Almost 20 years ago, precisely the 22nd of March 2002, a Nigerian female citizen, Amina Lawal Kurami, was sentenced to death by stoning by an Islamic court sitting in Funtua, Katsina State, for adultery and allegedly conceiving a child out of wedlock. But strangely enough, her male partner in the said “crime,” a certain Mr. Yahayya Muhammad, was summarily acquitted. It should be recalled that this judicial perfidy took place in the aftermath of some form of Talibanism which suddenly gripped most parts of Northern Nigeria at the inception of this ongoing Republic. Some incompetent northern governors, in search of domestic legitimacy which they seriously lacked amongst their people, contrary to the constitutional oaths of office which they took at inauguration, decided to plunge themselves into a crude form of Sharia governance whose modus operandi they were neither prepared for or indeed qualified to undertake as their own individual lifestyles acutely contradicted everything about Islamic governance.
Even though President Olusegun Obasanjo, against whom those governors were rebelliously posturing, dismissively referred to the insipient phenomenon as “Political Islam” that he expected to fade away as quickly as it came, certain segments of the population actually saw the governors’ miscalculation as the dawn of a new era in local Islamism even though it was more or less a regressive return to an antediluvian version of Islam which the rest of the true Muslim world is working extremely hard to curtail and reform into relevance to the changing world.
I recalled that the Amina Lawal death sentence that was meant to be carried out by the barbaric act of stoning for the act of adultery sent a shock wave across the globe. From the United Nations to the Commonwealth of Nations and many other international and regional organizations including many from Islamic countries, there arose a bitter condemnation of that obnoxious judgment especially coming on the heels of the recent excesses of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The Amina judicial abuse brought Nigeria’s image down so low before the rest of the world that those of us then living abroad had to work overtime to educate whoever came our ways that Nigeria was not such a primitive, barbaric and unjust country as the Funtua Islamic court judgment portrayed.
Reprieve finally came to everyone when the Sharia Court of Appeal acquitted Amina Lawal by ruling that, in fact, the so-called death sentence passed on her and conviction violated Islamic laws on many grounds including the fact that her constitutional right to proper legal defense was violated in addition to several unpardonable procedural defects in the unfair, primitive and ritualistic processes. That ruling laid down the precedent that no person can lawfully be stoned to death in Nigeria for committing adultery and that there no Islamic rule supporting such a trial and the resulting sentence.
If the Sharia law in question is applied only to Moslems, people would ordinarily not be bothered if stone-throwing-fanatics mob decide to stone to death every Moslem woman, who runs afoul of their law, since non-members would be spared the horrors. Unfortunately, the reports that we have is that it is also being applied indiscriminately directly and indirectly against non-Moslems, thereby raising the matter beyond the constitutionally-protected parameters of personal beliefs and freedoms to that of the open arena as a national question bearing on the constitutional guarantees that every citizen is entitled. What is more, as long as we all belong to the same country, the excesses of one group and the bad publicity that goes with them must necessarily be a resistible infraction into the protected rights of others, and vice versa.”
Furthermore, it is important that the point is made that in and outside of the country, onlookers do not readily find it easy to tell who is involved and who is not in this inhuman phenomenon and this reality has further made it necessary for all us, Moslems and non-Moslems alike to, in good conscience, boldly stand up to condemn these ungodly sectarian developments that indiscriminately affect all of our humanity. It is extremely easy to feel not perturbed about the feelings of others and how they see us especially if the subject matter is that of religion and personal beliefs but, repeatedly, it has been demonstrated that reason ultimately prevails over dogma; logic over sentiments; good and enlightened conscience over brute zeal, which tends to fade with the passage of time. Why is Nigeria different?
In the heat of the Amina Lawal debate, I had to respond from my then Harvard base that “I find it pretty difficult to understand why they do not openly stone adulterous women in Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Iraqi, Palestine, etc., while we enthusiastically do so in a supposedly secular Nigeria at this age and time. It is obvious that the majority of our Moslem compatriots are equally taken aback by the misguided extremism of these few pro-Taliban groups who are reputed to be very ignorant about the contents of the Holy Koran but are dangerously fanatical in their self-professed doctrine. Most ardent and knowledgeable Moslems are seemingly afraid to speak out against their excesses for fear of been marked down for an arbitrary fatwa which they are not sure that the secular government and the wobbling Nigerian State institutions would protect them from. As a result, everyone carries on as if the whole aberration is the ‘will of Allah.’
“It should not be too difficult to differentiate between the norms that are predicated purely on the wickedness of Man and those flowing from the fountain of the loving God, no matter how beguiling the language might be. But when extremists continue to hammer on the “way of life” premises of their religious practice, they unwittingly debase the discussion from universal rationality to that of unfathomable relativism where crude sentiments always tend to prevail over solid reasoning in the immediate term. In their fits of blinding demagoguery, they speak as if there was no life lived before the new faith arrived thereby turning the nation into a theological laboratory.
It is to avoid this situation that most of the ‘enlightened world’ established secular laws in the management of the social order, living the largely spiritual realm within the personal domain of the individual. However, as long as some people continue to depend for their material sustenance on how far they are able to push the bigotry religious cart in their society, the line between the spiritual and the material worlds will continue to be blurred quite deliberately too.
“When the rest of the ‘civilized world’ makes mockery of Nigeria and Nigerians as a result of Sharia and other insignificant sectarian issues, they do not readily discriminate between the advocates from the victims. What is more, these religious fanatics are using State machinery and taxpayers’ resources to pursue their narrow sectarian agendas and the evidence so far is that they do not even discriminate between Moslems and non-Moslems.”
It is sad that after twenty years of the Amina Lawal debacle, some irate and ensnared students of the Shehu Shagari College of Education decided to take it upon themselves to murder a fellow citizen because of what they unilaterally termed “blasphemy.” The unfortunate murder of Deborah has once more put the negative spotlight on Nigeria, and it is sadder still that some religiously blinded people within actually wanted to defend the indefensible. What an infamy! Deborah’s death was a premeditated murder as no human being can tell a fellow human being that he has offended God because God by His omnipotent nature is capable of avenging himself. These overzealous bloodthirsty fanatics have actually enlisted in the hypocritical Devil’s army just to willfully defame the name of the ever-loving God while pretending to fight for Him.
*Prof. Mike Ikhariale majors in Constitutional Law.
*First published in Opera News