Sharia and Human Rights in Nigeria

Leo Igwe

On October 9, 2007 a court in Kaduna-Northern Nigeria heard a case brought against Shehu Sani- a well-known human rights activist, social critic and author. Mr. Sani-a practicing Muslim- was sued by a group called Concerned Sharia Forum over a play- Phantom Crescent- he wrote exposing the abuses and double standards by those implementing Sharia law in 12 states in Northern Nigeria. Northern Nigeria is predominantly Muslim but has a sizeable Christian population including those from the South who reside there. The court has ordered Mr. Sani to cancel a planned performance of the play and to stop printing and distributing copies of the play. This court case has a lot of implications for human rights, democracy and civilization in Nigeria. It is the first time such a case is brought against a Muslim who is critical of this anachronistic legal system since sharia was imposed on Islamic majority States some years ago. This court case is coming up at a time Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise in Nigeria-and around the world -with Sharia as one of its most deadly and oppressive weapons.

Allegory of the Cave Replayed

Shehu Sani said he wants to use the play to enlighten the local population on how Sharia is being used to oppress them. And practically speaking, this is a tall order, which is likely get him into trouble with the Islamic theocrats and jihadists who do not tolerate any form of 'enlightenment' that is critical of Islam. Again educationally, the Islamic majority States are the most backward in Nigeria. This is because the only form of education most people are exposed to is Quranic recitation and indoctrination, which numbs and dumbs their minds making them impervious to critical thinking especially in matters concerning Islamic creeds and traditions.  Quranic indoctrination has imprisoned and corrupted the minds and conscience of the local islamic population, making them easy tools for manipulation and exploitation by Islamic Jihadists and theocrats. Unfortunately most Muslims in Northern Nigeria are in the dark as to how Islam has been used to oppress, exploit and tyrannize over their lives. And a few of them who have realized the unjust nature of the system are too afraid to speak out against it. Hence the task of enlightenment in Northern Nigeria is a dangerous undertaking because most Muslims cannot reason outside the Quran and Islam. They take Islamic darkness as light, and violently oppose any form of enlightenment outside Islam, opposed to Islam or critical of Islam.

Muslims in Northern Nigeria are living in an Islamic Cave manned, managed and guarded by the armies and bigots of Allah. And as in Plato�s Allegory of the Cave, Shehu Sani in like one who was once in the cave, and who went outside, saw the light, and has come back to enlighten his people.  And this case brought against him by Sharia proponents is like a resistance staged against him and his enlightenment agenda by lieutenants guarding the cave of Islamic ignorance, fanaticism and foolery in Northen Nigeria.

Human Rights Abuses
One of the ways Islamic fundamentalists have demonstrated their moral backwardness, bankruptcy and ignorance is through gross human rights violations. Islam is inherently opposed to human dignity and equality, gender equity and justice. According to Mr. Sani, the play dramatizes the human rights violations perpetrated against women and poor people by the Hisbah. Hisbah   is a bunch of jihadists masquerading as Sharia police or enforcers, funded with state money. Human rights abuses did not start with Hisbah. It has been there since the introduction of Islam to Nigeria. Particularly since the Jihad of Sheikh Uthman Dan Fodio. The 1804 Jihad sanctified militant Islam-that is spread and propagated by human rights violations-killing, maiming, torture, oppression of women, children and poor people. Since independence, thousands- tens of thousands- of Nigerians have lost their live to religious bloodletting in Nigeria. In March this year, a Christian School teacher from Southern Nigeria was lynched by Muslim pupils for allegedly desecrating the Koran. And last month, Islamic Jihadists attacked and killed at least 9 Christians and burnt several churches in Kano- a Sharia implementing state and an Islamic stronghold. In 2000, sharia riots across Nigeria claimed thousands of lives.

Indeed, the blood of �unbelievers�, the oppression of the poor, the exploitation of the weak and ignorant, the discrimination against women, the persecution of sexual minorities and the abuse of children have watered the tree of Islam in Northern Nigeria. And today, Sharia has become a potent tool in the hands of Islamic Jihadists for human rights violation, oppression and exploitation in the name of Allah.Sharia has become a weapon for islamic inquisition in Nigeria. There are no women among the Sharia court judges. Sharia does not recognize the rights of all individuals to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. It has no place for equal rights of all human beings regardless of religion or belief. Sharia accords second-class status to non-Muslims. Some Sharia States in Nigeria have carried out amputations, and have flogged convicted offenders including Christians. Some years ago, international outcry saved the lives of Safiatu Hussein and Amina Lawal who were sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. Many people convicted under Sharia law- to be stoned or amputated � are languishing in jails across Northern Nigeria.

So, this case brought against Shehu Sani in going to be a landmark case. It is going to determine the direction Sharia States want to go �whether they want to come into the 21st century or remain in the Dark Age with their moral and legal anachronisms. This trial is going to serve as a litmus test of Nigeria's commitment to human rights and civilized values. It is going to provide an opportunity for the Sharia states to tell the world if they want to embrace Enlightenment, secular and open society or remain in the cave of darkness, ignorance, hypocrisy, hatred, violence, oppression, exploitation, and human rights abuses. So in this very case, it is not just Shehu Sani that is on trial, the Sharia states are on trial. The Nigerian constitution is on trial. The Nigerian democracy is on trial. Nigeria�s obligations as a state party to the African Charter on Human and People�s Rights are on trial. Nigeria�s commitment to the international human rights conventions is on trial. Human rights are on trial.


About the author: Leo Igwe is director of the Centre for Inquiry in Nigeria. He can be reached at [email protected]