Africa News Service

Lagos (The News, April 3, 2000) - Mallama Altine Binta 43, is a Kano-born Muslim. An architect by profession, she has been involved in women activism since her university days, and was a founding member of Women In Nigeria (WIN). She spoke with TAJUDEEN SULEIMAN on the Kaduna religious crisis and the introduction of Sharia in northern Nigeria.


Q: You distributed some leaflets recently when this Sharia bill was introduced in the Kano House of Assembly, attacking the proponents of Sharia. What do you have against it?

A: Actually, I believe that it is not the Sharia itself that is the problem as such, but those who are struggling to implement it. I think they're doing so because they believe that the most strangulating of laws is the Sharia, and they want to oppress the masses so that they would not be able to question them in any way.

But what they are saying is that they are only implementing the legal aspect of it. It doesn't make sense, because anybody would tell you that Sharia is a way of life, as Islam is a way of life. So, if you're implementing it, it must affect every facet of life.

For instance, now, Zamfara is an Islamic State. They say it will not affect non-Muslims, but it's affecting them. They have launched, for instance, taxis that can only be used by women, and taxis that can only be used by men. They have laws against Achuba people carrying women. They have laws against operating cinema houses.

They have laws against sales of alcohol. So, all these things are actually affecting the lives of the people as a whole.

For example, if you live in an heterogeneous society where people from different religious background come, and you say you want to implement Sharia, and you know you have to create certain conditions for you to implement it, if you provide taxis for women only, taxis for men only, you have to provide also taxis for those who may choose to be free. They are bringing in laws that limit the freedom of the women, and they are not involving women. For example, if there is any women committee on transportation, the women would say bring up some women, train them as drivers and give them the money. But you employ the men as drivers and you say the taxis are for women and she has to interact with the men. It doesn't make sense.

Q: The proponents of Sharia have argued that introducing it is not the same thing as declaring an Islamic state. They say since non-Muslims are not subjected to the law, it is wrong to describe the state as Islamic state.

A: What is the difference? If you're a non-Muslim in Zamfara, you cannot board the women's taxi, so your life is affected. The only thing they say is that if you're caught stealing, for example, and you're a non-Muslim, you should be taken to a regular court.

That is the only exception. But your life is affected.

Q: In that case, do you see the adoption of Sharia as a subversion of the constitution which guarantees certain fundamental freedom?

A: I think, to some extent, what is happening is a subversion of the constitution because you are limiting the freedom of other people. The constitution allows you to have freedom, but if you are living in an Islamic state, definitely your freedom is curtailed. Even your livelihood is curtailed. For example, there're people who depend on beer parlours for their livelihood. But you close all of them.

Q: In Kaduna State, the Christians are protesting against the introduction of Sharia in the state. Do you support the protest?

A: Actually, I'm not in support of violence. I believe if they want to protest, it should be done peacefully.

I believe also that people should be allowed to protest if they so want. But I don't think violence should come into it. I'm against violence.

Q: But do you think violence can be averted if other states in the north also decide to introduce Sharia?

A: What happened in Kaduna is because there is a strong Christian population there. Why it did not happen in Zamfara is because the non-Muslim population is small, so they were oppressed. The Christians in Kaduna are afraid of Sharia because they know it will affect all aspects of their lives.

I really think there's a connivance of the ruling class to actually introduce Sharia. I'm not even absolving Obasanjo of this connivance.

Q: How do you mean?

A: Because he hasn't said anything. He has a duty to guarantee the safety and freedom of every Nigerian, regardless of which state that person comes from.

Q: Very soon, other states in the north may become "Islamic states." What do you see as the likely implications of this for those states and Nigeria?

A: We pray that it doesn't spread. That is my prayer.

I think also that there's the need for people to be more enlightened on the Sharia issue. I hope what happened in Kaduna doesn't happen here in Kano. I hope it doesn't.

You see, the position of the rulers here in the north is feudal, and their own interpretation of the freedom of women is based on feudal thinking that women should not be seen or heard. If you're going to be democratic about Islamic provisions on women, they should have much more things than men.

Q: Do you think Sharia could work here?

A: The working of it depends on who is benefiting from it. It also depends on the objectives set out. In a place like Kano, for example, the vibrance of the city is more from the non-indigenes of Kano, people who have come and made Kano their home. And I believe if you start curtailing the freedom of these people, they are going to migrate and it's going to affect the everyday life of the city. So, as much as people are free to implement what they want, I think they're really bringing this Sharia through the back door.

They are smuggling it in and they are not in position to implement it.

Q: What exactly do you mean?

A: What I'm saying is, these people campaigned to be elected as governors.

And, in fact, their campaign train had all these free, easy virtue women, trailing them to win votes for them. Now, these people had in mind clearly what they were campaigning for. They campaigned to uphold the constitution. Now, after they have been elected, they now come and say, 'Oh, there's a different agenda.' If there is ever a hidden agenda that people have been talking about, this Sharia is the hidden agenda. It is the hidden agenda of the politicians because they never told us in their campaigns that they would do these things. Sani Yerima said he campaigned that he would introduce Sharia, but he never said clearly that he would do this. And all these other governors didn't even mention it in their campaign. They are now bringing it after they've been elected. They should all resign and re-contest the elections with promises of Sharia.

Q: They say it is their people who want it...

A: How did they know that these people want it? Did they call for a referendum at any time? There was no referendum. A few mullahs get up, write a position paper and go to the Assembly and say implement Sharia.

The majority of the people do not have input and are coerced into toeing the minority line.

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