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VII. Training of judges

The Shari’a legislation was introduced in 2000 with very little preparation.  Not only was the legislation itself drafted in a hurried fashion, but the judicial personnel charged with its implementation had received very little training.  Most judges were transferred straight from the area courts, which dealt only with personal status law cases, into Shari’a courts where they were expected to deal with criminal cases.   Many of them did not have any prior legal professional training, even when they were working in the area courts, and they were not trained in the new Shari’a legislation before being appointed.  Yet they were given power of life and death over the accused who were brought before them.  The consequences of this lack of training among Shari’a court judges have been illustrated in several cases described in this report, such as those of Fatima Usman and Ahmadu Ibrahim, Amina Lawal, and others sentenced to death in trials characterized by numerous substantive and procedural flaws. 

After the introduction of Shari’a, a number of training programs were set in place for Shari’a court judges, organized by a combination of state governments, universities, and nongovernmental organizations.  Some of the training programs lasted just two or three weeks, others up to six months.  Initially, it was not compulsory for judges to attend this training before beginning to try cases in Shari’a courts, and many did not attend the courses until several months or years later.  Human Rights Watch was told that a significant number of the judges failed the tests which were part of the training, but continued being judges.199 

Nongovernmental organizations and academic institutions, in particular the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, have made efforts to include a human rights component in the training program for Shari’a court judges.  According to the deputy dean of the faculty of law at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, a training program being developed for judges was to include a session on human rights duties within Shari’a, as well as a comparison with the Nigerian constitution and international human rights instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.  It was also to include an emphasis on women and children’s rights.200

The nongovernmental organization Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP), which is based in Lagos but has representation in the north, became involved in a pilot training project for judges.  By mid-2004, they had trained between 400 and 500 upper and lower Shari’a court judges in Kano, Katsina, Bauchi and Jigawa states, and about 10 percent of prosecutors from these states.  Each course lasted two days. The training included sessions on international human rights law, due process, fair hearings, the rights of women, and comparisons with other countries which apply Shari’a, especially those which, like Nigeria, follow the Maliki school of thought.201  According to feedback provided to LEDAP by lawyers in the various states, the training had resulted in some improvements in the conduct of judges.202 The training was initially funded by private companies.  A request was then made to the Kano State government to fund it, but by July 2004, the state government had not yet provided any funding.203 

Before the program organized by LEDAP, these judges had not had any training at all, beyond their knowledge of the Qur’an and the Hadith.  When they were appointed as Shari’a court judges, they were just given a copy of the Shari’a penal code, which existed only in English.  Some judges do not read or understand English.  In 2003, proposals were underway to translate the penal codes into Hausa, the language spoken by the majority of people in the north.

The Zamfara State Commissioner of Justice and Attorney General of Zamfara State told Human Rights Watch that there was a continuing process of training for judges and other members of the judiciary in Zamfara.   He said the training included sessions on procedures and substantive law, as well as the right of the accused to have legal representation.  He said the approximately one hundred Shari’a court judges in Zamfara State had all had three months’ training, which included exams for former area court judges as well as newly-recruited judges. Several judges were reportedly made to retire because they refused to take the exams.204

[199]  Human Rights Watch interview, Abuja, December 19, 2003.

[200]  Human Rights Watch interview, Zaria, July 26, 2003.

[201]  For details, see “Integrating human rights in the Shari’a court system in Nigeria – an analysis of papers at the training workshops for Shari’a Court Judges,” edited by Itoro Eze-Anaba, LEDAP, 2004.

[202]  Human Rights Watch interview, Lagos, July 3, 2004.

[203]  Human Rights Watch interview, Abuja, July 18, 2003, and e-mail correspondence, July 31, 2004.

[204]  Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammed Sani Takori, Commissioner of Justice and Attorney General of Zamfara State, Gusau, August 4, 2003.

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