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Human rights groups and activists on Tuesday reacted angrily to the decision of an Upper Sharia Court in Kano State, which sentenced a musician, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, to death for blaspheming Prophet Mohammed.
The organisations, in separate interviews with The PUNCH, described the penalty as anti-poor and wondered how many corrupt politicians had been convicted by Sharia courts in the country.
But the Kano State Hisbah Board told The PUNCH that it supported the death penalty for Sharif-Aminu.
Sharif-Aminu, aged 22, was on Monday sentenced to death for committing blasphemy against Prophet Mohammed in a song he circulated via WhatsApp.
He was accused of committing the offence in March 2020 after which protesters burnt down his family house.
The Corps Commander General of the state Hisbah Board, Dr Sani Ibn-Sina, in an interview with The PUNCH on Tuesday, said, “As an organisation charged with the responsibility of enforcing Sharia, we are in support of the court verdict because anybody who does what he did deserves to be killed. That is what the law says.”
He said it was the Hisbah board that stopped many aggrieved Kano residents that stormed its premises in protest against Sharif-Aminu’s action from taking the law into their own hands.
He stated, “We were in the forefront of ensuring that the matter was thoroughly investigated to the extent of inviting his father who even said he could execute whatever Sharia says on the convict (his son).
“So the judgment was based on Sharia and we are in support of it ( the court verdict,)” he said.
It is unconstitutional – Adegboruwa
But a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, said the judgment was unconstitutional and would be set aside on appeal.
Adegboruwa, in an interview with The PUNCH, said, “I think obviously the Kano court erred substantially in law. If a man expresses his view through WhatsApp concerning any matter whatsoever, the worst that can happen to that man is to institute an action against him for libel. The judgment is a violation of the fundamental rights of that man, which I am sure will be quashed on appeal.
“Number two, death sentence is becoming unpopular worldwide because of the fact that it does not serve the purpose of deterrence. Those offences that carry death sentence, such as murder, armed robbery, treasonable felony, they still keep happening. So, the new thinking is to reform people instead of an eye for an eye, which is the old law of Moses.”
CSOs kick, say death sentence on Kano musician repulsive
Civil rights groups expressed anger over the death sentence. The Convener, Free Nigeria Coalition, Raphael Adebayo, described the development as an assault on state power which he said threatened the legitimacy of Nigeria’s union as a democratic republic.
He said, “Since when did it become okay to murder ordinary people in this country simply because of what they utter or write? It would seem that there is one law for the rich and another one for the poor.
“It is simply unacceptable and this barbarism presents an opportunity for the incumbent government at the federal level to redeem its soul by demonstrating its value for the average Nigerian life, and the supremacy of the Nigerian constitution, above all else.”
Another group, Concerned Nigerians, opposed the judgment, describing it as repulsive to natural justice and abhorrent to equity, good conscience and a gross violation of the convict’s rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and expression.
The group in a statement on Tuesday by its spokesman, Theophilus Agada, stated, “We condemn in strong terms, the death sentence by hanging on a Kano-based artiste, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu.”
It further argued that the death penalty was a violation of the rights to freedom of thoughts and expression of the citizen, pointing out that the injustices faced by both religious and non-religious people alike must stop.
“The arrest and detention of Yahaya is a breach of Section 38 of our constitution which states that ‘every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance,” it stated.
Death penalty for blasphemy sets social media on fire
Also, the story trended on Twitter under several hash tags including #Sharia #Kano #blasphemy #Ganduje #Bashir and #YorubaMuslims.
A large section of Nigerians wondered why the Kano State Government was bent on ensuring that blasphemers were killed while those who looted the public treasury were allowed to go scot-free.
Activist and Co-Convener, Bring Back Our Girls, Aisha Yesufu, wondered why those supporting the killing of blasphemers were silent when a video went viral showing Governor Umar Ganduje allegedly stuffing his babariga with dollars.
Nigeria’s Sharia courts corruption infested – Aisha Yesufu
Yesufu tweeted, “Can someone please tell me how many rapists have been sentenced to death by Sharia courts in Nigeria? Or how many corrupt politicians have been sentenced to death?
“The same Sharia courts that have professional witnesses in front of their doors that one can hire? The corruption infested Sharia courts that operate in Nigeria? If Sharia courts and the judges practise Sharia laws as they should, even non-Muslims will bring their cases there!”
Nigeria pardons terrorists, orders death for blasphemy – Suleman
Also contributing to the debate, the General Overseer of Omega Fire Ministries International, Apostle Johnson Suleman, said it was ironic that Nigeria which pardoned Boko Haram members could support the killing of a man for blasphemy.
