TOPE Akinyode, a Human Rights lawyer and National President of the Revolutionary Lawyers Forum has said that blasphemy laws are ‘preposterous and antithetical to democratic tenets.’
Akinyode who was reacting to the death sentence pronounced on Yahaya Sharif, a singer based in Kano for blasphemy Prophet Muhammad told The ICIR in an interview that Nigeria is a secular state and condemned the sentence.
A Kano Upper Shari’a Court has pronounced Sharif, a resident of Sharifai in Kano metropolis of guilty of committing blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad in a song, and subsequently sentenced him to death by hanging.
But Akinyode noted that such a verdict was against the fundamental rights of freedom of expression guaranteed by section 39 of the Nigeria constitution.
“A person’s opinion cannot be an excuse to launch a criminal attack on them. Under section 39 of the constitution, there are certain exceptions but none of the exceptions provides that a person’s fundamental human rights to speak could be curtailed based on religious grounds,” said the human rights lawyer.
In his submission, Akinyode noted that the execution of any person because of their thoughts, conscience or religion is against the constitution and the occurrence of such shows the irresponsibility and insensitivity of the Nigerian leaders.
Shari’a (Islamic law) has been in force for many years in northern Nigeria. But until 2000, its scope was limited to personal status and civil law.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRM), an international non-governmental organisation that conducts research and advocacy on human rights, the manner in which Shari’a has been applied to criminal law in Nigeria so far has raised a number of serious human rights concerns.
In the report, tagged ‘Political Shari’a? Human Rights and Islamic Law in Northern Nigeria’ HRM confirmed that since 2000, at least ten people have been sentenced to death by Shari’a courts; dozens have been sentenced to amputation; and floggings are a regular occurrence in many locations in the north.
Meanwhile, Bashir Ahmad, Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on New Media takes a different stance.
In 2015, Ahmad in a tweet announced his support for death penalty for blasphemy. The presidential aide disclosed that it was his belief and he would never support otherwise or keep silent.
The tweet, though stale, has now resurfaced and Ahmad, who on several occasions has been at the centre point of controversies, is being questioned for his position.