The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has faulted the judgment of an Upper Sharia Court in Kano State sentencing a 13-year-old boy, Umar Farouq, to 10 years in prison for making derogatory statements toward Allah in an argument with a friend.
Farouq was convicted on August 10, 2020, by Aliyu Kanu, the same judge who sentenced a Musician, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, to death for blaspheming Prophet Mohammed.
Baba-Jibo Ibrahim, spokesman for Kano Region Justice Ministry, said the court handed down the death sentence as enshrined in Islamic laws based on irrefutable evidence and the convict’s admission of guilt.
Farouq is a minor by Nigerian law and should not have been tried as an adult, but Islamic canons regard anyone who has begun puberty as an adult.
Kano, a predominantly Muslim northern Nigerian state, has Islamic Sharia courts that function alongside civil courts and introduced Sharia law in 2000.
But the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has condemned the blasphemy laws in Nigeria.
The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan Federal Government entity established by the US Congress to monitor, analyse, and report threats to religious freedom abroad.
In a statement in reaction to the judgment, the US commission condemned the death sentence handed to Sharif-Aminu for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammed.
USCIRF Commissioner, Frederick Davie, stated, “It is unconscionable that Sharif-Aminu is facing a death sentence merely for expressing his beliefs artistically through music. The US Senate should work swiftly to pass Resolution 458, which calls for the global repeal of heresy, blasphemy, and apostasy laws.”
Also, the President of the African Bar Association, Mr Hannibal Uwaifo, described the verdict on Farouq as unconstitutional, calling on the Attorney General of the Federation to stop the Sharia court from making a mockery of Nigerian on the international scene.
Uwaifo said, “I call on the Attorney General of the Federation to step in and to stop this kind of sectional court from making mockery of Nigeria. This is a country where people are stealing billions of naira and being given a pat on the back; then you say someone committed blasphemy, according to your own religion, and then you sentence him to death or sentence a teenager to 10 years’ imprisonment. I think we should stop making a laughing stock.”
In the same vein, two civil society groups have condemned the Shari’a court verdict.
The Convener, Coalition in Defence of Democracy and Constitution, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said, “What is coming out of Kano is a challenge to section 10 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended. We know that the current Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, is more or less not interested in the secularity of this country.
“What is going on in Kano is an attempt to restructure Nigeria through the back door to create a two-nation in one because the message they are sending to the international community is that there is a part of the country operating a different legal system.”
Speaking in the same vein, the National Coordinator, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, Emmanuel Onwubiko, said the judjement did not conform with human rights conventions and treaties to which Nigeria was a signatory.
He stated, “Section 10 of the constitution prohibits the elevation of any religion as a state religion, so the Kano State government does not have the constitutional rights to legislate Islam as a state religion.”