Nigeria: Sharia Court orders immediate suspension of all debates on amputation

This Day

A Sharia Court sitting in Kaduna has ordered the immediate suspension of all debates on the amputation of Bello Buba Jangebe on online sites - Facebook and Twitter. In 2000, Jangebe made history as the first person in Nigeria to have an amputation carried out under Islamic law after being found guilty of stealing a cow. The judge had a few weeks ago issued a restraining order in favour of the applicants to prevent a non-governmental organisation (NGO), the Civil Rights Congress (CRC) (defendants), from discussing Jangebe’s case in a forum opened by the group on Facebook and Twitter. Please see Related info below for background to Sharia Penal Codes in Nigeria.

At the resumed hearing of the case instituted by the Muslim Brotherhood of Nigeria (MUBOAN) yesterday, the prosecuting counsel Mustafa Saidu prayed the court to bar the NGO from freely talking about the case online.

In a ruling that lasted about three minutes, the presiding judge, Mallam Ibrahim Lawal, said the defendants being Muslims have no right under the law to question or review any judgment given by the Sharia Court. Doing so, he argued, is tantamount to questioning the laws of Allah. “An order is hereby given restraining the respondents (CRC) either by themselves or their agents from opening a chat forum on Facebook, Twitter, or any blog for the purpose of the debate on the amputation of Mallam Buba Bello Jangebe,” the judge said.

Saidu said the entire discussion was started to spite Islam and insult the provision of Sharia law. He said the defendants being Muslims have no right under the law to question or review any judgment given by the Sharia Court.  Doing so, he argued, is tantamount to questioning the laws of Allah. He said allowing the defendants to continue operating the chat room would lead to chaos and possible breakdown of law and order.

The defence counsel Aliyu Shariff urged the judge to dismiss the case. He quoted section 39 of the 1999 Constitution which he said guarantees freedom of expression. “Stopping my clients from continuing with their activities will deny them their right to air an opinion,” said Shariff. He said constitutional provisions and various judicial pronouncements have clearly stated that where any law of the country is in conflict with a constitutional provision, the constitution takes precedence. He vowed to appeal. The judge, however, disagreed with him. Reading the ruling in Hausa language “for clear understanding”, the judge said God's laws are divine and should not be subjected to another interpretation by humans.

The judge held that continuing with the debate would continue to make mockery of Islam and all it stands for. “The Rasul (SAW) said you should at all time say good, or keep quiet. In this instance, I fully support and therefore grant all the prayers of the appellants,” he said.

In his reaction to the judgment, President of CRC Shehu Sani said the ruling is a setback to constitutional democracy. He expressed confidence that the ruling would be set aside on appeal.

To show solidarity to the defendants, some youths wore T-shirts urging the judge not to tamper with their rights to freely communicate on Facebook and Twitter.

Some weeks back, Justice Lawal Muhammed of Magajin Gari Sharia Court in Kaduna ordered the networking sites to stop discussions on Jangebe until the determination of the suit instituted by MUBOAN.

The online forum was launched by the CRC to discuss the amputation and Sharia in general. The judge's order was the first of its kind in Nigeria.

Jangebe was the first Nigerian to have his right wrist amputated in Zamfara State. A year after, 12 states in the Northern part of the country signed the Islamic penal code into law.

Today's ruling is the final at the Magajin Gari Sharia Court.

From Imam Imam in Kaduna, 03.31.2010