Accessibility links

Nigerian Journalist Isioma Daniels Speaks Out - 2003-01-29


The Nigerian journalist who wrote an article that sparked deadly riots is now speaking out about her ordeal. Isioma Daniels wrote about the Prophet Mohammed and the 2002 Miss World contestants. She says the story was meant to be light-hearted -- but has turned her life around a full circle. The fashion journalist is only 21. Ms. Daniels, a Christian, worked for Nigeria’s This Day newspaper. But at such a young age, she’s is faced with the decision of whether to spend the rest of her life in hiding. In November 2002, Ms. Daniels wrote an article in Nigeria’s This Day newspaper suggesting that the Prophet Mohammed may have approved of the Miss World contest – which Nigeria was to host - and may have wished to marry one of the beauty queens. This angered most Nigerian Muslims, and riots followed. "I can’t possibly be happy about the fact that 200 people were killed because of something I wrote. But I believe that if it was in a different society in a different country, what I wrote you would probably get a few angry letters, a few phone calls, people might stop buying papers, but they would not go out in the streets and kill people. So it shows that it had a lot more to do with the country I was working and writing for". The newspaper office was burned down and hundreds were killed in the northern city of Kaduna - a predominantly Muslim State that has adopted strict Sharia Law. The riots lasted for several days. The Miss World contest was moved to London to protect the lives of those involved. Some Muslims say the article was blasphemous -- a charge Ms. Daniels denies. "It wasn’t blasphemous. Anyone can tell you that the Prophet had many wives. And it wasn’t intended to upset and offend anyone. It was what I considered a bit cheeky and humorous, but certainly not blasphemous. I come from a background from studying in Britain where you could basically say and give your opinion on anything or anyone regardless of who or what they were". But the deputy governor of Zamfara State in northern Nigeria, which also practices strict Sharia Law, insists the article insulted the Prophet Mohammed. He issued a Fatwa or a decree urging Muslims to kill Ms. Daniels. "He basically said that it is abiding on all Muslims to consider the killing of the writer as a religious duty and that, like Salman Rushdie, my blood can be shed as well". Salman Rushdie was the subject of a fatwa in 1989, when the Iranian government called for his death, saying his book "Satanic Verses" was blasphemous. In Ms. Daniel’s case, a local Muslim council has since overturned the Fatwa. The council says the Zamfara State authorities had no right to issue a death decree against Ms. Daniels. But Ms. Daniels is hiding and will not disclose her location. The newspaper in which the article appeared has also apologized, describing it as a mistake that should never have been published. But most Nigerians say the pageant that was to encourage tourism has only shown the world what they call the ugly face of religious extremism, intolerance and violence. Critics say regardless of Islamic law, an incitement to extrajudicial execution should not be tolerated by any government -- particularly in a nation like Nigeria, where Muslims and Christians coexist. They say if Nigeria's government only condemns religious violence -- which it did -- but does not act to punish the guilty as a deterrent, it invites more such atrocities. For Isioma Daniels, the decision about whether to continue her work as a journalist is one she says she has to grapple with day by day.

XS
SM
MD
LG