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Blasphemy: Reactions as Kano cleric sentenced to death

Reactions trailed the judgement of an Upper Sharia Court in Kano on Thursday sentencing to death by hanging, a controversial Islamic cleric, Abduljabbar Nasiru Kabara,…

Reactions trailed the judgement of an Upper Sharia Court in Kano on Thursday sentencing to death by hanging, a controversial Islamic cleric, Abduljabbar Nasiru Kabara, charged with blasphemy. 

The cleric was tried and sentenced to death for his blasphemous statements against Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), an act, which is believed to be capable of inciting public peace. 

His conviction and sentencing ended his 16-month-long trial before the court after he was charged and arraigned by the Kano State government with blasphemy, incitement, and sundry offences on July 16, 2021, which were said to be in contravention of Sections 382, 375 of Kano Sharia Penal Code Law. 

The state government yesterday insisted that Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje would sign Abduljabbar’s death warrant once all legal proceedings have been exhausted. The convict is, by law, allowed a right to appeal up to the Supreme Court, but the right must be exercised within 30 days of the judgment at the state High Court. 

Kano cleric, Abduljabbar, to die by hanging for blasphemy

Blasphemy: Things to know about Kano cleric sentenced to death by hanging

Abduljabbar is a 52-year-old Islamic cleric and prominent scholar of the Qadiriyya Islamic sect in Kano. He is one of the sons of the Late Sheikh Nasiru Kabara, a former leader of the Qadiriyya sect of West Africa. 

Daily Trust reports that while a couple of individuals had faced charges of blasphemy in recent times in Kano State, Abduljabbar was arguably the first ever renowned cleric to be charged with and convicted of blasphemy against the Holy Prophet. 

Delivering judgment yesterday, the judge, Ibrahim Sarkin Yola, held that the prosecutor had convinced the court that Abduljabbar deliberately interpreted the religious books and fabricated blasphemous comments against the Holy Prophet Muhammad. 

While reviewing the proceedings, the court said it was satisfied that Abduljabbar is medically okay following a psychiatric certification and that despite his insistence on representing himself, the court provided a lawyer for him because of the gravity of the allegations against him. 

The judge held that witnesses, who testified against the cleric, narrated how he, on August 10, 2019, made blasphemous comments against the Holy Prophet Muhammad at two different religious gatherings in his mosque within Kano’s metropolis, but Abduljabbar objected, saying their testimonies were based on differences in the understanding of Islam. 

The judge also said the court relied on an audio recording, admitted to by the cleric, where he was making the blasphemous comments. 

“The court admitted that the comments were made at a gathering at the cleric’s mosque at ‘Gwale Filin Mushe’ while addressing his followers who hailed him as he made the comments. The court, after citing several references, agreed that those comments by the cleric were admitted by the court as blasphemous comments against the Holy Prophet Muhammad,” the judge ruled. 

The judge said the court was satisfied that the state had proven the four-count charge filed against Abduljabbar and dismissed his arguments as a mere ‘academic exercise’, thereby convicting him as charged.

 

Drama in court as Abduljabbar disowns own lawyer 

Daily Trust reports that after the judge found Abduljabbar guilty of the charge, he asked for allocutus, an opportunity given to a criminal defendant convicted to say something in mitigation of punishment before the sentence is passed on him. 

Defence counsel, Aminu Ado Abubakar, prayed to the court to accord leniency to the convict, arguing that what he did was out of ignorance. 

But, Abduljabbar stood up, saying he did not know the lawyer and that it was the first time he was seeing him. 

Daily Trust reports that Abduljabbar had, on several occasions, disowned his counsels during the trial leading the court to apply for representation for him from the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria. 

“I don’t know him. This is the first time I’m seeing him. He should not be allowed to speak on my behalf. I can and should be allowed to speak for myself,” Abduljabbar said. 

The judge, however, said the lawyer was recognised by the court as the defence counsel. 

Abduljabbar continued, “After I heard how you twisted all my evidence, you turned all my submissions upside down, you’ve assigned words to me that I’ve never uttered. 

“Deliver your judgement, and I’m not asking for leniency at all. I want all my followers to know that I’ll die a hero and I don’t want you (the judge) to do me any favour or grant me leniency. This is my last word. Assalamu Alaikum.”

 

Sentencing and further orders 

The judge, after returning from a 20-minute recess, handed down the sentence against the embattled cleric – death by hanging. 

The judge, however, held that the convict had 30 days within which he has the right to appeal the judgement. 

The judge also ordered the state government to seize the two mosques belonging to Abduljabbar; while also calling on the media to desist from using any of Abduljabbar’s teachings and pictures. 

The judge also ordered the seizure of all 189 books that the cleric used in the court to defend himself. 

Earlier in the day, Daily Trust observed heavy security presence across major roads and public places before, during and after the proceeding. 

