The recent release of the five men suspected to have killed Mrs. Bridget Agbahime in Kano last June is a poke in the eyes of peace-loving citizens, a travesty of justice, and a recipe for communal conflict in Nigeria.
It was on June 2, 2016 that Mrs. Agbahime had what was considered a minor argument with a fellow trader in front of her shop at the Kofar Wambai Market in Kano. Within seconds, the trader yelled “Allahu Akbar,” and all hell was let loose on the 74-year old woman who had lived in Kano for more than 30 years. Within minutes, a Muslim crowd clubbed her to death in the presence of her Christian Pastor husband.
The tension generated by her murder was such that President Muhammadu Buhari had to issue a statement to condemn the murder. He also called for the prosecution of the perpetrators. So did the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar II, and other eminent Muslim leaders in the country who promised that justice must be done and that the killers must be brought to book. Five suspects were arrested and charged with the murder, and attempting “to create a religious upheaval.”
Yet as these presumably reasonable steps were taken to calm tempers, we stated our skepticisms that “as much as we appreciate the sentiments of the President and the Sultan, the governors and other eminent Nigerians, our leaders have not demonstrated any credibility in fulfilling the promises made in the past. There is no record of a single diligent prosecution of the murders in the past.” And we have been vindicated. The five suspects were freed. A Kano magistrate court presided by Jibrin Muhammad released the accused persons on the directive of the Kano State Attorney-General. State Counsel Rabiu Yusuf presenting the Attorney-General’s submission to the court said: “we received the case diary from the Police on June 8, and having gone through the case diary the Attorney-General evaluated the facts in accordance with Sections 130 and 150 of the Criminal Procedure Code.” The legal advice to the court dated June 24 is that there is no case to answer as the suspects are all innocent.
We have no doubt the Attorney-General’s evaluation and the court’s decision are nothing short of magical thinking. According to the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, all good judgments must depict the facts of the case; the issues involved, the laws applicable, drawing the right conclusions and a current finding on credible evidence before the court. In this case, a criminal case involving the murder of a person in cold blood, the Kano court delivered judgment within weeks without taking evidence from the prime witness, Mr. Agbahime, the murdered woman’s husband, before whom the accused persons killed his wife. Doubtless, that judgment was delivered, as lawyers are wont to say, per incuriam, and must be re-visited.
Mrs. Agbahime was killed in broad daylight. Her trader neighbour who yelled “Allahu Akbar” is known, many of the people who perpetrated the murder are known. There is nothing the court has done which resembles a criminal trial.
The cavalier handling of this case is outrageous and has cast the Kano State Government in an ugly light. It shows utter insensitivity, even callousness, if not reckless disregard for the feelings of fellow Nigerians. The release of the suspects totally offends the principles of equity and natural justice. It is simply astonishing that in the year 2016, a Nigerian court could hand down a decision like this. The case must be reopened by the Kano State Government and retried. If it does not, the Attorney-General of the Federation and the National Human Rights Commission must take over the case.
Nigerians must see this case for what it is – the creation of a culture of bigotry facilitated by impunity. It is a destructive culture by which, as we had warned in June that, “otherwise peaceable citizens, on the slightest pretext declare their neighbours as infidels, then pounce on them, and proceed to impose the most barbaric form of punishment including depriving them of their lives.”
It is painful to recall, but we cannot forget the case of Gideon Akaluka, a few years back. He was not only savagely beheaded, his head was stuck on a spike and paraded around the city of Kano in the most barbaric fashion imaginable. On May 31, 2016, another Igbo trader, 24-years old Methodus Chimaije was attacked and murdered by a Muslim mob in Pandogari, Rafi Local Government Area, Niger State. His killers alleged he had posted a blasphemous statement in the social media.
These incidents are capable of inciting religious and ethnic upheavals. Credit must go to the tolerance, patience and forbearance of Christians. Yet, each incident is like a wound on the corporate harmony of Nigeria. It is too risky to give the impression that they can be tolerated in 21st Century Nigeria. And the only way to prove they are intolerable is by putting perpetrators on trial and punishing them when found guilty, and not what happened in Kano recently.