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In 2001 when he was governor of Zamfara state, his decision to expand the scope of the Shari’a (Muslim law) legal system to include its…

In 2001 when he was governor of Zamfara state, his decision to expand the scope of the Shari’a (Muslim law) legal system to include its criminal aspects generated intense controversy that at a point, posed a major threat to the survival of Nigeria as a corporate entity. As with other major challenges in the past, the country somehow weathered that storm; but not without painful consequences which in some cases, included the loss of lives and the destruction of property.

In the end, Yarima (as he is generally referred to) had his way, a development that ignited agitation for Shari’a across most of the northern region where Muslims are in the majority. Because he started it all, Yarima became an instant hero among Muslims, and gained notoriety everywhere else; he stole the show everywhere he went especially in the “Shari’ah zone”. In the frenzy of the time, an unlucky cow rustler called Jangebe, had his left arm amputated when he was convicted of stealing a cow by a Shari’ah court in Gusau, the state capital. That landmark punishment jolted everybody; it also caused further outrage, then anger, then indignation both nationally and internationally.  Later, even more frightening judicial pronouncements began to emerge when women in Zamfara, Katsina and Bauchi states were sentenced to death by stoning after being convicted of committing adultery by Shari’a courts in those states.

It was thanks to the brilliant challenges mounted by other Muslim jurists and scholars that those sentences were never carried out; instead, facts began to emerge that some of the judges who were passing those sentences were ill-prepared and poorly equipped professionally for such legal responsibilities. When asked about his views on the Shari’a controversy, the then Nigerian President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, described it as an “April Shower” which would soon dry up.

And dry up it did, even if gradually. Nowhere was that more apparent than in Zamfara state itself where it all started. Although its personal liberty and social restrictions such as the banning of sale and consumption of alcohol, and the banning of prostitution and similar vices in the entire state remained as a welcome legacy of Shari’a in the state to this day, its more fundamental doctrine such as ensuring equitable distribution of resources (which would have prevented a Jangebe from stealing a cow for instance) was neglected.

 All along, a section of Muslim scholars had argued that implementing Shari’a under the prevailing economic situation which was and still is, characterized by illiteracy and extreme poverty of over 90 per cent of the population, wanton corruption among public servants, a huge disparity in the distribution of resources, was unrealistic. They argued that for the implementation of Shari’a to be justifiable and have a chance to succeed, a more equitable economic system that would guarantee a measure of equal opportunity for all must first of all be in place before the strict implementation of Shari’a may reasonably be contemplated.  But those who held such views were in the minority and scared stiff of expressing themselves openly for fear of being labelled sell-outs or even apostates.

The bottom-line is that by the time Yarima finished his Shari’a-shrouded second term tenure as governor of Zamfara state in 2007, he had become a source of embarrassment to majority of Muslims in the country. On the plus side, he had proved that contrary to long-held belief especially among non Muslims, Sharia’a can be accommodated within the Nigerian constitution. But in the actual implementation and exploitation of the merits of the system itself, Yarima left Muslims ruing what could have been a golden opportunity to showcase the excellent social, economic and political teachings of Islam. As far as good governance was concerned, Yarima’s Zamfara was not a model state; it has one of the worst literacy and poverty rates in the country; its infrastructure remain very poor, its civil service corrupt and as incompetent as one anywhere in the country. At individual level, Yarima’s personal conduct was castigated when the former outspoken chairman of the

EFCC, Malam Nuhu Ribadu, described Yarima’s regime as one of the most corrupt in the country. Yarima also ran a very flamboyant presidential campaign between 2006 and 2007 which eventually came to naught; hitherto, nobody knows for sure how that expensive campaign was financed, beyond speculating that state and local government funds were used.

This is the Yarima who went to the Senate in 2007 where, generally, many self-respecting Muslims preferred to blink, or look away with disappointment every time his face is flashed across their TV screens. He had become an anathema, a sore-spot for the Muslims in the country, a memory they would rather forget. It was in this situation that Yarima, perhaps out of an irresistible crave for attention, again turned the spotlight unto himself with the marriage, about a month ago, of an Egyptian girl who is said to be 13 years old. Although Yarima had denied that the girl is 13 years old, he has so far refused to disclose her age; a rather dumb decision because now if anyone wishes to be mischievous he could even claim that she is actually younger than 13.

Women groups, human rights organizations and concerned individuals have strongly condemned the marriage. Some call it child abuse, some call it paedophilia and some call it opportunism. But all these name calling is nothing if it was restricted to Yarima. The big issue is that by his action, Yarima has generated so much insult for both Islam and Muslims, and worse of all, even unprintable remarks concerning the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

The legality or otherwise of his action notwithstanding, Yarima needs to ask himself certain basic questions: Is the benefit of his marrying a 13-year-old Egyptian girl, who is said to be the daughter of his driver in Egypt, worth the odium he has incurred for his religion? Is it acceptable in Islam that in a state where more than 90 per cent of the population barely have enough to eat three meals a day, a self-appointed role model and religious leader should spend N15 million as dowry; transport 32 members of his bride’s family from Egypt to Nigeria (return ticket $1,100 per person) and shoulder only-God-knows what other expenses? If Yarima has any daughters, would he marry them off at the age of 13 years; whether to a 13-year or 50-year old male?

Yarima’s defence that his action does not contradict Islamic law is only partially acceptable. Islam explicitly forbids extravagance of any sorts, particularly in marriage in order to avoid corrupting the society; clearly a $100,000-dowry contravenes that injunction. In addition, the very fact that Yarima and the girl’s parents had to evade Egyptian law which prohibits marriage of girls below 18 years is in itself questionable, to say the least. Yarima should also know that there were certain things that the Prophet did that were exclusive to him alone. In any case, if he wished to copy what the Prophet did, why couldn’t he marry widows with orphans to support so that he could assist them? It is on record that only one out of the nine wives that the Prophet married in the course of his life was a maiden; the others were either widows or divorcees. And none of the marriage was done with the kind of lavishness and flamboyance which Yarima exhibited in his marriage to the Egyptian girl.

It is time for Yarima to undertake a very serious, honest introspective appraisal of himself with a view to determine whether he has been a credit to Islam or he has merely used it to feather his nest. He can start by reflecting on this simple question: Although Islam has made the meat of a vulture lawful (as is the case with the meat of all animal species that lay eggs); would the Distinguished Senator willingly treat himself to a plate of vulture pepper soup?

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