Cablegate: 2002 Religious Freedom Report

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



The status of respect for religious freedom in Nigeria
remained basically unchanged during the year. The
Constitution provides for freedom of religion, including
freedom to change one's religion or belief and freedom to
manifest and propagate one's religion or belief in worship,
teaching, practice and observance. The Constitution also
prohibits state and local governments from adopting an
official religion, but it provides that states may elect to
apply Islamic (Shari'a) criminal law. Following the lead of
ten other Northern States, Borno and Gombe States also
adopted forms of criminal Shari'a law in 2001.

Discrimination based on religion continued during the period
covered by this report in some states. Although Christians
and other non-Muslims are exempt from Shari'a law, the
ramifications of expanded Shari'a law at times infringed upon
the rights of non-Muslims in the states that have enacted
expanded Shari'a.

Inter-religious tension remained high in parts of Nigeria
during the year. Plateau State was the scene of violent
ethno-religious conflict in September 2001. Discrimination
against religious minorities was noted in some areas of the

U.S. Embassy officials regularly discussed religious freedom
issues with various federal, state and local officials and
prominent Nigerians. U.S. Embassy officials and U.S.
Government officials based in Washington advocated the
peaceful resolution of ethnic and religious conflicts in the
country. The U.S. Government stressed that human rights and
religious freedom must be respected in any resolution of the
Shari'a question.


The country has a total land area of 356,700 square miles,
with an estimated population of 120 million; however, there
has not been an accurate census for more than 30 years, and
many observers believe the country's population exceeds
this estimate. Approximately half of the country's population
practice Islam; approximately 40 percent practice
Christianity, and approximately 10 percent practice
traditional indigenous religions or no religion. Many persons
practice elements of Christianity or Islam and elements of a
traditional indigenous religion. The predominant form of
Islam is Sunni. The Christian population includes Roman
Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians,
and a growing number of evangelical and Pentecostal
Christians. Catholics constitute the largest Christian

There is a strong correlation between religious differences
and ethnic and regional diversity. The North, which is
dominated by the large Hausa and Fulani ethnic groups, is
predominantly Muslim; however, there are Christian majorities
in several Middle Belt states and significant numbers of
Christians in all urban centers of the North. In the
Southwest, where the large Yoruba ethnic group is in the
majority, there is no dominant religion. Most Yorubas
practice either Islam or Christianity, while others continue
to practice the traditional Yoruba religion, which includes a
belief in a supreme deity and the worship of lesser deities
that serve as agents of the supreme deity in aspects of daily
life. In the East, where the large Igbo ethnic group is
dominant, Catholics and Methodists are in the majority,
although many Igbos continue to observe traditional rites and

Foreign missionaries operate in the country and include
Jesuits, Dominicans, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day
Saints (Mormons), the Church of Christ, and the Society for
International Missions, among others. Rough estimates put the
number of foreign Christian missionaries at over 1,000, with
many in the area around Jos, in Plateau state. Many have
resided in Nigeria for a decade or longer. There are
reportedly fewer foreign Muslim missionaries, and they tend
toward briefer stays than their Christian counterparts.
Muslim organizations often focus on training Nigerians in
traditional centers of Islamic education and then returning
them to Nigeria.



The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, including
freedom to change one's religion or belief, and freedom to
manifest and propagate one's religion or belief in worship,
teaching, practice, and observance. The Federal Government
generally protects these rights. However, some state
governments restricted these rights in practice in certain
respects with impunity.

The Constitution prohibits state and local governments from
adopting an official religion; however, some Christians have
alleged that Islam has been adopted as the de facto state
religion of several Northern states, citing the
reintroduction of Shari'a criminal law, and the continued use
of state resources to fund the construction of mosques, the
teaching of Alkalis (Muslim judges), and pilgrimages to Mecca
(Hajj). However, state funds also are used to fund Christian
pilgrimages to Jerusalem. In general, states with a clear
Christian or Muslim majority overtly favor the majority
faith. There are 36 states in the country; governors have
substantial autonomy in decision-making but derive the vast
majority of their resources from the Federal Government. Both
the federal and state governments are involved in religious
matters, including the regulation of mandatory religious
instruction in public schools, subsidized construction of
churches and mosques, state-sponsored participation in the
Hajj, and pilgrimages to Jerusalem.

