B.W.C. v. Williams
On Appeal Contracts Expression
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The Upper Sharia Court sitting in Hausawa, Kano State of Nigeria convicted a gospel singer of blasphemy and sentenced him to death. The singer had posted audio in a WhatsApp group with statements accusing prophet Muhhamad of bringing “an unforgivable sin to the world”. The Court accepted that the individual had posted the statements in error, but held that the blasphemous statements could not be excused regardless of his plea citing mistake, and that as he was “of sane mind,” he was guilty of the offence.
On appeal, the High Court of Kano State quashed Aminu’s death sentence on the grounds of irregularities in the Sharia Court’s trial and ordered that Aminu be tried afresh by the same court.
The case is currently before the Supreme Court after the individual’s appeal failed to result in a discharge of the case against him and had found that the Sharia Law under which he was convicted was constitutional.
On February 23, 2020, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, a 30-year-old resident of Kano State, Nigeria and a gospel singer, recorded an audio which included statements that Prophet Muahmmad was full of evil and that Inyass (a West Africa religious leader) is superior to him. Aminu released the audio to a WhatsApp group. In the audio, Aminu said “there is no great pagan like prophet Muhhamad (PBUH), he is a complete pager, he brought an unforgivable sin to the world” and “I will not hold Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and leave Inyass” [p.11]. Aminu is part of the Sufi Islamnic Tijaniyya order, as part of the branch that follows Sengalese sheikh, Ibrahim Niasse.
The statements were interpreted as blasphemous to Prophet Muhammad and Aminu was arrested, and on March 20, 2020, was arraigned before the Upper Sharia Court sitting Hausawa in Kano State of Nigeria based on a First Information Report (FIR) that was filed the same day. Aminu was charged under section 382 (b) of Kano State Sharia Penal Code Law 2000. The charge stated “That on 23/2/2020 between 8:00 to 11:50 pm, you Shariff Yahaya Aminu, 30 years old, resident of No.26 Sharifai Quarters Kano with the intent to touch the heart of Muslims as a whole, recorded an audio which you sent to a website called GIDAN UMMA AMINA which you used foolish and disgraceful words wherein you called the prophet (PBUH) as a full devil and his position does not reach that of Inyass. Hence, you arraigned before this court on this charge against you” [pp.1-2].
Aminu admitted recording the audio and sending it out. The prosecutor then applied to the court for an adjournment in order to transcribe the alleged blasphemous statements to present to court as proof against the defendant.
The Court granted various adjournments – to April 28 and June 17, 2020 – on the basis that Aminu did not have legal representation. On June 24, 2020, Aminu still did not have legal representation but the Court ordered that the charge be read to him again. Aminu accepted that he understood the charge, but pleaded for leniency. The Court adjourned to July 27, 2020 to allow time for the alleged blasphemous statements to be presented to the court in audio and written form.
The presiding Judge, Mallam Aliyu Muhammad Kani delivered the judgment of the Upper Sharia Court. In delivering the judgment of the court, Judge Kani considered three (3) issues in the case: “1. The ways of establishing the offence charged against the defendant. 2. The position of his admission in this case. 3. Whether uttering these statements as slip of tongue or mistake can be excused in law” [p.12].
On July 27, 2020, the Court permitted the prosecution to play the alleged blasphemous statements in its audio form and Aminu confirmed he had made the audio and that the court transcript was a correct representation of his statements. He again pleaded for leniency. The Court admitted the audio and the transcript as exhibits and the prosecutor urged the Court to sentence Aminu as he had not denied commission of the alleged offence of blasphemy.
The Court held that the offence of blasphemy or similar offences can be proved by evidence of two persons or by admission, and that admission has a higher value than presenting a witness. In the clear words of the court “making an admission on something is the strongest” [p.13].
The Court held that defence of mistake cannot excuse Aminu. It stated that: “It is the saying of [Aminu] that he made those statements by mistake together with posting them at their WhatsApp group, this will not be an excuse because a case of blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) is among the things that a person who made them shall not be excused” [p.13].
The Court accepted that Aminu, who is a Muslim and of a sane mind, did commit the offence of blasphemy as charged. It convicted him and asked him if he had any statement to make before sentencing as the offence for which he was convicted carries a penalty of death sentence. Aminu urged to court to be lenient towards him and the matter was adjourned to August 10, 2020.
The Court in handing down its sentence, relied on Section 382 (b) of the Kano State Sharia Penal Code Law 2000 and the decision of Supreme Court of Nigeria in the case of Dan Shalla v. The State (2007) 12 MJSC at P 53 where the apex court held that: “The trite position of the law under Sharia is that who insults, defames or utters words or acts which are capable of bringing onto disrespect…such a person has committed a serious crime which is punishable by death”.
The Court consequently sentenced the defendant to death by hanging, but noted the right of appeal against the judgment to the High Court.
Aminu did appeal the decision to the High Court. On January 21, 2021, Chief Judge of Kano State, Nuraddeen Umar, and Nasiru Saminu of the appellate division of the High Court of Kano State, quashed Aminu’s death sentence on the grounds of irregularities in the Sharia Court’s trial and ordered that Aminu be tried afresh by the same court.
Aminu then appealed to the Court of Appeal, arguing that the High Court should have discharged and acquitted him and declared Kano State Sharia Penal Code Law 2000 inconsistent with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In a majority judgment, the Court of Appeal confirmed the High Court’s decision, and held that the Sharia Penal Code Law was constitutional. One of the three-judge bench, Ita George Mbaba, dissented and would have discharged and acquitted Aminu.
Aminu appealed to the Supreme Court (Nigeria’s highest court) to set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal and sought an order of acquittal and discharge, and declared section 382(b) and other sections of the Sharia Penal Code Law of Kano State 2000 unconstitutional and a contravention of Aminu’s rights under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. A hearing date has not been set.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The conviction and death sentence is excessive or disproportionate and it clearly contracts expression, particularly as the defendant pleaded for leniency throughout the proceedings in the case and was not represented by a legal practitioner in trial.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
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