Nigeria: Sharia Court orders immediate suspension of all debates on amputation
A Sharia Court sitting in Kaduna has ordered the immediate suspension of all debates on the amputation of Bello Buba Jangebe on online sites - Facebook and Twitter. In 2000, Jangebe made history as the first person in Nigeria to have an amputation carried out under Islamic law after being found guilty of stealing a cow. The judge had a few weeks ago issued a restraining order in favour of the applicants to prevent a non-governmental organisation (NGO), the Civil Rights Congress (CRC) (defendants), from discussing Jangebe’s case in a forum opened by the group on Facebook and Twitter. Please see Related info below for background to Sharia Penal Codes in Nigeria.
At the resumed hearing of the case instituted by the Muslim Brotherhood of Nigeria (MUBOAN) yesterday, the prosecuting counsel Mustafa Saidu prayed the court to bar the NGO from freely talking about the case online.
In a ruling that lasted about three minutes, the presiding judge, Mallam Ibrahim Lawal, said the defendants being Muslims have no right under the law to question or review any judgment given by the Sharia Court. Doing so, he argued, is tantamount to questioning the laws of Allah. “An order is hereby given restraining the respondents (CRC) either by themselves or their agents from opening a chat forum on Facebook, Twitter, or any blog for the purpose of the debate on the amputation of Mallam Buba Bello Jangebe,” the judge said.
Saidu said the entire discussion was started to spite Islam and insult the provision of Sharia law. He said the defendants being Muslims have no right under the law to question or review any judgment given by the Sharia Court. Doing so, he argued, is tantamount to questioning the laws of Allah. He said allowing the defendants to continue operating the chat room would lead to chaos and possible breakdown of law and order.
The defence counsel Aliyu Shariff urged the judge to dismiss the case. He quoted section 39 of the 1999 Constitution which he said guarantees freedom of expression. “Stopping my clients from continuing with their activities will deny them their right to air an opinion,” said Shariff. He said constitutional provisions and various judicial pronouncements have clearly stated that where any law of the country is in conflict with a constitutional provision, the constitution takes precedence. He vowed to appeal. The judge, however, disagreed with him. Reading the ruling in Hausa language “for clear understanding”, the judge said God's laws are divine and should not be subjected to another interpretation by humans.
The judge held that continuing with the debate would continue to make mockery of Islam and all it stands for. “The Rasul (SAW) said you should at all time say good, or keep quiet. In this instance, I fully support and therefore grant all the prayers of the appellants,” he said.
In his reaction to the judgment, President of CRC Shehu Sani said the ruling is a setback to constitutional democracy. He expressed confidence that the ruling would be set aside on appeal.
To show solidarity to the defendants, some youths wore T-shirts urging the judge not to tamper with their rights to freely communicate on Facebook and Twitter.
Some weeks back, Justice Lawal Muhammed of Magajin Gari Sharia Court in Kaduna ordered the networking sites to stop discussions on Jangebe until the determination of the suit instituted by MUBOAN.
The online forum was launched by the CRC to discuss the amputation and Sharia in general. The judge's order was the first of its kind in Nigeria.
Jangebe was the first Nigerian to have his right wrist amputated in Zamfara State. A year after, 12 states in the Northern part of the country signed the Islamic penal code into law.
Today's ruling is the final at the Magajin Gari Sharia Court.
From Imam Imam in Kaduna, 03.31.2010
Ironically, despite the growth of religious essentialism and religious right tendencies, the new laws were not directly the result of pressure from a religious group. Faced with a small and recently created state with little infrastructure or capital, few natural resources or people with high formal education, the newly elected governor of Zamfara state needed to court popularity― through “Sharianization.”
Many members of Muslim communities who were uneasy about Sharianization felt that they had no solid basis on which to protest. As Muslims, they felt that they could not simply oppose Sharianization, but neither did they feel that they were adequately equipped to criticize, as they did not read Arabic or have years of study of fiqh, Islamic jurisprudence. Hence there was an uneasy public silence, despite private misgivings. Playing the “Sharia card” has largely worked. The conservative political elite in northern Nigeria have been able to use the mass support for Sharia to criticize the federal government and to increase their lowered access to centrally-controlled national resources, following the shift of power in the 1999 elections to the largely Christian southwest/middle belt alliance. Sharia was also welcomed by some Christians as a means of justifying a move toward “Christian law” for themselves. Yet others justified it as a rationale for their own support for increased local state autonomy vis-à-vis the federal state, especially in the delta region and the southeast.
The net effect of the Sharia Acts and the politics around them has been to give increased power and authority to conservative religious essentialism and identity politics. To criticize Sharianization, even mildly, was regarded as anti-Sharia, anti-northern Nigeria, and anti-Islam, even by some convicted under the new Acts, who were therefore unwilling to appeal their convictions.
The first group to be active on Sharianization’s potential to violate women’s rights was BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights. BAOBAB’s work rests on recognizing the historicity and specificity of all discourses of rights and the need for their continual reconstruction. For instance, BAOBAB has been active in a comparative study of women’s rights under customary, general (secular) and religious laws in the Muslim world. BAOBAB has worked in coalition with other women's and human rights groups in a three pronged strategy 1) defense of those convicted under the new Sharia Penal Codes, 2) demystifying the notion of Sharia laws, and 3) working to build common platforms to defend and promote women’s rights across diverse communities.
Demystifying Muslim laws - explaining that Sharia is not divine but merely religious and is neither uniform nor unchanging requires uncovering the historical specificities of Muslim laws, the development and diversity of Muslim jurisprudence, the progressive potentials for women’s rights and the legitimacy of reforming current Sharia laws.
Demystifying Sharianization in Nigeria also involves critiques of the current class- and gender-bias in content and implementation. The poor have been the most subjected to harsh punishments. There have been fewer convictions of men than of women for adultery or fornication. Moreover, men convicted of violent sexual offenses, like rape and sexual assault, have received less severe punishments (usually fines, imprisonment, or acceptance of pleas of illness and insanity), despite the stronger punishments available in the Sharia Penal Codes that are routinely meted out for consensual sex outside marriage. Women have clearly been discriminated against. Judges have ignored or dismissed women’s allegations of rape and coercion in zina cases. Charges of adultery/fornication brought against women used different and discriminatory standards of evidence than those used for men – that of pregnancy outside marriage.
Bringing this information and criticism to public discussion debunks the claim that any critique of Sharianization is tantamount to being anti-Islam. It also lays the basis for the demand for demanding reform of the Sharia Acts and Sharia Penal Codes, instead of accepting conservative and retrograde versions.
This background information has been excerpted from 'Women’s Reproductive and Sexual Rights and the Offence of Zina in Muslim Laws in Nigeria' by Ayesha M Imam. (A substantially similar edited version of this paper is published in Where Human Rights Begin—Health, Sexuality, and Women in the New Millennium, edited by Wendy Chavkin and Ellen Chesler, Rutgers University Press, November 2005)