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Judicial CP - November 2002

Weekly Trust, Kaduna, 15 November 2002


Shariah Gains More Ground in Yorubaland

By Abdulfattah Olajide
in Lagos

The private Shariah implementation initiative of the Oyo state Muslim community received an unexpected but encouraging boost Thursday October 31 this year, when a 29-year-old bachelor, Sulaiman Shittu who confessed to committing fornication and insisted on being punished in accordance with Shariah law, was given 100 strokes of cane at the Oja-Oba central mosque, where the Oyo state Independent Shariah Panel (ISP) sits.

The public canning [sic] of Shittu before a large crowd of Muslims, security agents in mufti and uniform, and journalists from international and local media organizations, signified an inadvertent widening of the jurisdiction of the ISP which was hitherto mandated by the state branch of the Supreme Council for Shariah in Nigeria (SCSN) to adjudicate only on civil Shariah matters like marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc.

Indications are that the shariah panel would continue to have more than it bargained for as Shittu's bold move is likely to be emulated by other penitent and shariah-conscious Muslims who may have committed similar offences in the past.

If brought before it, cases such as adultery whose penalty is stoning to death and stealing whose penalties include amputation, are likely to put the panel in a difficult situation as it has no governmental backing yet.

Alhaji Ishaq Kunle Sanni, the national president the National Council of Muslim Youth Organisations (NACOMYO) and a member of the Oyo state SCSN Majlis Shura (consultation committee) opined that if such cases are brought before the shariah panel "the Almighty Allah will teach us how to deal with them in the present circumstance. Let's get to the river first, Allah will direct us as to how to cross it." It is most unlikely that further entertainment of criminal cases by the Oyo shariah panel will go unchallenged by security agents, if their activities during Mallam Shittu's canning at Oja-Oba is anything to go by.

But for the wisdom of the Qadis to implement the judgment right inside the mosque, the execution of the sentence would have been aborted by security agents who allegedly got a directive from Abuja to prevent the canning by whisking Shittu away.

Alhaji Sanni told Weekly Trust that some of the police officers who stormed the Oja-Oba central mosque on the fateful day had confirmed to him that they got a directive from Abuja to disrupt the event.

They probably couldn't carry out the order because of the volatility of the situation and the fact that the event was being staged within a mosque. Perhaps if they had recognized Shittu before he entered into the mosque premises, they would have arrested him. For the shariah panel itself the decision to entertain Shittu's case was a very difficult one. A member of the seven-man Majlis Shura who is the president of the Oyo state branch of Muslim lawyers association had strongly objected to the case being entertained to avoid harassment by security agents. But other members had argued that since Shittu voluntarily confessed and placed a curse on the SCSN if they refused to give him the appropriate Shariah punishment, his case should be entertained. They reasoned further that Allah's punishment on them would be more severe than security agents' harassment if they refused to treat Shittu's case. Consequently with a vote of six to one the Majlis Shura decided in favour of handling the case.

The acting Grand Qadi of the shariah panel Sheik Ahmed Tiamiyu, had reiterated while delivering the judgment that the panel was reluctant to hear the case because it was outside its jurisdiction "but since Sulaiman voluntarily confessed and demanded that he be punished according to shariah law, placing a curse on us if we fail to punish him, we had no option than to do it in order that Allah will not punish us."

So what exactly was the curse that sent jitters down the spine of the Ibadan shariah operators and compelled them to pass judgment on Shittu. The Shariah convict himself told Weekly Trust that. Before he was finally punished, Shittu confirmed that he was sent back by the panel on three occasions to reconsider his confession and desire to be punished, but he insisted on letting the shariah law take its course.

After convicting Shittu, the panel which apparently did not prepare for criminal cases could not immediately decide on those to effect the caning until Sheik Tiamiyu came up with a suggestion that two children who are yet to attain puberty among the crowd be called out to cane the convict. Tiamiyu's suggestion which was unanimously approved by the panel was obviously informed by the fact that in Islam, those who are yet to attain puberty are considered pure as no sin is recorded against them yet. Thus, two young boys, Shakiru Lawal and Abass Abdullah were chosen from the crowd to administer 50 strokes of the cane each on Shittu.

Shortly after the convict was beaten, his father Pa Shittu Awe, emerged protesting the judgment, and he was later calmed down by some members of the SCSN who explained the issues involved in [sic] him. However, the shariah convict told Weekly Trust that his father never meant to protest the judgment. Explaining that he had earlier briefed his father about the case before he went for the canning, he stated that the old man was only acting on impulse as somebody had counseled him that his son could die from the beating as was the case during the Islamic caliphate of Umar bin Khatab whose son died while receiving 100 lashes for fornication.

Indeed, Shittu's confession and preference for Shariah punishment has again underscored the fervent desire of informed Yoruba Muslims to have the Islamic legal system adopted by state governments in the South-West. Just last September, Governor Bola Tinubu confirmed that pressure was being mounted on him to implement shariah in Lagos state. Weekly Trust gathered that similar pressure is being mounted on other governors in the South West by Yoruba Muslims.

Since Muslims form the majority population in Oyo, Ogun, Osun and Lagos state, and account for at least thirty per cent of the population in Ekiti and Ondo states, analysts believe that the non-creation of governmental civil shariah courts in Yorubaland is a great injustice to the Muslims.

In fact, it was the refusal of the Oyo state House of Assembly to pass into law private shariah bill presented to it by members of state Muslim community that prompted them to establish the independent shariah panel last May.

Not surprisingly, over 150 cases were reportedly brought before the panel between May and last month. Sheik Tiamiyu confirmed to Weekly Trust that one of the six cases heard by the panel on October 31, was brought by parties from far away Lagos. With the imminent congestion of cases at the Oja-Oba venue of the shariah panel, Alhaji Sanni hinted that more shariah courts would soon be established in Ibadan and other parts of Oyo state.

In a similar vein, the chairman of the Lagos state branch of SCSN, Barrister Ishaq Adesina has hinted that the body will launch shariah in Lagos in the next few weeks with or without government cooperation. Obviously, the clamour for shariah in Yorubaland is by no means misplaced. The Islamic legal system had been practiced in many Yoruba towns before the advent of colonialism in the country.

Until the colonial masters terminated shariah in Yorubaland, there were official shariah courts in Iwo up till 1906 during the reign of Obas Muhammed Lamuye. Ede also had shariah courts up till 1913 when Oba Abeeb Lagunju was reigning, just as Ikirun had same up till 1912 during the reign of Oba Aliyu Oyewole. There were also shariah courts in Epe, Isale-Oke, Ibadan and other places in the pre-colonial period.

In fact, traces of shariah terminologies are still noticeable in Yoruba vocabulary up till now. Words like Zina (Arabic word for fornication or adultery), Riba (Arabic word for interest), are still being used as part of Yoruba vocabulary currently.

Undoubtedly, the successful implementation of the landmark judgment by the Oyo state independent Shariah panel in Shittu's case will aggravate the agitation by Yoruba Muslims for the recovery of their lost sharia treasure.

Copyright 2002 Weekly Trust. All rights reserved.

P.M. News, Lagos, 20 November 2002

Man Gets 100 Strokes of Cane for Raping Minor

A middle-aged man, Malam Aminu Ruwa, of Laruta area, Bida, Niger State, has been given 100 lashes in a marketplace for raping a six-year-old girl.

Ruwa was also asked by a Bida Upper Area Court to pay N3,500 to the parents of the girl to settle her medical bill for the injuries she sustained during the intercourse.

The prosecuting police sergeant, Mr Adamu Ndako, told the court that on Sept. 30, one Mohammed Alhaji of Tutijiba area reported the accused to 'B' Division of the Nigeria Police in the area.

Ndako said the accused confessed that he committed the offence, punishable under Section 95 of the Penal Code.

He said the girl sustained injuries on her genitals and was rushed to the hospital for treatment.

The accused pleaded guilty to the offence, while the judge, Alhaji Mohammed Baba-Audu, ordered that he be given the lashes in the market as a lesson to others.

Baba-Audu, however, warned the convict that he risked imprisonment if he did not desist from the act.

Copyright 2002 P.M. News. All rights reserved.


Washington Post, 24 November 2002

Crime and Holy Punishment

In Divided Nigeria, Search for Justice Leads Many to Embrace Islamic Code

By David Finkel
Washington Post Staff Writer


Moments after being convicted of theft, Mohammed Abubakar, 13, flinches as he receives 10 lashes across his back. (David Finkel -- The Washington Post)

FUNTUA, Nigeria

In the continuing search for justice, comes now Case No. 88/2002: "Theft of Sheep and Ram."

The facts, as outlined in the court files, couldn't be more ordinary.

There was a sheep. There was a ram. They were worth about $30. They were stolen.

The trial, which has just begun, seems unexceptional as well.

"Did you steal them?" asks the judge, who sits at the front of a hot, heavy-aired, cement box of a room whose wall decorations are an out-of-date calendar, a leather bag with a copy of the Koran inside, and a whip.

"Yes," says the first defendant.

"Yes," says the second.

"Yes," says the third.

