Academic journal article International Journal on World Peace

Shari'ah as Group Rights and the Plight of Religious Minority Groups in Nigeria

Academic journal article International Journal on World Peace

Shari'ah as Group Rights and the Plight of Religious Minority Groups in Nigeria

Article excerpt

This article investigates how Shari'ah penal codes, as group-differentiated rights, jeopardize the rights of minority groups in northern Nigeria. The first section explores the concepts of individual and group rights in legal discourse. This is followed by an account of Shari'ah penal codes in northern Nigeria. Then, it examines the political expression of collective identity as group-differentiated rights, and how this expression of collective identity through Shari'ah law has endangered the rights of the members of minority religious groups in northern Nigeria. The paper concludes that, to address the emerging dysfunctional dimensions of Shari'ah, government must work with Islamic civil organizations so as to emphasize the welfare aspects of Shari'ah, and liaise with reputable northern Nigerians to appeal to the members of the Boko Haram to lay down their arms.


The dust of the change from military rule to civilian administration in May 1999 had hardly settled when some northern states of Nigeria began going theocratic by extending Shari'ah law to the penal codes. The waves of theocracy that started in Zamfara state soon spread like an inferno to eleven (11) other northern states; Kaduna, Sokoto, Borno, Gombe, Kebbi, Jigawa, Yobe, Kano, Katsina, Niger, and Bauchi. To be clear, it must be stated that Shari'ah criminal law prescribes punishments such as caning for alcohol consumption, amputation for theft, lashing for fornication, and death by stoning for adultery. However, these Shari'ah states differ in their degree of compliance with the implementation of Shari'ah given the varying levels of immersion in Shari'ah criminal trials.1 It is important to state that the official adoption of either Muslim or Christian values remains one of the contentious issues in Nigerian politics. While actual figures are uncertain, many scholars agree that northern Nigeria is predominantly Muslim. Yet, the population in the Shari'ah compliant states still contains a considerable Christian population. Kaduna State has an exceptionally high number of Christians within it; Gombe, Niger, Bornu, and Kebbi have a noticeable Christian presence; and, the rest have a minute number of Christians.2 Besides the presence of Muslims and Christians in northern Nigeria, there are also people who practice variants of the African traditional religion, albeit in small numbers.

The main concern of this paper is the plight of Christians as a religious minority group because of their high visibility. That Muslims and Christians share the same public space and institutions in the states that have introduced Shari'ah penal codes has serious implications for Christian-Muslim interaction and the minority status of Christians.

Shortly after the adoption, and frequently too, criticisms-both constructive and stereotypical-poured in from the central government, Christians, some Muslim scholars, civil society, and the international community. Nonetheless, in ways that have vindicated the Shari'ah skeptics, the extension of Shari'ah has worsened Christian-Muslim relations in northern Nigeria, causing the supporters and opponents of Shari'ah to engage in a series of clashes that have led to numerous deaths and significant loss of property. There are long-standing catalysts for group conflict in northern Nigeria that Shari'ah has exacerbated. The North's ethnic diversity and poverty relative to the south, its colonial settlement policies, its majority/ minority relations, its indigenous/settler interactions, the unequal colonial recognition of Islam and Christianity, and proselytization add to the background of Shari'ah related conflicts.3

Besides these historical, social, and political factors are the economic incentives to conflict. The north, compared with its southern counterpart, is worse off economically. Widespread poverty, a poor agricultural sector, youth unemployment, corruption, and delinquency have all shaped economic life in the north, making the youth subject to any nefarious activity that can kill their idle time, regardless of the consequences. …

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