Council on Foreign Relations
ISOBEL COLEMAN: Thank you all for coming today. We’re going to get started.
It is with great pleasure that I introduce Hauwa Ibrahim, who is currently a visiting fellow, one of the World Fellows at Yale, and she is also the recent recipient in December, I believe it was, of a tremendous award, the highest human rights award given by the European Union. And she has tremendous character and international reputation as having represented Amina Lawal, the young woman who had been sentenced to be stoned to death in Nigeria several years ago for an out-of-wedlock birth, and I do understand that while she was the—Amina Lawal’s lawyer, at the time, she was not actually allowed inside Sharia court to be the direct lawyer. She had to pass notes to a male stand-in, but you were in fact the brains behind the operation, shall we say.
We are going to have a conversation today for the first half hour or so of this meeting. I am just going to ask Hauwa some questions to get us going, and then, we’ll open it up to all of you. I’ve asked her not to make a prepared statement, but rather get right into the heart of some of the issues.
And I asked her if we could start out by just talking generally about Nigeria. It is much in the news today. Oil prices are climbing on concerns about unrest in that country. President Obasanjo has made overtures about seeking a third, which is upsetting the balance between north and south. There was an explicit deal on the table, I understand, for him to revert the presidency back to the Muslim north in 2007. He is using, I understand, the fears about Muslim efforts to Islamize the nation as a reason or rationale for him to stay in office, and which will tie into what we’re talking about specifically today.
And as many of you know, I’m sure, from reading the newspapers, there’s escalating violence in Nigeria today. In fact, I was speaking to one of the people from the CIA who covers Nigeria this morning, and they were saying that their concern is that the forms of violence and the tenor of violence right now is reminiscent of the beginning of the Biafra war. And there’s tremendous concern over where it is going, and in fact, it is one of the most pressing issues, she said, in the world today on what happens in Nigeria.
So for a variety of reasons we’re so pleased to have Hauwa here with us. She did say, “I’m not a political scientist. I’m a lawyer,” so we take that caveat, and we just look forward to hearing your perspectives.
And Hauwa, let’s just start with what is going on right now in Nigeria today, if you could give us some context—your views?
HAUWA IBRAHIM: Thank you so much for coming.
I was sitting out there, and I was looking at your faces—(inaudible)—and I was saying to myself, “Why do they want to hear from me”? You look so important in your own right and so well-informed in your own right, and I’m not sure I have so much to give you, but I’ll try to share some thoughts with you.
You must forgive me because my English is not as good as Isobel’s English, so I’ll try to speak a little bit clearly so that you understand my English, which is a fourth language for me.
COLEMAN: I can assure you she’s much better in the other three than I am. (Laughter.)
IBRAHIM: I saw a familiar face—(name inaudible)—thank you for coming. She was there—(inaudible)—and all others, I appreciate your presence here.
Nigeria is such a huge country, and it’s (had ?) to diverse in its own form. And I come from the north. I come from the northeastern part of the country. I come from Gombe State, and my mother is from—(inaudible). If you know Nigeria, it’s in the northeast—both states. I was born in—(inaudible)—Muslim. I went to school and did everything in the northern part of Nigeria, so my knowledge of Nigeria is so much—(inaudible)—even though I was a legal—(inaudible)—from a law school in 1987. I’ve practiced law for 18 years.
As Isobel already pointed out, I am not a political commentator, neither am I—I’m here as somebody with any sentiment whatsoever. I am here to share with you some thoughts.
And when she asked, what is happening in Nigeria today, my husband is in Nigeria, and my husband is not a Niger. My husband is Italian, but somehow he gets to take a lot of the heat of what I do, and he’s very good rebuilding (mosques ?) because he’s a builder. And so he has—(inaudible)—when I spoke to him this morning about this (affair ?) in Nigeria. Now, this is a foreigner’s perspective. My mother and my brother live in Bauchi, which is one of the areas that the fighting is going on. They gave me their perspective. Remember, I have been here since August, even though I went back to Nigeria in November—(inaudible)—to argue some of my cases.
My understanding of the riot—even though reported in different form, I have read it too, and Isobel has said what she has from the (air assaults ?). If—there is a collective tension that has been there for different reasons: political, religious, economic, poverty, illiteracy, voicelessness. So it’s a combination of each part, and we can discuss it in different form. However, the cartoon of the prophet has, like, brought back some of the feelings.
I was talking about diversity earlier on. The north is not like the same as the south or the southeast or the southwest, but what my husband told me was that the Ibos which come from the southeast three days ago all run to the army barracks. The army barrack is like a safe haven because they do have the arms, and they try to protect civilians most of the time. So three days ago, they rushed to the army barracks to get kind of a refugee statue, so that the Muslims would not strike them.
And I was, like, but this is not right in their own country. (Inaudible)—but you know that when the Hausa (shunned ?) the Ibos, the Ibo was not (on ?) Hausa. When Hausa sent the Ibos to the army barracks, they go to loot their stores. That could mean something else, and we can give a different interpretation.
What has burning of churches got to do with the cartoon of the prophet? The churches didn’t make the cartoon. That’s my opinion. But of course, it’s going on. (Name inaudible)—according to him, he know about three, though, the papers reported 18.
My brother is a very good Muslim, and he told me nothing is happening. (It’s those ?) Christians that are just looking for trouble, and they were chanting bad things about the cartoon, and that is in Bauchi. When I called Gombe the—what I had in Gombe was a bit different. Gombe has no riot up to now, but my degree—(inaudible)—degree, and she was saying, “Yes, they did burn some churches. Yes, they did burn some houses of Christians, but usually the Christians are now accepted in the north.” As you know, the north is predominantly Muslim.
Now, two days ago on—(inaudible word). (Inaudible word)—is the eastern part of the country. (Inaudible)—we are done with this. We are going to (revenge ?). So they went to (a rock pit and found some rocks ?). That is in the eastern part, and that is where I think when you said—maybe that is not the end of the story yet, and we have to watch out and to be careful.
But my thought is always what do we use information for? What are we—if the information is for public consumption as public policy of a private, secret (service ?), what do we use it for? Now, it depends on where we are on the side of the aisle. If we use it for good, maybe it will end up good, but is good relative? I don’t know. But there are a lot of information out there.
There are a lot of challenges in India, and like she also rightly pointed out, the secretary of the PDP was in here in United States. His daughter is in Connecticut, and his brother—son in-law. And I spoke with him on the phone, and we had lunch. And he told me all the (peoples ?) in Nigeria are not making them to work as a government, and—why? Because of what he called a—(inaudible)—termed fever. Everybody think they want to go for—(inaudible). But let me develop this concept by saying that I think beyond thinking about—(inaudible word). I’m beyond thinking about Obasanjo as a person. What do Nigeria has to give in Africa as a balance in terms of peace and security, and how can we help in that effort?
I really like that I am in the Council on Foreign Relations, and I look at the list of people that are here, so I’m trying to speak to that. What can we give to help in this balance, that this country of a huge population and—(inaudible)—14 million and have largest Muslim population not only in Africa, but I decided to put it in terms of population in Middle East together. You have much more in Nigeria. So we do not want to have another unfinished—(inaudible word). (Inaudible)—come for them or any other thing that would negative to security, and we are all potential victims of in security. What can we do? What can we give back?
And I thought as we discuss, we will share information from people that have been there and from what I know. But what is for sure is that this regime will be remembered for so many good things they have done—Obasanjo regime. But one thing they may be lacking behind with is the issue of structure. A lot of the structures are not in place, and they have been over six years. We do not have a good electoral structure. I’m not sure up to know they have a polling list—who is supposed to vote or not vote in the country—or do not have a judiciary that is—they can say, “We are going to a judiciary that we are sure you will get something productive,” that they have not been bribed. I’m not in any way suggesting you bribed them. You do not have legislators that you are very comfortable with. You do not have executives that you are sure where they are going—when the sun will rise in the morning.
