Three groups — Make A Difference (MAD), the Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA), and the Society for Civic Education and Gender Equity (SOCEGE) — have faulted the judgment of Justice Yusuf Halilu of the Abuja High Court, which convicted Maryam Sanda for the death of her husband.
While MAD accused Justice Halilu of failing ‘to diligently follow the letters and process of the law in reaching a decision to convict Ms Sanda, HURIWA and SOCEGE said the verdict was faulty because it was ‘based on circumstantial evidence’.
In a statement, the Director of Communication and Advocacy of MAD, Lemmy Ughegbe, said “the judge committed a fatal blunder when he failed to consider the preliminary objection and rule on it one way or the other before delivering his judgment.”
Mr Ughegbe added, “I have studied the 110-page judgment of Justice Halilu and it is crystal clear that the judge failed to rule on the preliminary objection one way or the other.
“Based on the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, Justice Halilu had upon hearing the preliminary objection announced that he would go ahead with the trial and when it was all done, he would rule on the objection and its success or failure would determine whether or not to proceed to deliver a judgment.”
“It is trite that when issues of competence of a charge and jurisdiction of a court are raised, the court must dispense with that issue one way or the other. This judge misdirected himself by not considering and ruling on these issues raised and it is settled law that however elegant a proceeding or a judgment is, it becomes invalid, null and void in that circumstance.”
Also speaking on the matter at a press conference in Abuja, the National Coordinator of HURIWA, Emmanuel Onwubiko and his counterpart in SOCEGE, Mary Aniefuna, said the charge of murder and culpable homicide against Ms Sanda was not proven beyond reasonable doubt.
They added, “It is curious why a judge would trifle with an offence of culpable homicide, which attracts death by choosing to draw conclusions of guilt of Maryam Sanda based on hearsay.
“No witness testified to seeing Maryam stabbing her husband, no murder weapon was tendered by the police in evidence, no confessional statement was made by Maryam or anyone else for that matter and no two of the six Police witnesses corroborated each other’s testimonies to the effect that Maryam killed Bilyaminu.
“This is not the position of the law. The law is that no person shall be convicted for the offence of murder, which attracts capital punishment based on circumstantial evidence.
“In fact, it was the evidence of all the Police Witnesses that none of them knew exactly what and who killed Bilyaminu. However, PW 1 (Ibrahim Mohammed) and Maryam (Sanda) agreed that she had a serious quarrel / fight with Bilyaminu, whom he took a knife from three times when she wielded it against her husband. In his evidence, he did not say on any of the three occasions he took the knives from Maryam, he got cut.
“Yes, she was jealous, yes, she was angry. But if she did not hurt PW1, who is her husband’s friend when he got the knife from her on three occasions, how could she have planned to hurt her beloved husband.
“It is our unequivocal view that Justice Halilu breached the letters and process of the law in reaching a decision to convict Maryam Sanda on the charge of taking her husband’s life. Maryam had filed a preliminary objection, challenging the competence of the charge and the jurisdiction of the court to try her, but the judge misdirected himself by refusing to even deliver a ruling. Instead, he treated Maryam’s preliminary objection with disregard and proceeded to deliver his judgment.
“This action by the judge has denied the judgment of any legitimacy because it is tantamount to abuse of due and lawful process. If properly weighed, that decision to ignore Maryam’s objection shows prejudicial sentiments and bias of the judge against Maryam and amounts to her being denied her constitutional right to fair hearing.”
Some lawyers had days after the conviction spoken to PREMIUM TIMES on the legal options available to Ms Sanda, a woman found guilty of stabbing her husband to death with a kitchen knife.
The conviction also brought to the fore the argument over the death penalty in Nigeria as punishment for capital offences such as murder, culpable homicide and kidnapping.
While many perceived the judgment of Justice Halilu as ‘harsh’, others believe it is well deserved.
But the convict can still appeal her conviction, according to Nigeria’s constitution. This has raised the question of whether she will get a softer landing at appeal as well as the various options left for her lawyers to explore.