Ihenacho�s Home Truths

...by pronouncing a fatwa on Isioma Daniel...the Zamfara State government had seriously endangered her life all over the world. And by so doing, this irresponsible government had planted additional time bomb for future implosions all over Nigeria.
Sunday, December 1, 2002

David Asonye Ihenacho


had begun to sketch this essay when the views of another pride of mother Africa and a great Nigerian icon, Professor Wole Soyinka, on the latest fallout from the botched Miss World pageant in Nigeria, became available to the press. Like Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka is undoubtedly a beautiful symbol of what could have been our wonderfully endowed fatherland, Nigeria. In his address on the alleged fatwa or death sentence decreed against Ms Isioma Daniel by the Zamfara State government, Nobel Laureate Soyinka, declared the deputy governor of Zamfara State, Mamuda Aliyu Shinkafi "a common criminal who should be hauled up before the courts and charged with incitement to murder."

Acting presumably on the instructions of his boss, Governor Ahmed Sani Yerima, who was away to Saudi Arabia performing the lesser Hajj (ThisDay, November 27), Deputy Governor Aliyu Shinkafi had on Monday November 25 announced a fatwa against Ms Isioma Daniel comparing her to the British-born Indian author Salman Rushdie who was in 1989 fatwa-ed by the Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini for allegedly blaspheming the Islamic religion and its prophet in his book "The Satanic Verses." Zamfara State's action against Ms Daniel had set off a firestorm of reactions across the world. There was in fact a worldwide consensus that the Zamfara government, rather than help in quelling the dicey situation in Nigeria, had instead chosen to pour gasoline into a dangerously flaring nation.

Moreover, by pronouncing a fatwa on Isioma Daniel and aligning her with Salman Rushdie, who spent about a decade in hiding over the Iranian death sentence on him, the Zamfara State government had seriously endangered her life all over the world. And by so doing, this irresponsible government had planted additional time bomb for future implosions all over Nigeria. This was more than any sensible person could bear. Unfortunately there was no leadership in Nigeria to call the likes of the fanatical officials of Zamfara State government to order. So, the ever-courageous Professor Wole Soyinka came to the rescue. He stepped up to the plate to accomplish what the tepid government of President Obasanjo had been too cowered to do, namely, announce that the Zamfara State deputy governor, Shinkafi and perhaps his boss, Ahmed Sani Yerima were all common felons that belonged in jail houses rather than reside in state mansions. And the Nobel laureate could never be more accurate!

On the safety of Ms Daniel, Professor Soyinka had warned the purportedly elected Zamfara State's Number Two citizen saying, "if, wherever she is, any harm comes to the menaced journalist, let Deputy Governor Shinkafi understand that there will be no hiding place for him on this globe and he will be brought to justice as a common felon, no matter how long it takes." Along the same line, the Nigerian laureate charged: "President Olusegun Obasanjo must unambiguously call this man to order. If he cannot defend the constitution he is sworn to uphold, he must make a public declaration to that effect�" (Guardian, November 28, 2002).

Just as Professor Chinua Achebe's lamentation of the tragedy of Nigeria last week had realistically conveyed the disillusionment and embarrassment of most Nigerians across the world so also is Professor Soyinka's current injunctions to the Zamfara State-sponsored fanatics and the cowered government of President Obasanjo a perfect reading of the minds of the majority of Nigerian citizens and professionals at home and in Diaspora. Soyinka's is undoubtedly a true summation of what most Nigerians and even foreigners think should be done against the government-sponsored Islamic fanatics of Zamfara State. The emerging consensus in this regard seems to eliminate every wiggle room for the often-dodgy government of President Obasanjo to skate around this crisis as he had done many times in the past. The president has to act now or forever consider himself incompetent and confused. There is hardly any conceivable way he could avoid confronting the small cells of Taliban-like Islamic fanatics that have been occupying the government house of Zamfara State since June 1999.

As a result of that horrendous gaffe of Deputy Governor Shinkafi, now in fact is the opportune moment to employ all the forces of the Nigerian law to drive out the Nigerian Taliban-wannabes from the government house of Zamfara State. Like their counterparts in Afghanistan who specialize in dishing out irresponsible fatwas and endangering innocent lives, Islamic fanatics of the Zamfara government belong in the caves of the Northern Nigeria hills rather than in the palatial government houses of the second-tier of a democratic nation. Just like President George Walker Bush's war of attrition in Afghanistan to root out the chief terrorist Osama Bin Laden and his Taliban collaborators, President Olusegun Obasanjo must realize that he has got his own Taliban to tame or to drive out completely from some parts of the democratic nation of Nigeria. The simple reason for this is that both the Talibans of Afghanistan and their impersonators in Nigeria are targeting the lives of innocent civilians as a way to make some political statements.

