The muezzin call to Islamic prayer comes five times a day, and
five times a day, the pulse of daily life in this northern Nigerian
town almost stops. Merchants stop selling, children stop running.
The women become invisible. And the hot wind from the Sahara carries
with it everywhere the sound of prayer.
Roughly half of Nigeria's 120 million people, as calculated by
the United Nations, are estimated to be Muslim, which makes the
country's largely Sunni Muslim population a statistical force: the
largest in Africa and one of the largest in the world.
Yet in the predominantly Muslim north, in a society firmly
anchored by the practice of Islam, religion and politics simply
Run-up to presidential elections
In the run-up to the presidential elections in February - which
are expected to return the country to civilian rule after 15 years
military dictatorship - the political debate in the north has
on the merits of the candidates, irrespective of their religious
"One thing that will not determine the outcome of these elections
is religion," says Abdul Oroh, the director of the Civil Liberties
Organization, a human rights group based in Lagos.
Boding well for the February elections was the Commonwealth's
satisfaction with the "successful conduct" of Saturday's local
elections. The Commonwealth suspended Nigeria in 1995 for human
rights abuses and failure to reestablish democracy.
Nigeria's candidates from the south are mostly Christians or
unorthodox Muslims who drink, smoke, and generally do not fast. In
the north they are assessed on the basis of their ties to the
discredited military establishment, which has ruled Nigeria for all
but a decade since independence from Britain in 1960. The stronger a
candidate's ties with the military, the smaller the credit with the
northern electorate, and this despite the fact that the north has
always controlled the military.
"I don't care if he's a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, or an
atheist as long as he is not a thief or a murderer and can run this
country," says Usman Kumo, a devout Muslim in charge of the student
government at Bayero University in Kano, the largest city in the
north and a center of Islamic faith for the whole of West Africa.
Interestingly, Mr. Kumo is about to get a combined degree in law
will tailor the practice of common law to the underlying principles
of sharia, the law of the Koran.
"We are Muslims, all of us, our law is the law of Islam. But
politics is a different thing," he explains.
Similar convictions about the political irrelevance of Islam were
echoed in the old stone market in Kano. None of the vendors -
peddling everything from beads to silver jewelry to cowhide, spices,
and yams - saw the faintest connection between their religious
beliefs and the upcoming transition to democracy.
"There is no matter about being Muslim or Christian, no matter at
all," says Yohusa Abdullahi, a blanket seller. …