Conflict Reporting case study: Nigeria

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Conflict Reporting

case study: Nigeria

Conflict reporting case study:

Nigeria, November 2002


In late November 2002, the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna erupted in violence, leaving well over two hundred people dead and thousands injured or forced to flee their homes. Long-running tensions between two communities in Nigeria were apparently aggravated by an international event, the Miss World contest that some Nigerians found distasteful, and then inflamed by an article in the local press.

The whole troubled story makes a good case study for anyone interested in local reporting and the role of the media during conflict or in situations of ethnic and religious tension. It opens up many issues for class debate, one of which is the balance between freedom of expression and a journalist’s professional responsibility to the society he or she serves.


To make this case study an effective teaching tool, the instructor should hand out all these pages to the participants for their review a day or two before the workshop. Then, on the day of the workshop, the instructor should lead the class in a debate about the case, with everyone using the questions at the end of this module as a guide.

There are not exactly any right or wrong answers in this complex case. The purpose of the exercise is to spark lively discussion about a journalist’s rights and responsibilities. It is understood that participants in the workshop group will take opposing views on the issues and that a healthy, rewarding and constructive debate will be the result.

The texts

Following are eight texts looking at the background of the Nigerian case and examining the issues of responsibility for the tragedy: some say the journalist is to blame; others disagree. The first is a piece from BBC News Online as background on the events. Second is a BBC monitoring piece examining the reflections of Nigeria’s media on itself after the event.

The third text reveals highlights from a speech given after the tragedy by Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, who blames the federal government for the riots. The Fourth article is a comment piece from the Arab News and blames the organisers of the Miss World contest. The fifth piece is an article and interview excerpt from CNN, outlining the Nigerian president’s argument that the journalist was at fault. The sixth piece is from Reuters, examining the spectrum of Muslim criticism of the original article. The seventh article is the offending newspaper’s self-defence.

The eighth and final piece was commissioned by IWPR from a Nigerian post-graduate journalism student in London who provides some of the deeper context to the events – deeper context that was sadly lacking from most international reports on the riots, which often led on the Miss World contest rather than the killing in the streets.

I. Nigeria violence rages on

From BBC News Online, Saturday, 23 November, 2002, 12:57 GMT

Further rioting has broken out in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna, despite the decision to abandon the country's attempt to host this year's Miss World beauty contest.

More casualties have been reported, and eyewitnesses say security forces have been shooting to try to control a large crowd of demonstrators.

The decision to switch the venue for the competition to London came hours after the rioting - which has claimed more than 100 lives in Kaduna - spread to the capital Abuja, with Muslim youths rampaging through the streets.

Miss World contestants - who have been in Nigeria for nearly two weeks, attending preliminary events in mainly Christian, southern areas - are due to fly out of the country on Saturday.

Churches in Kaduna were among buildings attacked

A spokeswoman for the organisers said the decision to leave had been taken "in order to stop the bloodshed, for the sake of the nation".

"As every day passes, it became increasingly difficult to distance ourselves from that, even though we believe this violence is not connected to us", Stella Din said.

One of the contestants, Paula Murphy - Miss Scotland - said Miss World was not worth dying for.

"We're being used as the excuse. People are killing each other and saying it is all about Miss World - I can't have that. I'm coming home", she told Britain's Sun newspaper.

Offending article

The trouble was triggered when an article in Nigeria's ThisDay newspaper suggested that the Prophet Mohammed would have probably chosen to marry one of the Miss World contestants if he had witnessed the beauty pageant.

Violence escalated and turned into pitched battles after Muslim youths attacked the Kaduna office of ThisDay.

The newspaper said on Saturday that its editor, Simon Kolawole, had been detained by secret police.

Isolated clashes continued into the night in Kaduna on Friday and violence erupted again on Saturday.

More than 1,000 people have taken refuge in a local brewery compound guarded by soldiers.

A photographer for the French news agency AFP told the BBC he had had to flee for his life amid battles between soldiers and demonstrators.

He said he had seen several dead bodies on the streets and that the situation looked very serious indeed.

The clashes in Kaduna - one of the most volatile cities in Nigeria - have so far left more than 100 dead and 500 injured, according to Red Cross officials.

Buildings and cars were also set alight and four churches are reported to have been destroyed. Burnt-out car tyres litter the streets.

Irresponsible journalism

Thousands of people have been displaced, the Red Cross says.

Police and soldiers were deployed in large numbers to try to contain the violence, and a curfew was imposed.

Two years ago, the city saw more than 2,000 deaths in clashes between Christians and Muslims.

ThisDay said on Saturday that its editor Simon Kolawole had been arrested by men of the State Security Service in Abuja on Friday in connection with the article that caused offence to Muslims. A reporter for the paper, Isioma Daniel, had also been asked to report to the SSS office.

Nigeria's President, Olusegun Obasanjo, earlier promised that those responsible for what it called "irresponsible journalism" would be brought to account.