President Obasanjo would not look any better than a political weasel if he failed to capitalize on the current fatwa flap to seriously call the violent Islamists of the Zamfara State government to order. The ball is now wholly in his court. The moment we have all been waiting has finally arrived. Ahmed Sani Yerima and his deputy Shinkafi who at the beginning of the fourth republic Nigeria unleashed the mayhem of the Shariah law against our secular nation have once again proven that they thrive in their felonious habit of making nonsense of the Nigerian constitution and inciting riots all across the nation. They have broken both the Nigerian and international laws and must be made to pay for it. And they must be prosecuted to the full extent of the laws in this regard. Failure to do so will make this president and his administration lose all credibility among the democratic nations of the world.

Reading the numerous press reports associated with the outrageous fatwa long before the publication of Professor Soyinka's views on the matter, a familiar phrase kept cropping up in my mind. Like many ordinary Nigerians I do use the phrase "to add insult to injury" quite a lot. I use it especially in situations I think that I, or some persons of interest to me have been or are being repeatedly wronged with impunity. But until last week I could hardly tell the deeper meaning of this saying, neither would I know it as a traumatic expression of a deep hurt. But all that would change with the recent deadly riots in Nigeria and its Zamfara State aftermath whereby an elected government official in a flagrant abuse of the democratic power of his office purported to pronounce a death-sentence on a citizen of Nigeria from another state and obviously from another religion.

In fact I do not see any possible way Nigeria could avoid a constitutional crisis in the very near future. This president is only postponing the doomsday. It is not hard to notice that he is only trying to run out the clock. If he succeeds in doing so, he will leave the national stage and head straight to the dustbin of Nigeria's history.

With the pronouncement of a fatwa against Ms Daniel the Zamfara government undercut the essential fabrics of the Nigerian democracy and constitution. The fanatical government of Ahmed Sani and his deputy made itself the judge, the jury, the sole adjudicator and the executor of the death sentence it had unjustly, unconstitutionally and outrageously passed on an innocent citizen of Nigeria. It abused its executive power by usurping the powers of the two other tiers of our democratic institution. In fact it attempted to appropriate powers that did not belong to it by nature. From previous claims of Ahmed Sani Yerima's government, the Shariah law, which it illegally promulgated in the state in 1999 applied solely to Muslims.

In fact some prominent Muslims in the North have continued to repeat this claim even as recently as a few days ago. Abdulkadir Orire, secretary general of Jamaatu Nas, an umbrella group for Nigeria's Islamic group, who spent thirty years on the bench as a Shariah Court judge, repeated to The New York Times (November 29), that "Christians should not fear Islamic law because it applies strict penalties, including amputation and stoning, only to Muslims." This has been the favorite line of most members of the Islamic leadership of Northern Nigeria including those of Zamfara State. But while repeating this refrain as their policy statement, what the Islamic leaders of Nigeria do in practice is completely different as we tried to highlight last week (c.f. Nigeria: Lamenting A Tragic Nation, November 25). They are always implementing the Shariah law in such a way that everybody living in Nigeria comes directly or indirectly under it, and is consequently affected by it in a very severe way.

The present case of Ms Isioma Daniel makes my argument more than clear. Ms Daniel is not a Muslim and did not live in Zamfara State when the government pronounced its fatwa against her. If Nigerian Islamic leaders were consistent and sincere, there would hardly be anyway a fatwa could be legally pronounced against her in the context of the penal code as it applies to Zamfara Shariah legal corpus today. Ms Daniel is a Christian and did not live within the boundaries of Zamfara State. In the ideal world she is immune from the Zamfara State Shariah law with its primitive fatwas. It takes an Islamic-Iranian kind of zeal for a government to pronounce a long-distance fatwa against somebody who had never been one of its subjects or a part of its state-sponsored religion. The whole thing sounds eerily familiar as a foolish copycat of a previous action by the Iranian Islamic clerics. As Shinkafi had acknowledged in his announcement of the so-called fatwa "Just like the blasphemous Indian writer Salman Rushdie, the blood of Isioma Daniel can be shed" (MSNBC November 26).