So for me, these are some of the issues that I think it—(inaudible)—into them and further expand on some of these aspects.
COLEMAN: Thank you.
Hauwa, maybe you could tell us a little bit about the Amina Lawal case. We’ll start there, and how you got involved with it? The case ultimately was resolved on a technicality, and that disappointed I think many people within Nigeria and in the international community. So maybe you can talk about that point.
And also I’d love to hear your views on the role that the international community played because a lot of pressure was brought to bear by various groups, letter writing campaigns, which really publicized that issue internationally, but I understand had some negative repercussions within Nigeria and in fact may ultimately have been counterproductive. So I’d love to hear what you have to say on that.
IBRAHIM: I mean, I was a young woman of 35 or so when she allegedly committed the offense of adultery. I mean, before she got into this was married and had four other children with her other husband.
She was convicted on two charges. She confessed that she committed adultery, she confessed; and she is pregnant without a husband. Now, I laugh at the second one because this is 2006, and science has (really defined ?) how a woman can become pregnant. (Laughter.) But anyway, that is the basis of her conviction.
I came in after I was told by a BBC reporter, Dan Isaacs, about Amina. And he told me in—(inaudible word). I was there for Safiya’s case. In the meantime, I have been involved with very many cases. Today I have 90 cases, nine zero. And I do them pro bono. And I do not have my (M.D. ?). I’m just a lawyer. So I just do my cases with my skills.
When Dan Isaacs told me about Amina, I told him, “But I think you heard about the cases.” He said, “No, no, it’s a new case.” But he said, “You are coming back to Abuja, so stop and see her.” And that was how I stopped in Amina’s village to see her. Amina’s village is called Kurami. And I met Amina and her mother, and the mother was very, very ill. I told her I could represent her. I come from the north, I speak Hausa as my first language, I recite the Koran, and I’m just coming from a similar case of Safiya, so I could help her because it’s a similar fact case.
She looked at me and was, like, “If you want to help me, you can. If you don’t want to, get out of here.” To me, she had resigned to her fate, to what has happened. This is what I finally found out subsequently, that she was, like, ready to die.
I came in as a lawyer. Incidentally, as I mentioned, she was ill, so I gave her my card. And her mother also was ill. And I said if she needed anything before the next appeal, I am going to the lower court to pick up the record of the court. “Contact me. This is my card.”
Remember, this is Amina, and this a summary of the 90 cases I have done. They are worthless. They are powerless. They are poor. And they are illiterate. And anybody that has this in him, you know, is very vulnerable. And that is a summary of the cases I have been involved in. And Amina falls under this category. She couldn’t read or write, but she took my card.
A couple of weeks after, she became ill and she came to Abuja, the city where I live currently. And she was looking for me. And a popular means of transportation is the motorbike. So she took the motorbike and went around. What is written on my card is “Area 2,” and they went to Area 11. So it was about couple of hours, she’s never been to this city, and so she went back to the public market and sat down and was crying and her baby was crying.
So a passerby thought they were looking for (help ?), so he wanted to give her money to help the child. And she said, “No, no, no, it’s not your money I want,” and she brought out my card. She said, “It’s this woman that gave me this card that I’m looking for.” So he took the card.
Luckily, there is a telephone number, and he called and he gave her the call and does not realize that she’s never handled a phone, because he was telling her, “Put the phone this way, put the phone that way.” I could hear his voice in the background. Then I said to him, “Please take the phone from her and tell me who she is.” Anyway, the long story was that that’s how Amina ended up in my house in Abuja.
Now, my husband believes I’m a crazy human being; and I believe him. (Laughter.) And he thought, you know, you are doing this very, very sensitive case, you can’t keep her in this house. But anyway, Amina ended up to be our guest for the 16 months we helped her in her case.
In court, we failed the first appeal, and that was when you had the Miss World pageant, where you have the beauty contest of Miss World, and they came—(inaudible). That was just immediately after we failed our first appeal. And they picked it up. I suppose that was where the publicity of Amina came from, and of course the international people and organizations that gave us publicity, which I am (not part of ?). I don’t know how it became that public. But there are worse cases than Amina’s cases.
In our first appeal, which is of a Shari’a court, we lost all the 15—(inaudible word)—arguments. And the summary of that is that the judge did not make reference to any single—(inaudible word)—argument, the judges. And my understanding at the end of the day is that it is either we didn’t communicate at all, or they didn’t understand what we are saying. And as you know, most of the judges in the Shari’a courts are illiterate. They cannot read or write. They can recite the Koran. So that is another huge drawback. So the likelihood was that they did not understand what our argument was.
COLEMAN: Can I just ask—that’s quite a remarkable statement, that they’re mostly illiterate. On what basis, then, are they judges in the court? Is it as religious leaders solely?
IBRAHIM: Okay. We should back up a little bit. The Shari’a law was introduced in 1999. The new criminal law was introduced into Shari’a. What we used to have was always a civil—it was a civil law matter under the Shari’a. And when it was introduced, offenses such as stoning to death, amputation, crucifixion, flogging when you take alcohol was part of what was introduced into the law. And we had, before the introduction, we had what we called the area court in the north, and in the south we had the customary courts. And (up to ?) today, under Section 277 of Nigerian Constitution, which gave jurisdiction so the Shari’a court of appeal has limited jurisdiction to civil matters—(inaudible)—no criminal matters. So also those (ones ?) in the training in the cases on the lower level were not going into anything that has to do with criminal law at all.
So what happened in 1999, after the introduction of this new law, only Shari’a court in the north became—area court in the north became Sharia’ courts. Now, what that means is that all the judges of this area court transmitted themselves from area court into criminal court with criminal jurisdiction. And now we think about training. Did they have the adequate training to do that?
Remember also that the laws have always been in English, they are still in English; and the language of the court is Hausa, the language of the victim is Hausa, so these are the challenges we find when we went to court. And I started these cases immediately after the introduction, which is 1999.
And our first challenge was to look at the law in English and to give it our own Hausa interpretation, and the Hausa—(inaudible)—which is a completely different way of saying things than in Hausa. So this was a huge challenge.
But of course, also the judges didn’t understand the Hausa we are speaking, because I would be coming with my Hausa from—(inaudible), and and the words I will say, like salute (ph) may not be salute (ph) in the—(inaudible). And salute (ph) is like, “Hi. Hello.” It may not be the same word in the—(inaudible).
So we had the problem of the training of the judges, which was completely absent at the point. I think what they did was to hurry them into Ahmadu Bello University. And Ahmadu Bello University has a department for Islamic studies, and they gave them a run-down training for six to eight weeks and then they sent them back to the courts. And a lot of them were supposed to have written in exams and passed, but our understanding is about 80 to 90 percent of them didn’t make the exam, but yet they came back.
And I want to say one of the questions that this case has raised was a question of separation of religion and state, the separation of powers. When you have the chief executive of the state, as the governor, he is also the head of the judiciary because he gives them instruction as to what to do. And I will tell you a lot of cases do that. And you have him also in control of the legislators because (he took ?) the law and overnight it was passed as Islamic law. This negates what you may know here in the West as separation of powers. And I think also back home it made little sense to have one person controlling all the instruments of power, which we saw happen in a lot of the cases I was involved with.
The other aspect of it that you asked earlier on was the role of the international community and the letters they wrote. Let me also extend that question to the role of the media. I think the role of the media is like a two-edged sword; they cut on both sides. Now, we have been confronted when we were doing the case with questions like, “What do you think about Islam versus the West?” What do you think about clash of civilizations?”
We don’t know. What we know is that there is a woman sentenced to death by stoning. And what we are there to offer is to use the rule of the law to go to the law court to say, “Apply this law. This is (our ?) law! Apply it!” That’s what we know.
A lot of the media will come with preconceived questions and answers, so they want us only to admit what they want to hear. Our strategy was never to tell them what they wanted to hear. Our strategy was to tell them what we wanted them to know.
