I am writing to express my outrage over the conviction of two people for witchcraft in Bauchi state, Nigeria. Sadly, this misjudgment by a court of law has not received the opprobrium and condemnation it deserves. In August, it was reported that two persons, Adama Mamuda and Ibrahim Shehu Ganye, were sentenced to two years imprisonment by a magistrate court in Warji over their alleged involvement in witchcraft. They were ordered to pay the sum of a hundred thousand naira (around $700) to the so-called ‘betwitched’ woman, Hafsatu Sani, as damages for the suffering and trauma she went through. In July, a police inspector, Mato Albasu, had arraigned the two for conspiring and imprisoning Sani through witchcraft for four years. According to the police prosecutor, this was contrary to Section 216 of the Penal Code. He claimed that the two accused persons confessed to the crime. He told the court that one of the accused persons, Adama, took away the spirit of Hafsatu and gave it to the co-accused, Ibrahim. Since then, the spirit of Hafsatu had supposedly been in the custody of Ibrahim.
The accused persons were compelled by the court to "return" the spirit of the victim. They were made to walk over her body in the courtroom, and later went to the bush and got some traditional medicine for her. The chief magistrate, Ahmed Shuaibu, sentenced the two accused persons and ordered that they be remanded in prison custody until Hafsatu Sani fully recovered.
I really could not believe that in this 21st century a Nigerian police officer could charge or arraign somebody for witchcraft. And even if, out sheer oversight, ignorance or misunderstanding of the law, a police officer arraigns somebody for witchcraft, one expects any judge worth his salt to strike out the case by adequately interpreting Section 216 of the Penal Code. But that did not happen in the case of Adama and Ibrahim. The magistrate went ahead and issued a ruling that had no basis in local and international law.
For instance the magistrate should have tried to find out under what circumstances the accused persons allegedly confessed to the so-called crimes. Did they walk into the police station and confess? Or were they tortured to do so? If they confessed to have committed the ‘crimes’ without any torture or intimidation, did the magistrate try to ascertain their state of mind?
Also the claim that the alleged confession contravened Section 216 of the Penal Code is an obviously a misinterpretation of that legal provision. The court actually misconstrued the letter and spirit of that section of the penal code. First of all, section 216 does not define witchcraft. It does not criminalize witchcraft. It actually criminalizes witchcraft accusation. The question is, how did the police prosecutor and magistrate know that the alleged confession was "witchcraft" and nothing else? If one is to interpret Section 216 properly, it is the police officer and the magistrate who actually committed an offence contrary to Section 216, not Adama and Ibrahim. The magistrate and judge are the ones who should be tried.
Because Section 216 of the Penal Code says, "Whoever (a) by his statements or actions represents himself to be a witch or to have the power of witchcraft or (b) accuses or threatens to accuse any person with (sic) being a witch or with (sic) having the power of witchcraft.... shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to two years or with fine or with both" (emphasis mine). So going by this provision, it is Inspector Albasu and Chief Magistrate Ahmed Shuaibu who committed a crime by accusing Adama and Ibrahim of witchcraft, and by saying that they had the power of witchcraft.
Just imagine the macabre drama that took place in the court. Does anyone know anywhere in the civilized world where a magistrate would allow accused persons to walk over somebody in order to restore the "spirit" as part of a court or justice process?
How on earth can a magistrate determine that somebody is in custody of a person’s spirit? Or that somebody can restore another person’s spirit? What is the evidence for a spirit? Is a spirit something admissible in a court of law? How did the Chief Magistrate establish beyond reasonable doubt that the accused actually took away the spirit of Hafsatu? I mean, in which century are we?
Our police officers, lawyers, magistrates and judges should demonstrate proper knowledge and understanding of the letter and spirit of the law to avoid a reoccurrence of this travesty of justice. This kind of ruling is an embarrassment to the nation. It makes a mockery of our police and justice system.
I am therefore using this opportunity to call upon the Federal Government through the government of Bauchi state to immediately release with compensation, Adama Mamuda and Ibrahim Shehu Ganye from prison. From the reported court proceeding and ruling, the duo did not commit offence and should not have been convicted. They are innocent, and should not have been remanded in prison. They were wrongfully convicted and should be set free with compensation and appology without delay.
The Nigerian Police Force and the Nigerian Judicial Council should sanction Inspector Mato Albasu and Chief Magistrate Ahmed Shuaibu for misinterpreting the law, causing miscarriage of justice, and victimizing those they should protect and defend. Our police and judicial authorities should not allow this legal charade to repeat itself again.
Leo Igwe is a skeptical activist in Nigeria and a former representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Currently, he is researching African witchcraft accusations at the University of Bayreuth in Germany. He is partnering with the JREF to respond in a more organized and grassroots way to the growing superstitious beliefs about witchcraft throughout the continent of Africa. More details on this collaboration will be announced in the coming weeks.