Miss World Pageant Moves to London - Violence Against the Contest Continues on in Nigeria

Nov 25, 2002 03:00 AM EST

LAGOS, Nigeria – As violence spreads through the streets of Nigeria, hundreds of people lose their lives over what began as a protest against the Miss World pageant scheduled to convene in Abuja, the nation's Capital.

Because of the violent protests, pageant organizers announced early Saturday that the contest would move to London. "This decision was taken after careful consideration of all the issues involved and in the overall interests of Nigeria and the contestants participating in this year's edition," said a statement from Miss World Organization and Silver Bird Productions Ltd.

However, violence between Christians and Muslims continue to ravage the nation. Wednesday morning, Christian youths in Kaduna gathered in defiance of a round the clock curfew ordered by the authorities, and proceeded to launch attacks against mosques and other Muslim targets. The rampaging mobs burnt people alive in their cars and in buildings.

By mid-morning, smoke rose through the city, which is inhabited by equal populations of both faiths.

On Thursday, Muslims targeted churches and other Christian property.

Late Sunday afternoon, Muslim youths demolished and burned cars, wreaking havoc through the already crying city.

Wednesday's violence was triggered by an article in the nation's daily newspaper, "This Day,"that suggested that the prophet Muhammad would have approved of the beauty contest; Islamic clerics mainly oppose the contest as "a parade of nudity.”

"What would Mohammed think? In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from among" the contestants, columnist Isioma Daniel wrote in last Saturday's edition of ThisDay.

Angry Muslim mobs, accusing the newspaper of blasphemy, burned down its office building in Kaduna on Wednesday morning. The newspaper has subsequently published daily apologies for the article. The paper wrote: "The offensive paragraph runs against the grain of our beliefs . . . as we show sensitivity to the complexity of our nation. . . . We recognize the gravity of this error, and we have handled it with all the seriousness it deserves, including very strong disciplinary measures for those who failed in their duties."

This violence was another installment of the cycle of unrest that pervaded through the country the past three years. The fighting claimed more than 10,000 lives, and brought about more division between a land, already partitioned between Muslims and Christians.

The pageant's controversy began when Agbani Darego, a Nigerian, won the contest's title, subsequently giving Nigeria the right to host the next pageant. Soon afterward, a 31 year old single mother, Amina Lawal, was sentenced to stoning for adultery by an Islamic court in northern Nigeria, thereby instigating boycotts among the contestants to the contest.

The Nigerian government refused to allow the sentences from Islamic courts to be carried out since they were in conflict with the constitution. This reassured many of the 92 contestants who flew into the country last week in preparation for the December pageant. Contestants from five countries -- Costa Rica, Denmark, Switzerland, South Africa and Panama -- stayed home.

Opposition to the event continues to mount in the Muslim region, where it is perceived as an affront to Islamic sensibilities. In spite of the violence, the contestants said they felt safe in the country, and commented to a radio station in Lagos, that they wished for the show to go ahead in Nigeria.

By Pauline J.
[email protected]