Religion and Citizenship in Northern Nigeria: The Politics of Shari’ah

Issue Date 2005
Volume 5
Issue 1
Page Numbers pp. 7-23
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The introduction of Shari’ah law in 12 Northern Nigerian states provoked widespread national and international controversy. This paper examines the interface between religion, particularly Shari’ah law, in Northern Nigeria, and citizenship. It argues that years of authoritarian military rule, economic crisis and adjustment, and the uncertainties of democratic transition have combined to transform religious identity and enhanced its political potency. Shari’ah, as practised in some of these states, violates several citizenship rights, especially rights of religious minorities, women’s rights, and has exacerbated settler-indigene conflicts in many states in the northern Nigeria, resulting in violent ethno-religious conflicts in others.

INTRODUCTION

This paper examines the politics of religion, especially the implementation of Shari’ah legal system in northern Nigeria and its implications for citizenship. Our focal arguments are that although the Shari’ah is not a new issue in the politics of northern Nigeria, its emerging trend is a reflection of Nigerian pre-colonial and colonial history and how they influence the character and dynamics of the post colonial Nigerian state. Religion as a fundamental national question, rises deep-seated question of citizenship some times bordering on ‘secularity’ of the Nigerian state, rights of religious minorities, gender equality, women’s rights among others.

Nigeria has since the 1980s been experiencing growing religiosity, fundamentalism and conflict. Consequently, religious intolerance and conflicts have increased, with northern Nigeria as the epicenter of such conflicts. Shari’ah, one of such religious issues that took the nation by storm since 1999, has deepened the hullabaloo on Nigerian national question and citizenship. The paper attempts to respond to one pertinent question; to what extent does shari’ah implementation impact on citizenship in northern Nigeria?

The paper is divided into five parts. This introduction is immediately followed by conceptual and theoretical framework which captures the interface between religion and citizenship.

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