The federal republic of Nigeria is located in west Africa.But this country
wasn't a federal republic at first.The state was in a tyrannical rule by the
military regimes of Nigeria which ended on 29 May 1999 after reinstating a
civilian government. The Sharia penal code was taken into effect in the state of Zamfara. This code allowed the state government to carry severe punishments under
Islamic law. Characterizations of Sharia have ranged from it being labeled
a form of militant religious extremism to a toothless legal system that is at
best ineffectual and frequently discriminatory towards the poor and women.
Despite scholarly writings and widespread media coverage we still have limited
knowledge of how Nigerians view Sharia law
The objective of this article is to analyse the validity of sharia in Nigeria
today. It is a discussion of the application of the law in some states of the country. Every view represented in the article are
of those who, implicitly or
explicitly, consider the application to be the way forward for Nigerian Muslims. Two
groups exist in the Nigerian society regarding the acceptance of Shariat law: one group views the present sharia penal codes
of the states as
valid, whom I have termed pro-sharia of the White ; and the other group which
recognize the application but believes the application of the Islamic law needs
to be based on better knowledge and information than is the case at present –
the pro-sharia of the Black. The division of the Muslim debate is based on a
simple observation. The White presents its case in terms of replication of the
Islamic/sharia past without changing it s contents. The Black expects a critical
analysis of all the Islamic past and all its texts before sharia can be applied
in Nigeria.This article is to analyse the view of both these groups and come to
a conclusion based on my opinion.
History of Islam In Nigeria
For more than two hundred years Islam has been a significant part of politics in
the northern parts of Nigeria, and has been for the whole of country since
colonial rule. The Sokoto Caliphate which was established in 1804 based on
the ideals of an Islamic state, became the largest part of Nigeria when the
British occupied it in 1903.The demand for sharia as law has risen with every
constitutional debate since the colonial period of 1950.Historians have
established a direct connection between the first ethno-religious violence in Kano in May 1953 to the attempt by the conservative local elite to defend its
Before the 1980s, the demand for sharia was mainly a bargaining chip for the
political elite. Since then it has acquired a popular appeal even among ordinary
Muslims. At the same time as the popularity of sharia has grown, religious
violence too has become a regular feature of Nigerian society, especially in the
northern parts of the country. The growth of this trend has been well recorded
by researchers. What both research and the media debates about sharia in Nigeria
show is the rich diversity and contestations within Islam. Each position is
supported by a combination of Islamic texts, history and the diverse traditions
of the peoples that compose the Islamic world. With a few exceptions the
dominant position is in each case drawn from the stance of the male elite in
each movement, state or whatever unit it is being presented. Ousmane Kanehas
for example divided the Muslim movements into two based on the type of
"objectification" of the religion they seek. By objectification he means the
process by which Islamic groups pose the basic questions about their religion.
In other words, he means the way in which Muslims associate their belief to
their existence by asking fundamental questions about its meaning, such as what
the religion is and why it is important in their lives. Based on how they
objectify Islam, Kane has grouped them into two, where one talks about
"reforming religion and society", and the other talks about "islamizing the
state". Thus, Kane arrived at that division of the Islamic movements based on
the method by which each group hopes to achieve an Islamic ideal of societal
harmony and equality. It is based on this method that he considers the Jama'at
izalat al-bid'a wa iqamat al-sunna popularly known as Izala, in Nigeria, as a
reform movement. The Izala movement, which is his main concern, arose in 1978 as
the opposition to the established Sufi sects – the Tijaniyya and the Qadriyy
Two Regions of Muslim Rule In Nigeria
There were no formal application of Islamic law in the two southern regions
during the colonial period, even where the proportion of Muslims was high.
southern Muslims agitated for the establishment of shari'a courts in the late
1940s; and these demands increased extensively in the post-independence era .
Still unable to push their proposals through their state Houses of Assembly
after Nigeria's return to democratic rule in 1999, the Muslims of several
southern states achieved their desired end through different means: by
establishing "independent shari'a panels" – informal khadi's courts, which
decide cases according to Islamic law.The shari'a debates in Nigeria's southern
parts have tended to be drowned out by the debates about shari'a in the north.
The southern debates, and the current southern phenomenon of "independent shari'a panels", deserve much more study than they have so far received.
