"I was imagining that Amina could be a uniting factor
for this country."
Amina Lawal's attorney
Hauwa Ibrahim, 35, is Amina Lawal's lawyer. Ibrahim is the
first female lawyer from northern Nigeria. She lives in Abuja
and is married with two sons. Hauwa has worked pro bono on
10 cases of women accused of adultery under sharia law [some
of the accused are sentenced to be stoned to death; some have
been sentenced to flogging]. She is also involved with several
cases of young boys sentenced to amputation [for offenses
like stealing cattle].
Childhood in a Religious Family
I was born and brought up a Muslim. My father was ... one of
the mullahs who call for prayers. The place, Gombe, is poor.
It's a small village of less than 2,000 or 3,000 people ...
It was not allowed for girls to go beyond the elementary
schools (in my village). At the age of 12, 13, you should
be ready for marriage. Somehow my mother was from a more enlightened
family ... . My sister was among the first girls to go to high
school after primary school. My mother told her, "If you finish
the secondary school" -- at the age of around 17 -- "you have
to get married at 17, 18." So she accepted. She got married,
and I was (going to) follow her footsteps, but at that age,
I went to [women's] teacher's college (instead). ...
I refused to get married because I thought, "I cannot get
married, I want to get more education." I picked up a newspaper
on the road, and I saw a university graduate with a four-square
cap. And I thought, "I must be like that person."
money that I was keeping for school, it was meant to be
used for buying of plates, spoons, pots, in preparation
to go to my husband's house. But somehow, I was determined
to go to school.
Fighting for an Education
... Our dad was ... not too forthcoming with respect to financing
our education, especially in a primary school. Because I was
determined to continue and my mother couldn't afford the two
of us, I had to do some other jobs to sustain my stay in elementary
Some of the things I did was go to the mountain and pick
roots to hawk. I was hawking anything that is hawkable --
food items, vegetables, peanuts ... . [The] money that I was
keeping for school, it was meant to be used for buying of
plates, spoons, pots, in preparation to go to my husband's
house. But somehow, I was determined to go to school.
Flogging, Amputation and Stoning
(I practiced law) in the northern part of Nigeria, and it
exposed me to the entire 19 states of the federation ... . That's
into the hinterland, some of the places you can't go by bicycle
or motorbike. I had to use camels or donkeys to get to the
villages. But I was determined to go out to do the work. It's
very unconventional, but that was one of the best parts of
my life. I was able to relate to the grassroots where I came
We do have 11 cases for amputation that I am handling. They
are in Sokoto prison, nine of them [look to us like they]
are under the age of 18 ... . In Sokoto, we have handled four
cases of ladies that were supposed to be stoned to death,
And then in Zamfara state, we had one. (She was) not sentenced
to be stoned to death, she was sentenced to be flogged. And
she was flogged publicly 180 (times). It was supposed to be
100, but the man that she alleged had raped her said that
another one raped her [instead]. She was charged -- and she
(had added to her sentence) 80 whippings -- for Kazaf, telling
lies, (as if) she had told lies (about) this man.
|When it comes
to the issue of death, the moment you stone the first
woman, there may be no stopping of it. And I cannot live
with that. Because of that, I fight it.
Fear of an Onslaught
I do feel uncomfortable, at times fearful ... . When it comes
to the issue of death, the moment you stone the first woman,
there may be no stopping of it. And I cannot live with that.
Because of that, I fight it. I fight my fear ... .
It's somebody's life, so let me also put my own on the line.
In terms of my skills, my knowledge and the fact that I can
relate to them: Almost all those women ... are from a very poor
background, the same background that I came from. I feel that
I'm returning back to humanity what I was given in terms of
education and skills. I'm just returning it back to the system.
Adultery and the Penal Code
The bedrock is fairness, it's justice and it's equity. That
is what is embodied in sharia ... . The issue of stoning to
death has attracted a lot of attention. (But) the Koran did
not provide for stoning to death. The Koran is the grand law,
the main law of Muslims ... .
There are three legs provided for under law, in the sharia
penal code, for proof of adultery: One, there is an appearance
of pregnancy. Second, there is confession. And third, there
must be four witnesses. Those four witnesses must be men,
they must be adult, they must be in their right mind, sane,
and they must be people reputable in the society. Not women,
men. They must have seen the two coupled in the act at the
same time. Not that one will say, "Well, I saw the semblance
of it." You must have seen the two coupled together in the
act. Otherwise, the evidence that you give not be accepted.
