Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, has revealed how his administration’s handling of the Shari’a law introduced in some states of the North, averted a disaster for the country. Th is was contained in a book titled: ‘Making Africa Work’, coauthored by the former president and three others. Th e book, recently unveiled in Victoria Island, Lagos, was coauthored by Greg Mills, Director of Brenthurst Foundation; Jeff rey Herbst, President of NEWSEUM and Dickie Davis, a retired major-general. But the former president revealed that one of his biggest challenges as president was the Shari’a controversy.
Th e Islamic law was fi rst introduced by a former Zamfara state Governor, Sani Yerima, who is now a senator. “Th e second big challenge under my presidential watch was the issue of Shari’a law,” he wrote. “As a country shared almost 50:50 between Muslims and Christians, Shari’a has always been part of the legal and judicial system in the north, but only at the customary, or so-called magisterial level. Even then, the Nigerian Constitution has provision for establishing a Shari’a Court of Appeal if the need ever arises. Shari’a was, therefore, never an issue because it dealt with personal issues such as marriage, inheritance, and minor and civil issues, such as debt, boundary disputes and land matters. “Only very occasionally did it deal with criminal issues which, when necessary, were forwarded to the High Court for confi rmation.
“Th e initiator of the Shari’a controversy, the then Zamfara state Governor, Sani Yerima, raised the issue, however, for self-serving and selfpreservation reasons, not for genuine or authentic religious conviction.” Obasanjo explained that when Yerima stood for the governorship of his state under the banner of the then All Peoples’ Party, the man who later became the National Security Adviser (NSA), General Aliyu Mohammed, sponsored a candidate under the banner of the then ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
“Th e PDP candidate lost the election but it would appear that the NSA, intending to fi nd fault against the governor, started surreptitiously to collect evidence of misconduct and corruption against the governor. “Meanwhile, I made several attempts to reconcile them, but to no avail. I even took both of them on an offi cial visit to China, an opportunity to bring them together. When it appeared that the NSA persisted, Governor Yerima decided to make himself untouchable,” Obasanjo wrote. Contining, he said: “He (Yerima) invited the Imams, Muslim leaders and priests in his state, and informed them that he was turning Zamfara into a full Sharia state. He promulgated a law declaring Zamfara as a Sharia state. And, true enough, he became untouchable. “Wanting not to be seen as acting in isolation, he instigated Imams in other Islamic states in the north to agitate for a full Shari’a law declaration. In all, 12 states out of the 19 in the north promulgated full Shari’a law.”
Th e former president claimed that Muslims in the country were, however, all watching closely to see what he would do, as a wrong statement or action could be seen as incendiary, “because an ‘infi del’, an antiMuslim president would be seen as trampling on the holy religion of Islam.” But at the same time, Obasanjo argued further, Christian clerics and leaders both within and outside Nigeria were calling on him to stamp out the new phenomenon of wholesale Shari’a in states where there was a Muslim majority but with substantial contingents of Christians too.
“Th ey pointed out that Nigerian is a secular and multireligioussociety, and not a Muslim state. Th roughout this controversy, the only statement I made was to the eff ect that if the Shari’a that the governor of Zamfara was touting was genuine, it would survive and thrive. If not, it would fi zzle out.” He alleged further that for Yerima to justify his action and to prove his ‘sharianess’ to people he had recruited to his political Shari’a, Mr. Yerima cut off the hand of a thief – a traditional Islamic punishment. “After that, the Sharia fervour started to fi zzle out. Muslims, who had expected me to kick against Shari’a, thereby giving them ammunition to cause mayhem, and Christians, who felt angry and disappointed that I did not roll out military tanks to crush the proponents of Shari’a, both felt winners and losers at the same time. But Nigeria was surely the unmistakable winner. Eventually, Yerima weaned himself off the Muslim clergy and Shari’a crumbled in his state.
“A few months later, Yerima visited me in my offi cial residence and, greeting my young female cousin, hugged her familiarly in my presence. I jokingly remarked to Yerima that this action was not Shari’a-compliant. Yerima retorted, ‘Didn’t you say Shari’a would fi zzle out and has it not fi zzled out? At that point, the matter had turned into a joke.” Th e former president explained further that if mishandled, the Shari’a debacle would have become a serious disaster for Nigeria. “I received more letters on Sharia aff airs from within and outside Nigeria on the Shari’a aff air than on all other issues put together in my eight-year presidency.” (NAN)