Governors of 19 northern Nigerian states have agreed to establish a joint Muslim-Christian committee in an effort to end the violence sparked by efforts to implement Islamic Sharia law in some northern states.

"We have resolved to constitute a committee made up of Muslim and Christian leaders to hold a dialogue on those aspects of sharia not included in the penal code and arrive at a consensus for adoption," read a letter published April 4 by Nigerian media, Reuters reported.

The predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria practiced Sharia for decades under British colonial rule and continued to do so since winning independence in 1960 but it has not formally supplanted the Nigerian penal code.

Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population in northern Nigeria, fear some aspects of Islamic law are harsher than the Nigerian secular law. Tensions over the matter escalated in January when the primarily Muslim rural state of Zamfara announced it would adopt Sharia law.

Fearful the city of Kaduna would follow suit, Christians there held street protests in February and fought with Muslims in a bloody conflict in which hundreds of people died. Reprisal killings in the Ibo heartland, predominantly Christian, claimed the lives of hundreds of northern Muslim immigrants.

In the aftermath of the violence in Kaduna came demands for a "sovereign national conference" to resolve conflicts between Nigeria's population groups, but the governors' letter denounced the idea.

"We uphold the federal structure of Nigeria and condemn the call for a sovereign national conference in its entirety," the letter read. "We reaffirm our total support to the federal government under the leadership of President Olusegun Obsanjo."

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