US embassy cable - 88LAGOS17750

NIGERIA: REACTION TO CESSATION OF SHARIA DEBATE

Identifier: 88LAGOS17750
Wikileaks: View 88LAGOS17750 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Consulate Lagos
Created: 1988-11-30 15:07:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV KISL NI
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
P 301507Z NOV 88
FM AMEMBASSY LAGOS
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7072
INFO AMCONSUL KADUNA PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 LAGOS 17750 
 
E.O. 12356: DECL: OADR 
TAGS: PGOV, KISL, NI 
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: REACTION TO CESSATION OF SHARIA DEBATE 
 
REF:  LAGOS 17683 
 
1.  (C)  SUMMARY:  INITIAL PUBLIC RESPONSE TO THE 
FEDERAL MILITARY GOVERNMENT'S (FMG) DECISION TO HALT 
DEBATE ON SHARIA LAW IN THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY HAS 
BEEN MUTED.  CRITICISM HAS PREDICTABLY COME FROM 
PARTISANS ON THE ISSUE AND THOSE OPPOSED TO MILITARY 
GOVERNMENT.  ATTEMPTS IN THE ASSEMBLY TO CONTEST THE 
GOVERNMENT ACTION WERE QUICKLY OVERRULED AND ORDINARY 
BUSINESS RESUMED.  THE REACTIONS MAY PORTEND INCREASING 
SKEPTICISM TOWARDS THE ASSEMBLY'S ROLE IN THE 
TRANSITION; SEE COMMENT, PARA. 6.  END SUMMARY. 
 
2.  (U)  THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT'S DECISION TO END DEBATE 
IN THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY ON THE INCLUSION OF SHARIA 
LAW IN THE NEW CONSTITUTION HAS SO FAR PROVOKED LITTLE 
OUTCRY FROM THE ASSEMBLYMEN OR THE PUBLIC AT LARGE. 
ACCORDING TO PRESS REPORTS, MOST DELEGATES ISSUED MILD 
STATEMENTS--MANY SUPPORTIVE OF THE GOVERNMENT'S 
ACTION--OR REFUSED COMMENT.  TYPICAL WAS THE REACTION OF 
REPRESENTATIVE LAM ADESINA OF THE IBADAN SOUTH AREA OF 
OYO STATE, WHO WAS QUOTED IN THE NOVEMBER 29 EDITION OF 
THE INFLUENTIAL LAGOS DAILY, "GUARDIAN," AS SAYING THAT 
THE GOVERNMENT'S INTERVENTION WAS "IN ORDER."  HE ADDED 
THAT "ANY GOOD GOVERNMENT WOULD DO EXACTLY WHAT THE 
BABANGIDA ADMINISTRATION DID" TO BREAK THE SEVEN-WEEK 
DEADLOCK OVER THE ISSUE.  THE SAME PAPER QUOTED EMBASSY 
CONTACT OLABIYI DURAJAIYE (REFTEL) FROM IDEJU SOUTH, 
OGUN STATE, AS SAYING THAT THE ASSEMBLY "GOT WHAT WE 
DESERVE" FOR NOT MOVING FASTER TOWARD A COMPROMISE. 
 
3.  MUCH OF THE CRITICISM FROM THE LAWMAKERS WAS COUCHED 
IN MODERATE TERMS.  ACCORDING TO THE NOVEMBER 29 EDITION 
OF THE "PUNCH" NEWSPAPER, MALLAM ABBA DABO, A STRONG 
ADVOCATE OF SHARIA FROM KANO, CALLED THE GOVERNMENT 
ACTION "SAD AND UNFORTUNATE."  HE ASSERTED THAT, 
CONTRARY TO GOVERNMENT ALLEGATIONS, THE POLITICAL ELITE 
IS CAPABLE OF REACHING CONSENSUS ON CONTROVERSIAL 
SUBJECTS, BUT CONCEDED THAT THE ASSEMBLY WAS CULPABLE TO 
THE EXTENT OF CREATING AN "IMPRESSION OF DISHARMONY" 
THROUGH THE INORDINATE LENGTH OF THE DEBATE.  OTHER 
MEMBERS, HOWEVER, WERE MORE FORTHRIGHT.  THE "GUARDIAN" 
QUOTED SAMUEL FAGOYINBO (MUSHIN CENTRAL, LAGOS) AS 
DECLARING THE MOVE A "CLEAR RAPE OF DEMOCRACY" AND 
CHARGING THAT "THE FACT THAT THE RIGHT TO FASHION A 
DEMOCRATIC DOCUMENT HAS BEEN TAKEN AWAY FROM THE 
ASSEMBLY DOES NOT AUGUR WELL FOR THE COUNTRY." 
 