The newspaper has retracted the article and published apologies.


II. The Nigerian media examine themselves after the riots

From BBC Monitoring via BBC News Online, Sunday, 24 November, 2002, 16:33 GMT

The departure of the Miss World contestants has been met with a mixture of sadness and relief in Nigerian newspapers.

"It is a sad day for Nigeria," The Guardian [of Nigeria] comments, "not exactly because the Miss World Beauty pageant scheduled to be held in Abuja next month has been cancelled and the venue shifted to London, but because we still take a great deal of delight in killing ourselves."

The paper, exasperated by the violence that has hit the country over the past two years, spoke of "thousands of lives lost" and "a river of hatred between neighbours, friends and even relations".

"Where else in the world do people kill their brothers and neighbours and destroy their hard-earned properties at the slightest provocation than in this country?"

The minds of at least three generations "have been hopelessly poisoned" the paper laments.

"Why must we do this to ourselves?"

Phantom wars

Noting that the riots began in Kaduna, the paper speculates that "professional rioters" may have sparked this new surge of unrest, which it suggests may not be linked to the beauty contest and the controversial newspaper article which suggested that the prophet might have chosen one of the contestants as a bride.

"It is doubtful whether many of the youths that are routinely deployed to fight these phantom wars actually know what they are fighting for, the paper charged. "You are left with the impression that they are just willing tools in the hands of some evil men and women."

Now that the contest has been moved away from Nigeria "I hope we will have some peace", it sighed.

Political dimension

TheVanguard too, suggests the latest violence has introduced a political element to inter-ethnic and religious clashes of the past two years.

Under the headline "Killings again in Kaduna in the name of God" the paper says the "ever-volatile city was in its element again", and the "pent-up anger" from the previous incidents was "yet to defuse".

The Weekly Trust daily agrees. Anyone could have seen the clashes coming, it suggests.

Ever since the idea of hosting the pageant in Nigeria was made public, there had been "indications that the controversial beauty show might turn out to be an ill wind that would blow the nation no good".

The daily recalls that the previous ethno-religious violence had left Kaduna divided into two parts, with the north controlled by Muslims and the south dominated by Christians.

TheNew Nigerian fears the calm that has returned to Kaduna may be short-lived. It, too, sees the cause of the riots in local rivalries.

"Even as the dust was settling," the paper said "a new chapter of crisis might soon open with supporters of [Kaduna] Governor Ahmed Makarfi spoiling for revenge against their political opponents."

Dented image

The Vanguard believes the decision to move the pageant from Abuja is considered in government circles as a blow to President Olusegun Obasanjo who, it says, had given the project his backing and whose wife was one of the event's most high-profile supporters.

Moving the pageant is "a dent to the image of Nigeria," the paper suggests.

While the organisers had hoped the spectacle would brighten the image of Africa's most populous nation as a tourist destination "instead, media coverage has focused on controversy over the death sentences slapped on two unmarried mothers by Sharia courts and on vicious mob violence."


III. Soyinka Wants FG to Take Blame for Death Toll

This Day (Lagos), December 2, 2002

Joseph Ushigiale, Lagos

Two weeks after the violent eruptions in Kaduna and Abuja against the Miss World beauty pageant and a THISDAY story on it, which Muslims considered offensive, Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka has said the Federal Government should take responsibilities for the death of over 200 people and the destruction of properties worth close to a billion naira.

Soyinka who spoke in Lagos weekend at the fifth anniversary and endowment fund launch organised by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) said if the Federal Government had asserted itself on the need to protect the federal character of the nation and the provisions of its constitution on religion, there would have been no ground for mindless killings of people.

According to him, the Federal Government should be blamed for "refusing to accept responsibility for those who were killed, maimed and property destroyed in broad day light; refusal and accceptance of responsibility for the right of every individual in this pluralistic society."

Soyinka also berated the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Tafa Balogun, and heads of other security agencies for their complacency in allowing what he described as an inciting call for murder (Fatwa) by the deputy governor of Zamfara State, Alhaji Mamudu Aliyu Shinkafi, against the writer of the offensive article in THISDAY, Miss Isioma Daniel.

"I have also watched in consternation the call to murder. I am equally surprised that till date there hasn't been a suit either from the Federal Government, Inspector General of Police or the security agencies against the individual who is inciting Nigerians to a murder. Enough is enough," Soyinka warned.

"We have worked hard to put this nation together, but for those who want to seperate it, let them understand that we can no longer go down as second class citizens in this country," he added.

Soyinka noted that while there has arisen wide condemnation of what he described as a "chance glancing utterance of an individual, I have not heard the same intense condemnation for people who have been killed".

According to him, "there has also not been demand for punishment for those plunging this country into the unbelievable path of disintegration. I do not understand what is going on. The sacrifices we made were not to turn this country into a theocratic state".

He condemned what he described as the sanctimonious position of the Islamic leaders in the country in relation to the apology by the management of THISDAY for the offensive publication.

