Although Sharia law has existed in Northern Nigeria for a long time, it used to apply only to family matters such as divorce, inheritance and adoption. It was only in 1999 that the governor of the Nigerian Northern State of Zamfara, Alhaji Ahmed Sani, decided to apply Shari law. The governor instead wanted to go farther and to include flogging, stoning, amputation, beheading, and other precepts of Islamic law.. Ever since, the Northern Nigerian States have followed Zamfara’s steps. Under the Sharia law, Nigerian women have been sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, have been forbidden to rent houses and to travel in the same vehicles as men.
African Christians are now fearing for their lives after the recent massacres in Nigeria. Large scale violence from extremist Muslims erupted in Nigeria against the Christian population soon after the results of the country’s presidential elections that took place on April 16th 2011. The outburst of violence started in the north of Nigeria, which has a predominantly Muslim majority, after the victory of President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian politician. President Jonathan defeated the other presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim and former Nigerian President, who was accused of having rigged the electoral process. Jonathan’s victory represented a shift of power in the country to the largely Christian south.
Defeated candidate Buhari’s Muslim supporters took to the streets chanting “changi, sai Buhari” [“Change must take place and only with Buhari”], and went on a rampage against the Christian supporters of President Jonathan. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) lamented that in just a few days, over 300 churches were burnt across the country’s northern states; thousands of Christian-owned homes and business were destroyed, and at least 600 Christians were killed. Relief officials estimate that at least 65,000 people have been displaced as a result of the violence, which appears to be one of the worst outbursts of sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians in the country.
The Christian Aid Mission (CAM) gives also the frightening news that, last year, more than 2,000 Christians were killed in targeted Nigerian violence — more than in any other country in the world.
These latest Nigeria riots received virtually no attention in the international media, who were too busy following the events in Libya. The murder of 600 hundred Christians in Nigeria passed almost unnoticed. It also passed unnoticed in the eyes of the American administration that — particularly during the Obama era — has been rather refractory in acknowledging religious persecution in the world. The International Assyrian News agency reports that since President Obama took office, his administration has not designated a single “country of particular concern” (CPC) for violations of religious freedom. The term CPC is grounded in the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, intended to tie America’s foreign policy to the promotion of religious freedom, and which identifies any country that is a “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” violator of religious freedom.
To this end, President Clinton and President Bush had designated a number of countries as violators, but so far there has been no sign of life from President Obama or his administration. President Bill Clinton in 1999 designated Burma, China, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan as CPCs. President George W. Bush, on January 16, 2009, gave eight nations that designation — Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan federal body that monitors violations of religious freedom abroad that makes recommendations to the President, recommended that the Secretary of State name Nigeria as a “country of particular concern (CPC).”
Although it is highly doubtful that the Religious Freedom Act can do a great deal to help persecuted Christians, President Obama fails in not even acknowledging the human rights violantions towards Christians in Nigeria, and in not taking action against the CPCs that have already been designated by previous Presidents. President Obama’s failure to take a stand against them protect such people may violate this law — which is a federal law — that requires him to take specific actions, including sanctions and diplomatic protests, against any CPC found in non-compliance..
Sharia Law in Nigeria
The Nigerian newpaper, the Daily Independent, commented on the events in an article entitled, “Not Yet a Nation,” which arguing that “The 97 year old project [Nigeria], started by Lord Lugard [General Governor of Nigeria from 1914 to 1919] in 1914, is far from being a finished product. The structure is still beleaguered, frequently assailed and troubled by centrifugal forces threatening to tear it apart.”
However, rather than an unfinished product, Nigeria seems like a product being dismantled under the pressure of Islamic fundamentalism.
It goes without saying that Nigerian non-Muslim citizens who live in the Sharia states in the north of the country have become second-class citizens and are discriminated against by a legislative system that does not recognize the right to practice freely a chosen religion. Jamila M. Nasir, a Professor of Law, and Dean of the Faculty of Law in the University of Jos in Nigeria, writes that Sharia’s law discriminates against non-Muslims and in particular against non-Muslim women. “There are varying numbers of non-Muslims in the Sharia States: cumulatively about fourteen million. About half of these are girls and women. Most are Christians of one denomination or another […] Sharia implementation will no doubt have had some impact on some of these women, particularly the ones living in the cities and large towns: for instance, early attempts in some Sharia States to enforce rules against women riding on commercial motorcycles, while they lasted, clearly affected non-Muslim women,” Nasir wrote. The Nigerian professor also reported the case of Christian women who were beaten because they were riding on a motorcycle, and the case of a Christian pregnant woman who was beaten while being conveyed to the hospital.
The recent clashes that once again resulted in the killing of hundreds of Christians must therefore be viewed in the framework of the radicalization of Islamic expansion in the country. Nigeria will never be a “finished product” as long as one part of its population will be discriminated against on the basis of its religious creed.
The Nigerian issue might constitute a good opportunity to manifest America’s concern for civil and religious liberties throughout the world. But denouncing Muslim violence against Christians would imply the use of a language that his administration would consider politically incorrect. Or should we call it “Islamically Incorrect”?