Case dropped against suspects accused of student’s murder

A criminal case involving two suspects arrested in connection with the killing of Deborah Samuel, a female student at Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto State, Nigeria, has been struck from the roll for lack of diligent prosecution and the absence of the police prosecutor in court on several occasions.

University World News had earlier reported that Samuel, a Christian and second-year economics student at the college, was stoned and set ablaze by co-students, who are Muslim, for sending a voice note alleged to be blasphemous against the Prophet Muhammad.

Two suspects – Bilyaminu Aliyu and Aminu Hukunchi – were arraigned by the police on 16 May 2022 at the Magistrate’s Court, Gwiwa in Sokoto for “criminal conspiracy and inciting public disturbance”, but the state (police) allegedly failed to properly prosecute the matter.

A certified true copy of the court ruling dated 30 January, 2023 was recently leaked, indicating that the presiding magistrate, Shuaibu Ahmad, “granted” the request by the defence counsel, MB Abdallah, “for the matter to be struck out”.

Abdallah had complained that the prosecutor, Inspector Khalid Musa, was “conspicuously absent” on the date set for the hearing and asked the court if he gave any reasons for his absence, a local online medium, FIJ, reported.

“The prosecution did not send any correspondence or any reason to the court to explain why he is absent and he is duly aware of today’s date,” the registrar replied.

Abdallah also informed the court that Musa was absent from court on 29 December 2022 and that, since the defendants were arraigned, there was never a time they failed to appear in court for trial.

“But on the contrary, the prosecution [police] are always absent, and [when] they are present, they are always not serious in prosecuting this case,” he added.

Student union, rights activists knock state

Reacting to the judgment, Aminu Habibu , the president of the National Association of Nigeria Colleges of Education Students, questioned the police’s interest in the case and demanded that the case should be revisited to ensure the perpetrators face justice.

“Our position has always remained the same – justice should be served diligently. Even if the blasphemy happens, there is a constituted authority to handle that. If the police have any interest in this case, they should tell us what it is.

“We also believe that, if the prosecutor refused to show up in court, the magistrate could have summoned him or even the commissioner of police of the state where the incident happened. We are demanding that the case should be revisited and the suspects brought to book,” he told University World News.

Malachy Ugwummadu, a former national president of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, said the suspects were only discharged and not acquitted, lamenting that the police have become an accomplice in the matter by doing a shoddy job and frustrating the trial.

He noted that the mob deprived Samuel of her right to a fair hearing as enshrined in Section 36 (1) of the Nigerian constitution, insisting that the mob’s crime was unpardonable and unacceptable.

Ugwummadu said: “No matter how grievous an offence is, if you are unable as a prosecuting officer to prosecute beyond reasonable doubt, the judge will have no option but to strike it out. But the case must be revisited. The police should amend the charge and re-arraign the suspects for proper prosecution.

“They should ensure that enough evidence is gathered because, if they don’t prosecute the suspects, it will mean a stamp of approval by the state.

“When the state leaves a matter as grievous as this hanging in the air without a conclusive determination which includes trial, conviction and sentencing, it is a tacit approval that people can hang their fellow human beings in the name of blasphemy.”

Toyin Ndidi Taiwo-Ojo, a human rights lawyer, accused the government of handling the case with kid gloves and emboldening the perpetrators who gloated over their action in the video showing the lynching.

“The attorney-general of Sokoto State should, as a matter of urgency, issue a legal advice and ensure that the perpetrators are rearrested and charged with witnesses being in court. It is the duty of the government to ensure that witnesses in a crime against the state are in court. If it means they have to be subpoenaed, the government should do so.

“Although, lawyers and individuals can apply to get fiat to prosecute criminal cases, the tradition in Nigeria is that it is the government that prosecutes criminal cases. So, when individuals in this kind of case want to take a fiat, they will unwittingly set themselves up for attacks by those who do not see it (the killing) as a crime.

“It is the place of the government to insist that a crime has been committed and no matter who is involved, the prosecution must be done,” she said.