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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Nigeria: Obasanjo on Sharia Crisis

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

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

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.

For additional news, see:

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:

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


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 speak to you again today with a sad and heavy heart, having recently returned from a visit to Kaduna, where I saw the carnage and devastation resulting from the recent disturbances in that city. I had decided to make a personal visit there, because I was very concerned by the security and other reports I was getting from the officials on the ground. I could not believe that Nigerians were capable of such barbarism against one another. But what I saw there was perhaps even more gruesome in detail.

Once the disturbances started, I was naturally in constant touch with the Kaduna State Deputy Governor, who was in charge in the absence of the Executive Governor, and who continuously kept me abreast of developments there. I did not order the troops in right from the start, because the normal procedure in such matters is that the Governor of the State concerned must first indicate that the police strength at his disposal is unable to contain the disturbances, and then specifically request for military assistance. Or, in special cases, the police through the Inspector-General could make such a request. Once that request came from the Deputy Governor, I immediately ordered that troops should move in, to support the police and take necessary measures to put an end to the killings and destruction in that city and its environs.

As soon as the disturbances began to die down during the week, I sent a Ministerial delegation to Kaduna, with instructions to bring me a first hand report of the situation there. The delegation's report was incredibly galling. I, accordingly, decided to travel to Kaduna, to see things for myself. And what I saw was disheartening and upsetting. The devastation was so massive, it seemed as though Kaduna had overnight been turned into a battlefield. My visit confirmed in every single detail all the reports I had been getting - the mindless killings and maimings, the wanton destruction of property, the fear and uncertainty on the faces of those who survived the carnage, and the pervasive mutual suspicion.

It was clear to me that while a 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 met leaders of the factions and groups involved - the religious and political leaders, the workers and the leaders of thought. We explored all possible ways of bringing the carnage to a permanent halt, and reached agreement on a number of issues.

But what I found most astonishing was the discovery that a majority of those who died in the disturbances were Nigerians who had lived all their lives in Kaduna, and could not truthfully call anywhere else their home. All so suddenly, people who had been their neighbours for decades turned on them, and massacred them. And yet, those who were responsible for these murders claim that they were acting in defence of faith or religion. I cannot believe that any religion in this day and age can sanction the taking of innocent life.

While in Kaduna, we also took time to show our gratitude to those few Nigerians who had gone out of their way, and at great risk to their own safety, to do whatever they could to put an end to the bloodshed. We visited His Royal Highness the Emir of Zaria and community leaders in Zaria, who had shown exemplary courage in their vigorous efforts both to prevent and to contain the bloodshed.

Just before we left Kaduna for Zaria, the painful news came of the disturbances in Aba, a city we had just visited two days previously. The disturbances there were started by a group of renegades who were under the misguided but fatal impression that they were taking due revenge for the murder of their kith and kin in Kaduna whose bodies were brought back on a trailer. When all the statistics of the devastation in Kaduna, Kachia, Aba and Umuahia are recorded, we will find, I am sad to say, that this has been one of the worst incident of blood-letting that this country has witnessed since the Civil War.

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

These acts cannot, and must not go on. We must bring to a very prompt end the temptation to always resort to violence in any disagreement between groups, whether religious or ethnic or political. We must rid ourselves of the mentality of murderousness that stems from fear and suspicion of the other person. We must rediscover the value of dialogue.

As the Vice-President has announced in his press briefing, the National Council of States met yesterday, Tuesday, February 29, 2000, and deliberated on the alarming security situation in the country.

The Council was deeply saddened by recent events in Kaduna, and by subsequent events in Abia State, both of which have led to enormous loss of lives and destruction of property. The Council strongly condemned these events, and called for an immediate cessation of hostilities, and of these acts of senseless murder and destruction of property.