But back up into the international community, I remember one of the things I have done quite often during some of these cases was that the European Union was very organized, the ambassadors in Nigeria. They have their own, like, a club. And they have to give out information to their headquarters, so a lot of the time they want to find out some stuff which is very, very important. We get a lot of information, but we must always (sift ?) that information, especially if it is coming from (some of our ?) communities. We must get second-hand, third information to just back it up.
So they were getting information from us and the court. And let me speak to what our challenges was—when I say us and the court, was that because the press was in Lagos and because maybe they do not understand a lot of what is happening, the likelihood is that—we go to the court where there is no telephone, nothing. The roads are not—hardly you can reach them. And by the time we come back, I will get on my e-mail what we have done in court completely opposite. So what we have found was that—reaction against us by the people in the north, and—(inaudible)—understand, so they complicate some of the problems which we had in court.
But this, of course, is the press. But on the other hand, the European Union was very good in trying to get a lot of good information from us that had been to court before they see what they will say. It was important that the language was carefully worded. We tried to avoid the use of the word “barbaric.” This hurts the north. It hurts the Muslim fundamentalists. And so we tried to tell them, “Please delete the word `barbaric’ in your statement; and any word that is harsh, try to put whatever statement you want to put within the context that it doesn’t blow up exactly what we are trying to cool down.
The United States was very, very good. I remember six senators went to Nigeria. Among them was the current minority leader of the Democratic Party, Senator Reid—(inaudible)—last year.
They went with their wives and they were very, very attentive, which is something that I think it’s a unique gift for people that can listen. And when you come to the north, listen, see what you didn’t see, and hear what you didn’t hear. (Inaudible.) Read in between the lines because a lot of women don’t say it. That is our nature. We don’t—we’re not that open to talk. But listen a lot if they speak, and then read between the lines of what they didn’t say.
But they were very good, the senators, and they asked very, very good questions. We were able to assist them. The U.S. ambassador then was Howard Jeter, and he was great. So he did participate. And I understand when they came here, they introduced a bill in the Senate, and it passed without problem.
Now let me speak about the other—(inaudible)—that we found it a bit challenging, which I think is normal.
During Safiya’s case—or during Bariya’s case, Bariya is a 13-year-old girl we defended. She was disabled. And during her case, I think there was a problem with the information, so a couple of ambassadors were called by the countries were they are designated, about 17 of them, and were questioned about this implementation of Shari’a in Nigeria. And I think there were—either withdrew or something happened. That was in 2000. And I remember visiting the governor of Zamfara State in a group with other people, and he told us very clearly, “If you turn the international community—(inaudible)—to me, how I run my state, you are making a huge mistake.” And it’s, like, let them get out of here. I’m not ready to take any international dictatorship in my state. This is my state. And I don’t like any interference.
And what happened with that case was that she was indeed flogged because she was given 180 floggings publicly, and she was allegedly, and I believe, raped.
It’s one of the saddest cases I’ve handled Bariya Ibrahim Magazu. But let me wrap it up so that we can have more input. Because whatever we have done, we had strategies, and each day we go to court we don’t apply the same strategy, we don’t apply the same tactics. And now with the information, the strategy is just bypassing—we understood the dynamic of the people, we understood the dynamic of Islamic law. We did understand the dynamic of the judges and the courts. We understood the dynamic of the society and the communities we are dealing with and we worked within those dynamics. All the (90 ?) cases I have been involved with, most of the achievement these cases were done within the Shari’a court system. We didn’t go out to look for any understanding of it. So we worked within those dynamics. We paid attention, very close attention to details, and in those details we became flexible.
I remember coming out of court and they were saying, “(Word inaudible)—of Islam! (Word inaudible)—of Islam.” We heard it. And I could tell you examples of what we’ve done with that. But we became flexible, and tried to understand and work within the same given situation. We were focused. We never lost our focus. We were accused of, they are women liberation movement. We are not. I’m just a lawyer. And I told you, when they get into the argument of trying to bring me in as a commentator, I make very clear I’m just a lawyer. We stayed focused.
Anytime we go to court—before I was a lawyer, I was a police detective, and then I was a prosecutor. So before I go to court, I argue first the case of the prosecution, and I prepare for the case of the prosecution. Before—I also prepare the case of the defense; I argue for the case of the defense. So we have a backup plan. We have a plan. We have a backup plan and we have a fall-back plan just in case.
We were thinking globally, but yet tried to act locally. We had people come from France and from Canada with some help, legally. They are called Lawyers Without Borders. We work with them very closely. We look at what has the United States done with cases of fair hearing? How did they argue it? What about United Nations? What about European Court of Human Rights? We get similar cases, and we think about it and look at it as lawyers on a global scale, but we try to bring down the argument on a local scale so that we can speak the language they understand and try to apply the language they understand.
Each time we come to court, we had a strategy, and the strategies are not the same.
COLEMAN: Thank you very much, Hauwa.
Let me—we’re going to take some questions now.
But could you just maybe briefly tell us how you see Shari’a, or broadly, Islamic law, evolving in Nigeria? Because you’ve mentioned a number of problems with—problems in how the judiciary within the Shari’a courts are trained or not trained, corruption in the courts. And also, just the broader issue of the constitutionality of Shari’a. And I know that’s something that you’ve been thinking and working on now, but maybe just briefly tell us how you see it fitting into Nigeria today. I know that when Shari’a was first implemented in 1999, it was very popular—very popularly received by the people as a way of combatting corruption and achieving justice. And yet, the way it has been implemented has not necessarily done that, and some elements of society have been disillusioned with its implementation. So maybe you could just briefly talk about how you see it fitting in.
IBRAHIM: My thought is that you do not fight Islam. You do not also fight fundamentalists. Kind of my way where I come from is engaging them. That is what we have tried to do. And I can give you a typical example of how I have worked within the fundamentalist setting, the practical way I did work within, which may not—you can use it in different ways now.
I told you that there is a lot of illiteracy and poverty. This has not been very helpful. So it’s easy to get what we call the al Majadres (ph). The al Majadre (sp) is the young boys under the age of 10. They usually go from street to street, and they are there in thousands and millions to give them a can of one liter of gas or petrol to go and put it in the church or to put it in a mosque or to put it anywhere, and lit the fire. And you pay them five dimes; at most, one dollar. It’s very easy because they cannot afford it. So it’s easy to get them to do a lot of the bidding of people that—who have the money to do the bidding.
Let me just back down and say—(inaudible). During Amina’s case, I had a lot of problem with fundamentalists calling for my head. And one of the things I used as a strategy was to go to the Saudi Arabian embassy—(inaudible)—imply anything here. Now, Saudi Arabia embassy was very important to us—and I forgot to mention it’s important to the north because we go to Mecca, to the hajj, very often, and that is the symbol of one has arrived in the north. So we wanted to have them to say a word on our behalf. We didn’t get it. I saw the ambassador. He was very, very kind and generous to see me. He made it very clear to me he’s a diplomat. We tried to discuss how we think he could help us. Later he tried, and I think he achieved something. And what we wanted from him is to have—to call those leaders—if the ambassador of Saudi Arabia called you to his residence for a meal or something, maybe it will be helpful. And then to talk with them how to implement some of these things in a way that is really in consonance with the Shari’a, with Islam, with Saudi Arabia. Maybe they will understand a little bit better than when the woman will speak. I think he was—to some extent he was helpful.
Is Shari’a constitutional? There are different arguments. It depends on who is arguing, from what angle they are arguing. Another question is why Shari’a—why 1999? Why do you want to stone a woman in 1999 or in 2006?
One argument on the side of why Shari’a is Section 4 of the Nigerian constitution made it very clear that the governor of a state can make laws for good governance for order and for peace of their state. And the governors say, “You know what? This is our state, and we are making laws that are for good governance, for peace and for order for the people who wanted it.” Section 38 said there shall be freedom of religion. So we have the freedom to practice the religion we want, so we are doing just that. So, please, we are within the constitution.
