[Check earlier post for a short summary of what happened in Aminu Ala’s court case t0day at the Airport Magistrate court, a so-called “mobile court” attached to the Kano State Censorship Board.” Ala was charged with releasing his song “Hasbunallahu, (a song which prays that God should pour judgment on those who stop them from doing their profession, but names no names) without permission of the Censorship Board. Ala said the charges were false and was denied bail by Justice Mukhtar Ahmad.]
6:20pm. Still at the internet cafe I mentioned in my last post. I am trying to quickly type up my notes of the court case of Aminu Ala today in the next 44 minutes before my time (and computer) runs out.
At around 10:45am this morning I arrived at the Kano Airport Magistrate court on the back of an achaba. There was a crowd of people standing outside, waiting for the court to begin. After Ala’s arrest Saturday he had been granted bail and was told (though not given an official court summons or told the charges for which he was arrested) to show up at the court at 10am on Monday. On Monday, he went to the court, and they told him it had been postponed until today (Tuesday) at 10am. So, today a crowd of friends, colleagues (including Fati Nijar), and journalists were gathered outside the court, including journalists from BBC, Radio Deutchweld, Freedom Radio, Radio Kano, Leadership, Trust, Fim Magazine, and others. Around 11 or 11:30am, we were told the case would start so we all filed into the court. They had to bring in several extra benches to accomodate all of the people, which was according to my estimations above 60.
Ala sat on a bench next to the wall in a crisp yellow babanriga.
His lawyer, in a suit but no wig, sat at a table at the front of the court with other court workers. Phones kept going off, although the court requires them to be turned off. I noticed that I was one of four women in the room: Fati Nijar, Rukkaya the journalist from Trust, and another woman I did not know. Two men with video cameras (I am told later they are from Hikima Media, the company owned by Ala’s sponsor) shot footage of the room.
The gavel is struck three times, we all rose with a hum.
Alkali Mukhtar Ahmad, a small rather frail-looking man, comes into the court in a grey suit and no wig. (I assume that magistrate courts/mobile courts are free of the wig and robe requirement?). He said that the prosecutor could not make it so they were pushing the case to 1:30 or 2:00pm. About that time the judge’s phone went off (or at least a phone very close by to the judge–as he seemed to be moving to turn it off, I assume it was his). He said something like “I can’t be prosecuter at the same time as the judge. Since they have brought the charges we will have to wait for them.”
The defense lawyer accepted the postponment but noted the breech in proper proceedure, saying “Officially a letter should have been submitted to the court if the prosecutor could not come […]we should correct ourselves sometimes.”
Justice Mukhtar Ahmed acknowledged the correction but said “Something else may have come up and we don’t know the issue. Not like you who are on your own. You have to give them the benefit of doubt. But it is only a matter of one or two hours. It is unfortunate.”
After this exchange in English, there was a translation into Hausa.
At 12:21 I sat outside on a bench under a tree beside Aminu Ala and some of his other friends. They joked and told stories. If I were an intrepid reporter, instead of just an academic who sometimes writes for newspapers maybe I would have asked him for an exclusive interview (the other journalists had run off to internet cafes in town to write their predictions about what would happen. They ended up being right.). But I didn’t. I just listened to the people talking around me, watching planes take off at the airport.
When the journalists got back, one told me that he had gone to see the hisbah, and they had said they just sent a warning to the Association of Nigerian Authors that there had ben 11 poems released without being censored.
Another tells me “writers write about the facts. Writers are not politicians. They are not loooking for anything. And it’s not even just Kano now. They are spreading this all over the country.
About that time a medicine seller of the sort that have recently been hauled into jail by the censor’s board began trying to (with colourful language) sell aphrodesiacs and impotency cures to the men gathered around the court.
At 2:13pm the court recommenced. The judge came back in with a suit and no wig.
He asks Ala. “Do you speak Hausa or English.”
Ala responded, “Hausa.”
The prosecuting and defending lawyers identified themselves.
The charges were read in Hausa. Ala was accused of having released his song “Hasbunnallahu” without passing it through the Kano State Censorship Board (the name in Hausa has “film” in the title).
Ala was asked “Gaskiya ko ba gaskiya ba ne?” (True or Not True?)
Alsa sai “Ba gaskiya ba ne.” (Not true)
In the meantime, more benches kept being moved in and more and more people kept coming into the court.
The prosecutor said he would like to “apply for another date to air this matter.”
The defense said “I don’t oppose the issue of having another date, but” that they were making a petition from 340 of the criminal proceedure code from 3605 of the 1999 constitution, which was an application for admitting bail to an accused person pending his trial. The lawyer continued that Ala had been told to show up in court yesterday and he had showed up and he also showed up today when it was postpond. “This attitude of the accused shows he will attend whenever he is told to. The accused may not tamper with the course of justice. We want you to exercise justice by letting the presumed innocent person go on bail.”
The Prosecutor responded that “the issue of bail is discretionary matter of the honourable court.” He encouraged the court to “exercise this discretion judiciously.”
The judge asked the defence if he wanted to say something. He said he did not object.
Still more people were still coming trying to find space to sit in the court.
The judge said “The appeal is adjourned to next tomorrow.” Justice Mukhtar Ahmad gets up and walks out.
As we file out of the court, two men exchanged an impassioned hand clasp saying in English “He will be free.”
I did not realize what had just happened, but was quickly informed by very glum looking friends who had come out before me and had seen Ala being taken away in the prison vehicle that had arrived at the court even before it commenced. They quickly explained that “Bail was not granted. The prison bus was called before the case was heard.”
Apparently he will be held till Thursday, after which the judge will decide whether or not to give him bail after the next hearing.
Another journalist told me, shaking his head. “There are politics under it. We are in the political era.”
(I would do more analysis, but I’m here at an internet cafe on a computer not my own, and just had a huge scare that I had lost the entire post when an internet cafe turned the generator off without checking with everyone in the cafe, but fortunately wordpress saves drafts… so stay tuned…).