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Muhammadu Maccido, 58, leader of Nigeria's Muslims

SOKOTO, Nigeria -- Muhammadu Maccido, the spiritual leader of tens of millions of Nigerian Muslims, was an important voice of moderation and calm in Africa's most populous nation.

Sultan Maccido, the 19th sultan of Sokoto, was among 96 people killed Sunday when a Nigerian ADC airliner crashed shortly after takeoff in the capital, Abuja. One of his sons, Mohammed, and a grandson also died in the crash.

Thousands of people trooped to the sultan's palace in the northwestern city of Sokoto, where his body was buried Sunday. He was 58.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian, was among those mourning the spiritual leader. "He lived for peace, worked for peace, and died for peace," Obasanjo said.

Nigeria's 130 million people are roughly split between a predominantly Muslim north and a Christian or animist south.

The sultan approves dates for the start and end of Muslim fasts and speaks on issues of religious policy in Nigeria, which gained independence from Britain in 1960.

Sultan Maccido was a direct descendant of the Islamic scholar Uthman Dan Fodio, who founded the Sokoto Caliphate that became one the largest precolonial states in Africa. Dan Fodio launched a campaign from Sokoto in 1804 that spread Islam across much of the northern half of Nigeria and parts of neighboring Niger, Cameroon, and Benin.

Under colonial rule, the British worked as allies with the sultans, who have retained both religious and political influence over Nigerian Muslims, who number at least 65 million.

The sultanate council usually meets within days to select a successor from among Dan Fodio's descendants, palace officials said, but no date has been set in this case. The choice will have to be approved by the elected governor of Sokoto state, Attahiru Bafarawa.

The new leader will emerge from the same tradition-bound and tightly knit class as the last, and is likely to be similar to Sultan Maccido in outlook. Because the new sultan will be a descendant of Dan Fodio, he will probably command the respect and influence wielded by Sultan Maccido.

Sultan Maccido often spoke out in favor of peace in Nigeria, even as the country witnessed some of its worst bouts of sectarian violence. Thousands were killed in 1999, when the imposition of strict Islamic law by 12 predominantly Islamic states in the north increased friction with Christians and other non-Muslims. Through the tensions, which flared with the end of strict military rule, Sultan Maccido urged peace among all religious groups.

When immunization of children against polio were boycotted by large numbers in northern Nigeria in 2003 over baseless allegations by radical Muslim preachers that it was a ploy to sterilize people and spread AIDS, Sultan Maccido came out in support of the vaccine.

Vaccination programs resumed in 2004, but the boycott set back global eradication efforts, causing a polio outbreak that spread the disease across Africa and into the Middle East.

Sultan Maccido's official titles included leader of the faithful and head of the National Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. He became the sultan in 1996, after his predecessor, Ibrahim Dasuki, was deposed by the military ruler Sani Abacha.

Sultan Maccido leaves a wife, one of three he married, and many children.

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