It is hard to know whether this was just a publicity stunt on the part of the ever-exuberant and camera-hungry Zamfara government officials, or whether it was a credible threat that drew from real conviction on the part of the administration. But whatever it may have been, it amounted to a criminal irresponsibility because the Muslim mob in Northern Nigeria that is predominantly illiterate and uncritical does not distinguish a stunt from a threat. Everything in that neighborhood leads inexorably to the same goal in which innocent citizens are criminally murdered and numerous lives condemned to a deep hurt for a lifetime. And that is why such a behavior is totally unaffordable by Nigeria. A country like Iran can afford the luxury of such an irresponsible behavior because it loves to exploit its almost a monolithic Shiite Islamism that is attuned to societal upheaval and violence. Moreover Iran seems to cherish its national Islamic radicalism and fanaticism. It perhaps enjoys its pariah status in the world. But for a state within the borders of our nation to head the way of irresponsible pronouncements of death-sentences amounts to a monumental criminal irresponsibility and a flagrant desecration of our democratic constitution. The federal government has no other option than to throw the book on such potential enemies of a democratic Nigeria.

But the terrible paradox presented by the imposition of a fatwa on Ms Daniel does not worry mainstream Islamic leaders in Nigeria. If anything it is part of their Modus Operandi. Islamic leaders in Nigeria are usually very duplicitous with their treatments of non-Muslims. They would always assure of one thing but do exactly its opposite in practice. There are millions of instances to prove this. But a painful example was what had happened during the Nigeria-Biafra war (1967-70). It was mainly the duplicitous actions of many Muslim leaders that got many southeasterners especially the Igbo people murdered during the pogrom of 1966-7. Many of their victims could not run back home in time because their Muslim friends and hosts had assured them that they would be safe no matter what.

Some of those Muslim leaders would invoke the name of Allah in assuring their victims that nothing would happen to them. They would prostrate and plead that their victims continue to stay and live peacefully in their midst. But in a split second their potential victims would see those who had assured their safety only a few moments earlier leading a mob to murder them. The norm in the 1966-7's ethnic Igbo genocide in Northern Nigeria was that many who had a few moments earlier acted as trusted friends to their southern guests were at the forefront in killing, looting and seizing the wealth and property of their "trusted friends." But just like in every norm, there were some exceptions. There were many Muslim friends and hosts who practically laid their lives to save their southern friends during the gory days of the genocide. To such people the sensible world is forever grateful.

To a large extent, the familiar line of the Islamic leadership duplicity in Northern Nigeria has continued even in the way Christians are being treated in the new wave of the Shariah law and violent fanaticism that is sweeping all across Nigeria today. For millions of times since 1999 Muslim leaders have been assuring non-Muslim Nigerians that the Shariah law would apply only to Muslims. But ironically, even while muttering their words of assurances to non-Muslims, they are at the same time enacting Shariah laws that deeply impact and abridge the socio-economic lives of Christians. This has continued to the extent that nobody knows today what those Muslim leaders mean when they declare that the Shariah law would apply only to Muslims.

If the Shariah law applies to Muslims only why should it be an offense for non-Muslims to organize something like Miss World pageant? If a Shariah law-observing Muslim does not like the event in question, wouldn't the most appropriate action be to avoid the place entirely, or change the television station, or shut off one's television entirely rather than mobilize a crowd to disrupt it thereby imposing a Shariah morality on peace-loving and rights-exercising non-Muslims? The fact is contrary to all their promises and pretenses Nigerian Muslims are fighting really hard to make the Shariah law applicable directly or indirectly to everybody in Nigeria. And what all this amounts to is that Muslim leaders of Nigeria have no credibility at all in keeping to their word. And that is what the government of Zamfara State had shown once again in their issuance of a fatwa against Ms Daniel, a non-indigene of the state and a Christian.

But while remaining faithful to their tradition of duplicitous dealings with non-Muslims, the government of Zamfara State has in this circumstance terribly overreached in its pronouncement of a fatwa against Ms Isioma Daniel. In their pursuit of this young lady, Ahmed Yerima and his deputy Shinkafi transformed themselves into "common criminals" that must now be hunted down by the federal government of Nigeria. In issuing their zealous threat that jeopardizes the life of a free citizen of Nigeria and poses a potential threat to the citizens' freedom and happiness, Ahmed Sani and his deputy Shinkafi appropriated powers that belonged only to the federal courts and the National Assembly that had not made any new laws or interpreted existing laws federalizing the Shariah law and practices, and/or legalizing the imposition of fatwa that would be binding equally on Christians. And such is a horrendous crime of the Zamfara government that must not go unchallenged because of the life of a law-abiding citizen of Nigeria that had been therein severely threatened as well as the societal cohesion and order that had been jeopardized by such an irresponsible pronouncement and action.