4.  (U)  OTHER SIGNIFICANT VOICES OF DISSENT CAME FROM 
PARTISANS IN THE SHARIA LAW DEBATE OUTSIDE THE 
ASSEMBLY.  NOTABLE AMONG THEM WAS A STATEMENT IN THE 
NOVEMBER 29 "GUARDIAN" BY ANTHONY O. OKOGIE, ARCHBISHOP 
OF LAGOS AND PRESIDENT OF THE CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION OF 
NIGERIA (CAN), WHICH QUOTED HIM AS SAYING THAT THE 
GOVERNMENT SHOULD "STAY CLEAR" OF ANY DISCUSSION OF 
RELIGIOUS ISSUES.  "PUNCH" ALSO QUOTED NOTED 
CONSTITUTIONAL LAWYER--AND OPPONENT OF MILITARY 
RULE--OLU ONAGORUWA AS STATING SARCASTICALLY THAT THE 
GOVERNMENT SHOULD DISSOLVE THE ASSEMBLY ENTIRELY AND 
PUBLISH ITS OWN "PRE-CONCEIVED CONSTITUTION." 
 
5.  (U)  ACCORDING TO THE PRESS ACCOUNTS, THE ASSEMBLY 
PROCEEDINGS ON THE DAY AFTER THE GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCEMENT 
WERE ORDERLY.  THERE WERE SOME TENTATIVE EFFORTS TO 
RAISE THE GOVERNMENT ORDER FOR DEBATE ON THE FLOOR, 
INCLUDING ONE ON THE PART OF EMBASSY CONTACT GAIUS YARO 
OF BAUCHI STATE (REFTEL) TO THE EFFECT THAT THE MOVE 
CONTRADICTED THE GOVERNMENT'S OWN DECREE IN ESTABLISHING 
THE ASSEMBLY.  ANOTHER MEMBER ALSO CHALLENGED THE 
AUTHORITY OF AIKHOMU'S SPEECH TO ALTER THAT DECREE SINCE 
THE SPEECH IS NOT A LEGAL DOCUMENT AND CARRIES NO 
OFFICIAL WEIGHT.  CHAIRMAN ANIAGOLU RULED, HOWEVER, THAT 
THE SPEECH WAS IN ORDER AND SUFFICED TO REMOVE SHARIA 
FROM THE ASSEMBLY'S AREA OF DELIBERATION.  ACCORDING TO 
THE REPORTS, THE ASSEMBLY THEN PROCEEDED WITH ITS 
METHODICAL CLAUSE-BY-CAUSE CONSIDERATION OF THE DRAFT 
CONSTITUTION WITHOUT FURTHER INTERRUPTION. 
 
- 
6.  (C)  COMMENT:  SHARIA'S SUDDEN REMOVAL FROM THE 
ASSEMBLY'S PURVIEW APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN GREETED WITH 
RESIGNATION IN SOME QUARTERS, AND DISCRETION AND 
CYNICISM IN OTHERS.   THERE IS LITTLE IN THE PUBLIC 
RESPONSE TO DATE TO SUGGEST THAT THE ISSUE WILL BE 
REKINDLED IN THE ASSEMBLY OR IN ANY OTHER INFLUENTIAL 
FORUM.  THE QUESTION REMAINS, HOWEVER, WHETHER SUCH 
RESIGNATION IS SPECIFIC TO THE GOVERNMENT'S ACTION IN 
THIS ONE INSTANCE OR, AS WE SUSPECT, WILL CARRY OVER TO 
OTHER ASPECTS OF THE ASSEMBLY'S DELIBERATIONS AS WELL. 
WHILE SOME MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC MAY RALLY TO THE 
ASSEMBLY IN OPPOSITION TO MILITARY INTRUSION INTO THE 
CONSTITUTIONAL PROCESS, WE BELIEVE THAT THE ASSEMBLY HAS 
PROBABLY LOST STATURE THROUGH NOT FULFILLING THE POPULAR 
HOPE THAT A CIVILIAN INSTITUTION, ALBEIT FUNCTIONING 
UNDER STRAITENED CIRCUMSTANCES, CAN DEMONSTRATE A 
CAPACITY FOR COOPERATIVE AND RESPONSIBLE LEADERSHIP ON 
ISSUES OF CRITICAL IMPORT. 
 
 
LYMAN 

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