Current Events in Nigeria: The Debate over Sharia (Law)
In Spring, 2000, news reports on the Cable News Network (CNN) and elsewhere told a tale of riots and murder in Nigeria. The source of this conflict was the decision of several states in northern Nigeria to adopt the Sharia (strict Islamic law) to define the crimes and punishments within these states. These laws include severe punishments such as the removal of a hand for theft and the requirement that women be completely veiled in public (wear a chador). Non-Moslems living in the north, both Christians and followers of traditional beliefs, are concerned about their futures. Although currently exempt from Sharia law, these residents of the northern states fear that these laws could one day be extended to them. They saw this effort as, in part, the attempt to neutralize if not eradicate the power of non-Moslems in Nigeria.
Nigerians demonstrated that they viewed these outbreaks through the lens of history the minute they introduced comparisons with Biafra. They expressed fear for the future of the nation itself--would it break apart along ethnic lines into a number of separate nations? The Eastern Region of Nigeria attempted to do just that in 1967 when it renamed itself Biafra and seceded from Nigeria. The fact that members of many ethnic groups are spread out around the country would/could require massive relocations of people in the event that some sort of ethnic consolidation (what would happen to Iowa if all Iowans--and their descendents--who had moved away were required to move back to Iowa?). In addition there was widespread fear of personal attacks on people found outside their traditional "home" regions. This is another parallel with the events leading up to the Biafran secession.
If Biafra is a distant concept for many students in the early 21st century, it is a living presence in Nigeria. So to understand Nigeria today, we need to apply the lens of history to the Biafran moment in Nigeria. [The direction of this unit suddenly becomes apparent: To understand Biafra, we have to understand the issues and hopes leading up to Nigerian independence. To understand these issues and hopes, we have to look more fully into the colonial/imperial period in Nigeria. The hope/expectation, of course, is that these excursions further into that past will illuminate later events and provide valuable understanding for what is occurring in Nigeria today.]