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Sharia Imposes Discriminatory Punishments - Nigeria's Justice Minister (Posted 21st Mar, 2002) Tell your friends about this page! Email it to them.


It is my solemn duty to bring to your notice the hundreds of letters which I receive daily from all over the world protesting the discriminatory punishments now imposed by some Sharia courts for certain offences. As a respected member of the world community, we cannot be indifferent to these protests. I crave your indulgence, therefore, to give thought to these protests and take measures to amend or modify the jurisdiction of the courts imposing these punishments so that we do not in the end isolate either the country as a whole or the affected states. We must be seen to comply with our Constitution, which in section 42(1)(a) provides as follows:

A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person - be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject.

I appreciate that your motive in conferring criminal jurisdiction on the Sharia Courts is to ensure transparency and achieve a more orderly and disciplined society. I commend this lofty objective but in achieving it, we must not violate the Constitution. Unless we abide by the Constitution, we shall have on our hands an arbitrary society based on the discretion of our rulers. That is totally unacceptable.

The fact that Sharia law applies to only Moslems or to those who elect to be bound by it makes imperative that the rights of such persons to equality with other citizens under the Constitution be not infringed. A Moslem should not be subjected to a punishment more severe than would be imposed on other Nigerians for the same offence. Equality before the law means that Moslems should not be discriminated against. As an elected Governor, I am certain that you would not tolerate such disparity in the allocation of punishment. It is not only against the Constitution but also against equity and good conscience.

Individuals and states must comply with the Constitution. A court which imposes discriminatory punishments is deliberately flouting the Constitution. The stability, unity and integrity of the nation are threatened by such action. In order to implement policies or programmes inconsistent with the Constitution we must first secure its amendment. Until that is done, we have to abide by it. To proceed on the basis either that the Constitution does not exist or that it is irrelevant is to deny the existence of the nation itself. We cannot deny the rule of law and hope to have peace and stability.

I write to you in good faith and in the interest of our country and the law. While bearing witnesses to your devotion to our country and to the cause of fairness and justice, I urge that you do not allow your zeal for justice and transparency to undermine the fundamental law of the nation which is the Constitution.

I appeal to you, therefore, to take steps to secure modification of all criminal laws of your State so that the courts will not be obliged to impose punishments which derogate from the rights of Moslems under the Constitution.

Letter By Kanu Agabi, Justice Minister and Attorney General of Nigeria

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