Sharia Punishments Are An Embarrassment To Nigeria's Image Abroad

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Inhumane sharia punishments, including flogging, amputations, and stoning, have long embarrassed the federal government of Nigeria. According to the constitution, Nigeria is a secular state with guarantees of freedom of religion and free speech. But in twelve predominately Muslim states in the north of the country, Islamic law, sharia, operates in the criminal as well as the religious domain, Sharia is not uniform and varies from state to state, though blasphemy appears to be a capital crime in all of them. The context of these accelerating episodes involving sharia is the declining power of the federal government and the concomitant growth in the authority of governors and local rulers. For example, the police are supposed to be national, but formal and informal militias are becoming increasingly powerful. Sharif was arrested by what the media describes as "Islamic police." It is likely that he was arrested by the Hisbah, a vigilante force that enforces sharia regulation, especially with respect to dress. The Hisbah often has recognition from the state in which it operates, but not the federal government.

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