Finally, sense comes to Nigeria — Amina Lawal is free. The Shari’ah Court of Appeal yesterday overturned the sentence of death by stoning for the 31-year-old mother convicted of adultery in March 2002.
According to the court, the conviction was invalid because Lawal was already pregnant with her daughter at the time an Islamic court sentenced her to die. As CNN reports, it is possible that the order to murder the mother would have been vacated even if the Islamic-law governed Shari’ah court had not nixed the sentence:
Lawal’s case had become the focus of human rights groups around the world who were outraged at the sentence that Lawal should be buried up to her neck and then have stones thrown at her head until she was dead.
Had the court not overturned the verdict, Lawal would still have had two appeals left, one to a Nigerian federal court and a final appeal to Nigeria’s Supreme Court. Neither of those courts is governed by Shari’ah law.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo had said if Lawal’s case reached the Supreme Court, he would make sure it was overturned.
What appears to be a straightforward, sensible decision to many is not nearly so clear in Nigeria. The court’s vote to save the single mother of four was a split decision — and equally split on the notion of Islamic law are many of the nation’s residents. As South Africa’s News 24 reports, Shari’ah law still reigns in some sections of the country, and the penalties to those convicted under this law remain cruel and unusual:
Since the end of military rule in the west African state in 1999, a dozen mainly-Muslim states have brought back elements of Shari’ah into their penal codes, a move which has increased tensions between Muslim and Christian communities.
Obasanjo, a Christian wary of offending Muslims who make up half of Nigeria’s 126-million-strong population, stood by as the states brought back stoning for sex crimes and hand-chopping for thieves.
When Lawal and at least two more divorcees were condemned for bearing children out of wedlock, and their sentences made international headlines, his response was simply to promise they would be cleared on appeal.
Not being Nigerian, my opinion, naturally, has no bearing on what goes on in that country, but here it is, anyway: President Obasanjo needs to develop a backbone and put a stop to this vicious brand of justice. Yes, it is likely that some non-Islamic court would have reversed Lawal’s sentence once appeals in Shari’ah courts had been exhausted. But what about the effect on a young mother trying to rear her children under the looming specter of being buried up to her neck and having stones hurled at her head until she mercifully died? What effect did this horrific pressure have on her children? For nearly two years, Lawal had to contend with a fear you and I (hopefully) will never know. It simply was not necessary.
[W]ithin Nigeria, Christian groups and rights activists are furious that he has not used the option given him by Nigeria’s 1999 constitution to challenge a law code they believe violates fundamental freedoms.
“The constitution of Nigeria is supreme in legal matters,” Nwachukwu Ike, a senior lawyer with Nigeria’s biggest and most respected rights group, the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), said this week.
“Extending the jurisdiction of Shari’ah to cover criminal matters is unconstitutional. We in the CLO also note that the federal government has not challenged the implementation of the criminal aspects of Shari’ah law.
“Government seems to have abdicated its responsibility in this way, by asking aggrieved Nigerians to go to court to fight for their rights. It is simply an abdication of responsibility,” he said.
At AF&O, which has been part of the human-rights effort to stop the execution of Amina Lawal, we breathe a huge sigh of relief, at least for today. Here’s to justice finally being done.