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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 Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.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: Defending Democracy Nigeria: Defending Democracy
Date distributed (ymd): 021207
Document reposted by Africa Action

Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List: an information service provided by AFRICA ACTION (incorporating the Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa). Find more information for action for Africa at

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

Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +gender/women+


This posting contains several documents related to democracy and human rights in Nigeria, reflecting both the threats to the still incomplete democratization process and the actions by Nigerians campaigning for full democratic rights. The most recent is a press release calling for protest against the action of Nigeria's State Security Service in withdrawing the passport of Dr. Tajudeen Abdul Raheem, a Nigerian citizen who is the chairperson of the Centre for Democracy & Development, as well as secretary-general of the Pan African Movement, based in Uganda.

Africa Action executive director Salih Booker -- who met with Dr. Abdul Raheem at CDD's Lagos offices earlier this year -- said, "This outrageous incident is a prime example of the Nigerian government's lack of commitment to democratic rights and the persistence of its authoritarian impulses. Instead of trying to intimidate civil society activists with such harassment, the Nigerian government should be drawing on the rich human resources of pro-democracy groups to work together with government in addressing the country's urgent problems."

Today's posting also contains several other brief recent documents and links on current challenges to democratization in Nigeria, provided by Pambazuka-News and

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

Centre for Democracy & Development

Press Release, 6 Dec 2002

For more information: Otive Igbuzor, Programme Co-ordinator, CDD Tel: 234 8033039797; e-mail


The Chairperson of the International Governing Council of the Centre for Democracy & Development (CDD), Dr. Tajudeen Abdul Raheem was arrested at the Murtala Mohammed Airport on his way to London on Tuesday 3rd December 2002. CDD is an independent research, information and training institution dedicated to policy-oriented scholarship on questions of democratic development and peace building in the West African sub-region. Dr. Abdul Raheem, a Nigerian was in Nigeria to attend the 5th Anniversary Celebrations and Endowment Fund Launch of the CDD.

Although he was released on Wednesday 4th December 2002, his international passport was seized. According to the State Security Service (SSS) officials, he was arrested and his passport seized because his name is on their security watch list. Up till today (Friday), Dr. Abdul Raheem has not been able to travel out of the country. The State Security Service has asked him to be reporting to their office.

It would be recalled that Dr. Abdul Raheem was arrested in the same airport in November 1993 on account of his involvement in the pro-democracy movement in exile. However, in the last two weeks, he has passed through the same airport six times on trips from Uganda, Ethiopia and the United Kingdom. We are therefore at a loss as to the reasons for this latest arrest and seizure of passport.

Apart from being the Chair of CDD, Dr. Abdul Raheem is the Secretary General of Pan African Movement based in Uganda. He is a well known Pan-African Human Rights Activist, international Scholar and syndicated columnist for several Newspapers in Africa including Weekly Trust in Nigeria. This arrest and passport seizure no doubt cast serious doubts on the human rights record of this government and clearly shows that the military hangover is still very much with us.

We therefore demand that the State Security Service Should release his passport without further delay.

Pambazuka-News, December 6, 2002

[The weekly Pambazuka-News is available by e-mail To subscribe send an e-mail to <pambazuka-news-> with only the word 'subscribe' in the subject or body. Submissions for inclusion in Pambazuka News can be sent to ]


Rotimi Sankore

The fatwa issued a fortnight ago against the ThisDay Journalist Isioma Daniel by the Deputy Governor of Zamfara State in Northern Nigeria has far-reaching implications beyond the immediate threat to her life, press freedom, and the controversy surrounding Nigeria's hosting of the Miss World beauty pageant. Before going further, it is important to declare an interest in the matter. I am a journalist by training, and have campaigned for press freedom, freedom of expression and human rights in general all my adult life. I have also lived and worked in Nigeria, campaigned against military dictatorship, and in the past wrote a column and features on current affairs for ThisDay Newspaper. This 'admission' does not in anyway disqualify me from commenting on this issue, quite the contrary. I may also add, that although my professional judgement is that portions of Isioma's article were controversial, the fatwa against her is completely out of order.

What are the implications and significance of the fatwa beyond the immediate issues?

Firstly, it is important to recognise that the issuing of a fatwa by an elected politician represents a dangerous political phenomenon. That is, one of a nascent dictatorship based on a fusion of religion and the state (in a section of a secular country). This phenomenon began with the passing of death sentences by stoning against allegedly 'adulterous' women in the name of religious law. In all cases, not a single man responsible for the pregnancies or babies used as evidence against the women was indicted. The failure of the Nigerian government to intervene decisively to halt these blatant miscarriages of justice permitted the phenomenon to expand its jurisdiction to cover press freedom, freedom of expression and the arbitrary and extra-judicial imposition of death sentences on other citizens.

