia Law, with the modifications that imprisonmentis substituted inplace of amputation oflimbs,aspunishmentforstealing,andalsoas punishment for adultery, instead of stoning to death. The Councilnoted thatthesemodificationsare consistent withthehumanrightsprinciplesenshrinedinour Constitution, and consideredthe punishments adequate in the circumstances.

The Council unanimouslyagreed that all States that have recently adopted Sharia Law should in the meantime revert to the status quo ante. That is, Sharia, as practised in PenalCode,continues tobepracticedby allStates concerned. The Council urges all Nigerians to remain calm and law-abiding. Provocative and inciting utterances will notbe tolerated. Thispositionby theCouncilis a triumph oflove offatherland, triumph ofmaturity and sustenance of securityof the nation and preservation of our corporate existence. There can be nowinners in the destructions, all Nigeriansare losers. And in peace and cessationofdestructionsoflife andproperty,all Nigerians are winners. Butto respect the feeling of one anotherand tohastentheprocess ofreconciliation, there isno victory tobe celebrated and noloss to be mourned.

Inthe courseof ourdevelopment, letme sayfor the benefitof investorsinour economythatthis tragic event is a hiccup whichis not unusual for a nation like Nigeria whichhas beenoppressed and suppressedby its rulers in recent years. Thehiccup will be put behind us and we will Insha-Allah move full steam ahead.

I enjoinall Nigerians toembark on theurgent task of reconciliation and confidence-buildingwhich is vital to the rebuilding ofrelations and communities. Let us move forward to enjoythe fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitutionandtodevelop ourcountrypolitically, economicallyandsocially.Letourmottobe
"Reconciliation for Development".

Whatwemustnow doistobegintoreturn tothe
fundamental faiththat life, all life,is sacred. There is nothingin ourculture that evenremotely justifies the cynicismwith which somany of ustoday respond to actsof lawlessnessandwickedness. Wehavelost our sense ofoutrage andmoral sensitivity. The casualness withwhich wereact tocorruptionand otherforms of criminal behaviour doesnot come from religious faith or from cultural tradition.

We donot have anysuch religionsor cultures. Rather, what seems tohave happened is thatafter so many years oftyrannyandmindlessviolence,encouragedand practisedbythestateitself,wehaveallgrown indifferent tothe moral, even religiousduties that we all owe, one to another.

Buttoday, wearenolonger hostagesofamean and lawlessgovernment. Ourconduct,ourrelationships, whether religious, ethnicor political, must be governed by the laws of the land. We must begin again to deal with oneanotherintransparentcomradeship, andseekto settleourmisunderstandingspeacefully, decentlyand humanely.

Wethank theNationalAssembly fortheirconcern and support during the crisis. We are encouraged particularly bythe pronouncementof theSenate Presidentthat the Executivewill befullysupported todealfirmly and decisively with disturbancethat may emanate in any part of the country.

We appreciate the formationand the work of the Nigerian Inter-Religious Council(NIREC), which hasbeen charged withtheresponsibilityofpromotingtheidealsof peacefulcoexistence,especiallyamongthevarious religionsinourcountry. Theyhaveheldseveral meetings, Christians andMoslems, and were in fact under theimpression theywere makingconsiderable progress, when the upheavals in Kaduna occurred. I urge them not to relent in theirefforts. Perhaps through their work, and that of allother well-meaning Nigerians, we shall begin tobuild theNigeria thatweall dreamof,but seem unable torealize. I thankour brothersand sisters in allpartsofthecountrywho,throughprayersand positiveaction andefforts, contributedtomoving us awayfromanotherprecipice. Inthis groupmustbe includedsomeleadingImams,Christianleadersand traditional rulers.

Consultations will bestepped up to increase interaction and to enhance reconciliation.

All Nigerians are assured of safety and security in their normal places of residence. Governors, Ministers, Members of theNational Assembly and allpolitical officers and appointeesarereturningtotheirStatesandtheir constituenciesto helpinthe processofbinding the wounds, removingfear andsuspicion andbringing about reconciliationfromnowtilltheweek-end.Law enforcementagentshavebeeninstructedtodeal decisively with anyone or group who disturbs public peace and order.

However, in matters of religion and conscience, restraint mustbeexercisedatalllevelsofgovernmentbut particularly atthe highest level. This has conditioned theFederal Government'sactionthroughoutthe Sharia controversysofar. Wethankthemediaforthe
understanding of therestraint of the Government and for the moderation andbalance most of them exhibited during the difficult period.

I mustnot end thisbrief addresswithout assuring all ourfellow citizensofthe firmdeterminationof our Governmentto resistanyattempt fromanyquarter to pursue a line that can lead to the disintegration of this country. Those who break our laws will be punished to the full extent of the law. There will be no sacred cows. And those who extendthe hand of fellowshipto their fellow citizens will find understanding and friendship.

God bless you all. And God bless Nigeria.


Message-Id: <> From: "APIC" <>
Date: Wed, 8 Mar 2000 08:55:36 -0500
Subject: Nigeria: Obasanjo on Sharia Crisis

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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