"I am disappointed that the so-called national leaders are offering sanctimonious statements about accepting an apology, culminating in the statement credited to the Islamic organisation which said - we hope that everybody knows a lesson has been learnt- I am disappointed".

He maintained that in consideration of the secularity of the country as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, "we should not allow the imposition of the theocratic arrogance of others on the totality of this nation. We are in a situation where the tail is wagging the dog".

Soyinka, however, enjoined the Federal Government to " act to stop the impudence at which our people are slaughtered and maimed at the slightest provocation".

Also speaking as a guest lecturer at the occasion, Prof Abdoulaye Bathily, a member of both the Senegalese National Assembly and ECOWAS, enjoined African leaders and politicians to contribute positively towards changing the image of the continent through a concerted fight against such policies that will entrench marginalisation and exclusion in the polity.

Bathily urged African leaders to take into account, the plural characteristics of their respective countries alongside other issues as diversity, notion of national identity from plural point of view and manage them equitably.

He also called for the revisitation of borders inherited from colonial masters, as according to him, " they are never known to be instrument of development. Their divisive nature is self evident".

Bathily also advocated a rejuvenation of the concept of African Solidarity, adding that revisiting the Pan Africanism concept will provide a vehicle for effective change if any meaningful progress or survival is to be achieved in an emergingly competitive world.

He stressed that "integration is the tool to remove distractive, divisive and indolent political and religious ideologies. Africa can only emerge a dynamic actor in the world scene if it competes successfully in development and scientific direction".


IV. Tragic mistake
Arab News Editorial, 24 November 2002

The Miss World contest is at the best of times a silly affair which, many have argued convincingly, degrades those who take part in it. The competition certainly perpetuates an out-of-date view of women as unintelligent beings notable only for their looks. Unfortunately, this vapid event has moved from the stupid to the tragic. Over 200 people have lost their lives because of it. The decision to stage the Miss World contest in Nigeria, a country with a significant Muslim population during the holy month of Ramadan defied all common sense. It demonstrated, if demonstration were needed, that the people behind this half-witted event were every bit as half-witted themselves. Though they have attempted to distance themselves from the deadly riots that followed the blasphemy produced by a local newspaper, the tensions that were unleashed had been building for weeks as a direct result of their actions.

What one of the promoters chose to term as “innocent fun” has turned out to be a deadly horror. The organizers have now decided to move this tacky event to London, which was where it originated four decades ago as a publicity stunt for a chain of ballroom dancing venues.

The organizers are hinting darkly that they made a mistake in assuming that Nigeria was a sufficiently stable country to host what they keep trying to pretend is a genuine and important international event. Blaming Nigeria, however, is unfair. Of course, those Nigerians who were party to organizing the unseemly parade are certainly guilty of a grievous lack of judgement, the worse because a moment’s thought would have told them that even were the event suitable for a country with devout Muslims, the timing was totally inappropriate. Nigeria is a country where, for a long time now, ethnic tensions have been near the boiling point for a variety of reasons — economic, tribal, political and so on. With every interest group ready to burn, kill and destroy “the other” at the smallest excuse, it is only the most thoughtless who will be foolish enough to provide that excuse. The organizers of the pageant have done that.

It must be hoped that those who perpetrated this awful mistake will be properly pilloried for their error. Meanwhile, the main organizers are hastily leaving behind them the carnage they have created and taking their circus off to London. There, it will hopefully be treated with the disinterest, if not contempt, it deserves. Indeed, it may not be too much to expect that advertisers and sponsors of this unedifying event will decide that enough is enough and withdraw their financial support for the contest. It would be nice to believe that this cynical exercise has come to an end. It perverts the whole meaning of the word “contest” which at its highest incarnation is a genuine competition between athletes and a measure of sporting excellence. It has nothing to do with women parading around and telling a bunch of arbitrarily chosen judges about their hobbies and their ambition to be a hairdresser.

The consequences of this rubbish are normally disgust and boredom. Unfortunately in Nigeria, they have been a very great deal more serious. And no less unfortunately, it is clearly too much to expect that the cynical and ignorant promoters of this garbage, should feel any shame at all.


V. Obasanjo blames media for Miss World riots

CNN, November 26, 2002 1144 GMT

ABUJA, Nigeria -- Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo says the media are responsible for the controversy over the Miss World pageant that led to riots in which 220 died.

The riots began last Wednesday after a newspaper article offended Muslims by alleging that had the prophet Muhammad been alive, he would have wanted to marry one of the beauty queens.

Fighting broke out between Muslims and Christians in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna and spread to Abuja, the country's capital and the intended venue for the contest.

Obasanjo told CNN that "irresponsible journalism" in Nigeria was responsible for the violence.

"What happened in Nigeria obviously could have happened at any time that such sensitive and irresponsible remarks are made, at a time like this -- particularly at a time like this, in Nigeria," he said.

"Ramadan is regarded as holy month for all Muslims and it's a period of fasting, a period of prayer. Their brothers and sisters must also respect their sensitivities and their sensibilities.

