The fun-loving Kano state in Nigeria continues to amaze. From AFP 9 February 2006:
Nigeria’s federal government accused a northern state on Thursday of collaborating with foreign powers to train 100 Muslim militants in intelligence gathering and the "practice of jihad".
In a news release, Information Minister Frank Nweke said the "Hisbah", a group employed by the mainly Muslim state of Kano to enforce sharia law, was "a parallel security outfit that poses a potential threat to national security".
In a separate statement, Nigeria’s police chief, Inspector General Sunday Ehindero, ordered that the Hisbah be immediately disbanded.
Nigeria’s 130-million-strong population is divided roughly evenly between Muslims and Christians and northern cities, including Kano, have often been the scene of bloody sectarian clashes between rival religious groups.
Kano is one of a dozen northern states to have attempted to reintroduce Islamic sharia law to replace Nigerian criminal law since 1999.
Its governor, Ibrahim Shekarau, is an opponent of President Olusegun Obasanjo and was elected in 2003 on a strongly Islamist ticket. He formed the Hisbah to enforce his government’s conservative social policies.
"The Kano State Hisbah Board has, with brazen disregard for the overriding imperatives of national security, sought the assistance of foreign governments for the training of 100 jihadists," Nweke’s statement said.
He did not say which governments had been asked to train the militants in intelligence and the "practice of jihad", an Arabic religious term which some political Islamists interpret as a mandate for "holy war".
"The federal government wishes to state emphatically that it will not tolerate the establishment of unconstitutional and illegal security outfits by governments, groups or individuals," Nweke added.
The Kano state government said it would hold a news conference later Thursday to respond to the charges.
Even before the goverment’s allegation was made public, tension was rising in Kano ahead of Friday’s weekly Muslim prayers and a planned demonstration by a hardline Shiite group.
Muslim leaders in the city vowed to bring thousands of believers onto the streets after Friday prayers to join worldwide protests against caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed that have appeared in the European press.
Kano street demonstrations often descend into violence, and the federal police are expected to be out in force to prevent clashes erupting between Muslims and the city’s small but prosperous Christian minority.
There has been little evidence to date of Nigeria developing its own violent Jihadi movement like Afghanistan’s Taliban or the Wahhabi groups loosely led or inspired by Saudi radical Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda movement.
In late 2004, there was shortlived uprising by an armed group of self-styled "mujahedeen" seeking to create an Islamic state on Nigeria’s northern frontier, but they were quickly and bloodily suppressed by federal forces.
Nevertheless, US and other international observers fear that growing poverty in the north and moves by Obasanjo, a southern Christian, to change the constitution and run for a third term could stoke Islamist sentiment.
Last week John Negroponte, the head of the United States’ spy agencies, told US senators that Obasanjo’s gambit could push Nigeria over the brink.
"Speculation that President Obasanjo will try to change the constitution so he can seek a third term in office is raising political tensions and, if proven true, threatens to unleash major turmoil and conflict," he warned.
"Such chaos in Nigeria could lead to disruption of oil supply, secessionist moves by regional governments, major refugee flows and instability elsewhere in West Africa," he said.