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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Nigeria: Sharia Update / Background Nigeria: Sharia Update / Background
Date distributed (ymd): 020402
Document reposted by Africa Action

Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List: an information service provided by AFRICA ACTION (incorporating the Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa). Find more information for action for Africa at

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +gender/women+


This posting contains several documents related to the issue of the extension of Sharia law in northern Nigeria,and in particular the recently commuted case of Safiya Hussaini, who was condemned to death by stoning for adultery. According to news accounts, another woman, Amina Lawal Kurami, was condemned to the same penalty by another court only days before the commutation of Safiya Hussaini's sentence.

For additional updates, see

Also in relation to Nigeria, Human Rights Watch has released a new report condemning the failure of the Nigerian government to invesigate and punish the massacre of civilians by troops in Benue province last year: See also:>

For additional statements by Human Rights Watch on Sharia in Nigeria, see

For a different view of Sharia from northern Nigeria, which argues that the current focus on punishment by state governments is diversionary and that "Anybody who is genuinely interested in the promotion of the Shari'ah in Nigeria must, therefore, first of all be concerned with the actual living conditions of Muslims." see the 1999 article by Abubakar Siddique Mohammed, Sa'idu Hassan Adamu, and Alkasum Abba, available on the web site of the Zaria-based Centre for Democratic Development Research and Training (CEDDERT) at

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International Secretariat of Amnesty International

Press Release

25 March 2002, AFR 44/008/2002, 54/02

Amnesty International and Baobab for Women's Human Rights welcome the decision by the Sharia Court of Appeal of Sokoto State, in northern Nigeria, to act positively on Safiya Yakubu Hussaini's appeal against her sentence of stoning to death for adultery and ordering her acquittal. Safiya was condemned to the death penalty on 9 October 2001 in a Sharia Court in Gwadabawa, Sokoto State.

Baobab and Amnesty International are however, deeply concerned about the implementation of new Sharia-based penal codes since January 2000 in a number of northern states in Nigeria. Both human rights organisations have observed serious violations of human rights principles and international law during the implementation of the extension of Sharia law to specific criminal cases, including Safiya Hussaini's. The two organisations wish to remind that there is an increasing number of people being sentenced to the death penalty, flogging or amputation as a result of sentences passed by Sharia courts in Northern Nigeria.

Amnesty International and Baobab acknowledge that Sharia law has historically been applied to Muslims in several states of Nigeria, in some cases related to Muslim personal law. For those cases, Islamic law coexists with the Nigerian law. In this respect, Amnesty International and Baobab take no position on the introduction and application of Sharia law per se, as long as it is carried out in full respect of international human rights standards, and in accordance with the conventions of international law signed and ratified by Nigeria.

Baobab and Amnesty International's main concerns regarding the extension of Sharia law are:

1. Cruel, Inhuman and degrading punishments: Punishments such as stoning, flogging or amputation are considered cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by international human rights standards. By ratifying the Convention Against torture in June 2001, the Federal Republic of Nigeria has decided to bind itself not to apply such punishments. Since 2000, amputation and flogging have been carried out in several states of northern Nigeria and Safiya Hussaini had first been sentenced to stoning.

2. Failure to meet International Standards of Fair Trial: Baobab and Amnesty International are concerned that Sharia courts may fall short in guaranteeing the right of representation. This is particularly serious for cases where the death penalty and other irreversible punishments can be imposed.Safiya Hussaini did not benefit from full legal representation in her first trial, when she was sentenced to death.

3. Discrimination on grounds of gender: Under the Maliki school of thought, which dominates the interpretation of Sharia in northern Nigeria, pregnancy is considered sufficient evidence to condemn a woman for Zina, an offence which is to be read as adultery or as voluntary premarital sexual intercourse. The oath of the man denying having had sexual intercourse with the woman is often considered sufficient proof of innocence unless four independent and reputable eye-witnesses declare his involvement in the act of voluntary sexual intercourse. Safiya Hussaini was sentenced to death in her first trial for adultery on the basis of her pregnancy.

Based on the cases of Bariya Ibrahim Magazu and Safiya Hussaini, Baobab for Women's human rights and Amnesty International emphasise that Sharia Law as practised in the northern states of Nigeria, does not protect women from possible sexual assault and coercion, instead it is willing to punish the victims of such assault. In both cases the Court has not pursued the allegations of coercion. The clear implication of thiws decision is that men violate and rape girls and women with impunity as long as they make sure that there are no witnesses of their crime. On the other hand, women and girls who are victims of rape or coercion have their situation further compounded. They will be subjected to charges of Zina and false accusation. This clearly violates women's rights, justice and security while protecting those men who harrass, molest and rape women and girls.

