Cablegate: Nigeria's Special Brand of Islam

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

190921Z Jul 04




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. The Ambassador met with the Secretary
General of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic
Affairs Lateef Adegbite in early July to discuss the
nature of Islam in Nigeria, includingthe dividends of
democracy, procedural safeguards inherent in Sharia
law, the urgent need to restartcommencement of the
polio vaccination campaign in the northes, and
religious reconciliation. Adegbite's remarks
andoutspoken support for Obasanjo may reflect that they
are both Yoruba and from the same district.indicate
that ethnic unity is more important than religious
differences. Adegbite distanced the practice of Islam
in Nigeria from practices in other parts of the world
that have been linked withterrorism, emphasizing the
religious tolerance and acceptance that characterizes
Islam in Yorubaland and, he said, in other parts of the
nation. Adegbite represents the moderate, tolerant
Yoruba brand of Islam that is anathema to the more
fundamentalist Islamic thought found in northern

2. (SBU) The Ambassador met with the Secretary General
of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Dr.
Lateef Adegbite on July 1 in Lagos. Adegbite opened by
saying that said Nigeria is making progress on the
issues of Sharia law and Muslim/Christian
reconciliation.His concern is that of showing Islam and
its estimated 60 million Nigerian followers in the most
positive light possible.

3. (SBU) Adegbite asserted that the nature of Islam in
Nigeria has nothing to do with terrorism that many
people associate with other parts of the world.
Adegbite He expressed concern over a perceived
"blacklisting" of Nigerian Muslims as a supporters of
terrorism by outsiders. Adegbite emphasized that
Nigeria's own brand of Islam is non-violent, and that
its Muslims have never harbored or supported secret
patrons of terrorism. Adegbite saidasked Ambassador
Campbell to assist in "de-listing" Nigeria, as
assistance from various organizations outside Africa to
build mosques and schools has dried up as a result of
Nigerian Islam's false association with terrorism.
Adegbite underscored that the practice of Islam in
Nigeria is different fromthan in other parts of the
Muslim world.

3.4. (SBU) Adegbite offered hisa historical perspective
on Nigeria's religious conflicts over the past decade.
He recalleddiscussed religious conflict overabout
Sharia law that arosein 1981 in Kaduna and Jos, which
overflowed into Plateau State. He stated that current
religious disturbances are often political or ethnic in
nature, like thoese past events.

4.5. (SBU) Adegbite discussed the current conflict in
Plateau, which began in 2001. He suggested that theThe
conflict problem stems from the indigenous population's
monopoly hold on government jobs that excludes more
recent immigrants to the state.practice of appointing
persons to various positions in agencies of the
Government of Nigeria (GON), excluding persons from the
immigrant communities in the process. Adegbite
described the indigenous communities of Plateau as
mostlyentirely Christian and the immigrants as
mostlyentirely Muslim. He stated that the immigrants,
feeling disenfranchised, vent their anger by attacking
rival religious institutions. While the conflict in
Plateau appears to be religious, its root causes are
rivalries between "indigenes" and newcomers that are
often expressed in ethnic and religious termspolitical.
As for the historical conflicts between the indigenous
farmers and immigrant herders, economic competition and
employment are also important underlying factorsat the


56. (SBU) Adegbite discussed the activities of the
Nigerian Inter-Religious Council, a Muslim and
Christian group with a mission of religious
reconciliation. It was Ffounded five years ago by
Muslim imams and Christian preachers to intervene
positively in the Sharia crisis, . iIt is a grassroots
effort by 25 Christians and 25 Muslims, whose members
are the highest-ranking religious leaders in Nigeria,
who work to and who together and sometimes on foot
visit communities to defusediscuss religious issues.
The Council's coordinator is Professor Obaje, President
Obasanjo's Chaplain. The Sultan of Sokoto is also a
member of the Council.

67. (SBU) Adegbite cited the practice of Islam in
Yorubaland territory as an example of successful
religious coexistence both with Christianity and
traditional Yoruba religion. He characterized the
Yoruba way of thinking as open and tolerant, and Yoruba
adherents of Christianity, Islam, and indigenous
paganism or traditionalreligions are united by a strong
sense of all come together in this region under acommon
ethnicity. 8. (SBU) Adegbite said the Nigeria
Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) dates back
to the creation of the Muslim Society of Students in
1954. He went on that the NSCIA will celebrate its
golden jubilee this August. NSCIA would welcome
Ambassador Campbell's and Embassy staff's participation
in its celebrations.

7.9 (SBU) Adegbite contrasted the differences between
the political roots of Islam in Nigeria and the
practice of Islam in theArab world. While Nigerian
Muslim scholars trained in Saudi Arabia tend to be more
conservative and traditionalist in their practice of
Islam, they are reluctant to criticize the conventional
practice of Islam in Nigeria. Adegbite said Arab
influence is limited because traditional
leaders-sultans, sheiks, and emirs--fulfill both
religious and civil functions in the region. Adegbite
asserted that they exercise firm control over the
North. He also remarked that these leaders have very
close relationships with the United States and the
United Kingdom.