The Constitution provides that states may elect to apply
Islamic (Shari'a) law. Until the reintroduction of criminal
Shari'a by Zamfara State in January 2000, the jurisdiction of
Shari'a courts had been limited to family or personal law
cases involving Muslims, or to civil disputes between Muslims
who consent to the courts' jurisdiction. However, the
Constitution states that a Shari'a Court of Appeal may
exercise "such other jurisdiction as may be conferred upon it
by the law of the State." Some states have interpreted this
language as granting them the right to expand the
jurisdiction of existing Shari'a courts to include criminal
matters (see Section III). On October 8, 1999, the Governor
of Zamfara State, Ahmed Sani, signed a bill that established
Shari'a courts and courts of appeal in Zamfara state, and
another bill that constituted the Shari'a penal code; the
bills took effect on January 27, 2000. Zamfara's law adopted
traditional Shari'a in its entirety, with the exception that
apostasy was not criminalized. Other Muslim communities,
particularly from the states of Kano, Niger, Sokoto, Jigawa,
Borno, Yobe, Kaduna, and Katsina states, began to echo the
call for Shari'a in their states. At the end of the period
covered by this report, twelve Northern states had adopted
forms of Shari'a law-- Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, Niger, Kano,
Katsina, Kaduna Jigawa, Yobe, Bauchi, Borno and Gombe.
According to media reports there has been some lobbying among
elements of the large Muslim minority of Oyo State for the
implementation of elements of civil Shari'a. However, the
government has not responded. Adherence to the new Shari'a
provisions is compulsory for Muslims in some states and
optional in others. The Constitution also provides that the
Federal Government is to establish a Federal Shari'a Court of
Appeal and Final Court of Appeal; however, the Government had
not yet established such courts by the end of the period
covered by this report. Appeals are generally heard by
regular courts empanelled with justices who have some
knowledge of Shari'a law.

In November 1999, President Obasanjo expressed the view that
the expanded Shari'a provisions were unconstitutional;
however, the federal Government did not intervene legally to
annul the provisions. Defendants have the right to challenge
the constitutionality of Shari'a criminal statutes through
the courts. To date, no such challenge filed by any person
with legal standing has reached the Federal appellate level.
Nigeria's higher courts have not, therefore, had occasion to
determine if penalties under Shari'a law, which differ from
those applicable under secular law are constitutional. In
March 2002, Justice Minister Kanu Agabi made public a letter
to Northern Governors in which he stated that sentences given
under Shari'a should not be harsher than those imposed by
general secular law. The only noticeable effect was to stir
debate in the press.

Christian and Islamic groups planning to build new churches
or mosques are required to register with the Corporate
Affairs Commission (CAC). The law requires that such groups
name a board of trustees, place a notice of the group's
intent to organize in three nationwide newspapers, and send
trustee information to the CAC. If no objections are
received, the group can proceed with its meetings. This law
was put into effect to stem the proliferation of new
buildings in the absence of zoning laws, to resolve legal
questions arising from disputes over church ownership and
control, to provide a single registry for government
reference in the event that compensation is demanded
following civil disturbances, and to allow for legal
solemnization of marriages. The CAC did not deny registration
to any religious group during the period covered by this
report; however, some religious groups experienced delays in
obtaining permission from local zoning boards to build houses
of worship. Many nascent churches and Islamic congregations
ignore the registration requirement, placing themselves
outside the bounds of legality and making themselves
vulnerable to sometimes selective enforcement of zoning laws.

The military's chaplaincy corps includes imams, Catholic
priests, and Protestant pastors. There were no reports in the
military of discrimination or nonadvancement to senior
positions due to religious beliefs. No one religious faith
dominates the senior ranks of the military.

The Government remained a member (observer status) of the
Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) during the period
covered by this report and continued to send representatives
to the annual meeting in Cairo. Christian citizens were
concerned that this action undermined the concept of a
secular state.

