has been listed among the world's leading
web sites by the international newspaper, USAToday.

Implications of Obasanjo's late wake up to the challenges of Sharia in Nigeria

By Ken Kemnagum Okorie

Special to and USAfrica The Newspaper

In its 'Breaking News' header, of Thursday, March 21, 2002 ran a headline 'SHARIA SHOWDOWN: Nigeria's government formally declares as illegal and discriminatory the action of 12 governors and state assemblies who instituted the Islamic Sharia law in their states.' It reported the historic statement made by Nigeria's Attorney-General and Justice Minister, Chief Godwin Kanu Agabi (SAN), regarding the real implications of the implementation of Sharia by certain states of the country: "The fact that Sharia law applies to only Moslems or to those who elect to be bound by it makes it imperative that the rights of such persons to equality with other citizens under the constitution be not infringed. A Moslem should not be subjected to a punishment more severe than would be imposed on other Nigerians for the same offence." Agabi continued that "Equality before the law means that Moslems should not be discriminated against". And in a pointed manner, he addressed the states' chief executives: "As an elected governor, I am certain that you would not tolerate such disparity in the allocation of punishment. It is not only against the Constitution but also against equity and good conscience."

The essence of the Sharia problem in Nigeria could not be stated any clearer. This analysis also underscored a principle that is fundamental to the rule of law. Whether based on religion or other belief or factor, a disparate system of sanctions that discriminates among citizens, punishing individuals differently for similar offense is untenable in civilized system of jurisprudence.

Such legal system simply derogates and indeed rejects the existence of the national Constitution. And since the Constitution holds together a national polity, such derogation or rejection is a direct statement of non-recognition of the Constitution by the Sharia implementing states and declaration that they are not bound by it.

In a and article published in 2000, titled 'Is Obasanjo Up To Nigeria's Challenge', I observed: "For months, this Administration watched indifferently as various Northern States, led by Zamfara, flagrantly defied Nigeria's secular constitution and sovereignty," and that Vice President Abubakar Atiku's announcement "that the erring states will shelve Sharia and revert back to the penal code does not negate the government's failure to discharge its duties to the nation."

I also noted that president Obasanjo's (in picture, right) inaction over Sharia and his hollow, reckless comments were remarkable commentary on the retired general's performance, which raised serious questions about his understanding of his constitutional responsibilities, and, indeed called to question his fitness and capacity for the leadership texture Nigeria must have at its present crossroads. Specifically as to Sharia, I pointed to the constitution's limited but confusing provisions on Sharia at the appellate level, and noted that "the incongruency and conflicts from that provision were made more obvious when Zamfara began toying with Sharia law. The implications of this move were far reaching even for the very survival of Nigeria. For this reason, one would have expected the Attorney General and Justice Ministry to give official opinion regarding the constitutionality of Sharia, and, if that did not solve the matter, seek a determination by the Supreme Court. It did not happen. Obasanjo quietly watched Zamfara blatantly derogate the constitution of the land. And because nothing was done, Zamfara soon was only a starting point...."

In a way, I am glad Obasanjo's administration has finally recognized what's amiss. The important question that arises from Honorable Agabi's statement is, Why has it taken the administration this long to recognize this fundamental element of our nascent democracy? It is difficult to accept that Obasanjo's failure in this regard can be blamed on lack of proper legal advice.

There is reason to believe that then Attorney General Bola Ige, who was on record for speaking out, just as Justice Minister Agabi has now, must have advised the President. At the time, President Obasanjo simply but flippantly characterized the chaos as "political Sharia" which will dissolve in time. How wrong! How naive!

Recognizing that Sharia attacks the very root to Nigeria's sovereignty, why did the government not issue an official opinion through the attorney general when Sharia first reared its ugly head? Why did he not introduce appropriate legislation to assure the integrity of the national Constitituion? Better still, why did he not ask the courts to make a legal determination of such important matter?

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since early 2000 and may have affected Obasanjo's action, or rather inaction, and the timing of both. Is it that as of early 2000, the retired General felt too indebted to his Northern benefactors who primed him into the Presidency using every crooked, corrupt maneuvers thinkable? It must be remembered that Obasanjo could not even win his local electoral ward or any segment of his AD-dominated native Southwest.

Many believe that the specter of candidate Jim Nwobodo's Hausa oratory at the Jos Conventions, for example, was part of that larger scheme. The political tone of Northern Nigeria in March 2002 is a lot different. A great chasm has since developed between Obasanjo and the North. He no longer enjoys their trust or confidence.

Many, as represented by Awoniyi and Wada Nas have since drawn their line in the sand. Could this shift explain General Obasanjo's new-found sense of duty? Since, there is good reason to believe that Bola Ige must have advised the President just as competently, could his current decision to allow an open statement of the true essence of Sharia be his veiled ploy to reassure Nigeria's Christians? Could this be part of his strategy to seek to remain at Aso Rock in 2003?

This raises a very disturbing specter about this presidency. After three years in office, what sector of national life (social, economic, religious, political) can Nigerians honestly say that Obsanjo's leadership has enhanced or positively impacted their lives? Unemployment is worse, basic infrastructure remaisn hopeless, good healthcare is for dreamers, children receive no education because schools remain hopeless, political parties and structures are in disarray, basic security is unavailable anywhere, religious and ethnic strife consume more and more Nigerian lives, national distrust has grown.

An honest balance sheet of the Obasanjo administration cannot earn it the lowest level of creditworthiness even from the most liberal of institutions. Most important consideration is that General Obasanjo has failed his office. Whether by not recognizing that Sharia questions the existence of Nigeria or choosing to not act, his behavior violates his sworn oath to protect and preserve the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Attorney Okorie is a member of the Editorial Board of USAfrica The Newspaper and former Secretary general, World Igbo Congress. This commentary is copyrighted. Archiving on any other web site or newspaper is unauthorized except with a Written Approval by Founder. March 22, 2002.

