Cablegate: Nigeria: Uscirf Visit

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


1. The ten-day USCIRF visit to Nigeria provided an in-depth
opportunity to discuss many perspectives on intercommunal
conflicts in Nigeria and the impact of Shari'a
implementation on minorities in the northern part of the
country. The delegation traveled extensively, finding in
many instances, that religion was being used as a
mobilizing tool for economic and political purposes and
issues. Citing the Inter-Faith Mediation Council in Kaduna
as an example of the possibility for dialogue, they
advocated continued outreach efforts to lessen historical
friction between the varied communities in Nigeria. END

2. David Dettoni and Dwight Bashir from the U.S. Commission
on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) arrived in
Abuja August 4. After one day of meetings in Abuja, they
journeyed north. Their goal was to meet as many people as
possible who could shed light on the past several years'
intercommunal violence and its seeming link to religion.
They traveled to Jos in Plateau State, Kaduna and Zaria in
Kaduna State, Gusau in Zamfara State, and Kano in Kano
State. From Kano they flew to Lagos in the south for
meetings, then returned to Abuja for a final day.

3. The CIRF delegation and Poloffs met with a wide variety
of interlocutors: Federal and State officials, religious
leaders of several faiths, human rights NGOs and lawyers,
and academics. Highlights of the trip included meetings
with the Inter-Faith Mediation Center in Kaduna, Catholic
Archbishop of Abuja John Onyeikan, Solicitor General Ayua
of the Federal Ministry of Justice, Governor Ahmed Sani of
Zamfara State and the Ulema Council in Kano.


4. The delegation asked virtually all interlocutors about
religion's role in the country's continuing ethnic
violence. The answer invariably was that religion was
merely an effective catalyst for mobilizing partisans for
political and economic purposes. All commented that more
than forty percent unemployment country-wide has produced
masses of people literally sitting idle. Gabriel Makan,
Special Advisor to Plateau State Governor Dariye commented
that when an event occurs, such as the stabbing in Adamawa
State in July, hundreds of people are present at the scene
to respond in favor of one side or the other. When it is
to the advantage of politicians to encourage or allow
demonstrations or riots to take place, such as the Miss
World contest riots in 2002, a small event can quickly get
out of hand, resulting in dozens, if not hundreds, of
deaths. Both Christians and Muslims in Kaduna state cited
that example.

5. Another aspect of the problem is exploitation within
each community. Nigeria has a very dynamic religious
population, and extremists challenge more moderate leaders
as being insufficiently zealous for their religion. Many
moderates, especially Northern Muslims, fear being labeled
as irreligious, and their not speaking out allows more
extreme leaders to promote violence and discord unopposed.


6. As a means to reduce the abuse of religion for such
purposes, the delegation was extremely interested in
dialogue between different groups, especially between
Muslims and Christians, and asked their Nigerian
interlocutors how dialogue can be improved. The team was
pleased with the efforts of the Inter-Faith Mediation
Center in Kaduna to resolve disputes through dialogue and
with the group's level of commitment to preventing
conflict. However, the admission by both Christians and
Muslims that activists still received training in violent
responses to provocations and that there were "many topics"
the two sides refuse to discuss due to continuing distrust
within the organization tempered the teams positive

7. The Inter-Faith Mediation Center was founded by a
priest and an imam personally affected by the religious
violence from the Shari'a Riots in 2000. The priest lost
an arm and the imam lost his brother in the conflict. In
the last three years, this organization, funded by USAID
and other international donors, has worked to promote
dialogue instead of violence in Kaduna and claims good
results. It has not, however, been replicated outside of
8. The (Muslim) Council of Ulema in Kano, on the other
hand, made it very clear they were not interested in
dialogue with Christians there. This was confirmed by
Christian organizations in the city who reported that all
efforts to resolve disputes had been rebuffed by the
Council. Christian groups in Zamfara and Kano states told
the delegation that "violence (in general) is a fact of
life here," however, and violence from the Muslim community
was not something they worry about on a daily basis. In
many cases, minority communities live in compounds or
enclaves, separating themselves from the majority group.
The primary concern of these minorities is discrimination
affecting their economic prospects and their ability to
subsist as a community, not incidents of violence.


9. The delegation also looked into whether the
implementation of criminal Shari'a (Islamic law) by 12
Northern states over the last two years affected the
freedom of non-Muslims to practice their religions. This
generally did not appear to be the case. The team even
discovered that some Christians in Zamfara State are
assisting in the implementation of Shari'a. Because the
Christian community is so small (barely three percent of
the population), it feels vulnerable to sexual segregation
restrictions imposed by the majority. Therefore, the
Christian groups say they have "taken it upon themselves"
to ensure that Muslims are complying, and, at the same
time, turn a profit. For example, they have accosted local
male motorbike taxi service drivers whenever they observe
Muslim women being ferried. They give the riders two
choices: they can either pay a "fine" to the Christian
organization or be escorted to the local branch of the
Shari'a enforcement committee. The Christians enjoys a
steady subsidy, according to the Christian Association of
Nigeria (CAN) chairman in the state.

10. Shari'a implementation has, however, raised other
human rights issues. Most NGO's and lawyers agreed that
these states' Shari'a enforcement is capricious, depending
on the whims of the local courts. The Solicitor-General
confirmed that while state-level Shari'a court judges have
to meet strict criteria for their qualifications, at the
local level there are no serious standards. Among the
problems are denial of access to counsel, different
standards for men and women giving evidence, and not
adhering the Shari'a-required number of witnesses in order
to prosecute. Surprisingly, the team learned that apostasy
is not currently part of the penal code in any of the
Northern states that have adopted Shari'a.


10. The CIRF delegation departed Nigeria encouraging that
the Embassy monitor and support inter-faith organizations
like NIREC (the national Nigerian Inter-Religious Council)
and the Interfaith Mediation Center in Kaduna. Many of the
delegation's interlocutors actually asked that the Embassy
put pressure on the GON to push NIREC to expand to the
state and local levels. Although the Ulema Council in Kano
was antagonistic toward the USG, as well as to inter-faith
dialogue, the delegation thought that it would appreciate
more contact with the Embassy and that more contact might
lead to dialogue. The team expressed concern, however,
that the USG maintained no consulate presence in northern
Nigeria (since the closing of the Kaduna Consulate in
1995). They also urged expansion of the VOA Hausa broadcast
service, to address northerners for whom radio is a major

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