810. (SBU) Adegbite asserted there is strong support
for the establishment of Sharia law in Nigeria,
particularly among the younger population. He said
divorce, family, and estate issues are those most often
brought into Sharia courts. Adegbite is pleased that
Muslims in Nigeria have not been denied the right to
choose their own legal system under the current
democratic dispensation. This is one of the dividends
of democracy provided by the constitution. This
process for adopting Sharia includes a resolution that
must be passed by the state House of Assembly, where
Muslims must carry their Christian counterparts along.
Adegbite said prominence must be given to the
traditional coexistence of Muslims and Christians after
the establishment of Sharia so as not to allow ethnic
differences to aggravate religious complexities.

11. (SBU) While discussing Sharia law in the North,
The Ambassador cautioned Adegbite about the human
rights repercussions of stoning and amputations as a
form of punishment. Adegbite replied that a legal
system should not be evaluated solely on the basis of
its possible forms of punishment. He pointed to
provisions for execution by electric chair, firing
squads, and hanging in the statutes of many nations,
including the United States. Adegbite went on that
these punishments do not necessarily indicate the moral
value of the legal system that delivers them. Adegbite
agreed with Ambassador Campbell that Sharia law is a
fast and cheap means to deliver justice, and emphasized
that it is a manifestation of the religion of the
followers of Islam.
12. (SBU) Adegbite cited the example of adultery to
illustrate the safeguards built into Sharia law.
Adegbite statAdegbite said he had offered his legal
services as a friend of the court in a sharia case
involving possible adultery. (Adegbite did not mention
the name of Amina Lawal in the discussion, but that is
to whom he was referring.) In his analysis, Adegbite
emphasized that since no man had acknowledged the
paternity of the child in question, the defendant
should not have been found guilty of adultery.
Adegbite argued that the case was, therefore, flawed in
the terms of Sharia law, and, thus, should have been
dismissed - as it was. Adegbite cited as evidence of
Sharia's popularity the attendance ofasserted that the
Governor of Kano was forced to accept Sharia law since
there is widespread and strong grassroots support for
Sharia law in Kano State. Support is strong despite
the harshness of its punishments. He said two million
people in Kano for the public inauguration of Sharia

Because of this crowd, the governor could not get to
the podium to make his speech and so was forced to
deliver a televised message.

9. (SBU) The Ambassador expressed grave concern about
asked the progress of the polio vaccination campaign in
Kano. Adegbite replied that he had visited the Kano
governor to discuss the issue. Adegbite claimed the
governor is not against the vaccination campaign in
principle, but the governor will not accept government-
sponsored vaccines. He insists that the polio vaccine
be from a Muslim supplier. The governor told Adegbite
that Kano State authorities had arranged to obtain the
vaccine from suppliers in Malaysia or Indonesia and
that vaccinations would resume shortly. Adegbite
stated that he had cautioned the governor about the
negative international image resulting from this issue.
Adegbite said he would personally follow up with the
governor on the need for the resumption of polio
vaccinations in Kano.


10. (SBU) Adegbite gave high marks to Obasanjo and his
administration. Adegbite stated that Obasanjo, given
his military background, is the right man for the job
of President. Adegbite said Nigeria's political
culture has changed, fueled as it was by the democratic
elections of 1999 and 2003. He said the biggest
dividend of democracy is the air of freedom that
Nigerians now enjoy. Adegbite characterized this
freedom as palpable, and that with respect to both the
written and spoken word, Nigeria is wholly a free
country.Adegbite affirmed that one of Obasanjo's
greatest contributions has been his promotion of good
international relationships between Nigeria and the
rest of the world. (Comment. In a recent press
article, Adegbite was quoted as saying that
(CHOGM)Obasanjo looks "like a successor to Mandela".
End comment.)

11. (SBU) Adegbite recalled that he and Obasano are
both from a district near but stated that although they
are both from Abeokuta., ethnic loyalty does not drive
this support. Adegbite noted that Abeokuta hasis one
district in Nigeria that has disproportionately
produced Nigeria's contemporary leaders. He mentioned
Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola, President of the
Christian Association of Nigeria, Chief Rotimi
Williams, perhaps the leading Lagos attorney, and the
late Moshood Abiola, candidate for thechallenger to the
presidency. Adegbite attributed Abeokuta's unique
distinction to the residual influence of freedreturned
slaves who had returned to Africa and founded strong
communities in that district. Adegbite mentioned that
his own great-grandfather had been a returned slave.
The first church in Nigeria was founded in Abeokuta in
1842, marking the beginning of organized Christianity
in Nigeria. The early influence of the Christian
missionaries and of their schools gave the town an
educational lead. The interaction between the returnee
communities, the missionaries, and the indigenous
population was characterized by an openness and
outward-orientation that today's leaders inherited, he

12. (SBU) COMMENT. Adegbite is friendly and well
disposed toward the West. The official location of his
law practice is in Abuja, and he is often there for his
own and NSCIA business. He maintains an office in
Lagos, where he works closely with American companies
doing business in Nigeria. To show Islam in its most
positive light, he has been active publicly on issues
of Sharia law, polio, and religious reconciliation. He
believes that there are enough procedural and other
safeguards in Sharia law to preclude stoning, a view
widely held by educated Muslims. Adegbite's support
for Obasanjo indicates that ethnic unity may sometimes
trump religious difference, especially at the
leadership level among Yorubas. Adegbite is a close
ally of the traditional northern Muslim establishment.
It is their leadership that risks challenge should
Islam in Nigeria evolve toward more fundamentalists
ways of thinking and practice. Adegbite was unwilling
to discuss such fissures within the Muslim community.

13. (U) Ambassador Campbell has cleared this message.


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