Niger's head of traditional leaders sentenced to prison

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afrol News, 11 September - The former Sultan of Zinder, Elhadj Aboubacar Sanda, has been sentenced to two years of prison and a fine of Franc CFA 22 million for fraud by a Nigerien court. Sanda, who is the head of Niger's traditional leaders, claims he is victim of a political trial, which his lawyers say was noted by its irregularities.

Sultan Sanda was detained by Nigerien police on 21 August last year, accused of fraud, coup plotting, involvement in liquidations and trafficking in drugs and stolen cars. During the process against him, only the fraud allegations were upheld.

The ex-Sultan's four lawyers had boycotted the trial claiming they had been denied access to key court papers. In a statement to the press in Niamey yesterday, lawyer Moussa Coulibaly said he was "indignant" by the verdict. "In my 15 years of activity, this is the first time that I see somebody being judged without having had the possibility of accessing his file and preparing his defence," the lawyer said.

Coulibaly also reminded that the man Sultan Sanda allegedly had swindled, Daouda Maïna, has stated that he "never have dealt with the ex-Sultan" and that he "never gave any money to the Sultan." The accusations had therefore been baseless, the defence claims.

The ex-Sultan himself is presently under house arrest, planning to appeal against what he calls a "politically motivated" sentence. Lawyer Coulibaly supported the assessment, telling the press that: "If there exists a pure dictatorship, a pure totalitarianism; then Niger is the classic example." 

Ex-Sultan Sanda - whose Sultan title is not hereditary and consists more of religious and traditional representation than of power - even had sworn on the Holy Q'uran that he had not been involved in fraud, Coulibaly informed. He had never tried to hide that he combined being Sultan with being a successful businessman

The title of Sultan of Zinder - which Sanda held for 20 years - has now controversially been given to a younger ex-policeman, the BBC reports. Although no real power go with the title, it gives strong political and cultural influence. Elhadj Sanda however still is President of the Association of Traditional Chiefs of Niger and enjoys widespread support among Nigeriens.

A Niamey court will decide within few weeks whether Ex-Sultan Sanda's appeal will be heard. If it is rejected, Elhadj Sanda may be sent to prison already in October.


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