The argument on the other side is: No, no, no, you cannot have it because Section 10 of the same constitution said there shall be no state religion. Now remember, Section 1 of the constitution is also saying, any law that is not consistent with the provision of the constitution, to the extent of its inconsistency, that law shall be null and void. So because of that, if you introduce laws that are not consistent with the constitution, one, you degrade people by stoning them. That is not—(inaudible)—Section 1 the constitution. You can’t have that law.
So you have two arguments from the other side of the—everybody is holding on to his own argument. And there are much more sections people cite, legally and otherwise, who argue.
Now that is political argument. It’s political argument. If you know what? It’s a political Shari’a; it will fizzle out. On the other side will say, “Aha, you think it will fizzle out? You are not serious.” We are going have to—(inaudible)—say, “You know what? Go ahead. Do it, because this—(inaudible)—from the south. So we have to show him that it cannot fizzle out.”
And of course there is another argument. And the argument is globalization. How does it—how do we want it to creep into our value system and our culture? How must we keep what is our own in the Islamic world??
So these are some of the things that we find along the way, and I will just say, generally speaking, that these are the challenges.
Can we do something? Can we change anything?
I think we shouldn’t pretend that we can change anything, but we can play our part. And I wake up each morning to say, “I may not change the world. You know what? I can play my part.” As long as I am a lawyer, as long as I live, I’ll go to court. I’ll argue.
In November, nobody wanted to take up a case of going to the federal courts to challenge the constitutionality—not the constitutionality per se, because the case of Fatima and Ahmadu—they have already been discharged but not acquitted. And it’s another case of a couple sentenced to death by stoning which is still before the federal court.
So what we did was—on issues of law, we wanted the federal court to say something, and nobody wanted to do it. They told me very clearly, first, we cannot do it, and second, “We think now you are going overboard. Now we believe what people are saying about you. (We think you are ?) something else, crazy. So you can’t challenge, because if you challenge this, it means you are challenging the Shari’a.” And no federal court would make pronouncement on this area.
But I tried to do it. I went back. I tried to challenge. In that challenge, I tried to put the issues before the court. As you know, lawyers do not make laws, and we do not interpret laws. The court interprets, and the legislators make the laws in my country.
So what we did—what I did in November last year was to take issues of law before the federal court to say we want them to say something. But of course it has been adjourned, and as long as we live, we’ll still continue to go before the federal court to see whether we could work on that.
But let me say, finally, on this issue, is that the—Senegal is like beyond Nigeria. When we started it, we understood that Benin Republic wanted to find out from us, you know, if you succeed, why not try it? So also Cameroon. Of course Niger wanted to try it. Now remember, (it was our allied power ?) in West Africa, and they depend on us in a lot of things, economically and otherwise. I understand Mali—I was in a meeting with Malians, and they were, “If you don’t win the case of Amina, you are making us (lose ?) a lot of women.”
So it’s spreading. I was reading about Tanzania and a few other countries.
But the point I’m making is that we should try to understand it and to work with it. I have—did a project. (Inaudible)—play my part. And I took about a hundred sections of the 12 different laws that are either contradicting each other or they do not form part of the Shari’a, as in the Koran or in the hadith. So we took different sections of the 12 (Shari’a and hadith ?)—right now in Nigeria, 12 Shari’a penal code law—they are not up to 12; there are about six or seven—and we tried to extract the sections, and we are asking that those—they should be amended or they should be reformed. And this time I was called something else.
But this is one part of trying to work with (states ?) to ask for the reformation and to reform or review of the law. I think it’s important that we reform some of this section. Like I was saying earlier, a woman can become pregnant now without a husband. I heard it here in the United States, and I think some parts of the European countries, too, you know—you have woman having—pregnant without husband. And if that is true, then I do not think that should stand.
Another thing, I think, with the Shari’a and with the fundamentalists—and I’ll end up with the story of my experience with how I work within the fundamentalists. (That is ?)—and it’s a practical (thing ?) that has happened to me.
I was interviewed by a BBC reporter, and the question was, is stoning to death in the Koran? And my answer is, I do not think so. And it was played on the radio, which is a popular means of communication in the north, radio. It was played and played and played.
So the fundamentalists answered me, and they say, “She’s anti-Shari’a. She’s anti-Islam.” This is very strong. That’s blasphemous, to be anti-Shari’a. And that could mean death.
So I called a reporter, and I said to him, “Omar, I want to see the mullahs.” And he said to me, “You can’t do that. Your heard what they said on the radio. If you don’t, please ask people about what they think. So you don’t try that.”
And I pleaded with him to please introduce me, because he interviewed the same mullahs, to please introduce me to the mullahs. And he was like “No, I won’t do that. I won’t be responsible for you.”
But after a lot of pleading, he said, “Okay, I will do that, but I will not be responsible for you.”
They decided to see me in a mosque. Now I am covered the way I am, but I am not well-covered to be before the mullahs. So I was completely covered, with my hands on the—inside of gloves. And it’s a very hot place, too. But I wanted to show deference. I wanted to show respect to the system, to my culture.
I made—I went into the mosque. There were eight of them sitting at the end of the mosque. And I walked in—halfway into the mosque, there was a chair by the side of the hall, and they beckoned me to sit on the chair. And I did not sit on the chair. I walked to them.
Approaching them, I knelt down on the floor, and I sat down. And there was a total chorus: “No, you can’t sit on the floor! Sit down on that chair!”
Now the culture does not allow me to look at their faces. So I was always looking on the floor. And I said to them, “How can I, your daughter, sit on a chair when you, my fathers, are sitting on the chair?” And they were like “Are you the lawyer?” (Laughter.) “Are you Hauwa Ibrahim?” Always looking on the floor, I said to them—I said, “As you please, yes, I am.”
And they said, “Oh, you didn’t forget your cultures.” And I said, “Mm-mm.” (Negative.)
“You did not forget your values.” I said, “Mm-mm.” (Negative.)
But remember, I went to them because of a BBC interview. I did not make any reference to that interview whatsoever. I told them I’m a foolish lawyer, I’m a stupid lawyer, I really do not know what I am doing, but I think I want to do something for the people. I didn’t know how to do it (well ?). And it was coming from my heart. I want their wisdom, and I want their knowledge.
They listened to me. This is my dynamic. I don’t know your dynamic, but this is my dynamic.
They didn’t only listen; they accepted to take the photocopies of the cases I had brought with me. But they didn’t only take the photocopies; they prayed for me after our discussion, and they gave me a bigger Koran. They told me this before I left. They said, “We will not publicly support you, but we’ll also not publicly be against you.” That was all I needed. If I am secured, I could do the cases, and the security will come from their pronouncement and their ability not to be too harsh in it.
So I gave a lot of credence to them for allowing me to do the case in a lot of instances.
And I want to say that irrespective of the color of our skin, our creed, our religion, our sex, our gender, I always think there is a force that is very powerful, that unites us together. And that force is our humanity and our human dignity and the worth of our human presence.
For that, I cherish and I try to keep—in my practice as a lawyer, I put it on the table as the first thing I go for.
COLEMAN: Thank you.
If you’d like to ask a question, just get my attention. I’ll put your name on a list and I’ll take them in the order that I see them.
We’ll start with Jean (sp).
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Thanks. Thank you very much. It has been more than illuminating to hear from you.
I would like to follow up on really the last question that Isobel was raising, about where Nigeria might go from here. I mean, we know that in ‘99 the introduction of the criminal aspects of Shari’a came about through—for political reasons; that the initial activity surrounding its introduction in—(inaudible)—we don’t—there’s no need to go into it all. But there was a lot of politics in the initial introduction.