As Professor Soyinka declared, President Obasanjo must defend the constitution he is sworn to uphold. And this can only mean that he has to bring to book any person, no matter what his/her claim to immunity is, who thwarts the constitution and jeopardizes the lives of our citizens in a very severe way. And this is exactly what those Zamfara zealots have been doing since they came into power. As far as we are concerned there is nobody in any democratic nation of the world who is immune from prosecution in a crime against a democratic constitution. As Obasanjo's presidential immunity would not hold and would not save him from prosecution were he to sack the national assembly or impose a death sentence on any lawmaker, so must Ahmed and Shinkafi not be spared from prosecution in their putative imposition of extra-judicial death penalty on Ms Isioma Daniel, a free citizen of the nation of Nigeria. So, Ahmed Sani and his deputy Shinkafi have no place to hide this time around than to be treated as common felons who must be treated to the full extent of the law.

However what the Zamfara State government officials had purported to accomplish this past week was also an eye-opener. It was indeed a revelation of the determination of the Nigeria Islamic fanatics to either have their way or destroy the Nigerian nation. But in this circumstance, they have clearly overplayed their hands and have thereby provided the most auspicious time to challenge them with all the powers of a democratic government. In fact, Zamfara State's action was beyond adding insult to injury. It was a clear escalation of the crisis to an unprecedented level. I cannot remember anytime in our history when a Muslim leader had imposed a public fatwa on a Christian. This marks a new chapter in the cantankerous Christian-Muslim relations in Nigeria. The whole thing has a ring of a terrible omen to it. Its seriousness and potential to cause major crisis in Nigeria must not be underestimated.

Deputy Governor Shinkafi in his alleged broadcast on Zamfara State-owned radio decreed, "it is binding on all Moslems wherever they are to consider the killing of the writer (Ms Daniel) as a religious duty" (Guardian, November 27). Amplifying the issue further, the information commissioner of Zamfara State, Tukur Umar Dangaladima told The Associated Press that even though it was not within the official powers of state officials, the deputy governor, "like all Muslims (considers the fatwa against Miss Daniel) a reality based on the teachings of the Quran." Appealing to the Quran, Dangaladima said that the holy book of the Islamic faith "states that whoever accuses or insults any prophet of Allah � should be killed� If she (Miss Daniel) is Muslim, she has no option except to die. But if she is a non-Muslim, the only way out for her is to convert to Islam" (MSNBC.com November 26).

For anybody who is familiar with the way the minds of average Muslims work, this is indeed a very scary situation for everybody that lives in Nigeria or interacts with Nigerians. It is not only that a group of irresponsible government officials has appropriated an illegitimate and illegal power to dish out death sentences against free citizens of Nigeria at will, it is that the stage has been set for these officials to continue with their flagrant manipulation of the Islamic faith for political ends. Information commissioner Dangaladima recognized that his government had no power doing what it had done. But it went ahead and did it any way because of its political dividends. And this is why it is dangerous. The Zamfara State officials have no respect for the rule of law. The State is a major threat to democracy in Nigeria. Expediency rather than the democratic constitution of Nigeria is what drives the government of Zamfara State. And it must be checked now!

Also, what makes Zamfara State's extra-judicial death-sentence absolutely dangerous is that many non-Muslims could receive it and be liquidated long before their crimes against the Islamic faith could be known. What it could take for a deranged crowd of Islamic fanatics to act to execute the capital punishment is for an equally deranged Zamfara State official to pronounce a fatwa on anybody at all beginning from the president of Nigeria to the least person in any of the Nigerian villages. With such a glib application of the passage of the Quran, nobody is safe in Nigeria. Life can no longer be assured in such a situation. For instance, Dangaladima quotes the Quran that whoever accuses or insults any prophet of Allah � should be killed. And he went on to hand down an impossible option to Ms Daniel. According to Dangaladima, if Ms Daniel is Muslim, she has no option except to die. But if she is a non-Muslim, the only way out for her is to convert to Islam" (MSNBC November 26).

Does anybody realize how distant Ms Daniel's "sin" is to the original prescription of the Quran? First, according to Dangaladima's quotation, there has to be a proof that Ms Daniel had accused or insulted a prophet of Allah. But nothing has been offered to demonstrate that she committed this sin in that essay of hers. Our own reading of her essay is that she only gave a harmless hypothetical of what the prophet might do if he were present today. While her take in this regard might understandably seem strange if not negative especially to the diseased mind of an Islamic fanatic, it does not warrant and would never justify the killing and destruction we had witnessed in Nigeria a couple of weeks ago, neither can it justify the imposition of a death-sentence on her on the basis of that Quranic passage only. In fact trying to guess or discover what the prophet would do today is what every sincere Muslim does every day.

