Fear and fascination in Nigeria

Abuja, Nigeria - Shouts of "Allah Akbar!" (God is greatest) rent the air in parts of Kaduna, northern Nigeria on Wednesday as a four-minute eclipse turned daylight into darkness.

Many residents ran indoors before the eclipse started. Some did so for fear of looking at the phenomenon directly and damaging their eyes.

Others did so in the belief that that it was a satanic development. The eclipse was experienced in 11 of Nigeria's 36 states.

Musa Abubakar, a Kaduna resident, told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur that scientists' claims that it was a mere expression of nature were not sacrosanct.

"Why Nigeria? Why Kaduna, if not because our sins are legion?" he asked, even after he was told that other countries would also experience it.

Kabuna resident Amina Yusuf also believes the eclipse was God's way of warning Nigeria to turn away from sin. Another resident insisted it was conjured by witches and wizards.

"I did not allow my children to go to school today since we have been hearing on radio and television that there would be an eclipse," Fati Sale said.

Teacher Ezekiel Zubair said he deliberately stayed outdoors to see the eclipse "for a few seconds, because it may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience".

Muslim cleric Abu Thanni said the eclipse was Allah's way of showing that he is "omnipotent".

Pastor Joseph Aku quoted the Bible to buttress his view that the eclipse was a divine event. His text read: "The time is coming when I will make the sun go down at noon and the earth grow dark in daytime. I the Sovereign Lord have spoken."

An eclipse in 1989 led to rioting in Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north as gangs burnt and looted homes and hotels to "atone for the sins of infidels".

To forestall a recurrence, police were deployed to strategic parts of the north on Tuesday with instructions to "deter any troublemaker".

The deputy police commissioner in the northern state of Gombe, Ambrose Aisabor, enjoined people not to panic or resort to violence, stressing that the solar eclipse was a natural phenomenon and had nothing to do with moral decadence in society.

Government officials also embarked on a public-education campaign to douse any misconceptions about the eclipse.

Nigeria's chief meteorologist, Liwhu Akeh, urged Nigerians not to be disturbed by the natural occurrence, which carried no known meteorological implication.

"The eclipse will not disturb weather conditions today [Wednesday], except for the temporary darkness in some locations," he said.

Akeh said the next total eclipse would occur in August 2008, but Nigeria would not experience another one until 2034.