Each year the Government declares the following Islamic and
Christian festival days as national holidays: Eid-el-Adha,
Eid-el-Fitr, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Eid-el-Maulud,
Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Some state governors actively have encouraged interfaith and
interethnic discussions. For example, Kaduna Governor Ahmed
Mohammed Makarfi appointed Muslims and Christians to
reconciliation committees following the riots of February and
May 2000. Governor Makarfi also consulted with the
reconciliation committees on proposed criminal law reforms.
Reconciliation committees are also consulted before any major
decisions are taken. The government also encourages the
activities of NGOs like the Kaduna-based Inter-Faith
Mediation Center, Muslim/Christian Dialogue Forum.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Throughout the year, the Government nominally required
organizers of outdoor public functions to apply for permits,
although both government authorities and those assembling
often ignored this requirement. The Government retained legal
authority to ban gatherings whose political, ethnic, or
religious content might lead to unrest. In 2000 several
Northern state governments banned open air preaching and
public religious. Such bans were viewed as necessary public
safety measures after approximately 2,000 people died in
Shari'a related violence nationwide in 2000. None of these
bans had been lifted formally by the end of the period
covered by this report; however, state governments granted
some permits on a case-by-case basis. In the southern part of
the country, large outdoor religious gatherings continued to
be common. (Note: Trampling deaths from poor crowd control
are a common occurrence at large outdoor Christian gatherings
in the South. International evangelists routinely visit
Nigeria for "crusades" which can attract over 100,000 each

Following nationwide Shari'a-related violence in 2000, many
Northern states banned public proselytizing, although it is
permitted by the Constitution. Some states, however, allowed
some public proselytizing by Christians and Muslims.
Missionaries reported that law enforcement officials often
harassed them when they proselytized outside of their
designated zones. Both Christian and Muslim organizations
alleged that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the
Immigration Department restricted the entry into the country
of certain religious practitioners, particularly persons
suspected of intending to proselytize. Proselytizing did not
appear to be restricted in the southern part of the country.
Many missionary groups also have noted bureaucratic delays
and obstruction and attempts to extort money for the
processing of necessary residence permits for foreigners;
however, many foreign businesses and other nonreligious
organizations have encountered similar difficulties.

Although the expanded Shari'a laws technically do not apply
to non-Muslims, the non-Muslim minority, especially in
Zamfara state, was affected by certain social provisions of
the laws, such as the separation of the sexes in public
transportation vehicles and decisions by some entrepreneurs
not to engage in certain activities out of concern for
offending Shari'a sensibilities. For example, beauty
contests typically are not held in Shari'a states. In
Zamfara state, Christian associations have arranged for
private transportation services for Christian females so that
they are not forced to wait for female only transportation
provided by the Zamfara state government. Sokoto state's
transportation system is run completely by private operators.
Sokoto state governor Dalhatu Bafarawa said that the state
cannot compel private operators to carry female passengers if
doing so violates their religious convictions. In Zamfara
state schoolchildren continued to be segregated by gender in
schools. The Governor of Zamfara also disbursed public funds
to refurbish mosques. There is a long tradition of separating
schoolchildren by gender in the North; this practice was
codified in Kebbi and Sokoto states in May 2000 and is
enforced in all of the Shari'a states.

In Zamfara state, laws proposed during the period covered by
this report included a dress code for women that bans short
skirts and trousers, the mandatory closing of shops on
Fridays, and a ban of video rental clubs. The Christian
Association of Nigeria (CAN) branch in Zamfara state has
protested these new laws to the Zamfara state government.
Reportedly they were told that the first law was proposed on
public decency grounds, and that the second law only would
apply to Muslim businesses. These laws have been read on the
floor of the State House but have not been enacted.

All Muslims in states that expanded Shari'a to criminal
matters are subject to the new Shari'a criminal codes. In
Zamfara state, all cases involving Muslims must be heard by a
Shari'a court. Other states with Shari'a law still permit
Muslims to choose common law courts for criminal cases;
however, societal pressure forces most Muslims to use the
Shari'a court system.