The Council also reviewed the remote and immediate causes of the disturbances, and noted that the Penal Code currently in force in the Northern States is substantially based on Sharia Law, with the modifications that imprisonment is substituted in place of amputation of limbs, as punishment for stealing, and also as punishment for adultery, instead of stoning to death. The Council noted that these modifications are consistent with the human rights principles enshrined in our Constitution, and considered the punishments adequate in the circumstances.

The Council unanimously agreed 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 Penal Code, continues to be practiced by all States concerned. The Council urges all Nigerians to remain calm and law-abiding. Provocative and inciting utterances will not be tolerated. This position by the Council is a triumph of love of fatherland, triumph of maturity and sustenance of security of the nation and preservation of our corporate existence. There can be no winners in the destructions, all Nigerians are losers. And in peace and cessation of destructions of life and property, all Nigerians are winners. But to respect the feeling of one another and to hasten the process of reconciliation, there is no victory to be celebrated and no loss to be mourned.

In the course of our development, let me say for the benefit of investors in our economy that this tragic event is a hiccup which is not unusual for a nation like Nigeria which has been oppressed and suppressed by its rulers in recent years. The hiccup will be put behind us and we will Insha-Allah move full steam ahead.

I enjoin all Nigerians to embark on the urgent task of reconciliation and confidence-building which is vital to the rebuilding of relations and communities. Let us move forward to enjoy the fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution and to develop our country politically, economically and socially. Let our motto be "Reconciliation for Development".

What we must now do is to begin to return to the fundamental faith that life, all life, is sacred. There is nothing in our culture that even remotely justifies the cynicism with which so many of us today respond to acts of lawlessness and wickedness. We have lost our sense of outrage and moral sensitivity. The casualness with which we react to corruption and other forms of criminal behaviour does not come from religious faith or from cultural tradition.

We do not have any such religions or cultures. Rather, what seems to have happened is that after so many years of tyranny and mindless violence, encouraged and practised by the state itself, we have all grown indifferent to the moral, even religious duties that we all owe, one to another.

But today, we are no longer hostages of a mean and lawless government. Our conduct, our relationships, whether religious, ethnic or political, must be governed by the laws of the land. We must begin again to deal with one another in transparent comradeship, and seek to settle our misunderstandings peacefully, decently and humanely.

We thank the National Assembly for their concern and support during the crisis. We are encouraged particularly by the pronouncement of the Senate President that the Executive will be fully supported to deal firmly and decisively with disturbance that may emanate in any part of the country.

We appreciate the formation and the work of the Nigerian Inter-Religious Council (NIREC), which has been charged with the responsibility of promoting the ideals of peaceful coexistence, especially among the various religions in our country. They have held several meetings, Christians and Moslems, and were in fact under the impression they were making considerable progress, when the upheavals in Kaduna occurred. I urge them not to relent in their efforts. Perhaps through their work, and that of all other well-meaning Nigerians, we shall begin to build the Nigeria that we all dream of, but seem unable to realize. I thank our brothers and sisters in all parts of the country who, through prayers and positive action and efforts, contributed to moving us away from another precipice. In this group must be included some leading Imams, Christian leaders and traditional rulers.

Consultations will be stepped 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 the National Assembly and all political officers and appointees are returning to their States and their constituencies to help in the process of binding the wounds, removing fear and suspicion and bringing about reconciliation from now till the week-end. Law enforcement agents have been instructed to deal decisively with anyone or group who disturbs public peace and order.

However, in matters of religion and conscience, restraint must be exercised at all levels of government but particularly at the highest level. This has conditioned the Federal Government's action throughout the Sharia controversy so far. We thank the media for the understanding of the restraint of the Government and for the moderation and balance most of them exhibited during the difficult period.

I must not end this brief address without assuring all our fellow citizens of the firm determination of our Government to resist any attempt from any quarter 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 extend the hand of fellowship to their fellow citizens will find understanding and friendship.

God bless you all. And God bless Nigeria.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary objective is to widen international policy debates around African issues, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

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