I know that for long—forever and certainly throughout colonial times and the times of the independence, up to 1999, Nigeria lived with Shari’a in its limited form that you’ve described, the civil law. Do you see any possibility that, were we to get past the turmoil that Nigeria is in now, that rises all over the country, for ways some will—for reasons that you’ve described in the north, and they are comparable in many other parts—if we were able to get past that and to a different political dispensation, a different group of leaders, a more comfortable polity with Nigeria’s political arrangements, that it would be possible to walk Shari’a back, to leave the criminal part of it aside?
And would people—the generality of people be content with a working criminal law that—and a system that dispensed justice separate from Shari’a—would that make it possible, then, to go back to a previous equilibrium, which, it seems to me, existed?
IBRAHIM: Where is shari’a going from here? I cannot predict. Can we walk Shari’a back, leaving the criminal part? I’m not sure. How can we get the separation—justice separate from Shari’a?
Now I can only try to discuss for you some of the situations, and before I do that—you know, I have two children. They are young children. And they are 4 and 9. And if you do something to them, they will tell you, “It’s not fair, Mommy. It’s not fair.” They know what is justice, in their own right. They know what is injustice in their own right??.
I have found out in a lot of these villages that I go—and I go to a lot of villages; this is where I really feel more comfortable—and handling some of these cases, I realize (by the day ?) that they know what is justice. I realize (by the day ?) that they know when they are not getting justice. And you know what? Those are my allies. The grass root is my allies.
So in the case of Safiya, for example, it was her brother that took her to court, because he is the secretary of the fundamentalist group in the village called the da’wa (sp). Okay?
Now when Safiya’s case was fresh, they brought the husband to this remote village. He’s the alleged man that impregnated her. And his name is Mohammed (sp). So Mohammed (sp) said he had only three times sexual intercourse with Safiya, and Safiya said, “No, no, it was four times.” (Inaudible)—it was very, very hot argument. He said, “Three times.” And she said, “Four times.” Okay. And we were there, but it was very, very fierce to them.
At the end of the day, they said, “Okay, go. You, “Mohammed (sp), take responsibility to take care of the daughter and maybe try to marry Safiya.”
After the meeting was finished, they went out, and the men went and told their friend the man, “If you ever say you know Safiya, you are no longer our friend. We are going to disown you.” You know, a lot of pressure was put on him.
And they took Safiya to court. She is a woman. She’s still a half human being under the law. She’s not a full human being, okay?
So she was taken before the courts. And he came and said, “I didn’t know her. I’ve never even seen her.” And of course Safiya was convicted to be stoned to death.
How did Mohammed (sp) become our ally? He was a legal witness of what was happening. He knew—he—when he took his sister, he was the one that was in the forefront. But he realized what was justice or no justice, whatever. And Mohammed (sp) stood with us—Mohammed is Safiya’s brother—stood with us from the beginning of the appeal to the last day of the appeal he was by our side. And we subsequently used him, in a good sense, to go back to some of the villages to try to advocate of what do you think is right. A lot of these legislators that left the villages were either selling vegetables or they are mechanics on the roadside. And tomorrow they are driving a car or they have added one (pretty more wife ?). Who is stealing who? What are they stealing from us?
So we want just to give them the awareness to take charge. We are not taking charge. We don’t even know their villages. But we must develop the grassroots ally to help in either understanding or dismissing this myth about the law of God.
Was that too long? (Laughs.)
QUESTIONER: (Off mike)—and I’m a lawyer here in New York. And I am so, so grateful that you are involved with the Muslim Lawyers Association of New York and you’ll be speaking—(off mike)—Bar Association tomorrow. I very much look forward to that.
And I wanted to ask you, you know, particularly as a Muslim civil rights lawyer, on the issue of really technicalities of Shari’a. I know when this case was going on, at the National Muslim Lawyers Association conference, Professor Azizah Hibri and—(name inaudible)—I don’t know if you—you must have heard of them—they spoke at length about this case. And one of the things that, you know, was very—as a Muslim, is very heartening to hear because of the—you know, like you said, that we all know our sense of justice. But also, but then as a lawyer what I was concerned about is that the implementation of some of these laws really rests on someone understanding or accepting some of the technicalities. Like, for example, you know, having the witness—(inaudible)—or those kinds of technicalities. And while I very, very much appreciate your respect and love of our culture and religion, and I really like the way that you’ve been able to respect those and to work within that, you know, I’m concerned that much of the discussion of these cases really boils down to a technical task, like, you know, this person is not guilty because of X, Y, Z, rather than—and while as a lawyer I can appreciate that, as a Muslim, that leaves me concerned.
So I was wondering if you could please address that issue.
IBRAHIM: There are five judges on appeals in the case of Amina, there are five judges sitting on appeals. Four of the judges held that Amina was not guilty so she should be discharged and acquitted. One of the judges said, “No, no, no. She must be stoned to death.”
I’ll tell you what my concern is as a lawyer, not the positive decision of the four, what I took—that is what I’m working on now at Yale—the decision of the dissent. And I’m trying to look into his reasoning and his argument, which is very solid.
Now, while you mention the technicalities, in some of the Islamic practices and implementation of the Shari’a, we mix a lot of culture and religion, which is not very helpful. We have about 19 major schools of thought in Islam, and not any of them are really the same when you look at it. We use the Maliki school of thought in Nigeria, and it is the Maliki that says stone the woman to death. But what Hanbali and Shafi’i and Hanafi—none of them states “stone her to death”—only Maliki says she’s stoned.
So my understanding, and I’m not an Islamic scholar, to work within the technicalities of the Shari’a was to use a simple—(inaudible). And I’ll give you this example of one of the technical points we brought, technical, but yet legal, within the hadith. The hadith is (subsidiary ?) legislation of the Koran, okay, like (subsidiary ?) legislation. We call it the (sleeping/slipping ?) embryo theory. Now, Maliki—this may sound stupid—sorry—the Maliki school of thought said the woman can be pregnant for a minimum of six months and she can be pregnant for a maximum of seven years, depending on which text you are reading. Now, if Amina was divorced from her husband within 12 months—in fact, she was 10 months divorced before she had the baby—we still used the same hadith of Maliki, we didn’t go outside. We said Maliki said she can be pregnant within six months or Maliki of seven years, and she was just—(inaudible). For the child could have been the product of the marriage of the divorce. So we still used the same hadith to argue the same case. We didn’t go outside of it.
You spoke about—(inaudible). I thought this is a test that it’s there to really ensure that some of these things do not happen, because truly speaking, when you look at the evidential proof, it is like it cannot happen, it cannot be. If they say four adult men—not women—must see the act of adultery very clearly, not the two parties are covering themselves, but they must be really open, open—four at the same time, not one seeing and they are going to call the other, “Come and see what is happened”—no, no, no, no, no. Four of them will see at the same time, and it must be like in a public square. (Inaudible)—like that is hard to prove.
But let me end up that question by also speaking about the judge on the court. The hadith—some of the hadith was very clear that a judge that will have to sit in judgment of a woman that is sentenced to death by stoning must be pure; the judge must clean, the judge must be a saint. I don’t know whether you have seen a saint lately. I have not seen one. So having that section of the law and punishment, and the law itself of the Shari’a in Nigeria is itself anti-Shari’a. That’s what I thought. If you do not have the sense to sit in judgment as a judge, you can’t have that (section ?) in—(inaudible)—Islam. That’s my thinking.
QUESTIONER: It’s good to see you again. We took the trek up to Yale last fall and had a great discussion with you and your colleague.
You know, if Shari’a wants to say that adultery is an offense, you know, I, as an American, really don’t have a problem with that as long as that’s what the Nigerians want. I mean, even in our own law, in the Uniform Code of Military Justice we say adultery is offense.