The law prohibits religious discrimination; however, state
government officials often discriminated against adherents of
minority religions in hiring practices and in awarding state

Christians in the predominantly Muslim northern states also
alleged that local government officials used zoning
regulations to stop or slow the establishment of new
Christian churches. Officials have responded that many of
these new churches are being formed in traditionally
residential neighborhoods that were not zoned for religious
purposes. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) offices
in Zamfara and Sokoto states alleged that local authorities
there delayed or denied to Christians certificates of
occupancy (CO's), which are required to show title to land.
For example, the Catholic Church in Zamfara state has been
unable to retake possession of a clinic that was confiscated
during a period of military rule in the 1970's. Renewal of
the CO for the church building was approved; however, the
Church has been unable to obtain a CO to reoccupy the clinic
building and the adjoining land. Zamfara and Sokoto state
officials denied that discrimination was behind the cases
cited by CAN. State officials said the certification boards
were dealing with a large backlog of cases for all persons,
regardless of religious faith. Muslims have complained that
they were denied permission to build mosques in the
predominantly Christian southern states of Abia and Akwa Ibom.

Although distribution of religious publications remained
generally unrestricted, the Government continued to enforce
lightly a ban on published religious advertisements. There
were reports by Christians in Zamfara state that the state
government restricted the distribution of religious
(Christian) literature. In 2000 Bishop Samson Bala of Gusau
Diocese said that the state radio station had closed its
doors to Christians. According to the Bishop Bala,
commercials and paid advertisements containing Christian
content were not accepted, and only Islamic religious
programs were aired. Similar discrimination against the use
of state-owned media for Muslim programming was reported in
the South. This situation remains unchanged through the
reporting period.

According to the Constitution, students are not required to
receive instruction relating to a religion other than their
own; however, public school students throughout the country
are required to undergo either Islamic or Christian religious
instruction. Islamic studies are mandatory in public schools
in Zamfara and other northern states, often to the exclusion
of Christianity. State authorities assert that students are
permitted to decline to attend these classes or to request a
teacher of their own religion to provide alternative
instruction. However, teachers of "Christian Religious
Knowledge" cannot be found in many Northern schools. There
are reports that Christianity is taught in the same manner in
Enugu and Edo states, and that Muslim students cannot access
"Islamic Religious Knowledge" in the public schools.
Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) leaders volunteered to
place teachers of Christianity in Zamfara and Sokoto state
schools, where students alleged that they were being forced
to take courses in Islamic religious knowledge in order to
graduate. Governors of both states accepted the offer of
assistance and stated that they had not been aware of the
problem; however, CAN did not provide any teachers in either
state during the reporting period, stating that they lacked
the available funds to send teachers to the states.

The Government continued to enforce a 1987 ban on religious
organizations on campuses of primary schools, although
individual students retain the right to practice their
religions in recognized places of worship.

On December 5, 2000, over 1,500 Muslim students from the
University of Ibadan and Ibadan public schools gathered at
Oyo state government offices to protest the failure of public
schools to offer Islamic studies courses alongside Christian
courses. To date Islamic courses are still unavailable.

There are no legal provisions barring women or other groups
from testifying in civil court or giving their testimony less
weight; however, the testimony of women and non-Muslims is
usually accorded less weight in Shari'a courts. For example,
if one woman testifies, a second woman must also provide
testimony to equal the weight of the testimony of one man.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

The extension of Shari'a law in many Northern states
generated a public debate on whether Shari'a punishments such
as amputation for theft, stoning for adultery and caning for
fornication and public drunkenness constituted "torture or
... inhuman or degrading treatment" as stipulated in the

On July 6, 2001 Umaru Aliyu had his hand amputated in Sokoto
State after being convicted of stealing a goat and
approximately $400 cash.

On October 19, 2001 a local Shari'a judge in Sokoto State
sentenced Safiya Hussaini to death by stoning for adultery.
The judged based his decision on his interpretation that the
divorced Hussaini's pregnancy was conclusive proof of
adultery. The court found that Hussaini had also confessed.
However, Hussainiappealed the sentence arguing ten separate
grounds for her acquittal. Defense drew from the Koran, the
Hadiths, the Nigerian Constitution, the Sokoto State Shari'a
Penal Code and the Shari'a Procedure Code. Accepting several
of the defendant's arguments, the Sokoto State Shari'a Court
of Appeal overturned the conviction in March of 2002. The
court cited several fundamental flaws in the original court's
findings. First neither the date nor location of the alleged
crime was specified. Second the charge was not sufficiently
explained to Ms. Hussaini. Third, Shari'a law allows a
defendant to withdraw a confession any time prior to the
execution of a sentence, which the defendant did. Finally,
the age of the child indicated that the alleged crime must
have been committed prior to the implementation of criminal
Shari'a in Sokoto State.