"Nigerian people did not regard that. It caused what we have now in the country."

Obasanjo said he regretted the contest had left Nigeria.

"I'm only sorry that (due to) circumstances beyond our control those girls had to leave and we regret that they have to leave but we are happy that we have done our best," he said.


CNN: Who do you think bears responsibility for what happened in Nigeria?

OLUSEGUN OBASANJO, PRESIDENT OF NIGERIA: Well, I will say, irresponsible journalism in Nigeria bears responsibility for what happened in Nigeria.

What happened in Nigeria obviously could have happened at any time that such sensitive and irresponsible remarks is made, at a time like this -- particularly at a time like this, in Nigeria.

Ramadan is regarded as holy month for all Muslims and it's a period of fasting, a period of prayer. And then those of their brothers and sisters must also respect their sensitivities and their sensibilities.

That's -- Nigerian people did not regard that. It caused what we have now so far in the country.

CNN: President Obasanjo, was it just bad journalism, or was it an opportunity exploited by your own political opponents to embarrass you, to embarrass your government, to embarrass the country?

OBASANJO: Well, I will not say that there is absolutely no political undertone. But every political opponent, as you put them, of mine, or political opponent of Nigeria, or those who do not wish Nigeria well, do not have a excuse, they were not given opportunity -- they have no opportunity to take or excuse to cause the destruction that has been caused.

CNN: And yet there are some people, Mr. President, who say that the base problem is the introduction of Sharia law in the north of your country and in areas, like Kaduna, that are mixed between Muslims and Christians. Was this an explosion that was waiting to happen again?

OBASANJO: Not really. Sharia has been part of our unique experience in Nigeria where we have lived together as Christians and Muslims. And Sharia law is not the first -- this is not the first time it will be part of our law. It has always been, what we call penal code in the north was in fact Sharia law, and there are still parts of the north where that is the law of the land.

And in 1979, we even put in our constitution a Sharia court of appeals for the first time. So Sharia is not a new thing in our constitution or in our law. But what is a new thing is what I'll call, what people call freedom of the press, which I call license, and license to be insensitive, to show no consideration for other people's feelings and other people's way of life, to show no respect.

That I cannot accept, the way that journalists or pressmen or women should conduct their affairs in this land.


VI. Nigerian State Says Miss World Reporter Should Die

Reuters, November 26, 2002

By Tume Ahemba

KADUNA, Nigeria - A Nigerian Muslim state said Tuesday it had issued a "fatwa" urging Muslims to kill the author of a newspaper story on the Miss World pageant that sparked deadly riots in northern Nigeria.

Nigerian Muslims were enraged by the article, written by a young woman journalist named Isioma Daniel who recently returned from a journalism course at Britain's University of Lancaster. It suggested that the Prophet Mohammad probably would have married one of the contestants in the beauty contest, which was to have been staged in Nigeria.

"What we are saying is that the Holy Koran has clearly stated that whoever insults the Prophet of Islam, Mohammad, should be killed," Zamfara State Commissioner for Information Umar Dangaladima Magaji told Reuters.

Editors of the newspaper said that Daniel, ThisDay's style editor, had fled to the United States after tendering her resignation in the wake of the crisis.

The beauty pageant was hastily moved to London after clashes between Muslims and Christians broke out in the northern city of Kaduna last week, killing more than 200 people.

Since publishing the article, ThisDay newspaper has issued numerous apologies, which it said had been accepted by the main Muslim body in Nigeria, the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs.

The Kaduna-based New Nigerian newspaper said the fatwa, or religious edict, had been issued by Zamfara's Deputy Governor Mamuda Aliyu Dallatun Shinkafi, who compared Daniel to the British author Salman Rushdie, sentenced to death by Iranian Muslim clerics.

"Like Salman Rushdie, the blood of the ThisDay writer can be shed," the paper quoted Shinkafi as saying at a rally Monday.

Asked to clarify the state government's pronouncement, Magaji said it had "passed a fatwa" on Daniel, a reporter in her early 20s.


"It's a fatwa. It is based on the request of the people," he said, adding that this did not contradict the authority of Islamic clerics who have the power to issue a death sentence. "Being a leader, you can pass a fatwa," he said.

Magaji said a number of Islamic associations in the state had asked the state government to take action. The government had decided a fatwa was appropriate and could defuse anger that might otherwise lead to further bloodshed.

Zamfara was the first Nigerian state to adopt Islamic Sharia law, soon after the end of military rule in Nigeria in 1999. Attempts to introduce the Sharia code in the neighboring state of Kaduna sparked protests and riots from non-Muslims that killed some 3,000 people in February 2000.

The Kaduna office of ThisDay was razed last week by Muslim youths at the start of the latest violence.

The editor of ThisDay's Saturday edition, in which the article appeared, was detained for questioning but has since been released, the editors said.

