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Suspects in blasphemy murder trial discharged

11 Nov 2016

Five suspects detained in connection with the murder on 2 June of Mrs Bridget Agbahime, a 74-year-old Christian market trader, in Kano State, northern Nigeria, have been released unconditionally five months after their arrest.

Dauda Ahmed, Zubairu Abdullahi, Abdulmumeen Mustafa, Abdullahi Abubakar and Musa Abdullahi were arrested for the murder of Mrs Agbahime and charged with “inciting disturbance, joint act, mischief and culpable homicide” under sections 114, 80, 327 and 221 of the Penal Code. However, on 3 November, Kano State’s chief magistrate Muhammad Jibril, acting on a directive from the Kano State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, discharged the five suspects and terminated the case against them.

Mrs Agbahime, the wife of a pastor from Deeper Life Bible Church in Noman’sland, Kano, was murdered in Kofar Wambai market on 2 June following a false accusation of blasphemy.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s (CSW’s) sources, despite receiving several official warnings, Mr Ahmed, also a trader, had been harassing her for a long time, and often performed pre-prayer ablutions at the door of her shop, damaging her wares. On 2 June, when she politely asked him to move away from the door, he began shouting that she had committed blasphemy. A mob of over 500 people gathered and battered Mrs Agbahime to death after dragging her out of a store owned by a Muslim trader, where she and her husband had taken refuge. Her husband was saved by the arrival of the police and subsequently returned to his ancestral home in Imo State, southern Nigeria, for his own safety.

The decision to release the five men has been met by condemnation with commentators questioning whether a magistrates court can have jurisdiction over a murder case.

In a statement issued on 6 November, the Enugu State Chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) urged Nigeria’s Federal Government to revisit the case, adding that the actions of the court and the Kano State Government would embolden fanatics to attack Christians under the guise of religion.

The civil rights organisation Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) described the decision as “illogical, unconstitutional […] compromised” and “a primitive attempt to stoke up inter-ethnic conflict”. It called on the Governor of Kano State and President Muhammadu Buhari to direct the Commissioner of Police in Kano State and the Inspector General of Police “to rapidly refile the matter in a proper court system so that the killers of this Nigerian citizen are charged and punished for the unprovoked murder of this innocent Igbo woman in Kano State.”

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, "The unconditional release of these suspects, one of whom we believe to be directly implicated in, if not responsible for this brutal murder, is both inexplicable and unacceptable. The continuing lack of consequences will increase the impunity surrounding blasphemy accusations, which are used to justify the most extreme acts of lawlessness, regardless of the character and integrity of the person making the accusation. In order to combat impunity and strengthen the rule of law, it is essential that no person or social grouping is seen as being above the law. CSW therefore urges the Federal authorities to ensure this decision is reviewed and that the perpetrators of this appalling murder face justice. We also call on both State and Federal authorities to be more proactive in tackling the culture of impunity and ending the weaponising of religion to justify the taking innocent lives."

 Notes to Editors:

1. Mrs Agbahime was the second person in northern Nigeria to be killed by a mob during 2016 following allegations of blasphemy. In May, violence erupted in Pandogari Town, Niger State after Emmanuel Methodus, a Christian trader, was accused of a blasphemous posting on Facebook. He was murdered and his body burned. In the ensuing violence, three other people were killed, 25 Christian-owned shops were looted and four churches were destroyed, along with several Christian homes. 

2. In Zamfara State in August, eight people were burned to death, while a church elder’s home and the buildings and vicarages of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), Anglican,  Voice of Jesus and Living Faith churches were burgled and vandalised in violence that erupted after a mob heard that a new convert  who had been beaten and left for dead after being accused of blaspheming during a discussion with a Muslim classmate at the Federal Polytechnic in Talata Mafara, had been transported alive to hospital.



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