Frontline World

NIGERIA - The Road North, January 2003


THE STORY
Synopsis of "The Road North"

MISS WORLD'S WOES
A Chronicle of the Pageant's Troubles

THOUGHTS OF A FAVORITE SON
Interview With Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka

NIGERIAN WOMEN SPEAK OUT
Five Diverse Voices

FACTS & STATS
Learn More about Nigeria

LINKS & RESOURCES
Sharia Law, Human Rights, the Role of Women

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Nigerian Women Speak Out

Hauwa Ibrahim: Amina Lawal’s attorney

"I was imagining that Amina could be a uniting factor for this country."
Hauwa Ibrahim
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."
[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.

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 school.

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 from.

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, including Safiya.

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 friend.

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 empowered.
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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