Muslim opinion was split over the fatwa, with criticism voiced both at home and abroad.

"ThisDay newspaper has apologized on her behalf, so the fatwa has to be withdrawn," said the Kaduna-based Islamic scholar Ali Alkali.


An official at the Ministry of Islamic affairs in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, said the fatwa should not have been passed if the author had apologized.

"They have no right to kill if the person expresses regret and apologizes, as it is considered repentance," said Sheikh Saad al-Saleh. "But if the person stands by his statements then the matter should be referred to a Sharia court to decide on a punishment, including death."

But Mohammed Nasiru Usman, an imam in Kaduna, supported the fatwa.

"Fatwa can be declared on a non-Muslim who insults the Prophet. That is exactly what this reporter did," he said.

Speaking to Reuters in Britain, Miss World organizer Julia Morley pleaded for forgiveness for Daniel, saying she "has already apologized and admitted it was a very irresponsible thing to do."

Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo, speaking from Abuja Monday in an interview with CNN, said "irresponsible journalism" was to blame for Nigeria's latest communal bloodletting.

Religious leaders have warned that the violence could torpedo Nigeria's presidential election next year, the first since the end of military rule. The build-up already has been overshadowed by the worst cycle of religious and political violence since independence from Britain in 1960.

In London, Miss World organizers came up against more opposition, with media and lobby groups accusing them of having blood on their hands.

A curfew is still in force in Kaduna, six days after the riots broke out. The Red Cross said Monday the death toll was 215, while civil rights and hospital sources put it at 250.


VII. Obaigbena On CNN: We Practice Responsible Journalism

This Day (Lagos), December 1, 2002

Oma Djebah With CNN Report, Lagos

Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Leaders and Company Limited, Publishers of THISDAY Newspapers, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena said yesterday that THISDAY practices responsible journalism, even as he restated that the management of the organisation has put in place internal checks to prevent a recurrence of the publication concerning Miss World pageant.

Obaigbena who was fielding questions from Cable Network News (CNN), from South Africa said the offensive portion of the article was edited out of the story by the supervising editor, but "the corrections were not effected in the main server in the heat of production deadlines."

He said: "Already, we have a process in place. We are very responsible journalists and we practice responsible journalism".

As responsible journalists we are very sensitive to the feelings of our readers in Nigeria which is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. But the reporter who wrote the story is a young journalist who recently returned to the country, she is a British-trained journalist who had not practised in Nigeria before joining THISDAY. So as a young reporter, we attached her to Style Section where we thought she would not be faced with serious issues that could lead to any problem. And the editor actually edited out the portion of the story but the corrections were not effected in the main server."

Responding to a question as to why the Miss World pageant competition was organised during the month of Ramadan, which is regarded as a holy month in the Islamic calendar, Obaigbena noted that the newspaper was not the organiser of the competition, stressing that the erroneous portion of the publication was due to technological failure.

"Our reporters and editors know they practice journalism in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society and are very conscious of that fact. I must say that the portion referring to the Holy Prophet Mohammed was actually edited out by the editor but we were failed by technology. And immediately that happened, we reached out to Muslim leaders across the country, and we apologised as responsible people. We sent messages through to many people. We even put the message on the GSM mobile phone for about a milliom users ..."

On the riot that followed the publication, Obaigbena said there had been riots before in the country and THISDAY cannot be solely blamed for the cancellation of the Miss World pageant. Asked whether he was on the run to South Africa, Obaigbena said he was in Johannesburg on a THISDAY mission. The newspaper is to start publication in South Africa in January.

It would be recalled that crisis had erupted in response to a publication on Miss World pageant in THISDAY on November 16,, which many Muslims considered offensive three.

In response, the newspaper quickly followed with published apologies, just as the board and management of the organisation deployed staff to the northern part of the country to explain the company's objective, balanced journalism policy.

In recognition of that prompt and responsible approach, the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Alhaji Mohammed Maccido, sued for calm and understanding. This was followed by the acceptance of THISDAY's apology by the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (SCIA), many notable religious leaders and organisations.

Members of the Muslim community who have since accepted THISDAY's apology include SCIA Secretary-General, Dr. Lateef Adegbite, Alhaji Isyaku Ibrahim, Senator Mohammed Girei and former Internal Affairs Minister and member of the Board of Trustees of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Major-General Muhammadu Magoro (rtd), amongst others.

Magoro in a telephone chat with THISDAY from Kaduna at the weekend said since the newspaper has apologised, there should be calm. "I just came back into the country. But as a responsible citizen, I must join other citizens in appealing for calm. Let's hope that it was not intentional and since apology has been tendered, we should all embrace peace and avoid the mistakes of the past."

The Zamfara State government which on Monday passed a Fatwa or death sentence on Miss Isioma Daniel, a reporter with THISDAY who authored the controversial article on Miss World Beauty Pageant has been isolated by the Islamic world as the Federal Government, the authorities of the Saudi Arabia Kingdom, the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (SCIA) and Islamic clerics across the country denounced the move.