Secondly, by first concentrating its initial attacks on the alleged promiscuity of women, e.g. unwed mothers and beauty contestants in a largely chauvinist society, this phenomenon was able to employ a divide and conquer tactic, and also cloak the potential danger of its spiked fist with a glove of dubious morality. We have not heard that the Zamfara State government (or for that matter the Nigerian government) is opposed to the giving away of teenage girls into marriage. This in turn, highlights the inequalities in Nigerian society in general and the country's constitution in particular. For instance, the present Nigerian constitution written by the last military regime, and accepted by the incumbent civilian government, denies women many rights including the right to confer citizenship on their non-Nigerian husbands through marriage, a right taken for granted by Nigerian men. A senior government official once justified this on the logic-defying basis that women are “easily carried away by emotion” and may end up conferring Nigerian citizenship on foreigners in exchange for love.

Thirdly, by advocating a legal and institutional framework which aims to restrict the movement and activities of women, and deny them their economic, social and political rights, Zamfara and other states advocating similar laws will by default literally 'bury' half the problems of their states in relation to unemployment, provision of education and so forth in one stroke. The other side of this of course, is that society is denied the benefit of half of its skills, talent and productive forces. It is significant that high unemployment and deepening poverty in some states have provided armies of unemployed and desperate youth easily converted into raging mobs by cynical manipulation of some religious and political leaders.

Fourthly, the violent protests orchestrated by political and religious opportunists and the issuing of the country's first ever political fatwa could be interpreted as a testing of the waters, and a show of strength by potential demagogues to see how far they can go without being challenged by secular and democratic forces, or even other Islamic leaders.

It is necessary to point out here that the problem is not with Islam. Christian fundamentalists in the United States for instance have regularly attacked and even killed doctors running family planning clinics and women attending them. Despite carrying out these acts of violence with thinly veiled and tacit support of right wing religious and political leaders, no one in their right mind can allege that the problem is with Christianity. To further emphasise this point, women in predominantly Muslim countries such as President Megawati Sukarnoputri in Indonesia, Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, Tansu Çiller in Turkey, and Begum Khaleda Zia in Bangladesh have emerged as democratically elected leaders. In 'conservative' countries such as Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan under the Taliban where democratic rights are suppressed, elections are not held - never mind the emergence of women leaders.

Within this context, the problem of invoking religion and narrow interpretations of religious morality to suppress democratic rights can be seen more as a device by members of ruling elites or opposition groups to build social and political support for their political agendas, rather than as a strictly religious problem. This problem is only religious to the extent that at best, it reflects the undemocratic interpretation of a religious school of thought. In order to stop such undemocratic schools of thought from gaining political ground and suppressing democratic rights, the time to intervene is now.

Individuals, whether public officials or private citizens, cannot be allowed to commit crimes with impunity in the name of religion which otherwise would not go unpunished. Calling for the arbitrary murder, execution or assassination of anyone is a crime regardless of if it is done in the name of religion.

If the Nigerian government is not to create a dangerous precedent, the Inspector General of Police must at the very minimum commence investigations into the statements and actions of the Zamfara State Deputy Governor Mamuda Aliyu Shinkafi.

Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo and all democratic and judicial institutions of the Nigerian government must also go beyond opposing the Fatwa, and reaffirm unequivocally the supremacy of all constitutional and democratic rights over any pronouncements by any person, whether public office holder or private citizen. These rights include media freedom, and the fundamental rights to opinion, free expression, association and life.

In addition, the Nigerian government must recognise and affirm that it is not the place of the government or private individuals to punish the media for errors or the content of news reports, features or opinion articles. Any redress sought must be through the judiciary, or through an independent ethics or complaints body not appointed by or dominated by the government. The media cannot play its vital role of sustaining democracy through holding the government and powerful individuals to account if the government or private citizens can arbitrarily arrogate to themselves power to punish the media.

To fully appreciate the consequence of not acting now, we must ask the question: What would have been the consequence for democracy and the unity of Nigeria if Isioma Daniel and the publisher of ThisDay Nduka Obaigbena had been murdered by zealots carrying out the exaltations of the Zamfara State Deputy Governor? What would have been the consequences for the West African Sub Region of a chain of events which could have led to widespread religious and ethnic conflict in a country of one hundred and twenty million people? Without a shadow of doubt, failure to halt 'politically' motivated rights violations at the starting blocks, often have devastating consequences for society.

