Nigerian prosecutors want a 14-year-old girl sentenced to death for allegedly murdering her 35-year-old husband and his friends by putting rat poison in their food.
The 14-year-old suspect Wasila Tasi’u, who hails from a poor northern Nigeria family, was forced to marry 35-year-old Umaru Sani in April. During the small wedding which took place at Unguwar Yansoro village, at Gaya LGA near the city of Kano, the reluctant bride allegedly slipped rat poison into a rice dish that was eaten by the groom and some of his friends.
Prosecutors at the High Court in Gezawa, outside Kano filed an amended complaint that charged Tasi’u with one count of murder over the killing of Sani two weeks after their wedding.
According to lead prosecutor, Lamido Abba Soron-Dinki, if Wasila can be proven guilty, the charge is “punishable with death” and the state would seek the maximum penalty.
The charges written in English-language was translated into Hausa for the accused by the court clerk, but she refused to answer when asked if she understood the charges.
Judge Mohammed Yahaya adjourned the case for 30 minutes so that the charges could be better explained to the defendant, who remained silent and broke down in tears when the charges were read again upon resumption of the proceeding.
“The court records (that) she pleads not guilty,” said Yahaya, as Wasila remained silent.
He adjourned the case until November 26.
With the case generating controversy in different quarters and several activists blaming the parents for forcing the teenager into marrying early, the affected families have denied that Wasila was forced into marriage, arguing that girls across the impoverished region marry at 14 and that Tasi’u and Sani followed the traditional system of courtship.
The law may not play in Wasila’s favour as her parents seem certain to stand by their position that she was not forced into marrying Umar. According to Nigeria’s marriage act, anyone under 21 can marry provided they have parental consent.
Defence lawyer Hussaina Aliyu however maintained that under criminal law, a 14-year-old cannot be charged with murder in a high court. She has therefore demanded that the case be moved to a juvenile court.
The police had said Wasila confessed to committing the crime and said she did it because she was forced to marry a man she did not love.
Child marriage is common in Nigeria’s North, with several elites also indulging in a practice they claim is in line with the Sharia law. Aljazeera in 2010 reported that Senator Sani Ahmed Yerima paid $100,000 as dowry for a 13-year-old Egyptian girl.
“The Prophet Mohammed married at the age of nine, therefore any Muslim who marries a girl of nine years and above, is following the teachings of the Prophet,” Yerima told Al Jazeera at the time.
“If there’s anybody who’ll tell me that what you did contradicts Islam, I ‘ll submit – and I’ll do whatever they ask me to do.”