Civil Society Statement in the Case of Prof. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu v. Kaduna State, Nigeria

On October 22, 2020, an important case comes for decision before the Federal High Court sitting in Kaduna, north-west Nigeria. The case – brought by Professor Chidi Anselm Odinkalu – will have an important impact on the rights of people in Nigeria to voice their opinions in matters of public interest and question those in authority. We, the undersigned organisations and individuals, see this upcoming case as an opportunity for Nigeria’s judiciary to ensure that the protection of human rights in the country aligns with the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s constitutional, regional and international human rights obligations. In particular, this case provides an opportunity for the judiciary to reinforce the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and civic participation.

The case before the Federal High Court challenges the constitutionality of criminal charges against Prof. Odinkalu, a renowned Nigerian human rights lawyer and former Chairperson of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission, following a televised interview he gave in February 2019 in Abuja, the Federal Capital. In the interview, Prof. Odinkalu challenged claims by the Governor of Kaduna State Mallam Nasir El-Rufai – made a day before scheduled elections in the State – that 66 members of the Fulani ethnic group had been killed in Kajuru, Kaduna State. Prof. Odinkalu stated that the Governor’s statement appeared to have no basis in reality and could not be verified by the relevant state agents. He further expressed concern that the statement could cause ethnic tensions leading to electoral violence.

Kaduna State Governor, El-Rufai (presidential ambitions?)

Following the televised interview, on March 18, 2019, Prof. Odinkalu was charged by the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) of Kaduna State with inciting disturbance, injurious falsehood, public nuisance, and furnishing false information. The case, which was initiated before the Magistrate Court in Kaduna, was fraught with numerous procedural irregularities including an undated case file with no file number; closed hearings from the public; and the continuation of the case in the absence of Prof. Odinkalu despite an order from the High Court staying proceedings in the case. On October 26, 2020, the State High Court of Kaduna will preside over the judicial review of the criminal proceedings in the Magistrate Court of Kaduna.

The judgment of the Federal High Court on October 22, 2020 presents a monumental opportunity for the court to recognise the right to freedom of expression and ensure that it is enforced in Kaduna State in accordance with the country’s human rights obligations. Government officials and people in authority are not exempt or protected from criticism. United Nations special experts and mechanisms have specifically highlighted in reference to Nigeria, which includes all its Federal States, that public officials are required to tolerate greater criticism than the rest of society and that actions taken by them should not stifle public debate. While the right to freedom of expression may be restricted for public health and public security reasons, such restrictions – even when provided for by law – must be justifiable in a democratic society and must be necessary to achieve the stated purpose. Furthermore, any limitations must be the least restrictive means to achieve the objective.

The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights has held that seeking to impose a prison sentence, let alone corporal punishments such as lashings, for criticism of a public authority – whether true or otherwise – can never be necessary or proportional. Regional and international bodies have further called on all States to repeal criminal defamation laws, as well as all laws which effectively criminalise defamation, sedition, insult and false news. Where necessary, such infractions can and should be dealt with through civil proceedings, which should also be adequately proportionate and provide appropriate defences.

Given Nigeria’s regional and international obligations, as a signatory to several treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, we are concerned that the Kaduna State government chose to undertake a criminal prosecution against Prof. Odinkalu for what is clearly protected speech. The undersigned organisations and individuals thus look forward to the decision of the Federal High Court of Nigeria in this important case.

Organizational signatories, as of October 22, include:


  1. African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL)
  2. African Defenders (Pan African HRDs Network)
  3. African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)
  4. Africa Judges and Jurists Forum
  5. AJPD – Angola
  6. Amnesty International
  7. Center for Democracy and Development (CDD)
  8. Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA)
  9. Chapter One Foundation
  10. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  11. DITSHWANELO – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights
  12. Friends of Angola (FoA)
  13. Gender Centre for Empowering Development (GenCED)
  14. Global Rights
  15. Human Rights Defenders Network-SL
  16. Human Rights Institute of Southern Africa (HURISA)
  17. International Commission of Jurists- Kenya
  18. International Refugee Rights Initiative 
  19. Kenya Human Rights Commission
  20. Media Rights Agenda
  21. MOSAIKO-Angola
  22. Mouvement Inamohoro, Femmes et Filles pour la paix et la sécurité
  23. Open Bar Initiative, Nigeria
  24. Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)
  25. Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU)
  26. Public Interest Lawyers League (PILL) Nigeria
  27. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
  28. SADC Lawyers Association
  29. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network
  30. Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition
  31. Tap Nitiative for Citizens Development
  32. The Association of Concerned Africa Scholars (ACAS-USA)
  33. Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC)
  34. Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
  35. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

