Shari'a in the North: A case study of Kogi State


Habibu Angulu Sani

Published in the Weekly Trust October 29-November 4, 1999 Edition, p. 15-16

[Retyped and reformatted by


What is Sharia? Simply defined, it is the Islamic  personal law governing the Muslim way of life. This way of life encompasses all personal matters affecting all Muslims throughout the country. As thus defined, the personal mattes under the Islamic personal law are clearly explained in Sections 262 and 277 of the 1999 Constitution. They are stated as follows:

(a) ...any question of Islamic personal law regarding a marriage concluded in accordance with that law, including a question relating to the validity or dissolution of such a marriage or a question that depends on such a marriage and relating to family relationship or the guardianship of an infant.

(b) where all the parties to the proceeding are Muslims, any question of Islamic personal law regarding a marriage, including the validity or dissolution of that marriage, or regarding family relationship, a foundling or the guardianship of an infant.

(c) any question of Islamic personal law regarding a wakf, gift, will or succession where the endower, donor, testator or deceased person is a Muslim.

(d) any question of Islamic personal law regarding an infant, prodigal or person of unsound mind who is a Muslim or the maintenance or the guardianship of a Muslim who is physically or men- tally infirm; or

( e) where all the parties to the proceedings, being Muslims, have requested the court that hears the case in the first instance to determine that case in accordance with Islamic personal law, any other question.

The Sharia is a law that is entirely applicable to Muslims, and is therefore not applicable to non- Muslims unless such non-Muslims, voluntarily consent to be tried under the Sharia. This means that non-Muslims, particularly the Christians in Nigeria and elsewhere, who are criticising the adoption by and application to Muslims of the Sharia to govern their ways of life are simply doing so out of sheer ignorance and perhaps mischief.

What such critics should be concerned about is the law governing their own ways of life and religious belief. This is to say, for example, that the Christians should look up to the Cannon law to regulate their personal conduct in societies where they live side by side with Muslims or entirely} on their own where there are no Muslims in such a society. Such societies are indeed rare outside the Vatican. On their own part, the worshippers of idols deities and such other fetish should seek to have their won peculiar religious laws enshrined in the Constitution to govern their own ways of life.

Here in Nigeria, such matters as they jointly affect Muslims and Christians, and indeed the adherents of religions outside the two major religions of Nigeria, are constitutionally regulated. In the case of Muslims, they enjoy the Sharia Law and the provisions of the Constitution as the latter is revised from time to time. The former, which is exclusive to them, is governed by both the Holy Koran and the teachings of the Holy Prophets (the Haddith).

It is necessary to emphasise here that the Nigerian Constitution has made robust provisions on the Sharia. The latest of such provisions are contained in the following relevant sections of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria:

Section 38 deals with the fundamental right of all Nigerian citizens to freedom of religion, thought and conscience. It says, inter alia:

". ..Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, con- science and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom ( either alone or in community with others, and in public or private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance. ..

One of the implications of this provisions is that Muslims like Christians and other non- Muslims believers, are fully protected to practice, propagate and manifest the Islamic religion, including the Sharia as defined, without let or hindrance. It is therefore patently wrong and indeed unconstitutional for Christians to raise any hew and cry as some of them are doing at present, against the adoption and application of the sharia to govern their personal lives anywhere in Nigeria and beyond. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and their members who have been publishing newspaper articles against the adoption of the sharia in Zamfara, Sokoto and elsewhere in the country are well-advised to restrain themselves from causing inter-religious disaffection and unprovoked holy war (the Jihad) on these matters. They are indeed matters of public policy based on the relevant constitutional provisions which specifically and exclusively deal with civil proceedings and coming before the constitutionally provided sharia courts in those parts of the country where such courts are set

Section 244 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution deals with appellant matters emanating from the tower sharia court of appeal located at both the state level and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, for adjudication at the country's higher court of appeal.

Specifically, it says that: 

...An appeal shall lie from decisions of a Court of Appeal to the Court of Appeal as of right in any civil proceedings before the Sharia Court of Appeal with respect to any question of Islamic personal law which the Sharia Court of Appeal is competent to decide,. .

