A decade ago, twelve northern Nigerian states introduced Islamic criminal legislation. Many governors of these states supported the move only with reluctance. They were caught between popular demands for the introduction of the shari'a and the exigencies of their office, established by the Nigerian Constitution. Their situation may be compared to that of the colonial period emirs whose legitimacy was closely linked to the imple mentation of Islamic criminal law, but who were forced to implement British orders containing its application. In this article, I analyse the judicial practice of modern shari'a courts with regard to crimes against life, limb and property, a major concern for northern Nigerian Muslims in the past and at present. I conclude that because both the emirs and the governors have been unable to find lasting solutions to the problem of reconciling the two legal systems, they have opted for delaying tactics.