Individual signatories include:

  1. Delma Monteiro                                 Angola
  2. Lúcia da Silveira                                 Angola
  3. Garcia Mvemba                                  Angola
  4. Godinho Cristóvão                             Angola
  5. Julio Candieiro                                   Angola
  6. Fortunato Paixão                                 Angola
  7. Cristina Gouveia                                 Angola
  8. Alice Mogwe                                      Botswana
  9. Marie Louise Baricaco                       Burundi
  10. Star Rugori                                          Burundi          
  11. Joseph Bikanda                                   Cameroon
  12. Ady Namaran Coulibaly                     Cote d’Ivoire
  13. Hannah Forster                                   Gambia
  14. Edmund Amarkwei Foley                  Ghana 
  15. Abdul Noormohamed                         Kenya
  16. Andrew Songa                                    Kenya
  17. Crystal Simeoni                                  Kenya 
  18. Diana Gichengo                                  Kenya
  19. Donald Deya                                       Kenya
  20. Irene Soila                                           Kenya
  21. James Gondi                                       Kenya
  22. Maureen Achieng Akena                    Kenya 
  23. Patricia Nyaundi                                 Kenya
  24. Roland Ebole                                      Kenya
  25. Charles Kajoloweka                            Malawi
  26. Happy Mhango                                   Malawi
  27. Nikiwe Kaunda                                   Malawi           
  28. Tiseke Kasambala                              Malawi
  29. Victor Mhango                                    Malawi           
  30. Professor Adriano Nuvunga               Mozambique
  31. Custodio Duma                                   Mozambique  
  32. Vicente Manjate                                 Mozambique
  33. Norman Tjombe                                 Namibia
  34. Abdul Mahmud                                   Nigeria
  35. Abiodun Baiyewu                               Nigeria
  36. Ariyo-Dare Atoye                               Nigeria
  37. Cheta Nwanze                                     Nigeria
  38. Chido Onumah                                   Nigeria
  39. Edet Ojo                                              Nigeria
  40. Mbasekei Martin Obono                     Nigeria
  41. Nana Nwachukwu                              Nigeria
  42. Ohimai Amaize                                   Nigeria
  43. Omoyele Sowore                                Nigeria
  44. Steven Kefason                                   Nigeria
  45. Valnora Edwin                                    Sierra Leone
  46. Annah Moyo                                       South Africa
  47. Corlett Letlojane                                 South Africa
  48. Hakima Haithar                                  South Africa
  49. Nomsa Sizane                                     South Africa
  50. Samkelo Mokhine                               South Africa
  51. Simphiwe Sidu                                    South Africa
  52. Shuvai Nyoni                                      South Africa
  53. Sufiya Bray                                         South Africa
  54. Vusumuzi Sifile                                  South Africa
  55. Abdel-Moniem El Jak                        Sudan 
  56. Mary Pais                                            Swaziland
  57. Muzi Masuku                                      Swaziland
  58. Thulani Maseko                                  Swaziland
  59. Vera Mshana                                       Tanzania
  60. Dismas Nkunda                                  Uganda
  61. Jackson Odong                                    Uganda
  62. Lamunu Lamunu Prossy                     Uganda
  63. Nelly Badaru                                       Uganda
  64. Salima Namusobya                             Uganda
  65. Sharon Nakandha                                Uganda
  66. Linda Kasonde                                    Zambia
  67. Professor Michelo Hansungule           Zambia
  68. Muleya Mwananyanda                       Zambia
  69. Muluka Miti-Drummond                    Zambia
  70. Vusumuzi Sifile                                  Zambia           
  71. Justice Alfred Mavedzenge                Zimbabwe
  72. Arnold Tsunga                                    Zimbabwe
  73. Brian Tamuka Kagoro                                    Zimbabwe
  74. Makanatsa Makonese                         Zimbabwe
  75. Charles Clint Chimedza                     Zimbabwe
  76. Deprose Muchena                               Zimbabwe
  77. Fungisayi Patricia Mwanyisa             Zimbabwe
  78. Hardlife Mudzingwa                           Zimbabwe
  79. Janah Ncube                                       Zimbabwe
  80. Janet Zhou                                           Zimbabwe
  81. Kelvin Kabaya                                    Zimbabwe
  82. Lloyd Kuveya                                     Zimbabwe
  83. Mamukeleni Tsunga                           Zimbabwe
  84. Memory Zonde-Kachambwa              Zimbabwe
  85. Mooya Nyaundi                                  Zimbabwe
  86. Muchengeti Hwacha                           Zimbabwe
  87. Munjodzi Mutandiri                            Zimbabwe
  88. Musa Kika                                          Zimbabwe
  89. Otto Saki                                             Zimbabwe
  90. Passmore Nyakureba                          Zimbabwe
  91. Siphosami Malunga                            Zimbabwe
  92. Stanely Nyamanindi                           Zimbabwe
  93. Professor Carl LeVan                         American University 
  94. Desiree Cormier Smith                       Open Society Foundations

Music is a Weapon(?)

