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CONSCIENCE, NURTURED BY TRUTH
LAGOS. NIGERIA.     Thursday, November 28 2002

 

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Soyinka rejects fatwa, asks Obasanjo to defend constitution
From Laolu Akande (New York) and Kelvin Ebiri (Port Harcourt)

HORRIFIED by the blood-curling turn of events in the country in the past few days, Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, has called for the immediate prosecution of the Deputy Governor of Zamfara State, Alhaji Aliyu Shinkafi, over his issuance of Fatwa, a (death sentence) on a reporter.

Also, former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Onueze C.J. Okocha (SAN), has urged the government to drag the Zamfara State Governor to the Supreme Court to nullify certain provisions of the Sharia legal system which are diametrically opposed to the nation's constitution.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria (SCSN) yesterday formally expressed its support for the violent protests by Moslems in Kaduna, Bauchi and Abuja. It also approved the death sentence passed by Shinkafi on the journalist who wrote the Miss World pageant article perceived to have ignited the protests.

In a press release posted to The Guardian electronically in New York on Wednesday morning, Soyinka said: "Deputy Governor Shinkafi's call for the death of a Nigerian citizen, under a so-called Fatwa, makes him a common criminal who should be hauled up before the courts and charged with incitement to murder".

The world famous writer also warned: "If, wherever she is, any harm comes to the menaced journalist, let Deputy Governor Shinkafi understand that there will be no hiding place for him on this globe and he will be brought to justice as a common felon, no matter how long it takes".

Soyinka submitted that the deputy governor, an elected official, should understand that "very few people in the Nigerian nation consider him - or indeed his governor boss, who is unquestionably implicated in this latest outrage, as being possessed of one drop of spirituality".

He called them "cynical manipulators of religious sensibilities who, when all the facts are known, may yet come to trial for the many hate crimes that have been launched against the citizens of this nation."

The winner of the 1986 Nobel prize for Literature also said "President Olusegun Obasanjo must unambiguously call this man to order. If he cannot defend the constitution he is sworn to uphold, he must make a public declaration to that effect so that we understand once and for all that we are living in a country without law, where every group and every individual must make their own".

The full text of Soyinka's statement marked 'immediate' reads:

Aliyu Shinkafi's Fatwamania.

"Deputy Governor Shinkafi's call for the death of a Nigerian citizen, under a so-called Fatwa, makes him a common criminal who should be hauled up before the courts and charged with incitement to murder. If this man had any grain of piety in him, he should be on his knees twenty-four hours a day praying for the souls of innocents whose lives were needlessly and gruesomely curtailed. He should be on his stomach groveling in contrition, pleading for the forgiveness of an over-patient, over tolerant nation whose civic dignity he continues to assail in the confidence of immunity.

"He should cover himself in sackcloth and ashes and urge his followers to do the same until the nation pronounces itself ready to forgive a rampage of murder, brutality and arson.

"Let this 'elected official' understand that very few people in the Nigerian nation consider him - or indeed his governor boss who is unquestionably implicated in this latest outrage - as being possessed of one drop of spirituality. These are cynical manipulators of religious sensibilities who, when all the facts are known, may yet come to trial for the many hate crimes that have been launched against the citizens of this nation".

Declared Soyinka: "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! Mamuda Shinkafi and all who think like him must remember the saying that those who live by the sword shall perish by the sword. These bigots have resolved to unleash a cycle of terror, which routine breeds terror and counter-terror. Shinkafi and his collaborators wish to cow a hundred million people by the new explicit threat of their capacity to issue death warrants at will and summon the mindless, brainwashed hordes to an endless orgy of blood and mutilations."

The Nobel laureate has a strong advice for Obasanjo: "President Olusegun Obasanjo must unambiguously call this man to order. If he cannot defend the constitution he is sworn to uphold, he must make a public declaration to that effect so that we understand once and for all that we are living in a country without law, where every group and every individual must make their own".

He went further: "If, wherever she is, any harm comes to the menaced journalist, let Deputy Governor Shinkafi understand that there will be no hiding place for him on this globe and he will be brought to justice as a common felon, no matter how long it takes.

"Upstart politicians and presumptuous clerics should not be allowed to use their positions as base for the undermining of the constitution that binds us together. The age of intolerance, of bigotry, of rule by terror is being inaugurated before our eyes, and we pretend that all is normal within the nation.

"We have not thrown off the shackles of colonialism or dislodged the iron grip of military dictatorship to succumb now to theocratic insolence. Obasanjo must call a halt to this provocation before the nation is set on fire".

In a similar reaction, the former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Onueze C.J Okocha (SAN), has urged the Federal Government to drag the Zamfara government to the Supreme Court to nullify certain provisions of the Sharia legal system that are diametrically opposed to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

He explained that the lackadaisical attitude of the Federal Government towards the Sharia issue from the inception and its handling of it as though it was merely a political matter, has left the nation in a state of religious upheaval that it now finds itself.

"Even as some families continue to count their losses following the spate of religious riots that swept through some northern cities, the government has been urged to reconsider the issue of adequately equipping the police force to enable it cope with its task of providing security of lives and property".

Okocha said in Port Harcourt yesterday that the wanton destruction that took place in Kaduna and Abuja would not have taken place if the government had adequately equipped the police to enable it meet the challenges of policing the nation and provide the necessary security for the citizenry.

He explained that unless measures were taken by the government to beef up security, the nation would continue to suffer from such crises incessantly.

"Religious problem or no religious problem, the problem is that the law enforcement arm of the government is incapable of dealing with the matter. If we had a strong Police Service, there will be no religious riots. Because if you make peem, as my people will say, or even start marching, you will be arrested. We should enforce our own law, we should empower our law enforcement agencies and law and order will return to Nigeria," he said.

The lawyer noted that one of the bane of security in the country is the failure, till date, of the governments to comply with the United Nations recommendation for adequate policing.

"The UN studies of how many policemen you need to police a particular number of population is there and unless we take these things and implement them, we will not have law and order.

"The police are inadequately paid; they are under-trained; under-manned, and under-equipped. How many policemen have pistols? How many policemen have walkie-talkie? How many have transport to go to work. The UN studies is there", he said.

According to Okocha, the problem with the government is "that it failed to come down hard on the proponents of full implementation of Sharia."

To curb the ever-rising corruption in the country, the former Nigerian Bar Association President (NBA) suggested that the government should totally overhaul the Police, insisting that the responsibility to fight crime in a democratic society is the duty of the civilian police.

The Sharia council in justifying the protests said the death sentence passed on the reporter is the appropriate punishment prescribed under Islamic legal code for blasphemy against Prophet Muhammed.

At a press conference addressed by the First National Vice President of SCSN, Sheikh Abdir-Rasheed Nadiyatullah in Ibadan, the council noted that the newspaper erred against the tenet of Islam, hence offended the ego of Moslems all over the world through the blasphemous article.

Supporting the violent protests, the council said that the protest was meant to be peaceful but was hijacked by hoodlums who started vandalising and looting people's properties.

The council added though that the reporter can be spared if she tendered her unreserved apology. It also said the protest of the Moslems was in conformity with the Sharia and their actions are commendable.

 

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