- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 23, 2002

KADUNA, Nigeria Officials canceled the Miss World pageant in Nigeria today and announced it would be held in London after newspaper reports on the event sparked Muslim and Christan rioting that killed 100 or more and injured 500.
Organizers said the pageant would be held December 7 in London "in the overall interests of Nigeria and the contestants."
The brief announcement, which did not elaborate on the decision to change the venue, came after three days of rioting triggered by the pageant and a newspaper's reference to the prophet Muhammad.
The bloodshed was worst in the northern city of Kaduna, where it started Wednesday, but yesterday it spread to Abuja, the capital, where the beauty contest was to be held.
Red Cross officials said the three days of unrest killed about 100 people.
Fueling the clashes are long-standing hostilities between the various tribes of Muslims and Christians in Africa's most-populous nation, where rioting and fighting between the groups is common. Previous riots in Kaduna escalated into religious battles that have killed hundreds since civilian government replaced military rule in 1999.
Islamic groups have complained for months that beauty pageants promote promiscuity.
Things worsened after This Day newspaper in Kaduna published an article a week ago suggesting that Islam's prophet would have approved of the pageant.
"What would Muhammad think? In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from among them," Isioma Daniel wrote.
After Muslims called it offensive, the newspaper published a brief front-page apology Monday and a lengthier retraction Thursday that said the passage had run by mistake.
Muslims gathered after prayers outside the national mosque in the usually placid capital 225 miles northeast of here and then stormed through town, burning cars and assaulting bystanders.
Police firing tear gas restored calm in Abuja within hours. But the melee in Kaduna, a religiously mixed city of several million residents, continued in defiance of a round-the-clock police curfew.
Bands of Muslims, some armed with ceremonial daggers, stabbed and set fire to passersby. Young men shouting "Allahu Akhbar" "God is great" ignited makeshift barricades of tires and garbage. Christian youths smashed windows and burned mosques.
Plumes of smoke rose over Kaduna yesterday as both sides burned and demolished homes in the segregated ethnic neighborhoods across this bustling market city. In one Christian-minority district, an old woman sifted through the smoking ruins of her house to retrieve pots and pans.
Nearby, Tunde Adeyemi, a 25-year-old Christian, related how he and friends fought off Muslims. "We had only stones. They were shooting us, and we were stoning them," he said.
But Joe Adamu, a Muslim tailor, said Christians were armed with automatic weapons while Muslims had only stones and knives.
Five churches and an undetermined number of mosques had been burned by yesterday. Red Cross workers retrieved burned bodies for burial.
Through the violence, the Miss World contestants remained under Nigerian police and army guard in the Nicon Hilton in Abuja, the nation's fanciest hotel. President Olusegun Obasanjo said their security would be tightened.
Muslim opposition already had prompted organizers to postpone the finale until after the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
The cancellation came without warning.
"The show definitely will go on," pageant publicist Stella Din said. She said she was saddened by the deaths, but insisted they were not the pageant's fault.
Mr. Obasanjo agreed, saying, "The beauty queens should not feel that they are the cause of the violence. It could happen at any time irresponsible journalism is committed against Islam."
Some Kaduna residents sought protection at police stations and military bases. But others accused police and soldiers of gunning down rioters.
Shehu Sani of the Kaduna-based Civil Rights Congress said he was shown the bodies of 10 Muslim men who witnesses said were shot yesterday by police near a mosque.
Authorities did not immediately comment.
Bello Yawa, a 50-year-old Muslim, clutched his face and wept when he saw the body of his adult son lying on a street corner.
"This morning, I closed the gates to my house. The army and police came and forced their way in. They took my two sons and brought them outside, and they didn't return," he said. "I don't know why. Even policemen have turned against us. They are not supposed to take sides."
Gunshots continued into the evening. Witnesses said fighting continued in at least one neighborhood as flames consumed small dwellings.
Fearing that violence could spread, security forces patrolled other major cities, including the northern trading hub of Kano, where Muslim women peacefully protested.
"We are calling on the government to stop Miss World, this show of shame. For women to expose herself to men other than their husbands is forbidden," said one protester, Hadiza Usman.
Nigeria won the right to stage the Miss World contest after Nigerian Agbani Darego won the last event, in South Africa.
The beauty contest also has been hit by controversy over the case of Amina Lawal, who was sentenced to death by stoning under Islamic law for bearing a child out of wedlock.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide