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Should Safiya Die: By Chikodi Okerecha

Lawyers, non - governmental organisations protest sharia court death sentence on a pregnant divorcee and mother of four. V

Criticisms have continued to trail the death sen-tence by stoning passed on Safiya Hussaini by an upper sharia court in Gwadabawa, Sokoto State on October 10. Safiya, a 30-year-old mother of four was alleged to have become pregnant after committing adultery with one Yakubu Abubakar, a 33-year-old man who denied responsibility for the woman’s pregnancy.

Muhammed Bello Seyinnal, the trial court judge said that the convict confessed to committing adultery, an offence

punishable by stoning to death based on Islamic law. The judge said that his judgment was based purely on Islamic jurisprudence. He ruled that since Safiya was an expectant mother, the sentence would take effect after she delivers and weans the child.

Her fate has attracted public interest. Bola Ige, minister for justice and attorney-general of the federation said the federal government would not fold its hands and watch Safiya stoned to death. He promised that the federal government would challenge the sentence passed by the sharia court. He said that by the 1999 constitution every citizen of the country had a right to life and that the federal government was determined to ensure that Safiya’s right to life was not denied her.

Florence Aya, chairman of the house committee on women affairs, said that the speaker, Ghali Umar Na’Abba and his deputy, Chibudom Nwuche had already waded into the matter since according to her “Safiya must not be allowed to die.”

But Janet Adeyemi, a member of the committee said at a press conference in Abuja, November 19, that the House of Representatives has had its hands tied, since according to her the sharia law under which Safiya was tried and convicted was recognised by the 1999 constitution. She said that the house committee could do little and that attempts to raise the matter by members as of urgent national importance were unsuccessful. She said that the committee had resorted to the use of non-governmental organisations, NGOs to try to save Safiya’s life. Adeyemi re-iterated the need to balance the provisions of the sharia with the right to life, adding that the constitution needed to be amended to resolve the divergent issues.

Halima Abdullahi, director of Help Eliminate Loneliness and Poverty, HELP, a non-governmental organisation, also faulted the verdict. In a statement she issued last week, she said “it was a thorough embarrassment” to majority of Nigerian Muslims. The group argued that the judgment was wrong because Safiya was accused of adultery instead of fornication since she was a divorcee. Again, four witnesses stipulated by the Islamic law were not available at the trial. The verdict was passed because Safiya comes from an under-privileged class, the organisation argued. While describing the verdict as “gender discrimination of the highest order,” the group called on Governor Attahiru Bafarawa to intervene to save Safiya’s life.

The Coalition of Eastern NGOs, CENGOs, an umbrella organisation of NGOs operating in the south-east and south-south of Nigeria said in a press release signed by its co-ordinators, Oby Nwankwo and Miriam Menkilu, last week that it was opposed to the death sentence. It said the judgment amounted to selective justice which was contrary to the basis of the principle of rule of law and sense of justice. The body said that a situation where the target of the implementation of a law was a particular sex, ran contrary to the tenets of human rights, equity and justice and contradicted all known principles of international norms. They, therefore, called on the Sokoto State governor to intervene in the matter to ensure that justice was not only done but also seen to have been done.

But Abubakar Sanyinma, commissioner for justice and attorney-general in Sokoto State insisted that the decision of the upper sharia court was irreversible. He said the federal government had no right to prevent the state government from executing any judgment passed by sharia courts in the state. He said that Safiya had the right to appeal to the Sharia Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court where there is a panel of sharia judges, and if she failed she would certainly face execution according to Islamic law.

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