Nigeria Muslims demand stricter sharia enforcement

KANO, Nigeria - Nigeria's highest Islamic council criticised northern states on Sunday for not enforcing the strict Islamic sharia penal code after adopting it as law.

The National Council of Ulamas said Zamfara was the only one out the six states that have adopted sharia that had adequately applied the law.

Zamfara drew international protests in January for ordering a 17-year-old girl to be given 100 lashes as punishment for having become pregnant outside marriage. She said her pregnancy was the result of rape.

Sheik Umar Ibrahim Kabo, chairman of the Kano State Council of Ulamas, said most of the states had put in place a "caricature" of the law to score political points with their Muslim constituency without affecting the lifestyle of non-Muslims.

"They have been hypocritical about it and not sincere about what they are doing," Kabo told the assembled Islamic scholars from across Nigeria.

Praising Zamfara's record, the group called for immediate and total implentation of sharia in all the states that have adopted the code.

Those attending the meeting, which was organised by the Kano State Independent Hisba, self-appointed sharia police, did not say what they would do if state governments did not step up their enforcement of the Islamic law.

The Ulamas said that although some states were beginning to crack down on alcohol, gambling and prostitution, they were turning a blind eye to other offences such as begging, fuel hoarding and black market dealing.

They were especially critical of Kano, where sharia enforcement has dominated politics ever since the deputy state governor led a five-hour raid on Good Friday. The raiders began by destroying alcoholic drinks at a few select nightspots and ended with Muslim vigilantes setting several hotel bars ablaze.

The state government later said it sanctioned the deputy governor's activities because the Ulamas had threated to enforce sharia law if the government did not act.

The trend towards sharia law has created unease in other parts of the country, whose population of more than 110 million includes large numbers of Christians and animists.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, a southern Christian who took office in May 1999 ending 15 years of military rule, has in the past condemned the application of sharia. But it is politically difficult to move too strongly against it because of its popular appeal in the north, analysts say.

13:27 04-22-01

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