Hamisu Lamido Iyan-Tama, the famous Hausa actor and producer jailed for three months by a magistrate court in Kano, was released from prison on Monday. He had been jailed for allegedly releasing a feature film without government approval and running a filmmaking company without registration. In an open letter to the Governor of Kano State, published in this column two days after Iyan-Tama was sent to prison, I pointed out that the two charges were false and a concoction of the Kano State Censorship Board which has been waging a war of attrition against Hausa filmmakers and authors, based on a dubious claim of cleansing them of all immoralities. In that piece, I called on His Excellency, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau, to, as a matter of utmost urgency, investigate that act of gargantuan injustice and enter a no-case submission in the appeal Iyan-Tama filed at a Kano High Court, paving the way to the freeing of the actor.
A government functionary told me a day later that Malam (as the governor is widely known) had read my letter. But Iyan-Tama was left to languish in prison for almost three months until Wednesday last week when the government did exactly what I and many other folk beseeched it to do: file a no-case submission. Obviously, the governor has shown a soft heart here, but the wheel of justice in Kano, as it is everywhere else in Nigeria, is very slow. And that’s sad, considering what the actor suffered during this period. For during his incarceration, Iyan-Tama was made to suffer a lot of indignity, including a psychological warfare waged against him by the Kano State Censorship Board headed by Malam Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim. The Director-General of the board, Rabo, whose stock in trade is a blitzkrieg of propaganda against movie practitioners, embarked on media interviews in which he justified what he clearly knew to be a travesty of justice against Iyan-Tama; he knew quite well that the plot to deal with Iyan-Tama was conceived, hatched and executed by him and a few of his cohorts, and his wish was granted by the magistrate who had proved in more ways than one that he was a willing tool to be used against anyone connected to the movie industry.
Iyan-Tama’s family was attacked at midnight by a colony of thugs, who held his wife and children hostage, threatening to kill them. The family had to flee the house in the morning. About a month later, another house connected to Iyan-Tama’s family was attacked by a group of thugs (widely thought to be the same as the first group). During this attack, the thugs even raped a female house-help, thinking she was a member of the actor’s immediate family.
Be that as it may, Iyan-Tama is now half-free. He was let out of prison this week, following a prayer to the High Court by the Kano State Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice that the court should grant him bail and order for a retrial of the case. According to the Attorney-General, Barrister Aliyu Umar, the first trial was besmirched by irregularities. Due process was not followed in the trial that led to the conviction, he said. He used very uncomplimentary terms to describe the trial conducted by a senior magistrate, Alhaji Mukhtari Ahmed, such as “improper,” “incomplete,” “a mistake,” summing up by insisting that a “more competent magistrate” should be given the case to try again. Umar told the court presided over by Justice Tani Umar: “I am not in support of the conviction in this trial. It is obvious that the trial was not completed before judgement was delivered but there and then the presiding magistrate went ahead and delivered a judgement.”
Now, these words are proof that my argument that Iyan-Tama was punished by some conspirators because of his political views (he contested the state gubernatorial seat for the 2007 election), not because he had broken any law, have been vindicated. The learned commissioner would not have made this submission flippantly, without carefully examining the facts of the case that played itself out in the magistrate court. And as a government official charged with superintending the legal field in Kano State, he must have endeavoured to discharge his duties with utmost responsibility.
Governor Shekarau deserves commendation for the confession by his government that Iyan-Tama was unjustly imprisoned. But then, there are questions that the day’s hearing brought up. One, was Barrister Umar’s submission not a clear indictment of the magistrate who jailed Iyan-Tama? By questioning the competence of Ahmed, going to the extent of asking the high court to reassign the case to another magistrate, he has clearly shown that the judge was not qualified to sit over all such cases. In this situation, does Ahmed merit serving as a judge in the service of the Kano State Government, having committed an injustice that can be successfully argued even by a baby lawyer to be a travesty of justice? Is it not more honourable to the magistrate to resign immediately or be sacked by the government? And how many more such magistrates are working in the Kano State courtrooms, handing down selfish judgements?
And what of Rabo’s war? Is it justified anymore? Is it truly meant to sanitise the filmmaking business or kill it, using weapons of emasculation at the disposal of a punitive, merciless government agency? For me, Rabo has been discredited as much as Ahmed was, and should, therefore, embrace the same fate: resign or be sacked. In more civilised climes, Rabo and Ahmed would have simply thrown in the towel, having been proved to be fraudulent.
What of the proposed retrial? Is it normal to try an accused person twice for the same charge? I am not learned, therefore, I will not question her lordship’s discretion in this. But suppose after going through the whole hog of a retrial in another court, Iyan-Tama is adjudged guilty again, would he be sentenced again (maybe for ten years!) in prison? Would that be justice?
Will Iyan-Tama be compensated for his recent illegal imprisonment? Or did he suffer for nothing? Iyan-Tama’s lawyer, Suleiman Abdulkadir, SAN, had stated that if at all a retrial was to be ordered, the government should pay N100 million as compensation to his client. I hear that the Shekarau government had feared that Iyan-Tama would demand a compensation for his unjust arraignment, hence the decision to jail him. Now the word going round is that they have dangled the sword of Damocles of the retrial option over his neck for the same purpose. If these claims are true, I doubt if that’s the best way to institute Shari’ah law in our society.
Published in LEADERSHIP today