4. Discrimination on grounds of social status: Observation of cases tried by Sharia courts in northern Nigeria over the past few months, shows that the convicted are often from deprived background. Such in the case of Safiya Hussaini.

5. Lack of judicial training of Sharia Court judges: The criteria for appointing judges do not fulfil international standards of training for judicial personnel. In the case of Safiya Hussaini, a lower court handed down the death sentence. The court in question did not have penal jurisdiction before the introduction of the new Sharia-based penal codes. Judges are frequently the same and have rarely received adequate training to judge criminal matters.

6. Procedure of application of Death Penalty: The new Sharia Penal Codes allow Sharia Courts, often only consisting of one judge and having no guarantees for adequate legal representation, to impose the death penalty. Under the Penal Code of Northern Nigeria and also the Nigerian Criminal Code applicable in southern Nigeria, cases attracting capital punishment could only be tried by the State High Court.

Baobab and Amnesty International remind that in all the above points the current practice and many regulations in the new Sharia penal Codes and Sharia Codes of Criminal procedure violate many international human rights instruments ratified by Nigeria, including the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Amnesty International is categorically opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances because it represents the ultimate violation of the right to life guaranteed by the international law. The death penalty was introduced for offences which were previously not punishable by death but by lashing, such as adultery. When the accused was not of Muslim faith, similar offences were not considered criminal offences and were not punishable at all. Amnesty International emphasises that the United Nations Safeguards guaranteeing the protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty requires that in countries which maintain the death penalty, it should only be used for most serious crimes, these are offences which are intentional and with lethal or other extremely grave consequences. The act of consensual extramarital sexual intercourse does not fulfil these conditions.

Amnesty International also underlines that in all criminal cases in which Sharia law is applied in Nigeria there is discrimination on grounds of the faith of the accused. The rights of those tried under Sharia law are clearly protected to a lesser extent than the Penal Code for Northern Nigeria, valid for non-Muslim people, particularly concerning the right of representation, the right of appeal and the lack of knowledge of criminal procedure by the Court. Under Sharia law, the death penalty is applied for offences that are not punishable with the death penalty under the Penal Code for Northern Nigeria.

Amnesty International and Baobab urge the Nigerian federal authorities to reiterate their commitment to the international human rights legislation and to take all necessary steps to make sure that both at federal and states level, all penal cases being judges under Sharia law meet internationally recognised human rights standards and honour all the international human rights legal instruments signed and ratified by Nigeria.

Baobab and Amnesty International also urge the Nigerian federal authorities to guarantee the constitutional right of appeal for all those condemned under Sharia-based penal codes ensuring that they are able to appeal to higher jurisdictions not only at state level but also at Federal level.

Baobab for Women's Human Rights is a non-profit, non-governmental women human rights organisation which focuses on women's legal rights issues under customary, statuary and religious laws in Nigeria.

Amnesty International is a non-profit, worldwide human rights movement independent from any government.

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World Women Parliamentarians Call for Amnesty for Safiya Husseini

March 21, 2002

[reposted with permission from]

The Nigerian Justice Minister, Kanu Agabi, has addressed a letter to the governors of Nigeria's Muslim states warning them not to allow "zeal for justice and transparency to undermine the fundamental law of the nation which is the constitution." The letter came ahead of a March 25 court ruling in Sokoto State on an appeal lodged by Safiya Husseini, sentenced to death by stoning for adultery last year. Earlier this week, 130 women parliamentarians, representing 130 countries, adopted a motion in Rabat, Morocco, calling for an amnesty for Safiya Husseini and condemning the death penalty against her. Moroccan parliamentarian Badiaa Skalli, who presided over the session, told, the motion may have contributed to convincing the Nigerian government to act.

Who came up with the idea of circulating the motion?

A number of women parliamentarians circulated it in solidarity with Safiya Husseini who faces a sentence we consider as unjust and not conforming to international treaties on human rights. The motion was adopted without debate, even by the attending Nigerian MP who said that it would support the will expressed in Nigeria itself to defend Safiya Husseini.

Did you, as parliamentarians, object to the sentence of death per se or to the stoning?