He tweeted, “A country that pardons terrorists wants to kill a man for blasphemy. I am sure even Saudi Arabia is shocked… the worst form of deception is self deceit.”
Another commentator, Uchenna Henry, said it was ironic that it was only the poor that were subjected to Sharia law.
“This whole Sharia law is only for the poorest of the poor, the rich flex and flirt in Europe and the USA,” he said.
An activist, FS Yusuf, said no rich northern Muslim had had any part of his body amputated since Sharia law came into effect.
Don’t meddle in Islamic matters, Shagari’s grandson tells Christians
However, Bello Shagari, a grandson of a former President, Shehu Shagari, said Christians should not meddle in Islamic matters.
“Muslims should focus on their Islam, Christians should focus on their Christianity and disbelievers should focus on their disbelief. Everyone should practise what they believe. No belief should bother another in anyway and anyone who does so, has intruded. Fact! Peace.”
However, when Shagari came under fire for refusing to condemn the death sentence of the musician, he admitted that there was need to reform certain aspects of the Sharia law.
“The whole debate is about Sharia is uncalled for. Most of us debating aren’t even knowledgeable enough to discuss these topics. But the problem is that a critic can criticise even what he does not know which gives room for a response even from who does not also know enough.
“The only injustice I see in Sharia in Nigeria is its application. It is only applicable to the criminal downtrodden or the less privileged, except of course if it is not in punishment,” he said.
Buhari’s aide under fire
However, the debate took an interesting turn when an old tweet by the President’s Personal Assistant on New Media, Bashir Ahmad, supporting death penalty for blasphemy resurfaced on Twitter, attracting over 22,000 tweets.
Ahmad in the tweet dated July 1, 2015 supported the death sentence on nine people who described Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse, the Senegalese founder of the Tijaniya sect, as being greater than Prophet Mohammed.
At the time, some Nigerians on Twitter campaigned for the discharge of the nine convicts with the #SaveKanoNine.
But the President’s aide had a different opinion.
He tweeted, “I can’t pretend or keep silent. I support the death penalty for blasphemy. That’s my belief and I do not and will never support #SaveKanoNine.”
The Convener, Concerned Nigerians, Deji Adeyanju, said he was sure that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), also supported the death penalty for blasphemy.
“This is a Presidential aide. I am sure Buhari feels the same way. I feel sorry for this country,” Adeyanju tweeted.
Another respondent, Igwe Skyochi tweeted, “Bashir Ahmad, just know this today that the only good and bad news you can ever get which is similar to both is: ‘Nothing lasts forever!’’”
A writer, Elnathan John @elnathan_john, wrote, “Just join Boko Haram and save us the trouble. No difference. This one na just capitalist Boko Haram.”
About 12 states in northern Nigeria operate the Sharia system of justice.
The Sharia system, which also has its own Court of Appeal, handles both civil and criminal matters involving Muslims and its judgements can also be challenged in Nigeria’s secular Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
Sentences handed down by the courts usually include floggings in cases of adultery, amputations for theft and the death penalty for blasphemy.
The PUNCH gathered on Monday that the Kano State Government would not intervene in the judgment of the Upper Sharia Court which sentenced Sharif to death.
A source close to the state government, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told one of our correspondents, that the state government would never interfere with the judgment.
“No responsible Muslim in a Sharia state like Kano will not support the judgment. So to cut it short, no Muslim will support what the convict (Yahaya Sharif) did,” the source said.
Death sentence, lawful, it’s based on Kano legislation – Lawyer
A lawyer, Mr Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem, however, said the verdict of the Sharia court was lawful because it was based on Kano State legislation.
Adetola-Kazeem said, “The state has the legislative competence to prohibit certain conducts and prescribe punishment for them. This is the same whether in the North or the South. All states have criminal codes, irrespective of the source of that code.
“Blasphemy is a crime under the laws of most states in northern Nigeria. Anyone who violates the law can be tried and punished according to that law. The question is: was the law validly passed by the state assembly? The answer is yes. Is the law written down in accordance with Section 36 of the Nigerian Constitution? Again, the answer is yes.So, in my view, the law is valid so far its constitutionality has not been challenged.
“He (the convict) was tried by a competent court of the land. He has a right of appeal up to the Supreme Court. If he thinks he has been wrongly convicted, he can exercise his right of appeal.
“In every society, not everyone will be happy with the criminal law, but this is democracy, the people elect representatives to make laws for them.
“Adultery is a crime in the North and not in the South. This is federalism; the interest and values of component states are different. So, their laws are also different in some respect.”