A Katsina man was hanged in January in Kaduna State after
being convicted in a Shari'a court of stabbing a woman and
her two children to death while robbing her home. Nigeria's
constitution permits capital punishment, however this is the
first execution since its return to democracy in 1999.

Also in January a Shari'a judge was publicly flogged after
being convicted of consuming alcohol.

In late March in Katsina State, Amina Lawal was sentenced to
death by stoning after confessing to having a child while
divorced. The court has allowed Lawal to return to her own
village at least until January 2004. The appeals court is
scheduled to begin hearing her appeal on July 8.

Four other women have been convicted of adultery under
Shari'a law. Two of these women have been released on bail,
while two were sentences to pay a fine, which they have done.

Seven men convicted of stealing and housebreaking have been
sentenced to have their right hands amputated in Kano State.
Two of the men have appeals pending, the other five have not
exercised their right to appeal. In Bauchi State, four men
convicted of stealing have been sentenced to have their right
hands amputated. Bauchi State Governor Adamu Mu'azu referred
these cases to the Inspectorate Division of Shari'a Courts
for review. Once the review is complete it is the governor's
decision whether or not the sentences are carried out.

Other convicted Muslim criminals in Shari'a law states were
subjected to public caning for various minor offenses, such
as petty theft, public consumption of alcohol, and engaging
in prostitution. Indigent persons without legal
representation were more likely to have their sentences
carried out immediately upon being sentenced.
A number of state-sanctioned and private vigilante Shari'a
enforcement groups have formed in states with expanded
Shari'a law. In Zamfara state, Governor Ahmed Sani vested the
local vigilante group with full powers of arrest and
prosecution because he believed that the police were not
enforcing the new Shari'a laws. Governor Saminu Turaki of
Jigawa state also mobilized a statewide Shari'a enforcement
committee to arrest, detain, and prosecute Muslim offenders.
These groups still exist, but their activities decreased
during the reporting period.

On March 2, 2002 Pastor Tunde Bakare was detained and
interrogated for 16 hours by the State Security Service (SSS)
after returning to Nigeria from Ghana. It is alleged that
Bakare prophesied the fall of the Obasanjo government and
that he left Nigeria to avoid the anticipated chaos. Bakare
was arrested upon his return from Ghana and questioned by the
SSS but was not charged. Media reports claiming that his
passport was confiscated could not be verified.

Six Pakistani Muslim scholars were arrested in Benue
State September 23 on suspicion of immigration violations.
They were questioned by Federal Government officials in Abuja
and subsequently deported.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion,
including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or
illegally removed from the United States, or of the
Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to
the United States.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for
Religious Freedom

Curfews, bans on large religious gatherings outside of
traditional houses of worship, on religious processions, and
on proselytization remain in effect in some areas; however,
some local and state authorities informally relaxed the bans
in practice, and allowed some public proselytizing.

Since the outbreak of Shari'a-related violence in 2000, the
governors of Kaduna, Abia, and Lagos states have taken steps
to prevent further violence and tension. During the period
covered by this report, the governors made more tempered
public statements, and focused on shared economic
opportunities between residents of their states and migrants
from other regions of the country.

Many non-Muslims had feared that implementation of Shari'a
would change their way of life but there has been little or
no change for most people. While some state and local
governments have stringently interpreted the new Shari'a
laws, most others have interpreted their laws differently and
have implemented them with moderation. Additionally, there
is trend developing among some elements in the Muslim
community to shift focus from the criminal law aspects of
Shari'a law to its tenets of social justice and charity for
the poor. Islamic scholars and many Muslim lawyers are
educating the poor and the less well informed about their
procedural rights under Shari'a. Several lawyers offer pro
bono services to the indigent in cases where the potential
punishment might be severe.