No, we objected to the death sentence per se. Stoning is a separate matter which we did not deal with. Frankly, as Muslim women, at the parliamentary conference and throughout the Muslim world, we think that this kind of behaviour has nothing to with Islam. There are very strict and precise conditions for dealing with the issue of adultery in Islam. For example, you have to have witnesses who can confirm the crime did take place. Adultery is punishable in Islam but not in the uncivilised manner in which Safiya was sentenced to die.

To what extent do you think your motion may have influenced the Nigerian government?

The motion may have played a complementary role in the campaign against Safiya's death sentence. But our decision lent support to work done primarily within Nigeria itself.

Given the sensitive period Islam's relations with the West are going through at the moment, how do you assess the impact of Safiya's case on those relations and how worried are you that strong Western condemnation could have a reverse effect on this and future cases?

Frankly, I think that Muslim societies are facing up to a great challenge at the moment. This challenge has existed for centuries but it is even greater today. We have to rid ourselves of the negative aspects attributed to Islam within our own societies because they harm us as Islamic nations and they hurt our relations with the West and with other countries in Asia and the rest of the developping world. Confusing tradition with religion is not right. We do accept that it is sometimes difficult to change people's mentalities, but we have to do better because the future of our own societies is at stake.

There has been a lot of strong criticism for Safiya Husseini's stoning sentence from many different quarters, including the European Union. Are you aware of any reactions from organisations that speak for the muslim world such as the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the World Muslim League and other forums?

I think that one of the problems we, as Muslim women, face is that unfortunately, organisations that represent the muslim world do not give us even a small opportunity, let alone a great one, to express our views and contribute to the decision-making process. We still do not have enough opportunities to express our solidarity with others through those organisations. As far as I know, there has been no initiative in this respect, publicised enough throughout the muslim world. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell from the press coverage in my own country, none of the organisations that are supposed to represent the muslim world have spoken about Safiya Husseini's case. Our hope would be restored if we heard that those organisations started to pay attention to such matters, which I admit, are not the gravest challenges facing the muslim world today. after all, Safiya Husseini's case is an isolated incident at this point in time. But even when it comes to issues of vital interest to the future of our societies, our women and children, those organisations do not deal with the problems facing us as Islamic societies.

Nigeria: Justice Minister Says Sharia Against Constitution

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)

March 21, 2002

Nigeria's federal government has declared the application of strict Islamic or Sharia law unconstitutional and has asked states using the legal system to modify it according to the provisions of the country's constitution.

Justice Minister and Attorney-General Kanu Godwin Agabi, in a letter to state governors in Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north, made available to the media on Thursday, said some judgments passed under Sharia were discriminatory against Muslims. He said this was contrary to the constitution.

"A Muslim should not be subjected to a punishment more severe than would be imposed on other Nigerians for the same offence," Agabi said. "Equality before the law means that Muslims should not be discriminated against."

He warned: "To proceed on the basis either that the constitution does not exist or that it is irrelevant is to deny the existence of the nation itself. We cannot deny the rule of law and hope to have peace and stability."

Agabi said his office was being inundated with hundreds of protest letters daily from around the world on the "discriminatory punishments" being handed down for a number of offences by Sharia courts. He said Nigeria could not afford to be indifferent to such protests.

A total of 12 of 19 states in Nigeria's northern region have in the past two years extended the jurisdiction of Sharia law to criminal matters and moral offences. Punishments prescribed under the new code include stoning to death for adultery, amputation of limbs for stealing, and public flogging for drinking of alcohol and premarital sex.

So far, the most controversial Sharia judgment in Nigeria has been a sentence of death by stoning passed on Safiya Husseini Tunga-Tudu, 35, for adultery in Sokoto State. A ruling on her appealed against the sentence is fixed for Monday. Sharia has also fuelled religious violence in Nigeria, split almost evenly between a largely Christian, non-Muslim south and a predominantly Muslim north. The new directive by President Olusegun Obasanjo's government is a significant departure from its previous refusal to interfere with states that had adopted the strict Sharia code. Obasanjo had characterised them as political manoeuvres whose significance would wane with time.

But the latest position is likely to put the federal government on a collision course with pro-Sharia governors who had threatened to defy federal directives on the controversial issue.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by Africa Action (incorporating the Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa). Africa Action's information services provide accessible information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and international policies toward Africa that advance economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.

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