Blasphemy Killing: Kano govt won’t explain why suspects in Bridget Agbahime’s murder were freed

Six weeks after setting free all the ‘prime’ suspects nabbed in connection to the gruesome murder of Bridget Agbahime, the Kano State Government has refused to give any useful explanation for its action.

Five suspects arraigned on Friday, June 10, 2016, in Kano over the killing of 74-year-old Bridget Agbahime for alleged blasphemy. Credit: Mohammed Kabir.
Five suspects arraigned on Friday, June 10, 2016, in Kano over the killing of 74-year-old Bridget Agbahime for alleged blasphemy.

Several efforts by PREMIUM TIMES within this period to obtain information from the Abdullahi Ganduje administration were frustrated.

Accused by a mob of committing blasphemy against Islam, Mrs. Agbahime, 74, was murdered in broad daylight in downtown Kano on June 2.

The murder, which took place at Kofar Wambai Market, cut deep into Nigeria’s religious and tribal fault lines.

It was roundly condemned by President Muhammadu Buhari and the Sultan of Sokoto; both of whom urged an urgent and diligent investigation by concerned authorities.

On June 4, Mr. Ganduje announced the arrest of one Dauda Ahmad as a ‘prime’ suspect in the murder, which helped douse sectarian tensions that were brewing at the time.

Mr. Ganduje, who announced the arrest at a meeting with a delegate of Christian leaders in the state, promised a thorough prosecution of anyone charged in connection to the murder.

On June 10, the police arraigned five suspects, including Mr. Ahmad, before a Chief Magistrate’s Court in Kano.

The remaining four were: Abdullahi Mustapha, Zubairu Abubakar, Abdullahi Abubakar and Musa Abdullahi.

They were all charged with four counts of incitement, culpable homicide and mischief, based on sections 144, 80, 51 and 327 of the state penal code. If convicted, the offences could attract a death penalty.

At the opening of the trial, state prosecutor, Dauda Jibrin, submitted to the trial judge that Mr. Ahmad led his alleged accomplices to confront Mrs. Agbahime.

After slapping her several times while chanting ‘Allahu Akbar,’ the suspects then started hitting her with sticks, causing bruises and other bodily injuries to her until she struggled to death, Mr. Jibrin said.

Mr. Jibrin, who was representing the Kano State Attorney-General, Haruna Falali, told the court that even more suspects were at large.

He identified them as: Salawiyu, Ibrahim, Dini, Isiyaku Mada, Mallam Sani and Yunusa Sufi.

Shortly after the suspects were arraigned, the police transferred all the case files to Mr. Falali’s office for legal advice and continued prosecution.

But on November 3, Mr. Falali abruptly withdrew the case and asked the court to discharge all suspects.

Mr. Falali said he discharged them because there was “no case to answer as the suspects are all innocent.” He ordered the court to “discharge all the suspects.”

The announcement sparked a nationwide outrage, with the Christian Association of Nigeria describing it as “highly provocative and insulting act on our collective sensitivities as a democratic nation.”

But efforts by PREMIUM TIMES to get the Kano State Government to give further explanation about its action were rebuffed.

Questions such as who the state believed was responsible for the act since those it initially described as ‘prime’ suspects had been freed, why it failed to move the matter to a high court for prosecution after several months —since the Magistrate Court can not try capital offences— and how it arrived at the decision to exonerate the suspects were left unanswered.

Mike Agbahime, Bridget’s husband, said he identified all the five suspects arraigned in connection to the murder of his wife.

“Yes, I know all of them.  Even at the police station, I identified all of them. All of us were in the same market (some of them in the same line),” he told The Punch in an interview last month.

When contacted, Mr. Falali told PREMIUM TIMES that he won’t be able to comment on the matter due to its sensitivity.

The Commissioner for Information, Muhammad Garba, also declined to comment on the matter despite repeated enquiries from this newspaper.

The Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Salihu Tanko-Yakasai, also declined comments, saying he could not obtain any information from the Attorney-General.

But some officials of the administration who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES on the condition of anonymity blamed Mr. Falali for the withdrawal.

One source said Mr. Falali was determined to hush up the case out of bias even though he was warned not to do so but to charge it to the high court in Kano instead.

“He had made up his mind to silence the case which is the reason he withdrew it when the governor travelled to Cairo,” one official said. “His action will do a lot of damage to this government.”

Mr. Falali declined PREMIUM TIMES’ request for his reaction to the allegations from his cabinet colleagues.

Another source said the governor had not been able to compel Mr. Falali for further explanation because he had been too busy.

“The governor has been very busy and I am sure that must have been the reason he could not force the attorney-general to give Nigerians and the world any explanation,” the source said. “I know this excuse will sound lazy to you because the story is a very big one and the governor had promised to do something about it and clearly failed.”

The police in Kano absolved themselves of any involvement in the withdrawal of the case.

The Police Public Relations Officer, Musa Magaji, told PREMIUM TIMES they arrested the suspects and ensured they were charged to court before pushing the case to the state government.

“Since the state government had decided to withdraw the matter, we could not do anything about it,” Mr. Magaji said. “Our duty as the police was to arrest the suspects and ensure they were immediately charged to court. We did all of that.”

Mr. Magaji said the options of the police are quite narrow at this point.

PREMIUM TIMES’s efforts to reach Mike Agbahime, Bridget’s husband, fell through because he had gone underground. Deeper Life Bible Church, where he had been a preacher for years, has taken charge of his welfare and will only allow him to make any public statement on an occasional basis.

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