A federal court in Kano has dismissed an appeal by a singer battling a religious ruling that he should be sentenced to death over blasphemy.
This is the first time that a federal court in Nigeria rules on whether or not Islamic sharia law is consistent with the secular country’s constitution.
Northern states in Nigeria have sharia courts that operate alongside common law.
The case goes back to August 2020 when a sharia court in Kano ordered singer Yahaya Aminu Sharif’s death by hanging for expressions considered derogatory against the Prophet Mohammed.
The singer appealed his conviction.
In January 2021, the Kano state high court quashed the death sentence but ordered a retrial before the Kano state upper sharia court.
Sharif’s lawyers appealed that verdict, arguing he should not be retried by another religious court.
But on Wednesday, the federal court in Kano dismissed that appeal.
“Sharia law is constitutional… The attempt by the appellants to prove the illegality of sharia law is therefore unfounded,” said judge Abubakar Mu’azu Lamido, in a 17-minute judgement read via Zoom.
“The appeal lacks merit, and the case is hereby dismissed.”
Two out of three judges backed the order for a retrial at the religious court, but the third dissented.
Sharif’s lawyer, Kola Alapinni, said the singer would appeal that ruling at the supreme court.
“It’s safe to say that we will go to the supreme court,” Alapinni told AFP.
The singer was accused of insulting the prophet in a song he shared online, which caused riots in the city.
Mobs burnt his family home and took to the streets demanding prosecution, leading to his arrest.
Sharif belongs to a branch of the Tijaniyya Sufi order, whose beliefs are considered heretical by some because of their interpretation of some basic Islamic principles.
Sharif’s conviction is the second death sentence to be handed down for blasphemy since a stricter version of sharia law was introduced in the early 2000s.
A Kano sharia court sentenced Abdul Nyass, a Sufi Muslim cleric, to death in 2015 for making blasphemous statements against the prophet.
Sharif and Nyass belong to the same branch of the Tijaniyya Sufi order.