Minister of Information and National Orientation, Prof. Jerry Gana who made the Federal Government's stand known in an interview with the French news agency, AFP, said the Zamfara State government directive that Ms Daniel, who has since last week relocated to the United States, should be beheaded is "null and void".

Gana who said the order would not be enforced explained that "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, because the Federal Republic is governed by the rule of law."

He continued: "The constitution of the Federal Republic is the supreme law of the land and the laws do not provide for anyone who has done something like what THISDAY has done to be killed. That directive of the Zamfara State government... is null and void."

Speaking in the same vein, an official of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs in Saudi Arabia which is the headquarters of Islam in the world, said the Fatwa by Zamfara State government should not have been passed if the author had apologised.

Sheikh Saadal-Saleh who spoke to AFP on behalf of the Saudi Arabia Kingdom said "they have no right to kill if the person expresses regret and apologises as it is considered repentance. But if the person stands by his statements then the matter should be referred to a Sharia court to decide on a punishment, including death."

The Saudi position therefore portrays the Zamfara declaration as both a subversion of the judicial process and a disregard for the position of the Islamic law.

It will be recalled that THISDAY management and its chairman severally carried front page apologies, explaining that the offensive portion of the article being complained of were published in error.


VIII. Nigeria’s Web of Intrigues

Special to IWPR, 3 December 2002

By Tunde Asaju

Media gleanings in the UK on the Miss World riots in Nigeria, allegedly sparked by a blasphemous writing in the Nigerian daily, This Day, made interesting reading. But it is at best a simple way of compounding an already complex situation, at least for those not conversant with the Nigerian web of intrigues. About 250 people died in that incident, making Kaduna the most volatile city in Nigeria with four such crises in three years.

But why is Kaduna the centre of carnage and what distinguishes it from the other cities in the northern part of Nigeria with more historical relevance in the calendar of Islam?

The answer to this is reflected in the complexity of the entity called Nigeria with two basic religions, three or four dominant ethnic groups and 350 nationalities. Africa’s largest country gained independence from Britain in 1960, and was then only a nation with three regions – the west, the east and the north – but today Nigeria has 36 states, not including its federal capital, which moved from Lagos to Abuja.

The balkanisation of Nigeria

Ethnic, tribal and religious tensions play key roles in events in Nigeria. They played a part, for example, when Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, a northern Hausa-Fulani Muslim, became the first prime minister with Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Ibo from the east as ceremonial president. They played a part in the balkanisation of Nigeria: the country moved first from three regions to six; then, with the adoption of a federal structure, from six to twelve states under Yakubu Gowon; then from 12 to 19 states; then to 21 states; finally reaching its current 36 states. Still, there is a yearning for more.

State creation is the shortest route devised by the military – which has ruled Nigeria for more than half of its 42-year history – to address primordial ethnic and religious sentiments. But rather than solve problems, it appears to be fuelling it. The fact is that the British did a shoddy job of putting together people who have great animosities against each other without due regard to compatibility of cultures and value systems. While most people in the north practice Islam, in the south Christianity is most common. In the middle belt there is a mixture of both. Early contact with Europeans gave the west and the south access to western education, but the north was more isolated, and even now, the north accepts that it is educationally disadvantaged.

Though the army has broken the country into chunks, the old regions feature prominently in political lingo. In 1998, Alex Ekwueme, former vice president, found a way round it by dividing the country into six geopolitical regions: northeast, northwest, middle belt, southwest, southeast and south south. It was embraced as a panacea to cries of marginalisation. At least, if the formula was adopted, each region can be assured that it would have its chance to produce a president. But, as far as old regions go, the old north has 19 states, whose governors met regularly mainly to discuss shared assets but also to take stands on political matters. In recent times, all the southern governors also meet together.

The role of religion

Nigeria has roughly 120 million people. Only a few censuses have been held in the country, and religious demographic figures have never been revealed. Some say this is a political ploy by leaders who have ruled the country, 80 per cent of who are of northern extraction not to mention being mostly Muslim. Unemployment is high, around 40 per cent; the government has no sense of direction or plan to address it.

In such a situation, God or Allah has taken the place where the government has failed. Those who cannot make ends meet turn to the churches and the mosques to fill their hungry stomach and their hopeless lives with doctrines that crystallise their frustration with the system. Nigeria perhaps has the largest number of mosques and churches for any African country, and those involved in the organised religious communities are willing recruits in the quest by politicians to use religion to steamroll themselves into power.