The rights of parties having interest in these matters are further protected by a clause which clearly stipulates in sub-section 2(a) of Section 244 Which states that any right to appeal to the court of appeal from the decisions of a Sharia Court of Appeal conferred by this section shall be exercisable: the instance of a party thereto or, with the leave of the Sharia Court of Appeal or of the Court of. at the instance of any other person having an interest in the matter... 

With regard to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, the personal Islamic matters of Muslims living in the area are constitution- ally protected by the provision of a Sharia Court of Appeal in that territory. Thus, there are provided Sections 260 -264 of the 1999 Constitution for this purpose. For example section 260 says that "there shall be a Sharia Court of Appeal of the Capital Territory, Abuja.

What does the Sharia say about the status of Muslims in the states outside the Federal Capital Territory Abuja? The following sections of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution are relevant on the matter:

 Section 275 states categorically that "there shall be for any state that requires it, a sharia court of appeal for that state."

For the Kogi State of Nigeria, this clause of the constitution as in the other Constitutions that went before it, has been invoked upon in the establishment of the Kogi State Sharia Court of Appeal. The court is headed by a Grand Kadi. He is assisted by three Kadis of the state. Section 276 of the 1999 Constitution provides for the appointment of the grand Kadi of the state by the governor of the state on the recommendations of the National Judicial Council. This recommendation is subject to confirmation by the Kogi State House of Assembly as is the case with grand kadi.

Section 277: This is an important aspect of the constitutional provision on the establishment of the sharia court of appeal for the states that need to be highlighted.

Section 277 states that "the Sharia Court of Appeal of a state shall, in addition to such other jurisdiction as may be conferred upon it by the law of the state, exercise such appellate and supervisory jurisdiction in civil proceedings involving questions of Islamic personal law which the court is competent to decide in accordance with the provisions of sub-section (2) of Section 277." These are indeed wide powers under the due process of law. One of the implications of this provision is that the state has the constitutional powers to extend the jurisdiction of the Sharia Court of Appeal of a state. And even here, the non-Muslims must consent to there being tried under such an extended law of the sharia before it can be applied to them.

The grand kadi of the state is a member of the state Judicial Service Commission. He can also serve as a member of the National Judicial Council on a rotational basis for two years from among Grand Kadis of the Sharia Courts of Appeal when it is the turn of the state from which he comes to be appointed into the National Judicial Council.

Kogi State as a Sharia State: 

The total population of Kogi state as per the 1991 national population census is over 2.23 million (2,230,000 to be exact). The preponderance of this population is to be found in the Kogi East and Kogi Central Senatorial Districts of the state, with the Kogi West Senatorial District occupying the third place. Their respective population figures are given as follows:

a. Kogi East 950,000 = 42.5%

b. Kogi Central 8880,000 = 39.5%

c. Kogi West  400,000 = 18.00%

     Total = 2,230,000 = 100%

Of this total figure, more than sixty per cent are Muslims going by the available statistics derived from empirical social survey. The remaining forty per cent represent the non-Muslims, that is the Christians and the adherents of other minor religions and deities in the state. Even among these minor religious groups and deities, there are ambivalent members who claimed to belong to Islam and Christianity at the same time when it suits their personal whims and caprices at various traditional festivals. These festivals and primordial cultural ceremonies are celebrated with fanfare by those indigenes of the state with ambivalent religious cleavages and multiple religious personalities.

The impart of this statistical analysis is to show that the Muslims in Kogi state are overwhelmingly in the majority. Most of them live polygamous lives, with wives ranging from 2-4. This is enjoined by the Islamic faith for those of them with the means and ability to maintain more than one wife. Many of them maintain harems and concubines. They have relatively large numbers of children and siblings. No week passes in Kogi state today that you do not have four to six marriages being conducted under the Islamic law. Some of these marriages also add on the toga of primordial native law and customs to complement the sharia system. In the same vein, many Muslim naming ceremonies take place daily in most homes in Kogi state.

