afrol News, 7 December - Safiya Hussaini, 35, the woman sentenced to death by stoning by an Islamic court in northern Nigeria for having pre-marital sex, is still awaiting her appeal. Pressure from activists and the federal government might influence the case to her favour.
As the divorced woman had become pregnant outside marriage, Safiya's father had asked the assumed father, Yakubu Abubakar, of the now one-year-old child to take some responsibility. Instead, he went to court. Safiya was put on trial for adultery, a charge punished with death by stoning for married and divorced women under the strict Shari'a law interpretation practiced in the northern Nigerian state of Sokoto.
Safiya Hussaini was sentenced to death on 9 October, while Yakubu Abubakar, who retracted his original confession of adultery, was acquitted by the very same Shari'a court. Safiya, through her lawyer Abdulkadir Imam Ibrahim, on 5 November filed an appeal on the grounds that the court's decision had been unfair. She now also claims to have been raped by the man, 13 years older than her. The appeal hearing was supposed to take place in the first week of December.
Safiya originally was due to be stoned last week. However, on Wednesday she got a reprieve from the Sokoto State Shari'a Court of Appeal. The appellate court, headed by Sokoto State's acting Grand Khadi, Alhaji Muhamadu Bello, granted a stay of execution of the death sentence until Safiya's ground of appeal was heard and settled.
Meanwhile, Safiya has become a mighty symbol for very distinct groups and cultures. Being the first women who could be sentenced to death for adultery in northern Nigeria according to the Shari'a in modern times, Muslim leaders that have fought vigorously to reintroduce the Shari'a do not want outside pressure let them deprive them of this symbolic sentence.
- It is the law of Allah, Sokoto state attorney general Aliyu Abubakar Sanyinna commented on the case to BBC reporter Dan Isaacs. "By executing anybody that is convicted under Islamic law, we are just complying with the laws of Allah, so we don't have anything to worry about."
Safiya's lawyer, Imam Ibrahim, confirms that many within the Muslim establishment are "keen that the stoning does go ahead." He reportedly has been under constant pressure to drop the case by people who see the appeal process as "un-Islamic". Indeed, Safiya's case is developing into the acid test of how far the hardliners of Muslim fundamentalism, whose introduction of Shari'a in the north produced riots killing over 3,000 people, can go.
Mobilisation is however more wide-ranging and overt on the other side of the front. Nigerian Southerners, women's right organisations and local and international human rights groups are outraged by Safiya's case. Even the Nigerian federal government has launched an appeal against the ruling.
Nigeria's federal Senate president Anyim Pius Anyim in November condemned the ruling because it reflected elements of "selective justice" as the man was exonerated.
- For avoidance of doubt, this is not an opinion on merit or demerit of Shari'a Court system, Anyim said at a human rights summit in Abuja. "However, I am worried by the selective punishment of the woman adulteress and selective acquittal of the male adulterer for want of evidence by the presiding judge."
Within the Nigerian legislative, Safiya's case has already produced friction between federal and state attorneys. Federal Attorney General, Chief Bola Ige, told reporters the federal government "would not allow" Sokoto State to execute Safiya. Sokoto state attorney general, Sanyinna, on the other hand claims the federal government has no power to intervene, this being "contrary to the constitution of the country."
- You see, the court that passed the judgment is a court that was recognised by the constitution of this country, therefore no person has the right to change the verdict except the upper Shari'a court," Sanyinna told the Lagos based daily "This Day". Any federal initiative to stop the possible execution of Safiya could call forth the long awaited showdown between federal and state legislature testing the disputed legality of the introduction of Shari'a in northern Nigerian states.
Nigerian women organisations have been the most active protesting the ruling. "If they want to be fair, both the man and the woman ought to have been sentenced," spokeswoman for Women In Nigeria, Toro Oladapo, told reporters. Also, the Nigerian federal ministry of women affairs had filed an appeal at the state's Shari'a Appeal Court. Since then, there have been organised various protest marches in Lagos, latest on 3 December. Large numbers of Nigerian women shouted, "we do not want Nigeria's motherhood stoned to death."
Protests immediately gained international support, with the US based rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International protesting the sentence. HRW wrote to Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, asking him to intervene. The letter cited international human rights law, guaranteeing "women the right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters relating to their sexual autonomy, without coercion, discrimination, and violence."
Meanwhile, Safiya Hussaini finds herself on death row, awaiting the news of her appeal living with her family in the small village of Tungar-Tudu, some 30 kilometres from Sokoto capital city. Her daughter, Adama, the damning evidence in the case, is now almost one year old. Still unconscious of the flurry her birth has caused, she might very well grow up an orphan.
Yakubu Abubakar, Adama's alleged father, however is safe from further prosecution and responsibilities. Although Safiya holds he raped her, even her lawyer sees no point in dragging him to court again. "He has been acquitted, why should he be made to suffer again?" Safiya's lawyer asked reporters.
Based on press reports and afrol archives