Leadership and ethnicity

1960-66: Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (Bauchi, northerner)

1966 (6 months): Major General J.T.U. Aguiyi Ironsi (Ibo, south-east)

1966-1975: General Yakubu Gowon (northerner, middle belt)

1975-76 (six months): General Murtala Ramat Mohammed (northerner, Kano)

1976-79: General Olusegun Obasanjo (Yoruba, Ogun state)

1979-1983: Alhaji Shehu Aliyu Usman Shagari (northerner, Sokoto Muslim)

1983-84: General Muhammadu Buhari (northerner Katsina, Muslim)

1984-1993: General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (Muslim, Niger State)

1994-95: Chief Ernest Shonekan (Christian, southwest)

1994-98: General Sani Abacha (Muslim, northerner, Kano)

1998-99: General Abdulsalami Abubakar (Muslim, northerner Niger State)

1999 to date: Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (Christian, south west)

Constitutionally, Nigeria is a secular state, although Ibrahim Babangida, one of the country’s past dictators, signed the country into the Organisation of Islamic States, OIC, in the 1980s. At public functions religious leaders from both sides are invited to offer long competing prayers. Governors build mosques or churches at government houses depending on which religion they profess.

Ethnicity and Nigeria’s leaders

Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo came to power in 1999. Since then, more than 10,000 people have died in communal or religious violence.

Obasanjo had been the first Yoruba army officer to rule Nigeria back in 1976-1979. He was then elected to rule Nigeria for the second time in 1998 and sworn in on May 29, 1999 for a four-year term. Though a southern Yoruba, he was not the first southerner to hold the leadership position -- Aguiyi Ironsi, the man who became head of state in 1966, was a southerner, but he is Ibo. Also, Ernest Shonekan, the businessman who inherited the Interim National Government, ING, after Babangida was a southerner. In fact, he is from Abeokuta, the same town where Obasanjo was born.

Still, Obasanjo is seen as a rare leader from the Christian south, in a country where most leaders have been Muslim northerners. He is the twelfth leader at the federal level and the first to hold leadership twice. But he became everybody’s candidate in 1999 when he was released from detention and pardoned to pave way for his participation in politics. As a soldier in 1979, he handed over power to a democratic government headed by a northerner, Shehu Shagari.

The north, until now, saw in Obasanjo a true leader and rallied support for him in the 1999 presidential elections won by his party. But when Obasanjo, barely a month in power announced the retirement of 92 officers, mostly from the northwest and northeast and appointed middle belt service chiefs to replace them, there was loud outcry of betrayal and accusations of marginalisation by some northerners. For their part, middle belt people felt recognised as a people for the first time and scandalised that the north, in crying marginalisation, had rejected them.

Since the end of the civil war in 1970, Nigerian leaders have paid lip service to genuine reconciliation. The Ibo of the southeast have complained that they have been deliberately zoned out of relevance. No Ibo have been given more than a command position in the armed forces, none has been given a position in the police. The best job they got was as vice president in 1983. Now, Alex Ekwueme, the man who played that role, has picked up a presidential nomination form. He wants to challenge Obasanjo. Ekwueme was among the kingmakers when Obasanjo clinched the party ticket in 1998. He is also a member of the ruling party's board of trustees. It is a sign that the Ibo are no longer satisfied with playing second fiddle.

Kaduna: potent symbol

Kaduna, the capital of a state also called Kaduna, is seen by most northerners as their home, but it is a place split by ethnic tensions.

Kaduna city is divided into north and south: Muslims populate the north with a fraction of Christians, while the south consists of Christians and animists. It’s the same split seen in Kaduna state and, more generally, the country at large. The situation after earlier riots had deteriorated to such an extent that Kaduna city has areas named Jerusalem where no Muslims live, and another dubbed Mecca, a no-go area for Christians.

Kaduna’s Christians accuse their northern compatriots of years of subjugation and saw in Obasanjo an ally, a friend and the only way to liberate themselves from years of subjugation.

Kaduna is the only northern city that has no “emir”, traditional heads and symbols of religious authority in the north, but the state of Kaduna does have a controversial governor: a Muslim whom other Muslims claim is not Islamic enough.

Mohammed Makarfi, the governor of Kaduna state, angered his Muslim brothers and the northern power block, when he created a greater chiefdom for the southern side of the state and exempted them from sharia law by creating civil courts to serve the non-Muslim community there exclusively.

Those who see Kaduna as a Muslim town nicknamed Makarfi "Netanyahu", after the right-wing Israeli prime minister. Others simply called him "Reverend Makarfi", thus accusing him of turning his back on his Muslim background, despite the fact that he had performed the pilgrimage to Mecca (and thus ought to be addressed as "Alhaji").

Makarfi's deputy, like most others before him, is a southern Christian. He is equally a close friend and known supporter of Obasanjo. These acts are potential problems if conspiracy theorists are to be believed. His pro-Obasanjo views have made him a darling of the southern press.

Little wonder then, those arsonists who carried out the latest mayhem targeted all Makarfi's business concerns, particularly his campaign headquarters as well as homes and businesses of his loyal friends. They also chanted anti-Makarfi and anti-Obasanjo slogans as they torched his buildings.

Makarfi is in the race for re-election, but those who believe that he did not fulfil their will say he will not be returned to power.

