The lore of the Beauty and the Beast was no longer fairy tale on that fateful day, November 21, 2002, when an allusion Isioma Daniel had made that Prophet Muhammed would have married one of the World contestants competing at the pageant which was slated to hold in Abuja filtered into the hearing of extremists, irate youths went wild and began to riot in Kaduna, Abuja and parts of Lagos. The ugly and beastly part of humans threatened to banish forever the beautiful side of it.
Before the riot began, there had been the lingering and messy matter of Amina Lawal who was sentenced to die of stoning by a Sharia court. And even before that, organizers of the Miss World pageant thought it was good to honour Nigeria with the 2002 hosting rights after Agbani Darego had won the Miss World pageant in 2001; but the matter of Nigeria hosting the 2002 event did not sit well with some conservative Muslims and even some Christians who saw the contest as a celebration of vanity.
The organizers on their part refused to cave in to pressure of pockets of complaints by the Muslims; they were hoping to utilize the pageantry in indirectly securing the pardon of Amina Lawal and at the same time make a statement on women’s rights.
Violence broke out in Kaduna at first where media offices, Christian-owned homes and business as well as innocent people were literally set on fire and people summarily executed.
The riot became an opportunity for enemy groups to settle old scores. Some Muslim groups rolled out mayhem in the districts of Kaduna on the 21st November 2002, the first day of riot. By the second day, some other Christian groups have rallied together in reprisal and burnt down vehicles, houses and businesses purportedly owned by Muslims. They were on the verge of proceeding into majorly Muslim-populated districts when the military stopped them.
But the violence was still being fuelled by some extremist elements in Abuja and particularly in Lagos. In fact, some Muslim clerics in Zamfara state had already pronounced a fatwa on the life of Isioma Daniel and the deputy governor of Zamfara, Mamuda Aliyu Shinkafi, commented: “Like Salman Rushdie, the blood of Isioma Daniel can be shed. It is binding on all Muslims wherever they are to consider the killing of the writer as a religious duty.”
Ordinarily, one would have expected that fellow Nigerians would be proud of such a moment when another Nigerian did us proud and an event will be hosted in honour of her birth country; but time and again, we have only found out that religion or extreme beliefs are taken more importantly than rule of law and order.
There was a saving grace however: organizers of the Miss World pageant decided to call off the event to douse the tension which has escalated into large scale violence, and move it to London. A huge number of the contestants already decided to boycott the event because of the Sharia court judgment on Amina Lawal anyway.
Amina Lawal got moved under protective custody to Abuja and was later pardoned of the death sentence. Isioma Daniel, after being relieved of her duties at ThisDay Newspapers and fleeing to neighbouring Benin Republic for fear of being attacked, she eventually got asylum in London by effort of Amnesty International. The federal government made sure to nullify the fatwa placed on her in equal of Saudi Arabia nullifying same fatwa.
One other beautiful gem came out of these riots. Victor Moses, whose parents had been killed in the riots, was lucky enough to flee abroad and rose to become one of Nigeria’s most decorated footballers home and abroad and with several laurels to his name.
If therefore this is a reminder of a gory past in our history, it is aimed at shaping how smoothly our future plays out; especially as elections (through which pockets of violence have erupted in the past) approaches. That irrespective of our beliefs, religious, political and ethnic affiliations, we should at all times be reminded of our patriotism as primal and foremost wherever we find ourselves.
Featured image source: Punch Newspaper
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