Section III: Societal Attitudes

Religious differences often correlate to regional and ethnic
differences. For example, the North, including part of the
Middle Belt, is overwhelmingly Muslim and the large Hausa and
Fulani ethnic groups tend to dominate these areas. Most
southern ethnic groups are predominantly Christian.
Consequently it is often difficult to distinguish between
religious conflict and discrimination, and ethnic conflict
and discrimination. It is not unusual for two ethnic groups
with a long history of conflict to adopt different religions,
thereby placing a religious overlay atop tensions that
originally arose from ethnic confrontation.

During the weekend of September 7, violence erupted in
Jos that eventually claimed more than 2300 lives. It is
unclear how the unrest began, but tensions had risen over the
appointment of an ethnic Hausa to the chairmanship of a local
Poverty Alleviation Program, and earlier violence between
Christian Sayewa and Muslim Hausa-Fulani in Tafawa Balewa,
Bauchi, only 60 kilometers away. Reliable sources indicate
that most of the casualties were Hausa-Fulani Muslims, who
constitute a significant minority in Jos. The military was
able to restore order, but thousands of Hausas fled Plateau
state for Kaduna, Kano, Jigawa and Bauchi. This conflict
appears to have been primarily ethnic, and secondarily
religious. Christians of different sects were reported to
have attacked each other, and Yoruba Muslims reportedly
joined in attcking their Hausa co-religionists. The Jos
conflict produced approximately 11,600 internally displaced
persons according to the Nigerian Red Cross.

Similarly, in February 2002, violent clashes rocked the
Idi-Araba area of Lagos as Yoruba youth clashed with Hausa
residents. The incident was caused by interethnic tensions
but had some religious overtones.

Nigerian law prohibits religious discrimination; however,
private businesses frequently are guilty of informal
religious and ethnic discrimination in their hiring practices
and purchasing patterns. In nearly all states, ethnic
rivalries between majority groups and minority "immigrants"
lead to some societal discrimination against minority ethnic
and religious groups.

Purdah, the Islamic practice of keeping girls and women in
seclusion from men outside the family, continued among some
families in some parts of the far North.

In many parts of the country, girls are discriminated against
regarding access to education for social and economic
reasons, with religious belief sometimes being a factor.
Girls in the more traditionalist rural areas, both in the
predominantly Muslim North and the predominantly Christian
South, are even more disadvantaged than their urban

Section IV: U.S. Government Policy

U.S. Embassy officials regularly discussed religious freedom
issues with various federal, state and local officials.
Embassy officials raised religious freedom issues with
government officials in the context of the U.S. Government's
overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. The U.S.
Government, through the U.S. Embassy and in statements from
officials in Washington, sought to encourage a peaceful
resolution to the Shari'a issue and urged that human rights
and religious freedom be respected in any resolution. The
Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) created programs for
conflict resolution training that are being continued by the
U.S. Agency for International Development.

In February 2002, the Embassy's Public Affairs Section
sponsored the visit to Nigeria of the Executive Director of
the American Muslim Council, Aly Abuzaakouk to discuss the
War Against Terror, religious tolerance, and the religious
freedom that Muslims enjoy in the United States. Abuzaakouk
addressed over 500 Muslims and Christians in Abuja, Ibadan,
Jos, Lagos, Kaduna and Kano.

The Embassy facilitated the visit to Nigeria of former
President Jimmy Carter and Bill Gates Sr., of the Bill and
Melinda Gates Foundation, who promoted HIV/AIDS awareness and
prevention. President Carter addressed the Presidential
Chapel at the Sunday service, where he preached a message of
abstinence and faithfulness as a way to halt the spread of

In June, 2002 the Embassy's Public Affairs Section sponsored
the Reverend Eugene Rivers of the Ten Point Coalition, who
addressed inter-religious groups with his message of
abstinence and fidelity. Rivers engaged Muslims and
Christians in Kaduna and Lagos and challenged them to
overcome their differences, in order to cooperate in the
fight against HIV/AIDS.


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