Frontline World

NIGERIA - The Road North, January 2003


THE STORY
Synopsis of "The Road North"

MISS WORLD'S WOES
A Chronicle of the Pageant's Troubles

THOUGHTS OF A FAVORITE SON
Interview With Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka

NIGERIAN WOMEN SPEAK OUT
Five Diverse Voices

FACTS & STATS
Learn More about Nigeria

LINKS & RESOURCES
Sharia Law, Human Rights, the Role of Women

MAP

REACT TO THIS STORY

   


Nigerian Women Speak Out

Stella Din: Publicist, Miss World organization

"The girls (beauty contestants) had one sleepless night, saying that if they were the cause of that violence, they didn't want to be in Nigeria any longer."
Stella Din
Publicist, Miss World organization

Stella Din was the publicist for Miss World as the organization prepared to bring the pageant to Nigeria. She is a Christian and lives in Lagos.

One Sleepless Night
Two or three days before we decided to move the grand finale of the pageant to London, Kaduna state -- which is about 500 kilometers away from where the (beauty contestants were gathered, in Abuja) -- erupted in violence. And we now know that violence ... or those horrible things that took place, happened because of some offensive publication which alluded to the fact that if the Prophet Muhammad was alive, he would have taken one of the girls for his wife.

The Muslims alleged and believed that statement was offensive, it was blasphemous and they decided to vent their anger on ThisDay, which was the newspaper that published the offending article. It started off as a peaceful protest, and before you knew what was happening, we're made to understand that street urchins took over that protest. They started burning, looting and killing.

We didn't want to make the girls feel as if they were responsible for what was going on -- there were screaming headlines around the world saying that the violence was a direct result of the physical presence of the girls in Nigeria. A lot of the girls felt very bad ... that more than 100 lives were lost. The girls had one sleepless night, saying that if they were the cause of that violence, they didn't want to be in Nigeria any longer.

The Specter of the Lawal Case
Before they came to Nigeria, (pageant contestants) knew there would be the Amina Lawal situation to contend with. A lot of them decided they were going to come to Nigeria to protest the stoning to death of Amina after a sentence of death was passed on her by a sharia court of law that had accused her of adultery.

Where I come from, you don't stone a woman -- you don't even stone a man -- to death, let alone a woman who has a little baby.

... Since the inception of the Fourth Republic, the democratically elected government of President Olusegun Obasanjo, we have had to contend with the agitation for the establishment of sharia states in the north. Nigeria is a secular country, and we understand that we are a (plural) society. By that I mean that we have many Christians, Muslims, pagans, people practicing the traditional African religion in Nigeria. The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria takes all of that into consideration. It is for that very reason that government has said over and over and over again that Nigeria is a secular state.

We understand and respect the fact that the Muslims want to be bound by an Islamic code. The Federal Republic of Nigeria and the constitution has always recognized sharia. But what it says is unconstitutional is the imposition of that system of law as a religion of the state.

... This is a lady [Amina Lawal] who was ... found guilty of adultery. The man she committed the sexual act with has gone unpunished, she has had her baby and they have said that they're going to wait for her to wean the baby before she is stoned to death. Where I come from, you don't stone a woman -- you don't even stone a man -- to death, let alone a woman who has a little baby.

I find it hard to believe that in the whole of northern Nigeria, Amina was the only one who was found guilty of committing adultery. We're not all saints and we're not all sinners, but it does task the imagination a bit to think that in one state, it is just the one woman ... .

A Christian View of Sharia
I'm a Christian. That is not to say that I'm not sensitive to sharia. It is not for me to say that "oh, I can condemn the stoning of Amina Lawal because I think in this day and age it is barbaric." I wouldn't condemn the sharia, because to condemn the sharia is like condemning someone's Christian beliefs, Anglican or Catholic ... . I won't condemn the sharia, because condemning the sharia to some Muslims will probably be tantamount to blasphemy.

I would say if it is going to be applied, let it be applied the way it should be applied. There is no need to take one or two things out of proportion just because it is politically expedient. I think a lot of this boils down to politics. Because people are fornicating every day, whether rightly or wrongly so. It is not for anybody to sit in judgment on another person. This is 2002 ... . If you keep on stoning women to death, adultery will not stop, neither will fornication. But if you keep on making women bear the brunt of what two consenting adults have done, then it poses a problem.

A lot of people are enraged because you say that you are going to stone a woman to death. No mention has been made of the man who she was supposed to have committed the sexual act with. She didn't do it on her own; it takes two to tango. If it takes two to tango, why is one person being made the scapegoat? That is where I am coming from, not just as a woman, but as a rational, thinking human being, and that is what seems to be enraging a lot of people.

We really need to get back to the drawing table, search our souls, search our consciences, search our leadership and the quality of people we put as our elected officials, and to hold them to account.

Nigeria's Image Problem
We have a serious problem, which we need to address. A lot of people are not looking at the big picture. We're still looking at the small picture, that it was violence, it was 100 people that were killed in Kaduna. As a human being and as a spokesperson for Miss World 2002, I regret the fact that one life was lost, let alone 100. That is more than a tragedy ... . The fact that this incident marred the hosting of Miss World 2002 in Nigeria has sent strong signals out into the international community that Nigeria is not a country to be taken seriously. We do have an image problem, and if we really want to be ranked as first among equals, we have blown our chances ... . We really need to get back to the drawing table, search our souls, search our consciences, search our leadership and the quality of people we put as our elected officials, and to hold them to account.

A Fighting Spirit
The Nigerian woman is a very resilient and a very strong woman. The Nigerian woman is someone who would bear her burden with dignity, with grace. She would be elegant under fire, she's strong. The Nigerian woman is a woman who you can rely on to hold the family together when all the men are hard at work, making money or doing whatever it is they do. The Nigerian woman can be counted on to hold the fort. Unfortunately, Nigerian women tend to be underappreciated, underloved sometimes and underestimated.

But the strength of a Nigerian woman is that when you think that she has given up, that is when she has started to fight. That's what I honestly believe because I think that is the kind of woman I am. I guess I speak for the millions of Nigerian women who have risen above poverty, have risen above domestic violence, have risen above discrimination in the workplace, discrimination in the course of duty -- to make sure that (we) remain in focus regardless of what the odds are.

NEXT - Amina Ladan Baki Mohammed: Women's rights activist

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