Fanatical Muslims are those who want to impose on the other people their own assumptions and beliefs on what Prophet Mohammed might do today. They do not treat him better than Ms Isioma Daniel had treated him. In fact they treat him far worse. If they used simple persuasion to try to achieve their goal, nobody would quarrel with them. But the problem is that they employ murder, destruction and other instruments of coercion to try to get people to embrace their guesses and assumptions of what the prophet would be up to today. But such can never be easy either in this age or in the next one hundred millennia.

Fanatics elevate their offhand guesses into a canon and use them to persecute other peoples. This is usually the cause of friction and societal breakdown in the modern world. The ideal situation in a pluralistic society like Nigeria would have been to tell people to keep to themselves or among their groups their assumptions and guesses of what dead holy individuals might do today, or, at best, use persuasion to get other people to appreciate and perhaps embrace them. But fanatics of the Islamic faith do not usually want to take this pain either because their rational faculties are too underdeveloped, or because they cannot just compete in the use of persuasion to win converts. They would rather impose their misapprehended ideas of the holy book on others with the aid of brute force. This can be seen from the way the Zamfara Sate Information Minister Dangaladima interpreted his passage of the Quran. Fanatics are always making the holy books say what the books themselves are too reluctant to say.

Moreover, the fact that there is a terrible disagreement among the different traditions of Islam demonstrates that they are involved in some kinds of guesswork on how the prophet would approach the modern times. The pervasiveness of such guess works about how Islam could relate to modernity is the main reason why there is all this conflict with modernity. To be fair to Muslims, every religion is somehow embarked on this effort of always trying to reinvent the wheel. In fact the comic effort of Ms Daniel to guesstimate what Mohammed would do if he had been a Nigerian (which he was not and would never have been), and had been present during the build-up to the botched Miss World pageant (which would be terribly farfetched) cannot amount to an accusation or an insult to a prophet. She was only putting her imagination into use in her journalistic career. I would even venture to applaud her for that.

However, one should be interested in the fact that the Quran, according to Dangaladima's quotation, says accusation or insult has to be directed to a prophet of Allah. The Quran regards Jesus Christ as a prophet, Isah. How many Muslims have received the imposition of a fatwa because of their accusations and insult to Our Lord Jesus Christ? Nigerian airwaves and newspapers are laden to the brim with not too subtle insults aimed at the person of Jesus Christ. How many Muslim leaders in Nigeria have invoked fatwa to resolve such glaring cases of insults and accusations to a prophet? The fact is the many Islamic leaders in Nigeria thrive in this type of duplicity. The only problem is that the neo-Islamic fanatics represented by the government officials of Zamfara State have decided to take this duplicitous-ness to a new height.

It does not take a genius to realize that the issuance of fatwa would soon become the new missionary strategy of the Nigerian fundamentalist Muslims. Very soon many Nigerians will receive the imposition of a fatwa and be given the impossible condition to either die or convert to Islam. Isn't this scary? This is most likely to happen because every bad thing that has happened to Nigeria since the beginning of the fourth republic in the area of relations between Christianity and Islam had begun in Zamfara State. That state has gradually become the angel of disaster for Nigeria. Now that it has rolled out its newest fanatical product of throwing fatwas around, Nigerians should expect a new fatwa wave that will overrun the whole of Northern Nigeria. Ahmed Sani Yerima, who had been surprised with the level of success he had achieved with the Sharia implementation, is hoping that his new product will accomplish more for his cause. Unfortunately he is right! The only weapon that could stop this scenario from seeing the light of the day is for the government of Obasanjo to live up to its duty of defending our democratic constitution. That was what he was hired to do. But unfortunately he is yet to record a single success in this his primary function as the democratic president of Nigeria.

(But how much more bizarre can Ms Daniel's situation get when Salman Rushdie, the author of the famous Satanic Verses that could be rightly considered a brazen attack on the holy book of Islam, considers Ms Daniel's essay as "going too far." Writing in The New York Times of Wednesday November 27, Rushdie declared Daniel's statement in the controversial essay as "well, obviously, that was going too far." Brothers and sisters, this is far beyond a pot calling a kettle black. Probably Rushdie's was a tongue in cheek statement. If not, it was indeed bizarre!)

However, how much comfort should Nigerians take in the seemingly cheery news that dominated part of late last week about the fatwa flap? It was widely reported in the local and international press that Zamfara's fatwa decree had been assailed and allegedly annulled by the Sultan of Sokoto and many other Islamic leaders both at home and abroad? Most Nigerian newspapers of November 29 carried with glee the fact that the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Maccido had allegedly annulled the Zamfara fatwa? According to Vanguard, "The Sultan of Sokoto-led Jamaatu Nasri Islam (JNI), yesterday (November 28), ruled out of order the fatwa issued against Isioma Daniel, the ThisDay reporter by the Zamfara State Government, saying a meeting of the body's fatwa committee had been summoned to take a decision on issues arising from the publication which triggered the Kaduna mayhem" (Vanguard November 29).

The ThisDay Newspaper, being the main victim and also the chief beneficiary of both the Miss World and the fatwa imbroglio went shopping for the religious celebrities that had assailed the Zamfara State fatwa. Besides the Nigerian minister of information Jerry Gana who usually has a predictable opinion on such issues, the other celebrities in the ThisDay's catalogue of those who pilloried the Zamfara State action included one Sheikh Saadal-Saleh described as an official of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs in Saudi Arabia, Dr. Lateef Adegbite, secretary general of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Ali Akali, described as a Kaduna-based Islamic scholar, etc. (c.f. Fatwa: Saudi, Adegbite, FG Fault Zamfara Govt, ThisDay, November 27).

But is there any comfort in all this overwhelming show of disdain for the despicable action of Zamfara State? Or, is this just another skin-deep window-dressing to lure Nigerians to sleep and let the fanatics roam? There are two points that strongly commend skepticism on this parade of criticism of the action taken by Zamfara State. First, I have earlier indicated that there is nothing in the history of the leadership of the Nigerian Muslims that could give any sensible person the confidence to trust them to mean what they say. It is called duplicity. There has always been this show of we-love-Nigeria-and-are-against-anything-that-will-tear-her-apart attitude among them. But over and over again their actions do not pan out either on the individual level or on the level of their leadership. They are always trying to lure Christians to sleep with flowery sweet talks even while not relenting any bit in their hegemonic agenda for Islam in Nigeria. As the Americans say, they always talk the sweet talk but they hardly ever walk the hard walk. That has been our reality in Nigeria.

In fact, it seems safe to say that the Oputa report appears to have boxed the president of Nigeria to a corner. It not only ushers him into a very uncomfortable situation of possible and proximate confrontation with the powerful ex-heads of states in an election year, it brings him into a conflict with his past.

There are a few items in the reports that could have alerted the gleeful journalists of this past week to be wary and restrained over what those Islamic leaders were saying about the Zamfara State fatwa. Only The Guardian was able to catch a few of those important items. It began the story with the statement "Moslem leaders, according to a prominent Islamic group in Nigeria, Jama'atu Nasril Islam (JNI), are yet to take a position on fatwa on any citizen of the country." The Guardian went ahead to report that the order to ignore the fatwa had been issued through the organization's Rapid Response Committee. According to the Guardian, the basis for declaring Zamfara State fatwa null was because "only the Sultan of Sokoto � the sole recognized spiritual leader of Moslems in Nigeria could issue the order" (Guardian, November 29). What all this rigmarole means for those who care to read in-between the line is that the issue of the Zamfara State fatwa is not resolved yet. The JNI is yet to meet and take a position. What was given to the press, which it mistakenly described as annulling the fatwa was something tentative which had come from their so-called Rapid Response Committee. Nothing is settled with the Zamfara State fatwa. There is still an outside chance that the general body of the Islamic high council in Nigeria might uphold it. Moreover, the fatwa suffers not because of its utter recklessness, illegality and overreach but because it had not been issued by a competent authority. In other words, if proper procedure is followed, or, a competent authority reviews what has been made available, thanks to the efforts of the Zamfara State government, the fatwa order might stand.

And this brings us to the second point of this part of the argument. And that has to do with how much authority the Sultan of Sokoto enjoys among Muslims with such a contentious and an emotional issue? History of the fourth republic does not bear the Sultan's authority out. Though he may claim to have ordered the nullification of the Zamfara State fatwa, are there any grounds to believe that the fanatics of the Muslim North will listen to him? There does not seem to be much ground for such confidence. It must be remembered that when Ahmed Sani Yerima began his Shariah implementation in 1999, the Muslim leadership was there. It was not the JNI that had taken the initiative to implement the Shariah law in the 12 states of the North. The Sultan even called for caution and might have threatened to impose sanctions against the Zamfara fanatics in the process. But what happened? The North followed the no-name Sani Yerima of the rural Zamfara state and not their eminent urban spiritual leader, the Sultan of Sokoto. The whole North became a Shariah kingdom any way and the Sultan himself was a late-convert to the movement. This is more than instructive in the present crisis. The Sultan is many a time irrelevant in charting the course for popular Islam in the North. The fanatics of Zamfara State government now hold the ace and they must be checked right now if we would prevent wider and prolonged religious war in Nigeria.