But you mentioned earlier in part of your comments about your concern for human rights, because we’re all human. Is there any kind of sense among the people of Nigeria that things like amputation and stoning are cruel and unusual and against a common belief in human rights? And is that another way that you could approach sort of trimming the edges of Shari’a to make it more acceptable, if you will, to write into the Nigerian constitution some sort of prohibition against human—cruel and unusual punishment?
IBRAHIM: You are right, I truly believe that there must be the six principles of law, when it comes to really principles of law should respect it when you apply whatever law. The law must be certain. In this case our laws are not certain. They say if you don’t have the interpretation in this area, you can look at any other law. So it’s not certain. Like I said—(inaudible)—try to be separation of religion and state. We must separate the powers. We must respect human dignity and human rights. We must make the law equal to the man and to the woman. When you say pregnancy alone is a conclusive proof of adultery, that is not equality before the law.
But some of these things for me fall into the realm of respect and protection of fundamental human rights. Do I want to use the word degrading, inhumane—I’ll be careful to use those words when I want to approach the mullahs. But—(inaudible)—look at the interpretations, I mean, if you take a woman put her—bury her in the ground, put her in—which today we do not have the procedural law, which is a very, very huge—(inaudible)—in what we do in the north in a lot of the states that we practice. There is not procedural legal law. So you have the law, like in Amina’s case, but we (don’t know how ?) to stone her, which is a huge problem. You say she should be stoned, how will she be stoned? There should be a law to that effect. So the law must really be clear—(inaudible).
Another approach, I think there are many, many approaches. One of the approach is to—hopefully the government will stop its conspiracy of silence and take action. And you know what, I do not (have secret briefing). But I know that most of the states that are implementing some of this law have foreign funding. I won’t go for that. I will pull the string that I want to pull to make whatever point I want to make if I’m an executive. But I think we should (share ?) some of the strings and see what string to pull, at what point to pull it. And if—(inaudible)—how do we use the international community to also make sure that some of these things do not escalate. So you can go into it more. You have the military background and maybe a little bit more information than I do in terms of a lot of—(inaudible)—that I don’t have opportunity to know.
But, you know, the government also has control of the instrument of—(inaudible). They have the security service, they have the police, they have the military, and they can (shoulder ?) a lot of this. We have a lot of—in the north you have a lot of mountains, a lot of bushes. And it has been alleged that there may be training camps. How much do we know about it? How much information do we want to know about it? But I always say use the local people, meaning let the local people themselves be actively involved and let them know that it is to their good that they are doing this to protect their generation yet unborn.
Now, if you allow a terrorist to—(inaudible)—fundamentally develop into something else, you endanger a lot of things, including a generation yet unborn. So let them—I realize that it benefits them in the long run to be sure that we do not have extremists grow into our system.
But on the other hand, with the international community I think there is a lot of responsibility. I spoke earlier on information, what do we use information for? When poverty eats deep into the system, you know you make a lot of people vulnerable. And I want to say this—I hope it is taken in good faith—you know, I come from a village, and when I was growing up we could hardly eat three square meals in my house. And I’m here. Very beautiful building. Where I’ve been in the United States for so long—I mean since August, but I was here in 2003, 2004 for a program at the American University. You have so much, so much intellectual, so much money, so much comfort. It’s very, very good. I don’t want—(inaudible)—about me—(inaudible)—when I talk about humanity on the table. What can I do? You cannot change the world. Each individual may not change the world, but what can I do to make it better? What part can I play in our excesses? It can be contribution of knowledge, it can be transmission of skills. But we cannot allow the gap to grow too wide. It’s not good for any of us ultimately. And I think this is another approach.
Economically, you have to try at the international community, not only the United States, but the international community in general. Is aid—not HIV/AIDS, aid, meaning giving money—is it sufficient? I think there are a lot of arguments to the effect that no, we must go beyond aid. We must allow them to be. And I think this is something we can explore from different paths, depending on our different fields, what can we do to make our humanity an agenda on the table without respect to the color of the skin, wherever you come from. For me this is another approach into assuring that we have a safe world for us and for our generation yet unborn.
QUESTIONER: I ask you this question in your role as a human rights lawyer. Charles Taylor has been in Nigeria since 2003, and requests to extradite him to the Special Court in Sierra Leone has not been answered. I wonder whether you have any comment about that, as a lawyer not as a politician?
IBRAHIM: I am ashamed as a lawyer to have him in my country. And having heard and having read—and it’s not been disputed so far—of the inhumane abuses perpetrated under his regime, I thought we should be active enough in handing him over for him to answer to some of these allegations. It’s the right thing to do. There has been a lot of effort by human rights organizations in Nigeria. I know that OSEWA (ph) is one group that has put together a huge argument on behalf of handing him over to the ICTR in Sierra Leone. And I think we should together, as an international community rise up to the government in Nigeria. Don’t stop. Whatever we have to pull—I used to use the word “string”—pull it, ensure that Nigeria complies with its international obligation. We are signatories of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights and a lot of other human rights instruments. I think we should not keep quiet—we should not be shy to tell Nigeria: Respect your obligations. Hand him over for trial.
QUESTIONER: (Off mike)—what you are talking about, strategy, that you would fight the kind of—(off mike)—particularly the story about going to the Saudi Arabian embassy, you know, asking (people ?) there to take—(off mike). And I was wondering to what extent do—(off mike)—officials or—(off mike)—influence shari’a or Islam more generally in Nigeria?
COLEMAN: And Helen, maybe I can just add to it. You made a reference to foreign influences, and I assume you mean Saudi Arabia. And I wonder if you could elaborate a little bit more on that particular point.
IBRAHIM: I do not have any evidence in—that Saudi Arabia is involved at all. So let me make it very clear. I only told you about what I did when I found out that it may be useful, and it turns out somehow to be useful.
And I was introduced to the ambassador of Saudi Arabia to Nigeria by the Swiss ambassador. And I asked him for an appointment, and he was like “(Get her away ?), Ibrahim,” you know. “I don’t need you to come.” And the Swiss ambassador pushed me on to him, so he decided to see me, and he was very kind and generous to see me two times.
I do not know what they have or what they do not have, but I am sure that with the instrument of states, one could know what money comes from where. I’m not in any way implying.
But as we all know, when you have money circulating, if you (don’t know how to de-circulate it ?), it could be quite a challenge. We have a lot of madrassa schools coming up. How are they sponsored? Is that with the state—government—federal government money from Nigeria? Where is the money coming from? Who are there—when they introduced the shari’a, which country became very active in pronouncing it?
So these are the things I would look into. And I have no answers to that.
Well, on talking about strategies, I told you about the strategies we use. Now if a case went to the court, the strategies were completely different. In fact, before I left Nigeria and came here, it’s not the same strategy; it made additional strategy. But when you work in an environment such as this, you have to be—try a lot—a lot is your creativity, is the ability to be innovative and enact a lot of situations on the ground.
When we were becoming disadvantaged in terms of they think our mouth is too big and we talk too much, we reduced talking and we changed the strategy.
And one other strategy I introduced in 2004 was to write to the courts. So I have this file for my latest—(inaudible). And I will write something like “On—(inaudible)—277, the jurisdiction of the shari’a court of appeal is limited to civil law, and I have this case before you.” I am the one that takes the case before them, okay? “I have this case before you, but I want you to guide me and support as—(inaudible)—before you.” You understand that?
Now I don’t want to adopt a procedure that I know may not fit in because they do not have a criminal jurisdiction. So I ask the court to help me get a correct procedure.
So I remember the judges called me one time in Niger state. It’s another state, next to Abuja. And they said to me, “What do you want?” And I said, “No, no, no, with respect, I just wrote this letter.” And they said, “Get this letter out of our court, and we don’t want to hear the case again. Just get out.”
So we have courts now that are really not—have one situation that’s—(inaudible)—and tell you, because of that, they did not want to hear.