As Fela Anikulapo Kuti once said, music is the weapon. But how harmful is it?

In Kano, Nigeria’s second most populous state, the authorities apparently consider songs very dangerous. For the second time over the last two months, a singer has been arrested for the content of his lyrics. In the first incident, on June 17, Mohammad Yusuf Yakasai, popularly known as A.G.Y. was arrested and accused of releasing a song and video without the approval of the Kano State Board and criminal defamation of Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje. Some of the song’s lyrics criticized Ganduje, who had been surreptitiously filmed numerous times apparently taking bribes from public works contractors. Here is one the videos circulating. (I would welcome questions or comments regarding its authenticity or translation of specific comments.)

Leading human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and PEN (Nigeria), as well as think tanks such as the Centre for Democracy and Development in Abuja and the Center for International Policy in Washington criticized the sentence and his year-long detention. Article 39 of the Federal Constitution states “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.” I was honored to join the writer Wole Soyinka and the musician Femi Kuti in a letter calling for his unconditional release. The public pressure campaign worked, and he has been released.

In the second major incident in Kano, Yahaya Sherif Aminu was recently sentenced to death by hanging for insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a song he shared on WhatsApp. In the song, he praises an imam with the Tijaniya Muslim brotherhood. Salafi Muslims have often clashed with Tijaniya Sufi followers in Nigeria.

“Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”

Article 39, Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended

Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Jama’atu Ahlussunnah Lid Da’awati Wal Jihad (aka Boko Haram) quickly released a video where he condemned the singer’s right to appeal the sentence. “He should just be killed. If you really sentenced him, we should only hear that you slaughtered him,” says a report by Aliyu Dahiru Aliyu in HumAngle analyzing the broadcast. Shekau criticized Kano as a den of infidels that should not be mistaken for an Islamic state, since it practices democracy. The sentence, carried out by a Shari’a court, is complicated since the constitutionality of state laws passed in 1999 and 2000 that extended Shari’a to criminal law, rather than limiting it to civil affairs, have never been decisively ruled upon by the Supreme Court.

Article 10 of the Constitution states, in full, “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.” The application of Shari’a law to civil matters stems from a political compromise dating back to the colonial era. During the drafting of the 1979 constitution, northerners famously walked out over the Shari’a issue and nearly derailed the transition to the Second Republic. David Laitin analyzed this in a classic article in The Journal of Modern African Studies, and I discussed the compromise, revisited in 1999, in my book, Dictators and Democracy in African Development.

A historic symbol of northern unity, which I photographed in 2003.

A press statement by Amnesty International on August 13 called the sentence “a travesty of justice. There are serious concerns about the fairness of his trial; and the framing of the charges against him based on his Whatsapp messages. Furthermore the imposition of the death penalty following an unfair trial violates the right to life. Yahaya Sharif Aminu must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Osai Ojigho, the Nigeria country director. Where does Mohammed Lai stand on Article 39? And how can Kano reconcile popular support for Shari’a (of some sort) with Article 10?

AsymmetryAsymmetry by Lisa Halliday

What great fun. If my shelves were not alphabetical, I would file this right next to Elif Batuman’s “The Idiot,” which also takes a lighthearted approach to the stumbling and passionate nature of young love. It’s nice to laugh out loud during the pandemonium of the pandemic.
The structure of the book is a little unconventional, and sometimes this drives me crazy but it was not a burden in this case though part of me desperately wants a book club to discuss the Iraqi story and the ending.

View all my reviews

Open Letter Against the Student Ban

We, faculty at institutions across the United States, condemn the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) decision, announced Monday July 6th, that stipulates that International Students with F-1 and M-1 visas, “attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.” Further it states that students with F-1 visas may not take a fully online course load even if their university or college is adopting a hybrid model.

