Witchcraft and our Court System By Leo Igwe

By Leo Igwe

I am writing to express my outrage over the  conviction of two people for witchcraft in Bauchi state. 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 local government over their alleged involvement in witchcraft. They were ordered to pay the sum of a hundred thousand naira to the so called ‘bewitched’ 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. And that, since then, the spirit of Hafsatu had 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 court room, 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 till 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 over sight, ignorance or misunderstanding of the law, a police officer arraigns somebody for witchcraft, one expects any judge who worths its 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 confessed? 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 the state of their 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. They are the ones who should be tried and jailed.

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? 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 apology 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.

 

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Why would anyone be outraged

Why would anyone be outraged with witchcraft as a way of life in Hausaland? The court there is part of their culture. How about sharia that cuts hands and demands four witnesses who saw a woman knacked? Islam and witchcraft are one and the same thing only that islam originated in Arabia while witchcraft which was practiced in many places is still lingering on in Hausaland.

Wowwww!

Fela, of blessed memory, would call this one "wonderment." Kai! Poor guys, sorry oooo! I beg, this story should not escape to the wider world, before they laugh us under the table.

Belief does not make

Belief does not make something true or just. Many people believe in things that are untrue and unjust. The number of people that believe a thing and the length of time a thing is believed also does not make it true or false, right or wrong, just or unjust. History is filled instances where beliefs held by the majority for so long were later found to be false or unjust. Witchcraft is superstition and lacks evidence. That most Africans have believed believed it for so long does not make it science or evidence based.

Supposed intellectuals? Haba

@ Ed Chibuzo & Chisom

Am I reading correctly that you two are actually supporting the determination of supernatural phenomena in legal jurispudence? So next time I accuse your female relatives of "witchcraft" because I developed a funny tummy after consuming their peppersoup, you are perfectly happy for them to go to jail?

Unless, of course, you can tell us here on a public forum how you would go about disproving it. It is sad when our supposed "intellectuals" are actually seen to be colluding to hold the country back.

The tragedy of the story is the incorrect application of the code by the Police prosecutor and the Magistrate. It is so blatant if you can read, and Leo has helped you two by providing a correct interpretation of the Criminal code, that you must surely fear for the quality of justice in Nigeria.

Thank you my brother

Chisom, you are "spot-on". Well done!
There is something called "overall public interest" in law and really Leo Igwe must begin to rspect peoples' belief systems and cultures. He's entitled to believing or not believing; and he must respect peoples' entitlements too. It's unfortunate when we proselyte in roundabout ways, hiding behind legalese and "modernity" so called. Why is it that some of us swallow hook, line and sinker all manner of beliefs alien to ours in order to prove they are "enlightened"?

If Leo is not writing about gays, he's writing about humanism, witchcraft, etc. Very peculiar indeed. Anyway, he's entitled to his ways... and must therefore, let others be. There are so many things one does not know or understand, and it would be foolhardy to say they don't exist simply because of one's limitations.

It is things like this that

It is things like this that makes me ashamed of Nigeria. What hope is there when you have ignorant minds at the head of institutions? Most people in Nigeria believe in this witchcraft rubbish, judgements like this one will reinforce such a stance. We are making progress in Nigeria- in the backward direction.

Leo, I think your commentary

Leo, I think your commentary is unfair to the courts and to the people. Firstly you write from the point of view of a skeptic. I think I can safely assume that you do not believe in witchcraft. I don't either. Nevertheless if I were going to comment on this incident, I would take into account the peoples' beliefs before making any judgments.

If they all believe in witchcraft then I don't understand whats so wrong with the scenario. Afterall, aren't courts meant to serve the people and not vice versa? In the West (to which you say we lag behind) do they not ask witnesses to swear on bibles before they give their testimonies. Isn't that equally subjective and ludicrous when envisaged from the view point of a non-believer?

In summary, I am asking you to reflect on your opinions and see how your biases shape them and to respect other people's cultures and beliefs. After all isn't that what true "modernization" should be all about?

Lets be fair...

Leo, I think your commentary is unfair to the courts and to the people. Firstly you write from the point of view of a skeptic. I think I can safely assume that you do not believe in witchcraft. I don't either. Nevertheless if I were going to comment on this incident, I would take into account the peoples' beliefs before making any judgments.

If they all believe in witchcraft then I don't understand whats so wrong with the scenario. Afterall, aren't courts meant to serve the people and not vice versa? In the West (to which you say we lag behind) do they not ask witnesses to swear on bibles before they give their testimonies. Isn't that equally subjective and ludicrous when envisaged from the view point of a non-believer?

In summary, I am asking you to reflect on your opinions and see how your biases shape them and to respect other people's cultures and beliefs. After all isn't that what true "modernization" should be all about?

my brother, i started

my brother, i started laughing after reading this story. The world leaving us behind. Asking the accused to walk over the victim for her to get her spirit back? How did they know that the spirit is not with her in the first place? Our court is turning to a big joke. Just on sunday when i was passing through a church in the night that has over 50 graves. I was saying to myself that in nigeria you will be scared to go there even if it is just one grave. This is just because of silly story telling us q ghost will come out of he grave and this stays in our subconsciousness. In the summer u see a lot of people laying on those graves and to make matters even worse, there is a primary school that has its playground facing just few meters to those graves. Nobody os lying to the kids that ghost will come out from there. We should wake up because we are being behind.