A 14-year-old girl is facing the death penalty in a Nigerian court. Wasila Tasi’u, who comes from a poor family, allegedly slipped rat poison into her 35-year-old husband’s dinner two weeks after they were married.
Prosecutors at the High Court in Gezawa, outside of Kano, charged Tasi’u with murder over the death of Umar Sani in the village of Unguwar Yansoro. Lead prosecutor Lamido Abba Soron-Dinki and indicated the state would seek the maximum penalty. A juvenile has not been executed in Nigeria since 1997, when military dictator Sani Abacha held power.
Northern Nigeria is a primarily conservative Muslim area. Their legal system is a hybrid of a traditional criminal court system and Islamic law. Tasi’u’s family insist she was not forced into the marriage and that they were following tradition - it’s common for girls her age to get married. According to Nigerian law, anyone under the age of 21 can get married with a parent’s consent.
Tasi’u entered the court in a cream-colored hijab, escorted by two policemen, and remained silent when she was asked if she understood the charges against her. The court adjourned for 30 minutes so the charges could be better explained to Tasi’u, but when the allegations were read again Tasi’u turned her head to the wall and broke down in tears.
“The court records (that) she pleads not guilty,” Judge Mohammed Yahaya said.
Tasi’u’s defense lawyer, Hussaina Aliyu, told the judge that the case is not a debate about the legality or morality of marriages that involve adolescents. She argued that a 14-year-old could not be charged with murder and requested the case be moved to the juvenile court system.
Nigerian law defines adulthood means ages 17 and above, but under Islamic law, courts may have the right to consider people under 17 as legally responsible.
Tasi’u’s trial will reconvene on November 26.