Viewing cable 03ABUJA1976

03ABUJA19762003-11-19 14:00:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Abuja
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A 
REF: ABUJA 1974 
¶1. (SBU) The overturning on appeal September 25 of Amina 
Lawal's Shari'a court adultery verdict will have different, 
though minor, effects on the various Nigerians supporting the 
application of Shari'a in criminal law.  Opportunist Muslim 
politicos and Islamist demogogues are still using Shari'a to 
gain support from Nigerians fed up with Nigeria's 
dysfunctional legal, political and economic systems, and as a 
wedge issue against the GON and northern Nigeria's Muslim 
traditional rulers.  Their playing field is the many 
non-political Nigerian Muslims who support Shari'a out of 
religious and regional pride, often truly believing it is 
inherently a better system of law. 
¶2. (SBU) As a judicious blend of religious and secular 
arguments, the Katsina State Shari'a Appeals Court's decision 
(reftel) forces supporters of Shari'a to pay more attention 
to the technical merits of cases.  It will also force Rule of 
Law advocates to consider implementation of Shari'a-based 
criminal law on an equal footing with implementation of 
secular law in Nigeria.  The most recent cases Shari'a courts 
have brought to conviction and stoning sentences have been 
child molesting/murder, not adultery.  And the fact that 
Shari'a has been used to judge the poor and weak, not justice 
extended to rich and powerful criminals which advocates of 
Shari'a claimed as a goal, may come back to haunt the 
demogogues who have pushed it.  End Summary. 
¶3. (SBU) Nigeria's Ministry of Justice sets and enforces 
standards for judges for both Shari'a and secular courts at 
the state level throughout the country, but not the local, 
customary or traditional courts that are used as the courts 
of first resort.  The result is that many judges at the local 
level are undertrained, incompetent or corrupted by group 
pressure and financial incentives.  The Amina Lawal 
conviction in the Shari'a lower court, and the Shari'a 
Appeals Court's decision overturning it, showed that Shari'a 
courts are no different in that respect. 
¶4. (U) Although many Nigerians are interested in Shari'a, 
both for and against, they were not much interested in the 
Amina Lawal case despite the strong international attention 
to it.  Those who were interested were most eager for the 
issue to reach the federal level, where both the 
constitutionality of using criminal aspects of Shari'a and of 
the many variations of Shari'a implementation in Nigeria 
could be considered.  That did not happen. 
¶5. (U) Twelve of Nigeria's 36 states have adopted variations 
of Shari'a-based criminal law.  They differ on whether 
Muslims are required to use the Shari'a courts or have a 
choice, and also on punishments, with some states allowing 
convicts the choice of a fine or jail time in place of caning 
or flogging.  Non-Muslims are not required in any state to 
submit to Shari'a jurisdiction, but in some states they can 
volunteer (usually to avoid jail when they believe a Shari'a 
statute either makes conviction more difficult or penalties 
less harsh). While a national committee has been established 
to reconcile inconsistencies and create some level of 
uniformity among the states, little progress has been made. 
A Little Bad News for the Islamists 
¶6. (SBU) The majorities that voted for politicians backing 
Shari'a-based criminal law believed that Shari'a courts would 
be fairer and quicker, and, most of all, would apply justice 
equally to rich and poor -- the driving force behind the call 
for Shari'a in the North.  But local Shari'a court Kadis are 
proving to be just as inept and corrupt as secular court 
judges, and Shari'a court prosecutions have not taken on the 
high and mighty. 
¶7. (U) Ms. Lawal is a case in point.  She was poor, had no 
lawyer, and was not sufficiently versed in the law even to 
know that under Shari'a no prosecution for adultery could be 
made unless there were four simultaneous eyewitnesses to the 
crime or the accused confessed.  The political optics of the 
case were so bad that the Katsina state prosecutor said 
publicly that he would not seek a new trial if the Appeals 
court voided the conviction. 
¶8. (SBU) If the Shari'a courts are still not seeking to stone 
the affluent, however, it does appear they will be finding 
less pitiable targets for prosecution.  The most recent 
stoning sentence, September 25, was for the rape and murder 
of three young boys. 
¶9. (SBU) Thus far Shari'a has been a dud for the radical 
Islamists, who still lack a strong following in the North. 
