A sharia court in the Northern Nigerian state of Kano has sentenced a singer to death by hanging after finding him guilty of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad.
The court said a song composed by Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, 22, and subsequently circulated via WhatsApp in March 2020 was demeaning of the Prophet.
Aminu-Sharif did not deny the charges and was handed the sentence by Judge Aliyu Muhammad Kani who said he could appeal against the ruling.
The song praised the founder of the Tijaniya Muslim sect, Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse, to the extent that his critics said it projected the Senegale above the Prophet Muhammad. A mob of fanatics stormed Sharif-Aminu’s family home and burnt it down, while the singer was in hiding after the frenzy that followed his song. The mob later massed up in front of the headquarters of the Islamic police to demand the arrest and prosecution of the singer.
Since 1999, the States in Muslim-dominated northern Nigeria have adopted the Islamic jurisprudence legal system (the Sharia law) alongside the secular law. The Sharia courts have handed down death sentences for homosexuality, adultery and murder over the years. Only one, has however been carried out. Non-Muslims won’t be subjected to Sharia jurisdiction unless they choose to.
On June 28, 2020, the police arrested Mubarak Bala, President of a civil society group, the Humanist Association of Nigeria, at his home in Kaduna. The arrest was made a day after a group of lawyers in Kano State petitioned the Commissioner of Police in the State, accusing the activist of insulting Prophet Muhammad on his Facebook page. Bala is still in detention.
In June 2015, an Upper Sharia Court in Kano sentenced a preacher, Abdulazeez Dauda, popularly known as Abdul Inyass, alongside eight others, to death for blasphemy against the Prophet of Islam. The trial was done in secret because the court where the trial began was attacked and burnt down by impatient zealots demanding “justice.”
The conviction of Sharif-Aminu has raised concerns among human rights and freedom of expression activists in Nigeria.
Yushau Y’au, Executive Director of the Centre for Information Technology and Development, CITAD, an organization that promotes development through ICT and access to information, told the MFWA in an interview that the blasphemy law is problematic.
“Blasphemy is a contradiction in law in a multi religious society like Nigeria where freedom of faith is provided and guaranteed. To jail anyone on the basis of blasphemy is tantamount to curtailing the freedom of religious choice of the person. The Kano blasphemy judgement should be condemned and stands condemned in the eyes of our laws and constitution,” Y’au railed.
The MFWA is deeply concerned about the death sentence imposed on Sharif-Aminu for exercising his right to express his religious convictions. Those who oppose his views are entitled to their views have the freedom to articulate them. The resort to blasphemy charges against persons expressing dissenting views about conventional religious beliefs risk stifling intellectual discourse on matters of religion. The Nigerian authorities must not play to the gallery of extremist hysteria. We therefore appeal to Kano State governor, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, to intervene to ensure that the charges against the singer are dropped and that he is released from detention and any further abuses of his rights.