from vanguard newspaper originally,found at allafrica.com
Nigeria: Man with 86 wives: Northern Human Rights Groups Accuse Niger Government of Persecution
21 September 2008
Posted to the web 22 September 2008
Emeka Mamah and Wole Mosadomi
Human rights groups in the north have faulted the trial of Islamic cleric, Bello Masaba, under the Penal Code law instead of Islamic law saying that the case is not genuine and accused the Niger State Government of persecuting the 84 year-old man, for marrying 86 wives.
Lead counsel to the Coalition of Human Rights, Mohammed Sanusi, who made their position known at a news conference in Kaduna, weekend, also faulted the non-admission of Alhaji Masaba to bail as the offences which he is alleged to have committed are bailable. Sanusi said the legal team would file a motion tomorrow, for the case to be struck out as the government has no genuine intentions in prosecuting Masaba.
Masaba was arraigned before an Upper Sharia Court in Minna for allegedly marrying 86 wives, contrary to Islamic tenets. His wives and children, however, protested the trial of their breadwinner saying that they did not complain to anybody that Alhaji Masaba cannot take care of his large family.
Sanusi said, “I’m the lead counsel and representative of human rights groups under the auspices of Civil Rights Congress. We are ready to provide our services to all the 86 wives and Masaba himself. Our observations in respect of his case, more particularly the offences alleged against Masaba. The offences were quoted under sections 210, 383 and 386 of the Penal Code.
“Since these offences were quoted under the Penal Code and not purely under Islamic Laws, there must be a complainant. But in this matter, who is the complainant? Under all these sections of the Penal Code, there must be a human being that must have complained of any offence, of any act or of any wrong against Masaba himself. The complainants should be his wives and children but unfortunately, his wives are not complaining. Recently, they even protested at the Ministry of Justice and the House of Assembly in Niger State against the detention of Masaba. The question now is: who is the complainant?”
Continuing, he said, “Let us take it that the government, the police or the local government or even the Emir are the complainants now, but in whose interest? The whole thing still goes back to the wives and children. But they have never complained against the man. And more importantly, putting Masaba in jail without granting him bail on the first day he was presented before the Upper Sharia Court, to us, is a breach of his fundamental human rights. Even the Constitution of Nigeria, Section 36 (5) presumes him to be innocent. As it is now, since Masaba did not plead guilty to the allegations against him, he should be taken to be innocent. Under the provisions of the law, that is the Penal Code, he has the right to be granted bail.
“But for him now to be refused bail, it shows that there is something fishy and that is why we decided to intervene in the matter. He may have explanations for his actions and if the offences alleged against him are purely under the Islamic Law, he needs not be prosecuted under the Penal Code. Under the Islamic Law, there are specific provisions under which he could be prosecuted and I believe even our constitution approves that. So, if he is going to be prosecuted under the Penal Code, then he should be granted bail. At least they have to consider many things, including his age, his enormous responsibilities to his family, more than one hundred children, his wives and other dependants.”
According to Sanusi, “By God’s grace we are going to do our best to render all the legal services we can provide to protect the rights of Masaba and his wives. The legal services we are going to render to Masaba will be purely on humanitarian grounds. So, it is going to be free. The Niger State Government has the right to complain but on whose behalf are they complaining? Their complaints must be on behalf of the children or the wives or even the relatives of these wives or their parents. If the police or the government is complaining for the purpose of public peace, such public peace is on whose interest? Has anybody reported that the man has encroached on anybody’s land for farming to take care of his family?
‘If they want to prosecute for, perhaps, offending one of the provisions of the Quran or the Hadith, these are laws; he should be prosecuted purely under these laws in the Quran and not under the Penal Code. If you are bringing him under the Penal Code, then it has become the interest of Nigerians or the law. Even under Islamic Law, there is provision to render defence to an accused. We are not saying he should not be prosecuted but it must be through due legal process. If you look at the whole issue, that man has been getting married, and the people who gave him their daughters knew that the man was married to several other women. So, why can’t those people too be prosecuted? They have aided and abetted him and so have committed the same offence. So, if we are to actually prosecute, a lot of people will be involved too. The case should be struck out because it is not genuine, under Section 141 of the Criminal Procedure Code.”
Meanwhile, Muslim youths in Bida, home of the octogenarian, Alhaji Abubarkar Belo Massaba with 86 wives and over 100 children, took to the streets of Bida on Friday with placards not only to disown his action but to pass a death sentence (Fatwah) on him.
Association of Muslim Lawyers of Nigeria, in a press conference in Minna, yesterday, also vowed to give free legal service to the Shariah commission in the on-going legal battle between the commission and Alhaji Massaba.
In Bida, after the youths had embarked on the peaceful demonstration carrying placards with inscriptions such as, “Massaba must die”, “Bello is not a Muslim”, “Bello must vacate Bida town”, ended up at the Bida local government secretariat to exhibit their anger to the chairman of the council who was represented by his vice, Alhaji Bako Ndayawo.
Speaking at the secretariat, the leader of the Muslim youths, Abdulrahman Aboki, said they had passed fatwah on Massaba “because he has blasphemed both God and Prophet Mohammed and he deserves to die”. He, however, said the sentence could be lifted if he repents by divorcing his wives and reducing them to four as proscribed by Islamic injunctions, adding that, most of the children were born outside wedlock.
The protesters were shepherded by heavily armed policemen as they went round the town. Immediate past chairman of the council, Mallam Edota, who also addressed the youths, threw his weigh behind them, saying, “Even if Massaba is released, he should be banished from Bida because he is not part of us”.
The Association of Muslim Lawyers, in their press conference in Minna addressed by its National President, Alhaji Dauda Adekola described Massaba as, “not part of us because he is not a true Moslem”.
While condemning the human rights groups for supporting the octogenarian, the lawyers described them as hypocrites and should hands off the case.