In formal politics, they have not been able to use it to 
overturn the traditional order in northern Nigeria. 
Christian President Obasanjo was not forced to take on 
Nigeria's Muslims over Shari'a, nor start a potentially 
politically disastrous fight with the twelve governors 
supporting it, some from his own party.  Having lost some of 
the divisiveness wind from their political sails, some 
Islamists may change tack and look for other ways to gain 
power in Nigerian society.  Fomenting Muslim-Christian 
violence may be one, terrorism could be another, and this 
Embassy is working actively against both. 
The Governors Supporting Shari'a 
¶10. (SBU) The call for Shari'a in Northern Nigeria came from 
a populace disenchanted with secular justice, but the actual 
decision for Shari'a implementation was very political.  With 
a very low voter turnout and high levels of fraud in the 1999 
elections, many governors' positions were tenuous coming up 
to elections in 2003.  The call for Shari'a was a quick and 
easy decision to get some popular support from the Muslim 
majority in these twelve states in anticipation of the 
elections.  Shari'a also afforded governors a chance to show 
independence from the central government and demonstrate 
their control over events in each of their states. 
¶11. (SBU) While the establishment of Shari'a courts won 
praise for the governors at first, many of them hoped never 
to actually authorize the use of "hudud" corporal 
punishments.  Only one death sentence has been carried out in 
the entire North in two years.  Numerous sentences of 
amputation have been pending governors' signatures for 
months, and in a few cases for more than a year.  Moreover, 
none of the states have criminalized apostasy.  The governors 
are opportunistic politicians who happen to be Muslims, not 
Islamist demogogues who have gotten into politics. 
¶12. (SBU) Amina Lawal's case was a minor win for those 
governors.  As the case did not reach the federal level, 
their implementation of Shari'a still has not been 
challenged.  But the politics of Shari'a above, especially if 
disenchantment grows that it is not bringing justice, could 
turn the opportunists away from pushing Shari'a as the answer. 
The Opponents of Shari'a 
¶13. (SBU) Opponents of Shari'a still fear it as a symbol to 
re-assert Hausa/Fulani dominance over first the north and 
then the rest of Nigeria, and as an assault on human rights 
and civil liberties.  Those opponents had little to cheer 
from Laval's conviction being overturned.  The Katsina State 
Shari'a Appeals Court's decision held the lower Shari'a court 
to standards similar to a secular court, and in the process 
showed that Shari'a courts can and should be functional. 
Moreover, as prosecutors move away from cases where the 
defendent could be a poster child against Shari'a, its 
opponents will gain less attention from all but their own 
¶14. (SBU) In the last two years the focus of Muslim-Christian 
violence has shifted away from the 12 states with 
Shari'a-based criminal law.  Although Muslim-Christian 
tensions seem to be moving away some from the city streets 
back toward college campuses of late, in what many here see 
as a normal cycle, both Muslim and Christian communities are 
still tinderboxes of unemployed youth.    Christian 
extremists can set fire to the streets as easily as their 
Muslim counterparts, and the Embassy has come out in public 
against violence from any quarter. 
Outcomes for other Shari'a Cases 
¶15. (SBU) While Amina Lawal's case only sets a precedent in 
Katsina State, it has changed the way Shari'a cases are 
prosecuted in all of the states.  Muslim legal professionals 
working on the implementation of Shari'a in Nigeria were 
somewhat emboldened; one Muslim human rights activist lawyer 
told us at an Embassy Iftar recently that he and many 
colleagues are devoting even more of their time than before 
to putting in place the procedures necessary to make 
Shari'a-based criminal law work in Nigeria. 
¶16. (SBU) There are currently more than fifty cases in 
northern Nigeria with pending hudud sentences of amputation 
or death by stoning.  The majority of the cases are heading 
to some level of appeal, although probably no further than 
the Shari'a Appeals Court in their state for decisions 
similar to the Lawal case.  Prosecutors are already tending 
to seek more clear-cut capital offense cases, usually with 
confessions, of child molesting, murder and rape.  Many 
borderline cases will likely be resolved through giving the 
convicted persons a choice of jail time or a fine instead of 
hudud punishments, or using the Shari'a "Ihizari" process of 
allowing confession to a lesser crime with sentences of only 
caning or flogging.