Sharia-related killings and carnage in Kaduna reenact deadly prologue to Nigeria-Biafra war of 1967. By Chido Nwangwu.

Why Chinua Achebe, the Eagle on the Iroko, is Africa's writer of the century. By Chido Nwangwu

Jonas Savimbi, UNITA are "terrorists" in Africans' eyes despite Washington's "freedom fighter" toga for him. By SHANA WILLS

Nelson Mandela, Tribute to the world's political superstar and Lion of Africa  
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's burden mounts with murder charges, trials

Why Bush should focus on
dangers facing Nigeria's return to democracy and Obasanjo's slipperyslide
A KING FOR ALL TIMES: Why Martin Luther King's legacy and vision are relevant into 21st century.

DIPLOMACY Walter Carrington: African-American diplomat who put principles above self for Nigeria (USAfrica's founder Chido Nwangwu with Ambassador Carrington at the U.S. embassy, Nigeria)
Out of Africa. The cock that crows in the morning belongs to one household but his voice is the property of the neighborhood. -- Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah. An editor carries on his crusade against public corruption and press censorship in his native Nigeria and other African countries. By John Suval.
ARINZE: Will he be the FIRST BLACK AFRICAN POPE? By Chido Nwangwu
How far, how deep will Nigeria's human rights commission go?
Rtd. Gen. Babangida trip as emissary for Nigeria's Obasanjo to Sudan raises curiosity, questions about what next in power play?
110 minutes with Hakeem Olajuwon
Nigerian stabbed to death in his bathroom in Houston.
Cheryl Mills' first class defense of Clinton and her detractors' game 
It's wrong to stereotype Nigerians as Drug Dealers

Private initiative, free market forces, and more democratization are Keys to prosperity in Africa

Apple announces Titanium, "killer apps" and other ground-breaking products for 2001. iTunes makes a record 500,000 downloads.
Steve Jobs extends
digital magic

Since 1958, Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" set a standard of artistic excellence, and more. By Douglas Killam

Lifestyle Sex, Women and (Hu)Woman Rights. By Chika Unigwe

Johnnie Cochran will soon learn that defending Abacha's loot is not as simple as his O.J Simpson's case. By Chido Nwangwu

USAfrica The Newspaper voted the "Best Community Newspaper" in the 4th largest city in the U.S., Houston. It is in the Best of Houston 2001 special as chosen by the editors and readers of the Houston Press, reflecting their poll and annual rankings.

CNN International debate on Nigeria's democracy livecast on February 19, 2002. It involved Nigeria's Information Minister Prof. Jerry Gana, Prof. Salih Booker and Publisher Chido Nwangwu. Transcripts are available on the CNN International site.

Is Obasanjo really up to Nigeria's challenge and crises? By USAfricaonline editorial board member, Ken Okorie. This commentary appears courtesy of our related web site,
Tragedy of Ige's murder is its déjà vu for the Yoruba southwest and rest of Nigeria. By Ken Okorie
What has Africa to do with September 11 terror? By Chido Nwangwu
Should Africa debates begin and end at The New York Times and The Washington Post? No
CNN, Obasanjo and Nigeria's struggles with
Why Obasanjo's government should respect
CNN and Freedom of the press in Nigeria.
Jonas Savimbi, UNITA are "terrorists" in Africans' eyes despite Washington's "freedom fighter" toga for him. By SHANA WILLS

Africa suffers the scourge of the virus. This life and pain of Kgomotso Mahlangu, a five-month-old AIDS patient (above) in a hospital in the Kalafong township near Pretoria, South Africa, on October 26, 1999, brings a certain, frightening reality to the sweeping and devastating destruction of human beings who form the core of any definition of a country's future, its national security, actual and potential economic development and internal markets.
22 million Africans HIV-infected, ill with AIDS while African leaders ignore disaster-in-waiting

Osama bin-Laden's goons threaten Nigeria and Africa's stability
What has Africa to do with September 11 terror? By Chido Nwangwu
Africans reported dead in terrorist attack at WTC
September 11 terror and the ghost of things to come....
Will religious conflicts be the time-bomb for Nigeria's latest transition to civilian rule?
Bola Ige's murder another danger signal for Nigeria's nascent democracy.

In a special report a few hours after the history-making nomination, Founder and Publisher Chido Nwangwu places Powell within the trajectory of history and into his unfolding clout and relevance in an essay titled 'Why Colin Powell brings gravitas, credibility and star power to Bush presidency.'

A young father writes his One year old son: "If only my heart had a voice...."

Beyond U.S. electoral shenanigans, rewards and dynamics of a democratic republic hold lessons for African politics.
Bush's position on Africa is "ill-advised." The position stated by Republican presidential aspirant and Governor of Texas, George Bush where he said that "Africa will not be an area of priority" in his presidency has been questioned by Publisher Chido Nwangwu. He added that Bush's "pre-election position was neither validated by the economic exchanges nor geo-strategic interests of our two continents."

These views were stated during an interview CNN's anchor Bernard Shaw and senior analyst Jeff Greenfield had with Mr. Nwangwu on Saturday November 18, 2000 during a special edition of 'Inside Politics 2000.'
Nwangwu, adviser to the Mayor of Houston (the 4th largest city in the U.S., and immigrant home to thousands of Africans) argued further that "the issues of the heritage interests of 35 million African-Americans in Africa, the volume and value of oil business between between the U.S and Nigeria and the horrendous AIDS crisis in Africa do not lend any basis for Governor Bush's ill-advised position which removes Africa from fair consideration" were he to be elected president.
By Al Johnson