Wednesday November 27, 1:21 AM
Nigerian state slaps "death sentence" on Miss World reporter
The government of a mainly Muslim state in northern Nigeria called for believers to kill a woman journalist who wrote an article on the Miss World pageant which was seen as insulting to the Prophet Mohammed.
Zamfara State's information commissioner, Umar Dangaladima, told AFP that the state government endorsed a "fatwa" -- an Islamic religious decree -- calling for the death of fashion writer Isioma Daniel, whose report triggered bloody riots.
There is no danger that the decree will be carried out -- Daniel lives far from Zamfara in Lagos and is said to have fled Nigeria -- but the statement marks another dispute between the leaders of the Muslim north and Nigeria's secular government.
Information Minister Jerry Gana, who acts as a spokesman for Nigeria's secular government, dismissed the decree as both "null and void" and unconstitutional and vowed it would not be enforced.
"The federal government under the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will not allow such an order in any part of the federal republic," he told AFP.
Last week more than 220 people died in the northern city of Kaduna in rioting, which has been blamed on the report, and the Miss World organisation was been forced to abandon plans to stage the spectacle in Nigeria.
Dangaladima told AFP: "The state government did not on its own pass the fatwa. It's a fact that Islam prescribes the death penalty on anybody, no matter his faith, who insults the Prophet.
"Therefore the state government has retained this verdict as it applies to Isioma. This is our position," he said, explaining that Islamic youth organisations had come to the Zamfara government to ask for action against the offending journalist.
Zamfara's deputy governor Mamuda Aliyu Shinkafi said late Monday in a speech to religious leaders in the Zamfara State capital Gusau which was rebroadcast on state radio: "Like Salman Rushdie, the blood of Isioma Daniel can be shed."
"It is binding on all Muslims wherever they are to consider the killing of the writer as a religious duty," he said.
But Lateef Adegbite, general secretary of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in Nigeria, distanced his influential body from the fatwa, refusing to endorse it.
He told AFP that the council would study the ruling, but would also take into account that Daniel is a Christian, does not live or work in Zamfara and that her paper had apologised.
A "fatwa" is a legal statement in Islam, issued by a mufti or a religious lawyer after reference to precedents, to decide on an issue of jurisprudence.
In an interview with CNN late Monday Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo defended the right of Zamfara and 11 other states to reintroduce Islamic Sharia law.
"I have always maintained Sharia has been part of Nigeria since we have lived together as Christians and Muslims," he said.
"We are practicing a federal form of government in this land... because of our diversity. Anybody who tried to enforce a unity form of government in this land would destroy it overnight."
But Obasanjo also said that he opposes the death sentences handed down by some Sharia courts for offences such as adultery, and vowed that the federal courts will quash them on appeal.
Daniel resigned from the newspaper This Day after fury erupted over an article she authored on November 16 on the Miss World pageant, in which she suggested that the Prophet Mohammed might not have opposed its being held in Nigeria.
"The Muslims thought it was immoral to bring 92 women to Nigeria to ask them to revel in vanity. What would Mohammed think? In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from one of them," she wrote.
Daniel is described by her paper as "a style writer who had only just joined This Day a few months back after a short journalism career in the UK".
Her mobile telephone was not accepting calls on Tuesday and a senior source at the paper said she had fled the country.
On Wednesday a group of Muslim youths burned down This Day's local offices in Kaduna, an attack that proved to be a prelude to three days of sectarian violence.
At the weekend the contestants and organisers of the Miss World pageant left Nigeria under a cloud of disastrous publicity surrounding the violence. The show has now been moved to London and its organisers have blamed This Day for the violence.