The north was a totally different matter. One of the results of British indirect
rule in Northern part of Nigeria was that "Till 1960 this was the only place
outside the Arabian peninsula in which the Islamic law, both substantive and
procedural, was applied in criminal litigation – sometimes even in regard to
Northern Muslims have continually sought to preserve as important parts of their
communal and individual identities, their law, and its wide application; they
also aimed for due recognition for it in the country's constitutional order.
On the other hand northern Christians have seen Islamic law and the courts that
apply it as a medium of Muslim oppression and attempts to Islamise the
When the constitutional negotiations led to Nigerian independence in 1960,
pressure was brought on the northern Muslims to accept changes in the region's
judicial and legal systems. The changes that were ultimately agreed upon
incorporated the repudiation of Islamic criminal law, the abolishment of the
former Moslem Court of Appeal, etc. These changes have been accepted by the
northern part of Muslims and have worked quite well, until Nigeria's new
constitution was enacted in 1979.
When the regions of Nigeria were divided into smaller states, it was thought
desirable to set up a new Federal Sharia Court of Appeal. This idea was
approved by the Constitution Drafting Committee that sat in 1975-76 to draft a
new constitution for the country. The draft constitution, including provisions
for a Federal Sharia Court of Appeal, was published in September 1976. It
touched off Nigeria's first great nation wide public debate about shari'a.The
outcome was the elimination of the provisions for a Federal Sharia Court of
Appeal from the new constitution.
The 1980s and 1990s have been called "Nigeria's decades of blood", due to
frequent outbreaks of violence between Christians and Muslims in the north
during those years. There was much Christian-Muslim disputation over what role
Islamic law should play in the life of the nation. All the bloodshed and talk
were inconclusive; the position stayed as it had been enshrined in the 1979
Constitution. The implementation of these extreme measures – including the
establishment of amputation sentences and stoning to death under the new Shari'a Penal Codes in several cases had stirred up a full-throated outcry in
Nigeria and all over the world. What people did not expect was the impartial
scholarship, devoted to the documentation and analysis of these remarkable
phenomena and their impact on the people of Nigeria, consisting of Christians and
There are several questions that remain unanswered and demand further research.
For example, why would Christians present in Shari'a states, encourage Shari'a?
Another example is if Shari'a is a bargaining chip for self-rule in non-Muslim
states, how would that play out in equivalent Muslim states for non- Muslim
minorities? Finally has Shari'a affected migration of people? Could it be
possible that the members of non Muslim groups abandoned Shari'a states.
Perhaps Nigerians have adjustedOk to live with Shari'a.If Northern states are
allowed their own legal system, perhaps other states should be provided with
the same opportunity.States seek to have more autonomy which allows them to
cater to the needs of specific religious or ethnic identities which reinforces
the differences between the different regions. Shari'a is becoming an accepted
part of political life, yet the door that it opened with respect to state
autonomy may lead to more important repercussions in the later stage.
4.Islam in Nigeria-Abdur Rehman
 See J N D Anderson pg. 222.
McKay, Hill, Buckler, Ebrey, Beck, Crowston, Weisner-Hanks. A History of
World Societies. 8th edition. Volume C - From 1775 to the Present. 2009 by
Bedford/St. Martin's. ISBN 978-0-312-68298-9. "The most important of these
revivalist states, the enormous Sokoto caliphate, illustrates the general
pattern. It was founded by Usuman dan Fodio (1754-1817), an inspiring Muslim
teacher who first won zealous followers among both the Fulani herders and Hausa
peasants in the Muslim state of Gobir in the northern Sudan." p. 736.
See e.g. Daily Trust, 18 January 2003 p. 1, "Sharia in Lagos at Last".
In March 2015, the Graduate Student Council of the Faculty of Arts and
Sciences of Harvard University awarded him the Everett Mendelssohn Prize for
Excellence in Mentoring
The Shari'ah Penal Codes and the Challenge of the Evidence Act Nigerian Bar
Journal Vol. 1 No. 4, 2003, pp. 449 - 470
Towards Rethinking Legal Education in Nigeria Journal of Commonwealth Law and
Legal Education, Vol. 6 No. 1, 2008, 97 - 114
Abdulmumini Adebayo Oba,The American Journal of Comparative Law Vol. 52, No.
4 (Autumn, 2004), pp. 859-900
Book by Jan Harm Boer, Published 2003
article has been Awarded Certificate of Excellence for Original Legal Research work by
our Penal of Judges