Evening Standard (England), Nov. 11, 2002
By Tim Cooper, Evening Standard
It is supposed to be a glittering social event designed to showcase some of the most beautiful women in the world.
However, the £1,000-a-head Miss World gala dinner in central London found itself at the centre of a furious political row surrounding stoned to death for having a child out of wedlock in the competition’s host country Nigeria.
The Miss World Competition has been under pressure since it was revealed that several beauty queens are boycotting the event as a global show of support for 31-year-old Ms Lawal.
World attention is focusing on Nigerian president Olusegan Obasanjo, who has tried to wash his hands of the criticism by claiming it is a matter for the courts and refusing to give a presidential pardon.
Last night, guests at the Grosvenor House Hotel found themselves coming under a joint offensive from Miss World organiser Julia Morley and Stella Obasanjo, wife of the Nigerian president.
They were both insisting that the stoning would never take place. However, neither woman was able to offer any guarantees to support their claims.
The dinner had already been marred by the failure of several key guests, including Prince Edward and footballers Thierry Henry, Nwankwo Kanu, captain of the Nigerian football team, and Patrick Vieira to turn up.
There was a further blow when out of the 11 contestants reported to have pulled out only one, Miss Kenya, turned up for the parade.
Describing Ms Lawal as “an innocent woman”, the Nigerian first lady urged other Nigerian women to show their support for the condemned woman at the Miss World contest in the capital, Abuja, on 7 December.
The single mother’s execution – ordered by an Islamic sharia court in August – is due to be carried out after she has weaned her daughter, although she is awaiting an appeal.
In a statement last night, the president’s wife accused Islamic activists of taking advantage of Nigeria’s newfound democracy.
“The Nigerian government has said time and again that our laws are supreme, consistent and capable of addressing this unfortunate development,” she told the audience of 500 guests and more than 80 beauty queens.
“I also believe that all those who support Amina and the women of Nigeria have a duty to show up in Abuja.”
She went on: “Her appeal against the sentence imposed by the sharia court will be heard by a federal court and she will be pardoned.
“It has always overturned death sentences in the past. No woman has been stoned to death in Nigeria.”
Mrs Morley insisted that only four countries had boycotted the contest – Denmark, Switzerland, Panama and Costa Rica – and that they might yet return for the main event.
Miss England, Daniella Laun, admitted she had been under “a lot of pressure” to pull out but had decided to go ahead after receiving assurances that a pardon would be granted.
“There was a moment when the pressure got to me and I thought about quitting. But I’ve been told by Julia Morley that the sentence has been overturned by the Nigerian government and I am delighted about that,” said the 22-year-old biology student from Oxford.
“I don’t condone the sentence in any way but it is their own religion and I don’t think we should interfere with their decision. And I don’t think a boycott would achieve anything.”
Mrs Morley said she was confident that Ms Lawal would be pardoned after statements issued over the weekend by both Nigeria’s foreign affairs minister and a local minister for the northern district.
“What I do know is that there will be no stoning,” she said.