Unchained Vibes Africa condemns the arrest, detention and punishments meted out to two Kano-based comedians, Mubarak Muhammad (Uniquepikin) and Nazifi Muhammad over allegation of defaming the character of Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State through the video of a comedy skit on their Tiktok accounts.
On Monday, 7th November 2022, Unchained Vibes’ representative and lawyer, who were at the Magistrate Court to render assistance to the artists, witnessed the sentencing with utter disappointment in our justice system in Nigeria. The Court ordered the two comedians to be flogged 20 lashes each – an exercise witnessed by our representatives as well as family and friends of the artists in attendance. Magistrate Aminu Gabari, in his judgement, also ordered the comedians to sweep and wash the toilets on the court’s premises for 30 days, in addition to paying a fine of N10,000 each for the alleged defamation. As part of the non-custodial terms of the sentence, the Magistrate ordered the comedians to produce a video apologizing to the governor, using the same social media platform with which they made the original skit.
Prior to their sentencing on November 7, the comedians had been arraigned and detained in prison custody after pleading guilty for making the skit. In the skit, the governor is depicted as a corrupt politician. It is worthy of note that in 2018, DAILY NIGERIAN, an online news platform, published videos of the governor which went viral for corruption allegations. Unchained Vibes representative who visited the comedians in prison custody before their sentencing, found out that the contentious skit for which these two comedians were punished, was actually made four years ago and only recently resurfaced online.
This conviction is in violation of the right to freedom of expression which is explicitly guaranteed under Section 39.1 of Nigeria’s 1999 constitution. It also violates Nigeria’s regional and international obligation to respect, protect and promote freedom of expression including through art. The flogging of the artists also amounts to a cruel and inhumane practice, which has no place in modern society.
Criminalizing a comedy skit as defamation of character, is seemingly a harsh punishment of the artists for criticizing a governor. It is deeply concerning and goes against the fundamental principles of an open and democratic society where public officials by the nature of the office they occupy, should be subject to a higher degree of public scrutiny.
The rights to freedom of expression and access to information are essential for ensuring citizens have adequate knowledge to participate in political life and hold governments accountable. More specifically, artistic expression opens space for citizens to “reflect upon their society, express their fears and grievances in a non-violent manner, develop resilience after violent or traumatic experiences, including human rights violations, and imagine the future they want for themselves…”
Unchained Vibes is further concerned that the case of these two comedians is not in isolation and that there have been other artists in Kano who have been arrested and criminally charged in relation to their artistic works, particularly for criticizing the Governor. For one year, singer Mohammad Yusuf Yakasai, popularly known as A.G.Y was imprisoned at Goron Dutse Correctional Centre following his conviction on June 19, 2019 for a song he released that criticised the Governor. In September 2019, famous Kano singer, Nazir Ahmad, popularly called Sarkin Wakan Kano, was arrested for allegedly releasing two uncensored musical albums and operating an illegal studio. The albums reportedly criticized Governor Ganduje. The singer was reportedly re-arrested in November 2020 by the Kano State Censorship Board. Magistrate Aminu Gabari presided over judicial rulings on these cases.
Nigeria has an obligation to respect freedom of expression which includes that right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, including through art and culture. The state also has an obligation to ensure that all arms of government uphold this right. The prosecution and conviction of artists through criminalization of defamation is in violation of Nigeria’s regional and international obligations. Several international human right bodies have noted with concerns that Nigerian criminal defamation laws are inconsistent with international human right standards and have failed to pass the test of regional and international human right instruments ratified by Nigeria. To this end, provisions that criminalize defamation should be abolished in its entirety and replaced with an adequate civil regime for defamation.