Yahaya Sharif-Aminu’s, 22 years old, life hangs in the balance, as he awaits his fate, to be decided by the signature of the Governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Ganduje, on the dotted lines of a paper presented by officials of the Kano Sharia court over what has been tagged a supremely offensive song released by the hapless fellow who is caught in a system where his fate is left in the hands of a man who has no business condemning anyone to death.
In March 2020, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu circulated a song via WhatsApp, a song that has been tagged an insult to the prophet Mohammed, sparking a protest that led to the razing of his family home after which he was detained and prosecuted at the Kano Hisbah command HQ.
Sharif-Aminu is being held on account of blasphemy as enshrined in the Sharia law that presecribes the death penalty for such offense.
The problem? This law is in direct violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – which Nigeria is obligated to observe – which only limits the administration of the death sentence to “most serious crimes”, reserved for murder cases, according to international law.
If we are to go by the International law stipulations, Sharif-Aminu has committed no “serious crime”, the only thing he did was offend the religious sensibilities of a group of people who determine who is suitable to live or die on a whim.
Well-meaning Nigerians have railed against the death penalty pronounced by the Sharia court in Kano State yet there are still calls from the judges in that court to lead the young man to the gallows for basically expressing something that they enjoy.
In a country of 200 million heterogenous people; 521 languages, 250 ethnic groups, and three recognised religions, Nigeria – a supposedly democratic country – remains a place where religious freedom and the freedom of speech are non-recognisable features.
“Blasphemy laws are inconsistent with universal human rights standards because they fail to respect recognized rights, including freedom of religion and expression,” states the Vice Chairman of the United States commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Tony Perkins.
In 2015, Buhari, who was then the president-elect, was quizzed about his views on Sharia law, and he had this to say, “The problem is the Nigerian constitution is superior. Sharia is put on the same level with customary laws, its relevance is limited to inheritance, marriage and so on. So that, cultures and communities accept. So Sharia is limited to the constitution. So anybody who wants to change to Sharia will have to go and change the constitution.”
The question, why is the silence emanating from the presidency so deafening?
If the president recognises the superiority of the Nigeian constitution over the Sharia law, how is it that no one in the government has made any statement condemning the death sentence of the young man or does pressure from the international community need to act as stimulus before the government weighs in?
The Nigerian Government is quick to “condemn” the unrest in Mali and other countries, sending out condolence messages (a personal favorite from the stable of the current administration) and sympathies to the people of Lebanon but cannot “sympathise” with victims of a law that is overreaching.
It is clear that the incumbent regime has no respect for human rights as has been shown time and time again; and the case of Sharif-Aminu is no different.
What happens when the laws guiding the individual religions practiced in the country begin handing out death sentences because their sensibilities were offended? What is a society without individuals and groups holding varying ideologies?
It is my hope that once the government is done playing to the gallery on the international stage, it’ll shift its focus to the matters arising within.