The Sani Mainagge area, where the residence of the embattled cleric is located, was fully secured and the two mosques where he was said to have made the statements that landed him in trouble were guarded by security operatives. 

It was further observed that residents, communities and businesses around the metropolis continued to go about their day-to-day activities with just a few people passing comments on the judgement. 

 

Ganduje ready to sign death warrant – Attorney-General 

Reacting to the judgment in a chat with Daily Trust, Kano State Commissioner for Justice/ Attorney-General, Lawan Musa, said Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje had not changed his mind about signing Abduljabbar’s death warrant after all legal procedures had been concluded.

Lawan said the governor remained committed to ensuring zero breakdown of law and order in the state, and that the judgment was a vindication of the case brought by the government against Abduljabbar, which shows no one is above the law.

“Just as it (position of the governor) has not changed in the case of Hanifa, it has equally not changed on this. You know there are a lot of procedures to follow and His Excellency is ever ready; once that warrant is brought before him, he’s going to sign it,” he added.

 

Reactions trail court judgment

While Abduljabbar’s followers were in a sober mood; some clerics in the state declined to comment when approached by Daily Trust. 

One of Abduljabbar’s followers, Mukararm Haido Fagge, said though he was unhappy with the judgment, he prayed to Allah Subhanahu Wata’ala to make it easier and better for the cleric. 

Sheikh Abubakar Sani Madatai, from the Tijjaniyya sect in the state, said: “The judgment is on the right track in the Islamic religion.  Every Muslim is happy with this judgment. He made blasphemous speeches and the court followed the case to a logical conclusion and eventually convicted him. 

“With the judgment, the non-Muslims can understand that even among the Muslims, if one makes a blasphemous speech, he should be sentenced to death, it happened during the time of the Prophet (PBUH).”

 

Previous blasphemy cases in Kano 

In the last few years, three other blasphemy cases had been instituted against individuals, including the one against the 13-year-old Omar Farouk, sentenced to 10-year imprisonment on August 10, 2020, but the appellate court quashed the trial. 

Similarly, the appellate court quashed the conviction of a 22-year-old musician, Yahaya Shariff-Aminu who was sentenced to death for blasphemy by the Upper Sharia Court on the same day it convicted Farouk, but while Farouk was set free; the appellate court ordered Shariff-Aminu’s retrial. 

Earlier this year, a Kano State High Court had sentenced an atheist, Mubarak Bala, to 24-year imprisonment after he reportedly pleaded guilty to an 18-count charge of blasphemy levelled against him by the Kano State government.

 

What to know about Abduljabbar 

Abduljabbar attended ATC Gwale in Kano before moving to Iraq to advance his studies in Islamic Theology, though he always said he obtained most of his education from his father for almost 25 years of his life. 

Abduljabbar was well known as a Qadiriyya follower and Sunni scholar in Muslim communities in Nigeria, following the footsteps of his father. 

But in 2020, during an interview with the BBC, he expressed his inclination as a Shi’a sect adherent, saying: “After a thoroughly long time research, which I’ve made by myself, I realised that Shi’a has more scriptural evidence over Sunni,” adding that, “I’ll not bother myself if you call me a Shi’a, but I’ll be concerned with calling me a Sunni.” 

He has been at logger-head with Sunni Muslim clerics in the state for a long time for his hardline stance against Sunni practices. 

Abduljabbar was accused, several times, of blasphemy toward Prophet Muhammad and some of the companions of the Prophet through his teachings and public utterances. 

According to Abduljabbar, some hadiths (teachings of Prophet Muhammad) narrated by some prominent Islamic scholars such as Anas Ibn Malik, Bukhari and Muslim are accusations towards Muhammad, which he (Abduljabbar), referring to them as either false or inaccurate. 

Abduljabbar was held captive by Kano State government after the Kano State Islamic scholars from Izala, Salafiyya, Tijaniyyah and Qadiriyya sects reported him to the government, in a move the state said was to forestall break down of law and order. 

The state government further decided to intervene in the matter by organising a debate between Abduljabbar and his accusers so he could get a chance to present his scriptural justification for what he preached. 

On July 10, 2021, the state government officially organised the debate between him and four other Islamic scholars as representatives of Izala, Salafiyya, Tijjaniyya and Qadiriyya respectively. The debate was chaired by Prof. Salisu Shehu from Bayero University Kano and supervised by the Kano State Ministry for Religious Affairs. 

After the debate was concluded, the chairman said, “Abduljabbar dodged questions by giving irrelevant information or saying there’s no time to make references from the over five hundred books he brought to the debate, although he has assistants to his aid, while the other scholars have given references and answers to Abduljabbar’s questions directly.”

 

 

From Clement A. Oloyede, Salim I. Umar & Lubabatu I. Garba (Kano)

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