State of Emergency in Zamfara
In the concluding part of my controversial article titled “The Shariah in Zamfara” I mentioned that “those who are against Muslims practicing their religion, or those who feel that Muslims, as a majority in their home states, would have to abandon their rights for the sake of their minority guests, will press the Federal Government to scuttle the noble efforts of Zamfara State.”
This was a cheap prophecy! The fact that it has come true should not be regarded as an act of ingenuity. It was rather stating the obvious that could easily be drawn from similar scenarios in the past. Last week, I listened attentively to the views of the President regarding the constitutionality of the shariah. The lady that introduced the shariah issue was almost sounding a warning to the president that this is an issue that can break up the country and so on. She later introduced the issue of violation of human rights. The President had to cut in and assure her that she has the option either to live in Zamfara or elsewhere in the Federation. He even gave the assurance that his government will not seek an interpretation from the judiciary on the matter. Finally he expressed his belief that this is something that will fizzle out. He said that things would be more difficult when they come to implementation.
I felt that this was a welcome assurance. However, it has not falsified my prophecy that the southern press will continue to press him to quash the shariah using his executive powers. Whenever I read such anticipated rubbish in The News, Tell, Guardian or Tribune, I do not get bothered. However, I was shocked by a lead story in a newspaper that I fairly judge as less sensational, Thisday. The story which appeared on 28 November 1999 edition was captioned “Shariah: FG May Declare State of Emergency in Zamfara.” It opened thus: “Against a backdrop of the seeming face-off between the Federal Government and the Zamfara State government over the adoption of shariah law in the state, there are strong indications that the Federal Government may soon declare a state of emergency in the state.”
It went further to say that “the Federal Government may have concluded plans to impose emergency laws on the state should Governor Ahmed Sani go ahead with the planned implementation of Sharia law.” The source of this story, which claims to be in the presidency, further revealed that the preparation are so advanced that “the person to preside over the state in the event of the declaration has been put on alert because both the governor and the House of Assembly would be sacked. That is what obtains under emergency law.”
The following intimidating sentence was added to the already alarming news: “I can also tell you that the President’s order that rioters in Lagos should be shot at sight and the military operation in Bayelsa State are dress rehearsals and mere child’s play to the impending declaration of state of emergency in Zamfara.”
In essence what is the crime of the Governor and his House of Assembly that warrants this presidential high-handedness? Have they killed anybody in Zamfara as it is happening in Bayelsa and Lagos State? Is there a breakdown of law and order in the state? The story in Thisday went further to explain that “President Olusegun Obasanjo was concerned that the adoption of Sharia might be used as an excuse to trample on the fundamental rights of Nigerians.”
I have reasons to doubt the validity of this story. First it contradicts what the president himself said just two nights before the publication. How could a whole President lie? This was the person who told us that he has listened to much advice on the matter, and none even suggested that he should seek an interpretation. How could he say so if he was at the same time planning to declare a state of emergency in Zamfara? And you know, as my brother Adamu Adamu put it, the President is an honorable man! Yes, the last PDP convention has indeed proved that abundantly.
Beside, how can a President that has so far tolerated the massacre of innocent Nigerians in Lagos in the hand of his kinsmen since he ascended the ‘throne’ have the moral stand to declare a state of emergency on a state where no one has so far been molested, as Christians themselves testified, let alone killed?
The story itself is contradictory. It is expected that the President has been discussing with the Governor on the development. But to the astonishment of the reader, the story expressly mentioned that the Governor has not been contacted by the President to sort out whatever difference of opinion exists between the two of them. The same story said that the former Chief Justice of the Federation has already said that the shariah is constitutional under the present arrangement. Again on this issue of constitutionality, even the president has over the weekend said that it is only unconstitutional if the Governor declares a state religion. Other than that, the President said it is constitutional. He even suggested that individuals are free to take the matter to court whenever they feel their rights are violated. He seems to be retreating from what he said in the US some weeks ago. It will be difficult then for such a person to be contemplating of state of emergency.