All these are instructive about the fact that there is no comfort whatsoever in what the traditional leadership of the Muslim North had done against the Zamfara State fatwa this past week. The fatwa decree is still alive and well. It has neither been annulled nor has it been voided. It has only been assailed through lip service. But that has nothing to do with its being adhered to and prosecuted by the fanatical masses. The only people who could void the fatwa are those who imposed it, namely, Ahmed Yerima and his men in Gusau. This is the fact. Believe it or not, the real headquarters of the fanatical Islamism of Nigeria is not Sokoto. It is now Gusau. And the leader of the new North is not the Sultan but the governor of Zamfara. The new North will definitely listen to Sani Yerima and not to the Sultan. These are some of the home truths people are very uncomfortable to hear. The Sultan and his men in the JNI may be reigning but it is such people as Governor Ahmed Sani Yerima of Zamfara State, his deputy, Aliyu Shinkafi, and his information minister, Tukur Umar Dangaladima who are ruling the Muslim North of today.

This brings up the question; if the fatwa is still alive, how can it be killed? Whose responsibility is it to destroy this dangerously irresponsible action of the Zamfara Islamic fanatics and prevent its being ever repeated in the comatose nation of Nigeria?

The whole question comes right back to the injunction earlier given by Professor Wole Soyinka. President Matthew Olusegun Obasanjo must defend the constitution of Nigeria, which he is sworn to uphold. If he cannot do it, he must publicly declare his incapacity to do so and go ahead and resign promptly so as to make way for those who will be ready and willing to do the constitutional battle some of those Northern fanatics are begging for. From all available evidence the Nigerian president is afraid of this necessary battle that will save Nigeria. But if he is wise, there is a ready-made cover available for him to use in this regard. The sovereign national conference is right there begging to be enlisted in the constitutional battle that is needed to resolve the problems of Nigeria. But the whole thing depends on whether this president has the guts to capitalize and release his compatriots from captivity in the land of Islamic fanaticism.

In fact I do not see any possible way Nigeria could avoid a constitutional crisis in the very near future. This president is only postponing the doomsday. It is not hard to notice that he is only trying to run out the clock. If he succeeds in doing so, he will leave the national stage and head straight to the dustbin of Nigeria's history. If he fails to capture the opportunity and confront the challenges presented to him in this era of our national struggles, he will rank many points behind Shehu Shagari in the list of Nigeria's failed democratic leaders. As President Obasanjo loves to say, the buck stops on his table. He has to perform in his role as Nigeria's president. He cannot continue to dodge the heavy political lifting that is needed in the present-day Nigeria. He must roll up his sleeves and begin the work of tackling some of those mini-potentates and Taliban-wannabes that have captured some of the government houses of the North. That is the price of leadership the Nigerian style.

However, is there anything in the president's recent history to give comfort that he realizes the enormity of the challenge he faces and has the know-how to get something done? Unfortunately there is none obvious at the moment. In fact the initial reactions from the government have not shown any new initiatives at all. It has been the old and failed re-runs of reactions to crisis. These are what the Obasanjo government has been serving since the new crisis broke out in Kaduna. First, the usual suspects among the Obasanjo cabinet came out to denounce Zamfara State's action. The words we had heard over and over again came again handy; the constitution of Nigeria, the nullity of the actions, the determination and all what not.

Just like in the Amina Lawal case, Jerry Gana, the information minister, came out to announce what everybody knew already, namely, that we have a constitution that is the supreme law of the land. According to his usual reading of the constitution, the action of Zamfara State is "null and void." Yes, Jerry, we have heard that chorus a million times before. But it has not done any good in preventing what has been happening in the North. You can find something else to say. According to Jerry Gana, "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" (Guardian November 27). And like Forrest Gump, that was all Jerry Gana had to say about it.