But what happens next does have significance -- not only to the three defendants, but to Funtua, a town with a history of religious riots, and the state of Katsina, where a woman faces a death sentence for committing adultery, and the nation of Nigeria, where a population nervously split between Muslims and Christians reflects rising religious and ethnic tensions worldwide. It is in this context that the judge reads aloud from Katsina's penal code, which was recently rewritten to conform to the Islamic system of laws called sharia.

"Whoever commits the offense of theft," he says, "shall be punished with amputation of the right hand from the joint of the wrist."

He stops reading and glances around a courtroom filled with several dozen onlookers whose deal in life is a ragged town in an impoverished state in a country where nothing ever seems quite right. Even the court records -- handwritten because there are no computers, not to mention working phones or lights -- are amiss. "Eighteen," is the age listed for the youngest defendant, Mohammed Abubakar. "Thirteen," he will whisper later. But for now he folds his hands and sits quietly as the judge announces his sentence.

Convicted of theft in Funtua, Nigeria, Sanusi Isiyaka, 23, received 10 lashes that leave a pattern of long marks across his back. The judge described the punishment as lenient. (David Finkel/The Washington Post)

"I have decided to be lenient," the judge says, and with that the three are led outside, followed by everyone else in the courtroom who form a ring around a bench where the first of the three, the 13-year-old, is directed to sit.

Take off your shirt, he is told.

Now, sensing what is about to happen, dozens of passersby join the crowd as the last person emerges from the court, a man who has stopped at the wall and taken down the whip.


The first lash slices across the left side of the boy's upper back. He arches in surprise as the man swings again.


This one, harder, cuts a long mark into the boy's skin.


Another slice. The boy, in pain, curls forward.


"This is God's justice," one of the onlookers says approvingly.


God's justice, then, in "Theft of Sheep and Ram":

"I felt it deep inside my flesh," the boy says after 10 lashes, and swears he will never steal again.

The Degrees of Sharia

In Nigeria, a nominal democracy of 130 million people, they don't just steal sheep. Some people also drink alcohol, engage in prostitution, commit adultery and go outside after midnight.

People dress in short sleeves, too, and ride in taxis that aren't segregated by sex.

And double up on motorbikes, even though that may involve a woman sitting with, touching, holding onto, a man who is not her husband.

For Nigeria's 50 million Christians, there are no criminal penalties for such behavior. But there are penalties for many of its 65 million Muslims, particularly those who live in Nigeria's predominantly Muslim northern states.

This is because of sharia, which, to Muslims, is a God-given code for how a life ought to be lived. Used in varying degrees, for most Muslims it is a guide to such individual activities as prayer, fasting and donating to the poor. Beyond that, many Muslim countries have adopted sharia as their civil law, governing such things as marriage and inheritance. And then there are the countries that use sharia as their criminal law, applying its judgments and penalties to such offenses as theft and adultery, which are known in sharia as Hadd offenses.

While the list of countries that use sharia as their civil law is lengthy, the list of countries that use it to judge Hadd offenses is a much smaller part of the Islamic world. There's Saudi Arabia. There's Iran. There's Sudan. Perhaps most famously, there was Afghanistan under Taliban rule. There are a few other places where criminal sharia is applied regionally, such as in parts of Pakistan. And now there's Nigeria, where Muslims in 12 of the country's 36 states find themselves facing sentences that differ greatly from the sentences handed out to the country's non-Muslims.

Theft? That's amputation of the right hand. Theft a second time? That's amputation of the left foot. An unmarried person who has sex? That's 100 lashes. A person who commits adultery? That's burial up to the waist and being pelted in the head with stones until death.

So far, since the first state implemented criminal sharia three years ago, at least four death sentences have been handed down for adultery, one of which came from a judge named Bawa Tambuwal, who has also sentenced six people to have amputations. "I believe in sharia," he says. "It is ordained by God."

But Nigeria is also home to Christians such as the Rev. Linus Awuhe, a Catholic priest who says, "I, as a Christian, cannot accept sharia" -- and in that divide between Awuhe and Tambuwal is why the introduction of sharia hasn't been without problems.

There have been riots between Christians and Muslims that have left several thousand dead. There is growing concern of a looming constitutional crisis as the pending death-by-stoning cases work their way toward the federal appellate system, bringing guarantees against cruel and unusual punishment in conflict with guarantees that states may enact their own laws. And there is a widening gulf between governors who say they implemented sharia because of divine instruction, and disbelievers who say it was a move by the political elite to tighten power over a population variously described as Nigeria's poorest, most marginalized, most vulnerable to oppression, and most victimized by Nigeria's endless corruption.


2002 The Washington Post Company

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