As universities and colleges do the work of figuring out how to keep our communities safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, while ensuring the integrity of our pedagogy, our administrators have made difficult decisions. To protect our staff, students and workers, some have chosen to go entirely online. And universities and colleges that have chosen a hybrid model may also be forced to go online, if the pandemic’s impact worsens. This ICE decision means that not only will our international students not be allowed to stay in the country, but that even if they do, they will not be allowed to make decisions to keep their family safe from the pandemic by taking an online course load. If universities change course based on this ICE decision, it would mean putting their other students and faculty at risk, forcing all back into classrooms during a pandemic.

We knew it was going to be bad…an immigration rights demonstration in Washington, DC, February 16, 2017

This policy is discriminatory. It fails to take into account the profound social and financial investments that international students have made in their often difficult decisions to embark on their educational journeys in the United States. Like all students, international students have created relationships, rented apartments, and invested in communities as they work towards building their futures. For our graduate students, who may have moved here along with their families, and who receive university stipends, this poses additional obstacles around their education and stipends. This policy would uproot their lives during their studies, and force a return to their countries of origin with uncertain prospects. For countries with which the United States has an imposed travel ban, and in a moment of limited global mobility with increasing border restrictions, it is unclear if these students will be able, in the future, to return to the United States. In all of these ways, this policy comes at great financial and emotional expense to our students, and puts their futures in unnecessary limbo.

What’s more, this policy is economically dangerous for our country, particularly in the context of the current financial crisis. The almost one million international students in the United States are drivers of our national economy. The Commerce Department puts international student contributions to the United States economy at $45 billion in 2018. A 2019 report shows that 62% of all international students receive the majority of their funds from sources outside of the United States. And, not only do international students come with their own resources, but they also effectively subsidize higher education, making substantial contributions to the costs of public universities and their domestic students. Finally, international students make up the majority of graduate STEM enrollment, a crucial field in which the United States aims to become a “global leader.”

International students are students. They are also contributors to the growth of higher education in the US. We as educators reject the artificial distinction between foreign and domestic students, which undermines the pursuit of both knowledge and justice. We call on ICE to rescind its decision, and on our university leaders to join us in prioritizing this issue, advocating for our students, and coming up with a quick response that minimizes the impact on international students so they do not have to make the impossible choice to return to their home countries in the context of a global pandemic.


Me, and more than 30,000 other professors in the US

Black Lives Matter Protests

By Jean-Baptiste Guiatin (Burkina Faso)

Mr George Floyd’s death has sparked a wave of protests across America. U.S. main towns such as Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, New York City, San Antonio, Miami, Atlanta, Detroit, Salt Lake City, and of course Minneapolis, – the list is long – have been shaken by huge public demonstrations since George Floyd’s forceful arrest and subsequent death. As is well known in the U.S contemporary political history of race relations, George Floyd’s death is just the latest chapter of a huge volume of inequalities from which minorities have been suffering in America. America, a land of freedom and dream of self-achievement, is also a land of inequality. And George Floyd’s death simply reminds us that the history film of inequality is still here to be watched.

Outside the White House on June 3, 2020 (photo by Carl LeVan)

The U.S. film of inequality is still unfolding, all the more so as the U.S. political elite – especially the one in power today – does not seem to understand the significance of the anger-fuelled public demonstrations across America. Had they fully understood the significance of this public anger in the wake of George Floyd’s death they would not have taken controversial policies such as that of letting the military out to put a check on the demonstrations. Coming from a country where freedom of speech is a creed, this is totally unbelievable and should not be accepted. We all hope these authoritarian tendencies of the U.S. political leaders in power will not prevail.
Another surprising thing about the Black Lives Matter Protests in the United States is related to the silence of the African leaders. To the best of my knowledge – and I would be happy to be proved wrong – no African leader has condemned George Floyd’s death publicly. The natural question which some Africans may feel like asking is why Africa can ignore its diaspora so completely. For instance, the video of George Floyd’s arrest has been widely shared on social media in Burkina Faso among the elite; but it did neither provoke a public outrage nor prompt a civil society or political leader to come out and condemn the act. African leaders may have other fish to fry. However, it is my conviction that pleading the Afro-descendants’ cause and defending the ties which exist between Africa and its diaspora – past and present – is worth the effort, for history is strong, and in some cases, may be determinant. African leaders should not wait until they are in need of African diaspora’s support to turn a lovely and brotherly attention to the African Americans. Africans should not be forget that the founding fathers of Pan-Africanism are, in the large majority, Afro-descendants.

The author is a PhD student in Political Science at the Universite Ouaga II in Burkina Faso and an alum of American University.