Nigeria president appeals for calm as governors ignore agreement

 ABUJA, Nigeria 2 March 2000 (Newsroom) -- President Olusegun
 Obasanjo on Wednesday called for reconciliation between Christians
 and Muslims in the wake of religious riots in some parts of the country
 that claimed more than 300 lives since last week.

 His appeal, however, came at the same time that some northern
 governors and Muslim leaders appeared to be backing away from an
 agreement Tuesday to halt the implementation of Islamic law, which
 triggered riots in Kaduna last week. The clash between Christians and
 Muslims in Kaduna started on February 21 when Muslim youths
 attacked Christians protesting the adoption of Sharia (Islamic law) in the
 state. After a week of hostilities, the riots spread to the eastern part of
 the country.

 Nigeria*s National Council of States -- composed of the president, vice
 president, all 36 governors and some former heads of state -- voted
 Tuesday to suspend the adoption of Sharia by some northern states. The
 council decided that the federal penal code would govern criminal law
 instead of Islamic penal law, which permits floggings, amputations, and
 beheadings for some crimes. The constitution allows Sharia in matters of

 Obasanjo called the council*s decision "a triumph of maturity and
 sustenance of security of the nation and preservation of our corporate

 "There can be no winners in the destruction," he said in the televised
 speech on Wednesday. "All Nigerians are losers. And in peace and
 cessation of destruction all Nigerians are winners." Obasanjo urged
 Nigerians to embark on the urgent tasks of reconciliation and
 confidence-building, which he said are vital to restoring communities.

 "Let us move forward to enjoy the fundamental rights enshrined in our
 constitution and to develop our country politically, economically, and
 socially," he said. "Let our motto be reconciliation for development." 

 While Christians welcomed the nullification of Sharia, Muslims did not.

 The Rev. Dauada Marafa, chairman of the Christian Association of
 Nigeria (CAN), commended the decision of the council of states. He
 said the secular constitution demands that all religions be practiced
 according to personal conviction without recourse to forceful or violent
 imposition of beliefs and practices.

 However, Zamfara and Kano state leaders, whose governors attended
 the Tuesday meeting in Abuja, insist that Sharia remains intact. Zamfara
 Governor Sani Ahmed, who was the first to adopt Islamic law in
 October, denied that an agreement was reached to suspend Sharia
 despite assurances to reporters on Tuesday that "I intend to do so in my

 "The Federal government cannot suspend the implementation of Sharia in
 any state, because it has no constitutional powers to do so," he
 maintained in an interview with Voice of America on Wednesday. "All
 we agreed at the meeting was that we should all go back to our various
 states and meet with Christian leaders and other non-Muslims and see
 how we could find solution to the raging crisis over the adoption of

 Kano state officials also announced on Wednesday they had signed into
 law the controversial Sharia in contravention of the Tuesday agreement.

 Former civilian President Alhaji Sheu Shagari, who could not attend the
 Tuesday meeting, also faulted the nullification of Sharia. But he appealed
 for caution, calm, and restraint to avoid unnecessary confrontations that
 could lead to conflict "in which there will be no winner except the Satan."

 Niger state Governor Abdulahi Kure has complied with the council
 agreement, however, telling residents there that Sharia had been
 suspended in the best interest of the country.

 The federal government has not responded yet to the violation of the
 Tuesday agreement by Zamfara and Kano. There are fears, however,
 that more violence may occur. "My fear is that the action of Zamfara and
 Kano may aggravate the situation and head to another round of
 confrontation," said Lanre Arogundade, coordinator of the International
 Press Centre in Lagos.


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