However, that was a lie! The so-called laws of the Federal Republic have never prevented the Muslim fanatics of the North from carrying out their will whenever and wherever they wanted to do so. It is even disingenuous for Gana to say that the government will not allow the fatwa to be carried out as if the fanatics do consult the government whenever they want to kill their victims. It shows that the Nigerian government does not understand the text of the pronouncement from Zamfara. Aliyu Shinkafi says, "The blood of Isioma Daniel can be shed." In fact he was plainer than that. Shinkafi had declared: "it is binding on all Moslems wherever they are to consider the killing of the writer (Ms Daniel) as a religious duty" (Guardian, November 27). This is more or less a license given to every fanatical Muslim to search out this young lady and inflict harm on her. There will be no more consultations with the Obasanjo government before such can be carried out. For Gana to say that the government will not allow it to be carried out is simply a red herring.

However, a more determined effort was overheard this past week as well in the visit of President Obasanjo to Kaduna State as result of the Miss World rioting. According to Marc Lacey of The New York Times, the president arrived in Kaduna on November 28 declaring, "This situation has to be confronted" (NYT November 29). The president declared that the new pattern of religious rioting which employed extensive use of locally made guns was "a new menace that has to be confronted" (Vanguard Nov 29). According to him "those responsible anywhere, anyhow, should they always do this and get away with it? I will say no" (Vanguard, November 29). Earlier in an address read to the president by the governor of Kaduna State, Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, the state had sounded similar notes of combativeness and determination in the efforts to root out Islamic fanatics and religious rioting. According to Vanguard, Makarfi had "pointed out that there were parts of the state capital which constituted security risk not only to the state but also to the country at large." He declared; "it is our determination, Mr. president, to actually confront the perpetrators or those who feel that they are above the law in these particular areas. People who seem to be out of control of their parents, out of control of any reason, at the slightest incident, they wreak havoc on innocent people in our state" (Vanguard, November 29).

There is no doubt that there is a new sense of urgency and resolve in the president and the Kaduna state officials to combat the spate of tragic religious violence in Kaduna State and all through Northern Nigeria. The determination of the Kaduna State governor in this regard is most welcome notwithstanding the fact that it had come way too late in the life of his administration. But the fact that he has some specific areas and peoples he wants to focus attention on is a good sign that he is determined to register some progress in this regard. One cannot but appreciate the determination of the governor to confront those who think that they have a license to routinely devastate the society and render innocent people broken forever.

But the same can hardly be said of the President of Nigeria, the Commander in Chief of Nigeria's Armed Forces and the Chief Security Officer of our nation. His determination in this regard seems still unacceptably suspect. For instance, the president came to Kaduna showing determination and sounding combative but yet asking questions that betrayed lack of focus and will about what to do to start getting results. According to the New York Times, the president declared during his Kaduna visit, "few people must be responsible (for this). Who are these people?" (NYT November 29).

Isn't it strange that the president of Nigeria is asking who the people who had been behind the Kaduna mayhem were? But he had seen it reported in many Nigerian newspapers that an Abuja-based Muslim attorney first discovered Ms Daniel's publication in the ThisDay Newspaper after a few days had elapsed. And under the pretext of trying to sue the ThisDay for whatever, the lawyer passed the report on to the Muslim clerics of Kaduna who used it to mobilize their foot soldiers to attack Christians. Has this much not been clearly established by the Nigeria press? Has the president ordered the arrest of the lawyer who should have long been behind bars? Not to my knowledge! Has he ordered the arrest of those clerics who were the major accessories to the horrendous crimes that were committed on the streets of Kaduna? I do not know either! Have Nigeria's security agents traced the mosques of those criminal Mullahs and clerics in order to fish out the families whose husbands and children had been responsible for the Kaduna crimes? You better ask the president directly! Does the president still believe that he does not have a clear path to unravel this one particular case? I wouldn't think so! You see the issue is that of a presidential will in a democracy. This president has not shown that he has the courage and the will to fight Islamic fanaticism in Nigeria. He sees clear paths to root them out but neglects them altogether for fear of I-do-not-know-what?

But what about the present issue at stake, the fact that a state government had ordered the mob murder of a journalist? Is this president ready to confront those barbarians of Zamfara State? He has not said so. Rather he is relying on his information minister Jerry Gana, who in turn is relying on an old, worn out and ineffectual method of referring glibly to the constitution of Nigeria, which Islamic fanatics do not even know exists. The whole thing comes right down to the injunction of Professor Wole Soyinka. The president of Nigeria must defend our democratic constitution or declare publicly that he is incapable of doing so. He has to be either hot or cold. To be this lukewarm about a problem that has the potential of wrecking the foundation of our nation and destroying millions of innocent lives is a terrible disservice to the great people of Nigeria and humanity in general.