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I am happy. God is great and he has made this possible. All I want is to go home, get married and live a normal life.”
This was how Mrs Amina Lawal expressed her mood shortly after a pent up anxiety gave way for a feeling of a total freedom for the woman who had been saddened by death scare for offending a portion of the Sharia. Since 2000, she found herself in a condition of self-pity as she saw death loomed. Perhaps, she became most frightened by the manner of death that was recommended for her by the sharia lower court. The court had del- ivered a stoning to death kind of sentence in its judgement. It is often said that man knows that death is a necessary end that would visit him anyday.
But that death does not announce its visit in most occasions makes it difficult for the man to know in advance when or even how it will take.
However, in the case of Lawal the death by stoning verdict of the court, conveyed a message of torture and had left her live with horror, night mares and worries. To make matter worse, she had seen the full weight of the law descend on violators of sharia codes before her case. One victim that readily comes to mind is Baba Bello Jangedi. As a matter of fact Jangedi was the first victim of the sharia law in Zamfara state. The middle-aged farmer had his right arm cut off for stealing a cow in May 2000 when the Zamfara state government fully implemented the sharia law. In a similar manner, also in Zamfara state, one Lawal Isah had his hand chop off for stealing three bicycles. No doubt, these cases must have gripped her with forbodding while her appeal waited for hearing. Prior to being caught by sharia law enforcers in Futua, Katsina state, she must have heard of Safiya Husaini Tundun’s case. As a matter of fact Safiya would go down in history as the first woman victim of sharia under this dispensation. She was brought before a sharia Area Court where she was charged with adultery.
Evidently, she has a baby outside marriage, a “sin” which attracted death by stoning punishment. However, the Sokoto born woman was quite fortunate that the death sentence hanging on her neck was quashed by the Sokoto sharia court of Appeal. Obviously she was freed as a result of local and international pressure that was mounted on the government. In fact, the Human Rights groups, Non-Governmental Organisation, mainly women organisations and other Nigerians rose in defence of Safiya at the time. Interestingly, she regained her freedom. But barely five months after, virtually the same groups and concerned Nigerians and international community rose in condemnation of a similar death sentence passed on Amina Lawal. The mother of three was slammed with the punishment by an Islamic court in Bakori Katsina state for having a baby out of wedlock. She admitted having a baby outside marriage before the sharia court, consequently, the full weight of the law was placed on her. Her sentence was declared on March 23, 2002, three days after that Safiya’s acquittal was announced. Her case however, took a different dimension when a sharia court in Funtua confirmed the death sentence against her expectation. But her accomplice in the crime, Yahaya Mahmud was set free just like in the case of Safiya. This is understandable because no fewer than four witnesses are required, according to the sharia provision, to give evidence that the man was actually caught in the act before he could be convicted. At the initial stage, the poor woman had no legal representation and her partner in crime, Yahaya, was released on grounds of lack of sufficient evidence. As her case attracted global attention, the whole world had to pity her and took over her defence as if human existence depended on her perhaps, because she is said to be a victim of child marriage. But this is not strange in her part of the country. It is also said that she got divorced at an early age and left with the task of fending for her children as she did not remarry. She had an affair with the man which resulted in pregnancy, unfortunately, by this time sharia has taken a firm root in her part of the country. So, in January 2002 she was delivered of a baby girl. Before her arrest and trial she was allowed to nurse her baby and have her weaned.
In passing his judgement, the presiding judge, Aliyu Abdullahi was quoted as saying “we uphold your conviction of death by stoning as prescribed by the sharia. This judgement will be carried out as soon as your baby is weaned.”
Fortunately, rather than face the wrath of sharia the woman heaved a loud sigh of relief Thursday, last week as the sharia court of Appeal in a majority ruling of four against one by the Khadis succumbed to her pleas and acquitted her.
The victory is not for Amina alone. It is being celebrated by Human Rights groups and related bodies that fought for it. If there is any individual who is happy with the development, it is Amina’s lawyer, barrister Hauwa Ibrahim. Since the soft-spoken woman took over legal representation of Amina she had maintained an incredibly optimism, believing there is light at the end of the tunnel. She had reportedly turned down offers of bribe meant to make her buckle under, or rather, compromise. Interestingly, she rendered her service defending Amina free of charge. This is quite uncommon this days. But for her, it is a quality that she owes humanity to make life purposeful. Sometime ago she had said “As a lawyer the only thing I can give back to the people who needs this knowledge is to return their sense of purpose to them.
Ibrahim took pity on Amina partly because Amina is a victim of broken marriage. Being the youngest of 13 children by their parents she can neither read nor write,having been denied education she was given in marriage at 14 years instead of sending her to school.
With the firm backing of International Rights Activists, women groups and international agencies urging president Olusegun Obasanjo to intervene in Amina’s case. Ibrahim knew that victory would be achieved in the long run. Indeed, the victory last week has added to her integrity.
Hear how she described the ruling:
“This is a great victory for justice. The law of justice has prevailed over the law of man. Amina is free to go to do what she wants.”
But unlike Amina and Safiya, the sharia law has claimed quite a number of victims since the northern states became sharia complaint. In January 2002, one Sani Yakubu lost his life to death by hanging for a case of murder in Katsina state. He was convicted for killing a woman and her two children during a robbery operation at their home. One Abdullahim Abubakar Barkeji recieved 100 strokes of cane for committing sodomy, while Nuhu Abdullahi and Saladu Aminu got 160 strokes of cane in Kano for engaging in alcohol.
However, no case has been as controversial as that Amina or Safiyu.