01 Nov 2002 Stoning Death Sentence Creates a Nigerian Nightmare, by Kimberley Jane Wilson
Amina Lawal is going to die.
Amina is the 30-year-old Nigerian woman sentenced to death by stoning. Her unforgivable “crime” was to have a baby out of wedlock. Her lawyers hint the pregnancy may be the result of a rape, but the baby’s father faces no rape or adultery charges. Sharia (Islamic) law says either he must confess (unlikely, under the circumstances) or four men must testify against him. So far, no one has stepped forward.
The Regional Court in Katsina State, Nigeria (where Amina lives) has ruled that as soon as her eight-month-old baby girl – Wasila – is weaned, Amina is to be taken to a public place. There, she will be buried in the dirt up to her chest and struck with stones until she dies.
The governor of Katsina will not interfere with the court’s decision. Olusegun Obasanjo, the president of Nigeria, has said he will “weep for Amina and for Nigeria” if the sentence is carried out. Obasanjo, however, won’t do anything to stop it.
A college professor friend of mine shrugged when I told him this story. He said, “It’s disgusting, but that is those people’s culture.” My professor friend is wrong.
No Nigerian has ever been stoned in the past. Amina Lawal lives in northern Nigeria, which is now dominated by Muslims. The southern half is largely Christian. Sharia law was first introduced in the Nigerian state of Zamfara, and has spread to nine other states. Why has harsh Sharia law been embraced in so many parts of the country? Nigeria is under enormous internal pressure. Although it is blessed with numerous natural resources, decades of national strife has made it impossible for most of the population to benefit from them.
According to the U.S. State Department, Nigeria suffers from frequent outbreaks of inter-ethnic and religious violence. It has a very high rate of crime, and it’s common for tourists to be victimized by robbery, extortion, carjackings and kidnappings. Public transportation and driving at night are considered dangerous – even taking a cab puts you at risk. Sharia promises an end to all that. According to supporters, crime has gone down in the nine states that use it.
Because of this, there are Nigerians who believe that Amina Lawal’s life is a small price to pay for peace in the streets.
Amnesty International launched a worldwide campaign to keep Amina’s story in the news and save her life. So far, over 1.3 million people have signed an Internet petition asking that she be spared. Several contestants in the Miss World beauty pageant say they will not attend the pageant if it is held in Nigeria. Leaders of several countries have also made appeals to the Nigerian government on her behalf. Until Oprah Winfrey discussed the case on her show recently, most Americans knew little about it.
It’s strange that the very people here in the United States you would expect to come racing to Amina’s defense have largely ignored her. Where are America’s feminists? This is tailor-made cause for them. Instead of fighting for this poor, terrified African woman, their main concern right now is to force the Augusta Golf Club to accept a few rich women as members.
Jesse Jackson has spent a lot of time in Africa and Al Sharpton’s “fact-finding” trip to Sudan was not that long ago. Yet both are silent on Amina’s plight. Randall Robinson’s group, TransAfrica, along with the NAACP and several other black American organizations, were especially active in the crusade to free Nelson Mandela and the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa. Where are these groups now? I guess the hideous torture of a black woman only really matters if the torturer is white.
Unless something is done, Baby Wasila’s mother will be dragged away after the child is finished nursing, and cheering spectators will watch as a shower of rocks ends the mother’s short, sad life. This brutal execution will happen before the horrified eyes of the world. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is technically a democracy. If Amina Lawal – and who knows how many women after her – is to be stoned to death, then that democratic status will be nothing but a farce.