But what does that mean to our cases? We have to change strategy. And I must—I will be careful not to say, because I’m on record here; otherwise, I will tell you all my strategy and I will lose out maybe at a point—but the truth is that we just have to understand the dynamics, I was saying, try to see how you can work always being creative, always have the ability to want to do good within the system. And so that’s all we do on a daily basis. We wake up to say, “We want to do this,” and hopefully good to the society, as lawyers and using the instrument of the law, to adhere to the respect of that law and its due process. And that is my passion, and that is also my life.
QUESTIONER: Yeah. You had—I have two questions. One is about the current line of cases and the other is about the cartoon.
With respect to the first one, the constitutional—the possibility of challenging the broadening of jurisdiction from civil to criminal under the constitution, is there any movement to bring a challenge of that kind? And is there, you know, any alternative, a possibility of amending the—of passing a constitutional amendment that would, you know, do what it can to retrench the jurisdiction?
My second question goes to your—the strategies and how you would apply your strategy to the issue of blasphemy and the cartoon crisis. You know, I hear your strategy—and correct me if I’m wrong—as protecting human rights but also showing respect. And the question is whether that’s—you know, how to do that here, how to protect freedom of speech, political freedoms, and also show respect to the religion. And so I was wondering, you know, on two fronts and those two questions.
IBRAHIM: There has been a suggestion about amendment of the constitution, so that you can expand the jurisdiction of the courts to entertain criminal cases. But of course there has also been—they call them the constitutional—no, not constitutional—Obasanjo’s regime put in like a constitutional review committee, something like that. I’m not sure of the name. But they had a couple of days—months of sitting, and I remember that the secretary—it was Father Matthew Kuka. And they were to discuss whether there should be a constitutional amendment, what area, because apart from the issue of shari’a and religion, there has been other areas that have been advocated for amendment in the current ‘99 constitution.
There has been great division, and one of them—both in the organization the president put and in the legislative houses, both the senate and the house of representatives in Nigeria—is that you know what? Maybe they are trying to do that because they are into shari’a. They want to remove—they want us to remove the death penalty—this is one issue, death penalty—because of shari’a.
So it’s more of legislative process, and as I was saying earlier, it’s is ability to read the grass root—let the grass root rise up. They are 80—70 percent—70, 80 percent of—a lot of our people are in the grass root, are in the area—are in the villages—is the ability to get them to rise up. But how can they rise up when they cannot read or write? So these are challenges we have to take one by one by one. And I think ultimately we should be able to get to that.
I want to talk about the cartoon and the blasphemy and freedom of speech. You know that Islam and state are the same. So when you argue—in a lot of places you will hear that you cannot (divorce ?) religion from state, so they are one and the same thing. If you are a Muslim, you’re a Muslim, and you have to respect all this.
So these are some of the challenges, I think, in Islamic countries that we should watch very closely.
But I like what is happening in Indonesia, and I also like referring to Indonesia, because Indonesia is quite unique. Even though it has the largest population of Muslims, they do not have shari’a. Shari’a is not the law of Indonesia. So I thought this is quite an interesting model.
And what I’m working on now is the best practices of Islamic states. And I hope to develop it into maybe a Ph.D. thesis.
And so I am—I would rather look that way as to moderate Islamic states that are practicing shari’a and to see how we could implement it globally, if it is possible.
With the cartoon and that freedom of speech, honestly speaking, I think it depends on different contexts in which you are speaking about it, different contexts. If you go to Denmark, they will tell you this is what their law says. Somebody will say something that, you know, in Denmark they have laws against blasphemy. You cannot blaspheme against (Jewish community ?). You cannot say, you know, anything that’s anti-Jewish or anti-Semitism, and also maybe Islam. So if you look at that aspect of it, where does the freedom of speech come into it? So I think we need to have more details, so that we can we be able to make informed opinion about it.
But for now, my thought is that people have gone to extreme, and I do not see how a cartoon should cause somebody to die. I mean, I cannot live with that. Somebody make a cartoon; you go and kill somebody.
This cartoon was done in Denmark; in the north, we never heard of it, but we have about 45 people killed there, a lot of people losing their homes and their churches and their mosques. What has cartoon got to do with that?
So I think—to some extent, I think we should be—we should try to create that understanding and be inclusive. And let us try to make the Muslim understand—and I saw it very clearly here.
I remember when I went back in 2004, and I was in a discussion, and people were saying America is anti-Islam. I said, “No, no, no, you don’t understand. I saw near the vice president’s house in Washington, D.C., there was a mosque. I even went there to pray.”
So if you need people to do this in between—and you are using us to do that; I mean, you are bringing us here, and we could be the better mouthpiece to go back to tell our people, “You know what? We saw it.” So it’s not storytelling. No, no, we saw it. I saw it. I prayed in a mosque. So you cannot be anti-Islam and still have the mosque and allow Muslims to pray. And there are Muslims here. I’ve met—yesterday I was at the Muslim Association of Yale University. I was speaking there in the evening. And it’s for us to bridge this understanding that, you know, we are not anti-—there are different things happening on different levels, political and otherwise.
So for me, it’s not apportioning blame, but how do we bridge this gap, if we can.
COLEMAN: We’ve got just a few minutes left. Can we—(inaudible)—had a question, Ellen (sp) and Adrienne (sp). Are there any others? Why don’t we just—(chuckles)—okay.
QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)
COLEMAN: Nada. Very quick questions, and we’ll do quick answers.
QUESTIONER: You touched on my question a little bit. Is there any interest on the part of the Nigerian judicial system to learn or study other countries’ judicial systems, whether shari’a or non-shari’a?
COLEMAN: And Adrienne (sp)?
QUESTIONER: Hauwa, just to thank you, that you’re an extraordinary testament to the power of one woman. And my question actually has to do with the broader organizations, movements and other individuals—women especially, but not only—in Nigeria who directly or indirectly support the kind of work that you’re doing. How many are there? Who are they?
QUESTIONER: I had a short question. What, in your opinion, is the feeling of Muslim women in Nigeria towards the shari’a? Do they—like the general feeling. Do they accept it, or would they like to change it if they have the power to do that?
QUESTIONER: Hello, Hauwa. My name is—(off mike). I’m going to be seeing you tomorrow, but I’m very happy to be here. I had a quick question. I wanted to know—one of the things I read about you was that you were the first female lawyer to address a shari’a court directly. And I wanted to know, just in the back of your head, was this always your intention, sort of to push forward what it was that was allowed within the courts, something that would affect other women lawyers coming up after you? Or is this just something that kind of happened?
COLEMAN: Was there another one? (Cross talk.) Oh, right. Nada.
QUESTIONER: My name is Nada Ali, and I’m the new African researcher at the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch. I would like to commend the work that you are doing. And I know that because of the nature of the cases that you are dealing with and the complexities, it’s very important that you work at this point maybe within the confines of shari’a.
However, I’m thinking about the case of Sudan here, for example, and in the north at present shari’a has been implemented by the state and shari’a had been there since 1983. And there is a very strong—a quite strong women’s movement which is composed of Muslim women who are arguing for, you know, secular law, CEDAW, implementation of, you know, international human rights conventions and so on.
Is the case different in Nigeria or not? Are there women’s groups that are working towards similar objectives? Thank you.
COLEMAN: Got it?
IBRAHIM: Yes. As you mentioned, I talk a little bit about the Nigerian judicial custom with respect to shari’a and non-shari’a?
IBRAHIM: You know, we have stayed with the shari’a for so long, in terms of Islamic (patterns ?) and laws. So laws that have to do with divorce, marriages, children, inheritance had always been administered in the north under the shari’a. Okay?
It’s just this new introduction of the criminal aspect of the law that we are having challenges with—how to go about it.
And now this caused a lot of questions, and I will just say briefly one or two questions. And if you want, we can discuss this farther.
Now if you look at the map of Nigeria, Bauchi state is neighbor with Plateau state. There are Muslims in Plateau state. There are Muslims in Bauchi state.