It is therefore imperative that Kogi state is already, in law and practice, a sharia state like most of its sister states in Northern Nigeria. Kogi state under the founding fathers of Nigeria, then known as Kabba Province of Northern Nigeria, was and still is, one of the border states of the geopolitical North. It has long been a covetous battlefield between the disciples of Othman Dan Fodio and those of the Yoruba Oduduwa empire. Together with today's Kwara state which was then known as Ilorin province of Northern Nigeria, Kogi state has been a politically contentious territory geopolitically. It has been one of the buffer zones of the country being contested for political quest and occupation by the caliphates of the North and their allies on the one hand, and the Oduduwa warlords together with their allies of the South on the other. The former are principally the Muslim Jihadists  of Othan Dan Fodio empire while the latter are essentially the Christian Evangelists of the Oduduwa empire.

The Afenifere and the Odua People's Congress (OPC) as well as their various militant outfits today represent the fighting spearhead aimed at capturing new territories, comprising mainly their ethnic kinsmen and women in Kogi and Kwara states of Nigeria on the one hand. On the other hand. the Turaki Committee, the Northern Elders Forum and the Unity and Development Foundation of the North as well as their various Youth Wings, represent the ideological platforms on which the battle for the survival and corporate interest of the entire geopolitical North is defended. Certainly, we do not want such border states as Kogi, Kwara and Benue, among others, to be turned into battlegrounds in the need- less war of ethnocentric and Islamic self- determinism. The costs of such a war are too high and painful to be experienced.

Those who are blowing this trumpet of war should therefore think twice and take heed in the overall interest of the corporate existence of the country as a sovereign and indivisible Federal Republic of Nigeria.

To complete the tripod of the pre-independence political struggle for eminence and national leadership, the predominantly Christian Igbos of the South East have their ideological platform in the Ndigbo Ohaneze and the Eastern Mandate Union (EMU). The Igbos on their part fought a thirty- month civil war with the rest of the country (1967-1970) in their political bid to secede from the country to form a separate Biafran Republic. With the defeat which they suffered in that war, the Igbo political agenda and indeed, big dream, suffered a big set- back. Are Igbo elites and those of them singing the separatist chorus coming from the Yoruba South-West axis now warming up for another war under the militant out- fits of the Eastern Mandate Union (EMU) and Ndigbo Ohaneze? Certainly, true patriots of this country do not want such a war.

On the part of the Yoruba under the fighting vanguard of the Afenifere and the Odua People's Congress (OPC), are they now sharpening their strategies for their own dream Republic of Oduduwa, particularly now that they see their kinsman as the current President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? Surely, true Nigerian patriots and peace lovers would not want any se- cession from the Yoruba militant axis as they would not want from the Igbo or any other ethnic fighting flank.

Will the geopolitical North go to bed when these other forces of the tripod in the old struggle for leadership control of the Nigerian nation at the centre are already threatening hell and brimstone? Will the North allow any inch of its soil to be taken away by the Yoruba ethnic nationalities for inclusion in their dream Oduduwa Republic? How can the entire territory of the geo- political North defend its own corporate interest within the framework on the Federal Republic of Nigeria? These are matters of serious public interest that we must collectively resolve as a sovereign and indivisible nation. Indeed, no one geopolitical Zone or Region should be allowed to hold the other to ransom in the production and distribution of the nation's political, economic, bureaucratic, social and judicial re- sources. There should therefore be an equitable and judicious balancing of the political, economic, bureaucratic, social and judicial powers of this country as provided for in the 1999 Constitution, particularly under the federal character provisions of the constitution.

To resolve these issues, there is need for a healthy national debate at the levels of the nation's legislative houses and the popular referendum involving the teeming masses of the country. It is at such debates that all issues affecting our corporate interest at the various geopolitical zones and regions can be dispassionately addressed and feasible solutions offered.

Dr. Habibu Angulu Sani is the Executive Director, Centre for Policy Research and Consultancy, P.O. Box 155, Okene Kogi State, Nigeria