Human rights groups and activists on Tuesday reacted angrily to the decision of an Upper Sharia Court in Kano State, which sentenced a musician, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, to death for blaspheming Prophet Mohammed.
The organisations, in separate interviews with The PUNCH, described the penalty as anti-poor and wondered how many corrupt politicians had been convicted by Sharia courts in the country.
But the Kano State Hisbah Board said it supported the death penalty for Sharif-Aminu.
Sharif-Aminu, aged 22, was on Monday sentenced to death for committing blasphemy against Prophet Mohammed in a song he circulated via WhatsApp.
He was accused of committing the offence in March 2020 after which protesters burnt down his family house.
The Corps Commander General of the state Hisbah Board, Dr Sani Ibn-Sina, in an interview on Tuesday, said, “As an organisation charged with the responsibility of enforcing Sharia, we are in support of the court verdict because anybody who does what he did deserves to be killed. That is what the law says.”
He said it was the Hisbah board that stopped many aggrieved Kano residents that stormed its premises in protest against Sharif-Aminu’s action from taking the law into their own hands.
He stated, “We were in the forefront of ensuring that the matter was thoroughly investigated to the extent of inviting his father who even said he could execute whatever Sharia says on the convict (his son).
“So the judgment was based on Sharia and we are in support of it ( the court verdict,)” he said.
But a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, condemned the judgment saying it was unconstitutional and would be set aside on appeal.
Adegboruwa said, “I think obviously the Kano court erred substantially in law. If a man expresses his view through WhatsApp concerning any matter whatsoever, the worst that can happen to that man is to institute an action against him for libel. The judgment is a violation of the fundamental rights of that man, which I am sure will be quashed on appeal.
“Number two, death sentence is becoming unpopular worldwide because of the fact that it does not serve the purpose of deterrence. Those offences that carry death sentence, such as murder, armed robbery, treasonable felony, they still keep happening. So, the new thinking is to reform people instead of an eye for an eye, which is the old law of Moses.”
CSOs kick, say death sentence on Kano musician repulsive
Civil rights groups expressed anger over the death sentence. The Convener, Free Nigeria Coalition, Raphael Adebayo, described the development as an assault on state power which he said threatened the legitimacy of Nigeria’s union as a democratic republic.
He said, “Since when did it become okay to murder ordinary people in this country simply because of what they utter or write? It would seem that there is one law for the rich and another one for the poor.
“It is simply unacceptable and this barbarism presents an opportunity for the incumbent government at the federal level to redeem its soul by demonstrating its value for the average Nigerian life, and the supremacy of the Nigerian constitution, above all else.”
Another group, Concerned Nigerians, opposed the judgment, describing it as repulsive to natural justice and abhorrent to equity, good conscience and a gross violation of the convict’s rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and expression.
The group in a statement on Tuesday by its spokesman, Theophilus Agada, stated, “We condemn in strong terms, the death sentence by hanging on a Kano-based artiste, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu.”
It further argued that the death penalty was a violation of the rights to freedom of thoughts and expression of the citizen, pointing out that the injustices faced by both religious and non-religious people alike must stop.
“The arrest and detention of Yahaya is a breach of Section 38 of our constitution which states that ‘every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance,” it stated.