On January 27, 2000, a leap year, Zamfara State instituted Sharia Law following the push by the then governor of the state, Ahmad Sani Yerima, which started in 1999. One of the few casualties of the Sharia legal system adopted by some northern Nigerian states was Lawali Isa, who had his right wrist amputated in 2001 for stealing a bicycle following a Sharia court judgment
Your wrist was amputated in 2001 following a Sharia court judgment, how difficult has it been coping without it?
I was not the first person whose limb was amputated as a result of implementation of Sharia legal system in Zamfara State. I was the second person and also the last one.
The first person was Bello Buba Jangebe, whose hand was amputated in 2000 for stealing a cow. Mine was done in March 1, 2001 and since then, nobody has been punished again in that manner.
I stole a bicycle and was arraigned in a Sharia court. The judge ruled that my right wrist should be cut off in accordance with Sharia legal system. It is not easy to survive with one good hand, but I have been managing to feed myself and my family.
What have you been doing to survive?
I have been with politicians since 2001 when my amputated wrist got healed. The moment I recovered from the wound I sustained as a result of the amputation, I repented and promised not to steal again. I also decided to be following some members of the All People’s Party, which later became All Nigeria Peoples Party and now the All Progressives Congress.
Does that mean you are now a politician?
I am not a politician per se, but I follow them to earn a living. I am one of their ‘boys’ (laughs). But I now find it difficult to get money because our people are no more in government here in Zamfara. You know what happened last year when the Supreme Court disqualified all the APC candidates because the party didn’t conduct primary elections. The Peoples Democratic Party candidates were announced as winners of the last general elections in the state. But I am still with the APC despite all that.
What were you doing before your wrist was amputated?
I was a farmer in my hometown, Gummi. I owned a small farm which could not solve my financial problem and that of my family, even if I had bumper harvests.
But since your wrist was amputated, Sharia law has not been effective, how disappointed are you as it appears that some of you were used as scapegoat for something the government couldn’t follow through with?
As a true Muslim, I have no regrets for what happened to me. I was fully aware that what was done to me was in line with Sharia law. It is what the law says; anybody found guilty of committing theft would have their right wrist amputated. So when I was arrested and taken to a Sharia court during Ahmad Sani Yerima’s administration, I knew what was going to happen to me because it had happened to someone before me. My only regret is that, immediately I was amputated, everything was stopped. There has been no more amputation since that time till date.
You were amputated for stealing a bicycle but many politicians have stolen public funds running into millions and billions of naira, yet no Sharia court ordered that they should be amputated, how does that make you feel?
I feel disenfranchised, more especially now that the Sharia legal system is not working. You see, the system is not working now. When Yerima was in power, the system was working and many people were afraid to steal. But immediately he left office, everything stopped.
Can you talk about the crime, how the judgment was passed and the amputation was carried out?
When I was arrested with the stolen bicycle, I was arraigned in the Sharia court and when the judge asked me whether I committed the crime or not, I confessed that I stole the bicycle. The judge further asked me if I knew the punishment for theft in Islamic Sharia and I said ‘yes’. From there, the judge ruled that since I had confessed, my right wrist would be amputated. He asked me if I would like to appeal and I told the court that I was satisfied with the judgment. My right wrist was amputated on March 1, 2001.
What was your initial reaction after it was done?
I felt so sad and ashamed of myself. I was ashamed because of the publicity my case generated. So I was not happy with the kind of situation I put my family in. I felt society would be looking down on me and my family, but as time went on, all these things passed. I now mingle with people without any molestation or animosity. So I thank God.
How would you describe the healing period?
It was not painful because the amputation was done in the modern day by a doctor. So I didn’t feel much pain.
How long did it take to heal?
It took three months for the wound to finally heal.
The Governor of Kano, Abdullahi Ganduje, was seen in some viral videos collecting what was believed to be bribes and pocketing them, but the matter didn’t get to a Sharia court, how does that make you feel knowing your wrist was cut off for stealing a cow?
(Smiles) I don’t compare myself with Ganduje or any other public figure. Most of these people are almost above the law. They can commit whatever atrocity they want to commit and go unpunished. But don’t forget that there is a final day of judgment when everyone will be judged by the Supreme Being who will not differentiate between the rich and the poor.
I thank God that I have been punished for stealing. I told you earlier that I have no regrets.
What made you steal the bicycle?
I was pushed by poverty to steal. I had no food to feed my family and myself, so I decided to steal the bicycle so I could sell it and buy food. I have one wife and four children.
How do you provide for them without two good hands?
I rely on my party members (APC members). Sometimes I get assistance from the immediate former governor of the state, Abdul’aziz Yari, and the state APC chairman, Alhaji Lawal M. Liman.
What do you think about Sharia law itself?
I think the law is okay if properly executed. You see, if people know that their hands will be amputated if they are caught stealing, many people will not want to steal for fear of losing their hands. But if someone is arrested for stealing and given a jail term, they will finish the term and return to their unlawful business.
So I strongly believe that if Zamfara State could continue with amputation of hands, many people would stop stealing as nobody wants to be looked down upon as a thief. As soon as people see you with an amputated wrist, they know who you are.