Last week, the Nigerian social media space was rocked by a dispute between conservative Northern Nigerians and Nigerians from other parts of the country. The subject of the dispute was the picture of Rahama Sadau — a Northern actress —which she posted on Twitter. In the picture, she had exposed her back and that got many Northerners angry. She received several threats, curses and insults in the comment section because Northerners believe that such a dressing is against the ethics of Islam.
While she is continuously being slammed by several Northerners, she has received support from several other groups who believe that the anger was borne out of hypocrisy. In showing the hypocrisy of the Northerners fueling the fight against her, Sadau’s fans have alluded to several customs such as child marriage among several others. ‘You find the picture of a grown-up woman provocative, but you go ahead to marry 13-year old girls. What hypocrisy!’ a social media user commented. She later apologized and deleted the picture.
What other things have happened?
Since the picture was posted, several other things have happened. She has been accused of blasphemy, because her pictures triggered blasphemous comments, and petitions have been written to the police against her. Sequel to the petition, the IGP has written to the Commissioner of Police, Kaduna that the matter should be looked into and disturbance of public peace should be avoided.
In a letter dated 7th November, 2020 written by one Lawal Muhammed Gusau in response to BBC Hausa’s report that Amina Sadau was coming back to Nigeria to defend herself, he appreciated the efforts of the police and stipulated some conditions. Those conditions include that Rahama Sadau must necessarily be defended by a Muslim lawyer and the police should only deliver her to the Sharia courts for prosecution.
In another letter written by Lawal Muhammed Gusau and dated 8th November, 2020, he appreciated the efforts of the Inspector General of Police and the Commissioner of Police for Kaduna. He further called on Islamic scholars to issue a fatwa on the issue and the decision should be forwarded to the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs for a final verdict. A fatwa is a non-binding opinion on an issue by Islamic scholars.
Several other conservative Northerners have lent their voice to the demand that Rahama Sadau be prosecuted for blasphemy while many others have condemned such move.
Can Rahama Sadau be prosecuted and convicted?
Ordinarily, the answer should be no. However, recent events in Northern Nigeria leave room for the answer to be yes. Recently, two people: a musician and a 7-year old boy were convicted for blasphemy in Kano. While many have condemned the conviction and have termed as it as a ridicule of Nigeria’s secular state. The cases are also being appealed. It is hoped that the decision would be overturned on appeal. Hence, it will not come as a surprise if Rahama Sadau is prosecuted and even convicted for blasphemy. However, her case is different from the 2 people that have been convicted. In her own case, she has uttered no statement nor insulted anybody in this case. She has only worn a dress which conservative Northerners deem as an insult on Islamic principles. Section 213 of the Penal Code Act provides thus:
‘’Whoever, with the intention of wounding the feelings of a person or of insulting the religion of a person or with the knowledge that the feelings of a person are likely to be wounded or that the religion of a person is likely to be insulted thereby, commits a trespass in a place of worship or in any place of burial or offers an indignity to a human corpse a causes disturbance to persons assembled for the performance of funeral ceremonies, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine or with both.’’
In this case, Rahama Sadau has not insulted anybody and her action does not fit the definition of blasphemy in any way. At worst, she can be charged with offences of indecency. However, Northern Nigeria is unpredictable and anything can happen.
Must her lawyer necessarily be a Muslim?
One of the conditions stipulated by some conservative Northerners is that Rahama Sadau must be defended by a Muslim lawyer as she is being prosecuted before a Sharia court. However, the law gives the right to everyone to be defended by any lawyer of their choice. Section 36(6)(c) of the Nigerian Constitution gives everybody the right to be defended by themselves or a lawyer of their own choice. Hence, Rahama Sadau can choose any lawyer she desires to defend her. However, one can never tell what would happen in the hearing of the case.
What should we expect from now on?
It is possible that a criminal case is instituted against Rahama Sadau. She could be charged with blasphemy, indecency or any other offence remotely close to justify her prosecution. If she hires a lawyer who is not a Muslim, it is possible that it is challenged and arguments be made by both sides on that issue.
She has not been arrested and might not be arrested if she complies with the directive of the people calling for her prosecution as the case is more political, rather than legal. In the alternative, the case might not be instituted against her as she has deleted the pictures and has apologized. Who knows, her apology might touch the hearts of the saints who have continuously called for her prosecution.