* Rotimi Sankore is Coordinator of CREDO for Freedom of Expression and Associated Rights, 73-75 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD, UK; Tel: + 44 20 77875501; Fax:+ 44 20 77875502; E-mail: Media -, General -

Background Information (from Pambazuka-News): On the 16th of November 2002, Isioma Daniel wrote an article on the Miss World beauty pageant published in ThisDay, a Nigerian national newspaper. In the article, which addressed the controversy over Nigeria’s hosting of the pageant, she suggested that the prophet Mohammed would have probably chosen a wife from the participants. The article attracted complaints from Muslims and protesting youth torched the Kaduna offices of ThisDay in Northern Nigeria. Over two hundred lives were lost in the protests, and churches, mosques and other property were destroyed in attacks and counter attacks by Muslims and Christian youth. The federal government had to deploy the police and army to restore peace, and imposed a curfew for some days.

The Newspaper publicly apologised for the article, and explained that the Editor had tried to remove the offending sentences, but failed to do so due to technological difficulties. The publication emphasised that it is not anti- Muslim and has several Muslims in top management positions. Some Muslim leaders accepted the apology and called on fellow Muslims to do the same. But some other Muslim leaders refused to accept the apology, and supported the Fatwa issued by the Zamfara State Deputy Governor Mamuda Aliyu Shinkafi. The potency of the fatwa was undermined by the fact that it was opposed by the country’s leading Islamic body the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and some prominent Muslim scholars on the grounds that the writer and the publication had apologised, and that the Deputy Governor does not have the authority to issue fatwa’s. The Nigerian federal government also opposed the fatwa and press freedom groups in particular condemned it. However, the Zamfara State government, which was the first Nigerian State to introduce Islamic Sharia law, has not withdrawn the fatwa.

Isioma Daniel has fled the country.

Related Links:
* Nigerian Sharia state holds firm on fatwa
* What would Mohammed do?
* Soyinka blames federal government
* Fed Govt Nullifies Fatwa
* The truth behind the Miss World riots,3604,850959,00.html

* Sultan Wants Perpetrators of Kaduna Riots Punished


CREDO, an organisation supporting freedom of expression and associated rights, has welcomed with caution the registration of 22 political parties in Nigeria this week. However, CREDO said in a statement that it was not the role of government to screen and register parties. “Rather an Independent Electoral Commission should merely recognise the existence of parties that notify it of their intention to participate in electoral processes, once they fulfil basic administrative procedure,” CREDO said. Further details:

NIGERIA: PROBE 'UNDERMINED BY PARLIAMENT' The judge leading government anti-corruption efforts in Nigeria has accused parliament of attempting to undermine a probe into alleged financial wrongdoing by senators.

NIGERIA: DEATH SENTENCE ON JOURNALIST ATTRACTS OPPOSITION Strong opposition has trailed the FATWA (death sentence) passed on THIS DAY newspaper reporter, Isioma Daniel, by the Deputy Governor of Zamfara State, North-western Nigeria, over an allegedly blasphemous article which allegedly triggered riots in Kaduna and Abuja two weeks ago. Among the prominent voices opposed to the sentence is Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka, who called for the immediate prosecution of Zamfara Deputy Governor Aliyu Shinkafi. Further details:

On-Shore/Off-Shore: Fresh Tension in Niger Delta
Vanguard (Lagos) Editorial, December 1, 2002
By Blessyn Okpowo Deputy Editor

[excerpts only; for full story see link. For other recent news see]

The fragile peace currently being experienced in the Niger-Delta is threatened by the continued delay in the signing into law of the On-shore/Off-shore abrogation bill by President Olusegun Obasanjo, Sunday Vanguard can reveal. Already, fresh tension is building up in the area over the Bill that was unanimously passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly almost three months ago. From Ondo through Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers to Akwa-Ibom, and Cross-Rivers States the feeling of anger and frustration among indigenes of the area is palpable. Speaker after speaker that spoke to Weekend Vanguard wondered why Mr. President has refused to sign the bill into law.

Also in these states, high-level consultation is on over how best to approach the perceived opposition of Mr. President to the bill as passed by the National Assembly. Opinion leaders in the region have gone back to their trenches to map out strategies on how best to 'persuade' President Obasanjo to sign the bill on time before the gathering storm crystallises into another round of violence.

This not withstanding, various groups in the area are warming up for a showdown. In Delta, Rivers, Ondo and Bayelsa states for instance, Ijaw, Ilaje and Itsekiri women are being mobilised to start another round of protest akin to the one witnessed last August when women from the three ethnic groups almost paralysed operations of the oil companies in the Niger Delta over what they called the criminal negligence of the area by both the federal, states governments and the oil companies.

"We have watched events in Abuja and it would appear somebody wants to take us for a ride. We are going to show them that we are not going to be fooled a second time. We shall fight them to with everything at our disposal and this time we will not listen to anybody until our demands are met", Mrs Oritsegbemi Koloko one of the women leaders told Weekend Vanguard in Warri. ..

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by Africa Action (incorporating the Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa). Africa Action's information services provide accessible information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and international policies toward Africa that advance economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.

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