Thousands mourn sultan

SOKOTO - Thousands of tearful Nigerian Muslims gathered to mourn yesterday at the palace of their traditional ruler.

The Sultan of Sokoto died in an airplane crash on Sunday along with 95 other people.

The Boeing 737, operated by a domestic carrier, crashed shortly after takeoff in the Nigerian capital Abuja. The government has grounded the airline.

It said the pilot had ignored a bad-weather warning.

Aviation Minister Babalola Borishade said nine survivors were in hospital and 96 bodies had been recovered from the crash site, a field near the runway.

President Olusegun Obasanjo declared three days of national mourning and will travel to Sokoto.

All shops and market stalls in the city were deserted yesterday.

Liman Muhammadu, a trader, said: "I loved the sultan. May the Almighty give him peace."

Within days, 14 king-makers must choose who will succeed Ibrahim Muhammadu Maccido as Sultan of Sokoto and figurehead for Nigeria's estimated 70 million Muslims. The governor of Sokoto state chooses the new sultan from the king-makers' list of three names.

Maccido was a respected figure who helped quell several bouts of religious violence.

There was widespread anger about the crash, which was the third major aviation disaster in Nigeria in just more than a year.

Ishaq Akintola, director of Muslim Rights Concern, said: "Nigeria's aviation industry needs an urgent overhaul. This is one crash too many." - Reuters