Amina Lawal's Background
Amina is from a village around Kurami. Kurami is in Katsina
state near Funtua [in northern Nigeria]. Her village is bigger
than my village, and she didn't have the life that I had.
She was not a hawker ... . She was learned, she knows the Koran.
Yesterday we were reciting together, and she does it quite
well. She also has a very deep belief, a sincere belief in
Allah. Her faith in God is not wavering for what has happened
to her. She has been to me a good client. She's also a good
She doesn't talk much. ... All our discussion is: God is almighty,
God will see us through, God will protect us, God will ensure
nothing bad will happen to us ... . She doesn't know how to
read or write, and she has no access to newspapers at all.
There is no electric power where she comes from, no light.
She has no access to television. She has no access to radio
... . She's just from her own world ... .
... She had never heard of this Miss World at all in her life.
She was told that there are these Misses of the World that
are standing by her to say that she shouldn't die. That justice
must be done in her own case. So she was told by the reporters
... . She believed them, and she thanked them for standing by
her, for the sympathy they showed.
The Lawal Case
Amina was in her house. Some group of Islamic fundamentalists
came and (questioned) her -- they heard she was pregnant,
and she's not married. She did not answer. They went, and
the policeman came, and he invited her to the police station.
At the police station, they took her to a trial court ... on
the 15th of January, 2002. The baby was eight days old. So,
they ask her, "Amina, you are pregnant, I mean, you have a
baby and you are not married." She said, "Yes." And they said
that the baby is a witness, is the evidence.
... "Who is the father of this child?" (they asked). She mentioned
a name. And they called him up, and the man said no, he doesn't
know what she's talking about. And they said, "Can you swear
to the Koran?" He said, "Yes, I can swear to the Koran." ...
Amina was convicted based on the fact that she had this baby
without a husband and that she confessed. Her confession from
the trial court record was that, when they ask her, "You have
this baby and you are not married?" And she said, "Yes," and
that was what was termed as a confession.
Our argument is that is not a confession. In the Hadith
and the Sunna, that is not a confession ... . And legally
speaking, by the sharia penal code, the law provides very
clearly that Amina is entitled to legal counsel at trial.
She was not given that opportunity, she had no counsel and
no lawyer to represent her at the trial ... .
Upholding the Law
As lawyers, we are not challenging the law -- whether it is
right or wrong -- that is not our business ... . Our argument
had always been in all those cases, "Please follow the basic
rule that this sharia code has laid it out for you to follow."
... We, as lawyers, are trying as much as possible not to
politicize an issue of life and death like this. We don't
want it politicized at all. Because it is life and death --
that is our position ... .
I was imagining that Amina could be a uniting factor for
this country. That in our diversity, we'll find something
common to stand by and do what is right. That in our diversity,
we will see the human factor through the case of Amina. To
put ourselves together to say this country will have to work,
and this is the better way to make it work. She's an issue,
and an issue that could be used positively to make Nigeria
a better place for all of us.
Men and Women of the North
In the North you have (few) women that are educated. Even
when they are educated, most of them are married, are not
working. They are just (content to be) housewives. They are
not too forward in wanting part of decision making. (In the)
South they are very forward, trying to be part of what is
happening ... .
You find the men of the North trying to ensure that the
women are possibly under their armpit so that they can control
them ... . They don't want any challenge, they want to feel
they are the men and the women are women. The position of
the woman here is to be in the house and to rear the children,
not for her to be out, working ... .
Gradually I think we are overcoming it ... . We speak to the
village heads, and we tell them why their wives need to be
|We want to be relevant, we want
to be part of legislation, we want to be part of executive
decision making so that we can make a difference to the
women in the villages.
Still a Man's World
... (In my NGO work) I found out they [women] contribute more
than 70 percent of income of the family, and they still bear
the children and care (for) them ... . The men say, "Wow,
that is true? You mean, they did all these things?" ... After
all they are the men, and the men are supposed to be demigods,
or they are small demigods, in the society. And everything
they do is right. "But now we [the men] have found out that
women are contributing about 70 percent or even more of the
income of the family."
... We still have the man's world here in Nigeria, where the
women are not in a position of decision making ... . A lot of
women here have been fighting for what they call affirmative
action, to be relevant, so they can have a say. ...
We want to be relevant, we want to be part of legislation,
we want to be part of executive decision making so that we
can make a difference to the women in the villages.
NEXT - Christine Anyanwa: Journalist
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