Now if you have—we—as it is now, there is shari’a in Bauchi, and there is no shari’a in Plateau state. And we are all Muslim. I mean, we are all Muslims. So how can you be a Muslim in Bauchi and a different law administered to you, and just in the next one—one minute away, you do not have shari’a law implement—administered to you, because there is no shari’a?
So I think these are challenges of the introduction that we have to face. Does it discriminate and among Muslims? Does it discriminate within the country’s constitution? We are supposed to be citizens—one citizen in the country. Does it discriminate among us? These are questions that have been raised by the introduction of the shari’a. And we can go on.
But my own thought is that it’s approach. Different people are doing different things. And I will come to the next question, which may be able to highlight what other NGOs are doing. Like I rightly pointed out earlier, I am not an NGO. I do not have one. I do not belong to one per se. So because of that, I don’t have structure to take funding; I don’t take funding.
And I saw yesterday there was an article in a Nigerian paper about me, and it—“She’s not taking money to destroy Islam” is the headline of a newspaper, which I thought was not—(chuckles)—was not properly quoted.
But I always make this point deliberately, because I have been approached many times by Islamic fundamentalists: “Who is paying you money to destroy Islam?” And because I want to walk with my shoulders very high, I tell them, “If you pay me money, anybody come and say it.” And that is why I do not—it’s not that I don’t need the money, because, as you know, 90 cases from 1999 to date is so much.
But 20 percent of my work is commercial law. I do commercial law. And I try to use my commercial law money to pay for my bills. I’m a totally contented human being. I don’t care about so much good dressing or jewelry. No, I’m not that person. So because I have inner contentment, money means nothing to me. If it’s not used to make good to some extent, I don’t care so much about it. But somehow I pick off my bills with the 20 percent of the work I do.
But there are NGOs that are into it, that take money—indeed, even government; indeed, even the 12 shari’a states government take Western money. They take money for HIV/AIDS. They take money for the Millennium Development Goal of the United Nations. They take money for all sorts of (things ?). So there’s a bit of hypocrisy at times in the system. I think, as time goes on, together we will address it.
But there are NGOs doing different things, and there are also NGOs in competition and in trying to recognize, so that they can have more money and less and money and whatever.
So—but for me, it’s not my concern. My concern is how do we together—if all—we stand together, we’ll be stronger to continue with the movement forward to ensuring protection of human rights in our constituency.
When you ask who are they, I know there is BAOBAB in Lagos. That has been working under Islamic law, Muslim women living under Islamic law. They have—they’ve been there for quite some time. They are based in Lagos, but they have some kind of roots in some other parts in Nigeria. There is RAPA (sp). RAPA (sp) is based in Abuja. But they are doing some good work around. And in fact, they are part of Amina Lawal’s team.
As you know, the NGOs in the north started just about 10 years ago—10, 15 years ago. It has always been in the south. So we are just waking up to the fact that we will have NGOs.
We had what they called the community association in the villages. And I had worked as a consultant for the United Nations Development Project, and I found the community development—community association in the villages very useful because, for me, they have issued—as they as a community, they deal with—and when I speak about grass root, this are people that I will go for. I will be careful to go to Lagos, to some extent. And this is a little bit of my experience; it’s not maybe true all the way through. But when you have an NGO that spends 80 or 90 percent on overhead and 10 percent on projects, I’ll be careful not to give my funds to that. So I would rather go to the grass root, if there is any means of reaching them, to make the difference right on the bottom.
But of course we need those ones in the city, because they know how to confront some things in the city. So we need ourselves to balance ourselves and to move forward.
Our feeling of—
COLEMAN: A few more minutes.
IBRAHIM: Okay. Two, feeling of Muslim women toward the shari’a—and I just use the example of my older sister. My older sister I used to think is moderate, but I remember she made it very clear to me that I’m anti-my values and I’m anti-my culture. That is how our mother brought us up. She didn’t bring us up to defend prostitutes. And if—some of you that have read some papers in Ethiopia, I was referred as an adulteress lawyer. So you know, people think you defend prostitutes. And my sister was very clear about it. She’s older. And she said, “Our mother didn’t bring us up to defend prostitutes. I mean, for you to do that, what you are doing—so you are anti-our values.”
So you have strong reaction against some of the work we do, especially from some Muslim women in the north that feels that this is our value, it’s not our value. It’s unlike the south, where you have a lot of women raising their children by themselves. They have children out of wedlock. As you know, there is no shari’a in the southern part of Nigeria. And there has never been one, because even before 1999 we have adultery in the northern penal code, and there has never been any in the southern criminal code.
So you have the women in the south having children without husbands, and they raise them, and they are not committing adultery. But in the north it has not been the same. So our cultural values up to today does not accept that the woman has a child out of wedlock.
And one of what I do when I go to the villages is this. The first thing I will tell when I enter—and when we’re greeted, they give me water to drink—is to say very clearly that I’m not here because what the girl did was right. I’m not here to say that if she had a child out of wedlock, it’s correct. That (isn’t ?) why I’m there for. I’m there because I think she didn’t get justice.
So it’s very important that we understand some of this basic things, where we come from, and it helps us a lot in moving forward. So we have different—and we have a few people that still think we are doing something—(but ?) I think the important thing is for us to do something—(watch ?).
First woman lawyer to address shari’a court. You know, I heard about it. I’m not very sure, because there are over 70 million people in the north, as you know. And I cannot say I know everything about the north, so I’m not sure. But to the best of my knowledge, when this criminal shari’a started and I stood up to speak, they just asked me to sit down. And it was very clear that I was to sit down because there was a man. He said it very clearly. “Let the man speak.” It was “Sit down.” Even though the man is my junior and under the common law system, I’m supposed to address the court, introduce my junior, but it’s not accepted.
So over the time—and I could give you examples after—somehow I impose myself, but I have to be careful, at what point I impose myself, that I do not lose the ears of the court or lose the attention of the court as to the important cases we are doing. So my seniority becomes less than the issues that were beforehand.
And I’m not the first woman lawyer from the north. There are many, many lawyers before me. But as it is now, we have very, very few practicing female lawyers in the north. And if you know a little bit about Nigeria, you know that very few chambers—when we are looking for just sites, we couldn’t get city, we couldn’t get—on the second one, we got up to my legal (firm ?)—it was the wife of the chief justice of Nigeria, and she said she wasn’t part of it because of her husband’s position. So these are difficult to help in the north. Not many female lawyers practicing—they become lawyers, but they are more of wives than practicing. So it’s a challenge, and I think we’ll come out of it soon.
Sudan, shari’a, woman movement—you know, some of the cases we use, even though they are never of a binding nature—(our past situation ?) was from Sudan. As you know, our penal code from the north comes partly from the Sudan and from India and from Pakistan. And we’ve relied on you in Sudan for some issues that have to do with how you are able to interpret laws in different courts.
Do we have movements like what you have in Sudan in terms of coming together on women’s issues, a movement with respect to arguing for laws? My thinking is that maybe there are some that we don’t know. Maybe there are. And maybe there is one or two. But within the dynamic, you cannot come out as a woman within the north now to make so much noise, because it’s really—and you expose yourself so much.
So I think some of the movements, if there is any—but what we—some of us are doing is to ensure that the education for changing the legal system comes from this community-based association organization, which unfortunately has been taken over by the politicians. So the politicians are in control of a lot of it, because they pay them money now. So instead of them to be doing the community development, we have this challenge of some of them, if not most of them, being taken over—politicians.
But it’s not hopeless. And like I said, it’s such a huge constituency that I cannot sit here and tell you that I know everything. I am positive other things is happening elsewhere, and we just need to get ourselves together and move together as a movement.
And I truly, truly thank you for your attention. Thank you so very much. (Applause.)
COLEMAN: Hauwa, I know that if I ever find myself hauled into a shari’a court, I know who I want beside me. (Laughter.)
Hauwa, thank you very much. Thank you.
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