Musings on Sharia Law in Northern Nigeria

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Islamic jurisprudence also known as sharia law guides all aspects of Muslim life. It was originated from the Holy Quran (the literal words of God) and the hadith (the recorded practices, sayings and approval of Prophet Muhammad). Subsequently, two other sources of sharia law emerged due to the rising new religious obstacles and paradigm shift in socio-political activities after Prophet Muhammad’s demise.

The consensus of Islamic scholars on any Islamic viewpoints (Ijma) and the deductive reasoning from the Quran and Hadith (Qiyas) further complements the fundamental two sources of sharia law. Both Ijma and Qiyas are instrumental at illuminating the novel challenges unaddressed directly by the Quran and Hadith.

Nigeria is a secular sovereign state by virtue of the 1999 constitution, as amended. But the constitution as well partially recognizes the Islamic jurisprudence and expressly stipulates its modus operandi in Sec 275 – 279. Each state of the federation is guaranteed with the right to apply and establish sharia law court in Sec 275 (1). However, the sharia legal system is actively operational in Northern states of the country.

The provisions under Sec 277 stipulate the jurisdictional scope which the sharia law court could operate. The jurisdiction revolves around civil proceedings in determination of the validity of Islamic marriage, its dissolution, the issues related to such family, guardianship and succession. The Sec 277 also confers the powers to legislate within the scope of the above personal law on the state House of Assembly which has adopted the sharia court.

Many states’ Houses of Assembly in Northern Nigeria have been acting ultra vires in codifying sharia law. The likes of Kano, Kaduna and others have continued to enact the states’ penal code. The code doesn’t fall within the Islamic jurisprudence as enshrined in the 1999 constitution, as amended. The provisions in Sec 4 (7) (c) only empower each state House of Assembly of the federation to enact laws in accordance with the Nigeria’s constitution.

Both Islamic jurisprudence and democracy or secularism can only coexist under a legal framework with the adherence to constitutionality. Sooner than later, a continuous disregard to the constitutional framework would precipitate anarchy. The Northern Nigeria should either extend the scope of sharia law through a clarion call for the amendment of the Nigerian constitution, or demand for a sovereign state to achieve the total implementation of Islamic jurisprudence.

Equity and welfarist ideas are fabrics of Islamic jurisprudence. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the state of Qatar amongst other Islamic states toil in this direction. The advocates of sharia law in Northern Nigeria must be committed to good governance and human development at all time.
––Binzak Azeez, Faculty of Law, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife