Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Baptist, said he would weep if a woman, found guilty of adultery in an Islamic court, was stoned to death.
Last week, an Islamic appeals court in the country’s northern state of Katsina upheld a lower Islamic court ruling that sentenced 31-year-old Amina Lawal to death for having sex outside of marriage.
Nigeria’s This Day reported that the twice-divorced Lawal said her boyfriend, Yahaya Mahmud, seduced her with a marriage offer. Swearing on the Quran, Mahmud denied her claim. The court discharged him, but convicted her.
“Under Sharia’s strict rules of proof, witnesses are required to convict a man of adultery, while a woman may be condemned for falling pregnant,” This Day said.
Lawal’s lawyers said they would appeal the court’s ruling to another Islamic appeals court and could appeal it to the nation’s supreme court.
At a dinner with reporters, Obasanjo said he did not think the death sentence would be implemented. He said he hoped she “will escape the Sharia law,” according to The Guardian, one of Nigeria’s leading newspapers.
“I don’t feel it will lead to a loss of life,” he said. “But if it does, I will weep for myself, I will weep for Amina Lawal and I will weep for Nigeria.”
Associated Press said Obasanjo did not say that he would intervene in the case.
Nigeria’s military ruler between 1976 and 1979, Obasanjo voluntarily turned over power to a civilian government which the military later overthrew. In 1999, he became Nigerian’s first democratically elected president in 15 years.
Some months after his election, the mostly Islamic northern states began adopting Sharia, an Islamic justice code, which includes amputation for theft and stoning for adultery. Using the Sharia code, the state of Kano banned alcohol, prostitution and gambling. In the state of Zamfara, Sharia resulted in separate schools and taxis for men and women.
“Applied fully, the Sharia extends well beyond the sphere of criminal justice,” said BBC analyst Michael Gallagher. “It is a code for living that all Muslims should adhere to, including prayers, fasting and donations to the poor.”
The adoption of Sharia law has contributed to ethnic and religious violence across Nigeria, an African nation with roughly 120 million people.
The Lawal case could intensify the conflict between Nigeria’s religious and constitutional authorities.
In a little publicized 2000 letter to Southern Baptist Convention leaders, Obasanjo asked for support for international debt relief for Nigeria. He wrote that he was “a Baptist and one who tries through faith and practice to follow God’s word in my role as a democratically elected leader of Nigeria.”
“I am a man of the book,” he said, “and never embarrassed to draw inspiration and wisdom from biblical authority.”