All these considerations made me feel that the story is one of such sinister campaigns to sensationalize the issue. Doing so, according to the calculation of such mischief-makers, will push the President to act irrationally and unconstitutionally.
Well, this world is full of surprises. What happens if the story turns out to be true? The implication would not only bring the credibility of the president to question, but would also make his judgement and competence doubtful. Declaring a state of emergency under the pretext of ‘unconstitutionality’ will never be a panacea to the issue at hand.
The shariah issue has certainly brought into sharp focus the inconsistencies of both our constitution and the basis of our Federation. A constitution that claims to be federal and which guarantees freedom of religion, conscience and expression is the same document that is now being used to deny the people in Zamfara of the right to formulate laws and practice their religion of their choice. Now if even Christians would profess that the shariah is part and parcel of Islam, then how could Muslims practice Islam without the shariah?
Another benefit, of tremendous importance would also be lost. The present ongoing debate on shariah differs from that of 1977-78 in one important aspect. Northern Christians have moderated their reaction considerably. If you rule out organizations like CAN who for political reasons must be seen by their followers to be fighting against Islam, individual Christians including many clergy have adopted a wait and see strategy. They feel that once their rights will not be trampled upon, as the Governor of Zamfara has persistently assured, they have no problem with it. Some clergy have already supported it since Christianity also sanctions most provisions of the shariah. This is a colossal development. The Christians here in the North have finally come to realize that our relationship does not have to be antagonistic. They are ready to prove that they are not as gullible a folk as the southern press and clergy would like to portray. They know that shariah or no shariah, Nigeria or no Nigeria, the North, with its beautiful mountains, green valleys, rivers and vast plains, is indeed their only home just as much as it is ours.
This is perhaps a threat to the ongoing effort by Southern politicians to bring the Middle Belt into their fold. Religion has always been their convenient tool. They always sharpen it so as to retain its efficacy. The shariah has created an avenue of interaction and expression of opinion between Muslims and Christians in the North. Seminars are continuously held all over the region to discuss the issue. The Christians are indeed surprised to find out that many Muslims are ready and willing to defend their rights as much as they will do to that of their fellow Muslims. This is in addition to the assurances of political leaders like the Governor of Zamfara State.
The political implication of this emerging atmosphere of understanding will hardly escape the notice of some southern Christians. They are ready therefore to push the present administration into making a blunder by declaring a state of emergency in Zamfara. This will certainly anger Muslims, leading to escalation of hostility between them and Christians in the North. All what has been gained so far out of the present dialogue would then be lost. The honorable President must be very foolish to fall into this trap.
In light of this, I would like to appeal to all Muslims and Christians of good intention to resist the intimidating bluff of the press. The present dialogue must continue. The Christians in the North must come out of their cage of fear that makes them believe that they have everything to lose under the shariah. They will indeed have more to gain. That will be proved one day, God willing.
The Muslims on their part must do all that is possible to ensure that the present effort has not failed. If it does, God forbid, it may take another twenty years to convince people that the shariah could be practiced in Nigeria. For this, those involved in the application of the shariah – politicians and scholars alike, must please lay emphasis for now on issues that will attract sympathy to Islam at least from objective minds, not those trivialities that will only create problems for it. I still insist that Islamic provisions have very wide latitude of application from which they are free to choose in order to suit our situation. They have to be patient with us. We need to be bred with care and maturity that gushes from the twin springs of erudition and wisdom. Many times, care supercedes intention.
The press will continue with their push. But what one expects from the President is a resort to dialogue and allow the rule of law to prevail. That could mean relating with the Governor of Zamfara to sort out differences that might exist. If the differences appear insoluble on a bilateral basis, then he is free to seek the interpretation of the court. He could even use the issue to acquiesce to the demand of his kinsmen about a sovereign national conference. But he could as well have reached the brink, and thus may wish to lend his ears to the ‘Hutus’ who would like to see a bloodbath that will feed the anarchistic stereotype they have inherited for centuries. If the honorable President does so, he should as well be prepared to bury no only our constitution and young democracy but also the book he called My Command.