Yet another controversial political figure in Kaduna is Muhammadu Buhari, one of Nigeria’s former military leaders who recently shocked the nation when he declared his candidacy for the 2003 presidential elections. Though born in Daura, in the north-eastern state of Katsina, Buhari now lives in Kaduna.

With Buhari in Kaduna and declaring himself a supporter of the sharia legal system, seen by most southerners in bad light, the ethno-religious tension in Kaduna continues to be high. Many have asked why Buhari should take his stand when, as head of state, he did not introduce sharia or even take Nigeria into the Organization of Islamic Conferences?

In Kaduna, these are all constant sources of tension.

The newspaper

Nduka Obaigbena, who founded This Day in 1995, comes from the old Middle West, that strip separating the Ibos from their other ethnic neighbours. Simon Kolawole, the editor of the Saturday edition in which Isioma Daniel wrote her article, is from the middle belt state of Kogi. He was raised in Lagos and until early this year edited The Week, a newsweekly owned by Atiku Abubakar, Nigeria’s vice president. For writing an article on the governor of Lagos State early this year, Kolawole entered into the bad books of Abubakar. The vice president impounded the publication. Kolawole felt insulted and resigned.

Two weeks later, he was offered a place at This Day by Obaigbena whose paper was the only publication to write a scathing editorial on the lacklustre administration of Obasanjo in May, when it marked three years in office. In effect, This Day cuts the image of an enemy who will see nothing good in government.

Isioma Daniel recently completed a degree in journalism from University of Lancashire in the UK. It would appear that the only thing she knew about her native country were things she gleaned from the press and scanty history lessons – not enough to cover the complexity called Nigeria – but she was infused with a virus called freedom.

Southerners own 80 per cent of Nigeria’ independent press – a large chunk of these media owners are also Christians. When a story goes wrong, those aggrieved say that they were portrayed in bad light either because they are Christians or Muslims or because of their ethnic origin. Many northerners feel, and rightly so, that they are hardly covered by the media except in bad light.

The average southern reporter is ignorant of the culture and norms of the north. What he is imbued with are the stereotypes whispered within the walls of homes but which may cause trouble outside. To successfully work as a journalist in Nigeria, a reporter needs to learn how to tiptoe around landmines, as ignorance of events and issues such as Ms Daniel demonstrated is a recipe for disaster.

The trigger

Kolawole needed someone to cover the beauty pageant, but the story was not as simple as it seems. The pageant itself was sponsored by Silverbird productions, owned by Ben Murray-Bruce, a friend of the Obasanjos, and owner of the independent Rhythm radio station and now on sabbatical as head of federally controlled Nigerian Television Authority.

A naïve Daniel did not seem to know this or any of these wider contexts when she wrote that the holy prophet of Islam would have endorsed a beauty pageant – regarded in Muslim circles as a parade of nudity – by marrying one of them.

When Kolawole saw the error in the first few copies of the paper he knew Northern Muslims would naturally have interpreted this as a deliberate attempt by a southern-based paper to insult them and their religion, and he worked to correct the problem.

He thought could manage the crisis. He quickly corrected the mistake on his computer, thinking that would change the copy before publication. If some copies had already been printed, he thought, they would be in mixed, cosmopolitan Lagos, and that level of problem could be solved by making a few phone calls. But somehow the server did not reflect his correction at all and so, all copies carried the mistake throughout the country.

Northern Muslims reacted in a manner, which should not surprise anyone conversant with Nigeria’s delicate history. And it is clear that, given its composition, the government, at least at first, would have been happy to teach its enemy a lesson. Only, as usual, they miscalculated the extent that the damage could do in a divided city like Kaduna, or a divided country like Nigeria.

To most southerners, even those who didn’t support Obasanjo before, this crisis was a time to rally round a son, and many in the southern media saw nothing wrong with Obasanjo’s actions during this crisis. The adage often quoted in southern circles is that one never lets his son be mauled by a lion because he is bad. Some newspaper proprietors have sacked editors because they allowed critical stories to be published about him.

Yes, a blasphemy had been committed against the holy prophet of Islam, but the underlying factors go beyond just the ink from a writer’s pen.



Having read through the texts, consider the following questions and be prepared to discuss them in class:

  1. What were the existing tensions in Kaduna and in Nigeria more generally before the offending article appeared? What are the communities involved, and what are the issues they feel strongly about?

  2. Could the author have known she would cause offence to one community?

  3. Should someone censor herself just because a group of people threaten public violence if something appears in print that they don’t like?

  4. What do you think about the actions of the editor, who tried to change the text of the offending article at the last minute?

  5. Does the right to free speech mean that a person has the right to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre?

  6. What is the responsibility of a professional journalist in such a dramatically divided society? Is it different from the responsibility of a journalist in a society that is more at peace with itself? Is it different from the responsibility of the average person, ie a non-journalist?

  7. If the media can spark conflict, can they also be a force for peace and reconciliation? If so, how? And how can the media work for peace and reconciliation without being “used” (manipulated) by any side – even the peace-activists’ side?

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