University of Cambridge > > Centre of African Studies Michaelmas Seminars > Culpable Identities: Homicide Jurisdiction and the Politics of Culture in Late-Colonial Northern Nigeria

Culpable Identities: Homicide Jurisdiction and the Politics of Culture in Late-Colonial Northern Nigeria

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On December 26, 1955, Ayuba d’an Rufa’i Fagoje killed a man named Sale, whose daughter he believed was bewitching his own daughter. The following June he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by Emir Sanusi of Kano, Nigeria. Subsequently, the Privy Council commuted the sentence to fifteen years’ hard labor. This paper examines the case as a window onto greater issues of crime, culpability, and the politics of personal identity in late-colonial northern Nigeria. The emir’s court applied Islamic law under the doctrine of indirect rule, though by this period doing so was complicated by colonial efforts to “modernize” the court system (though more complex appellate procedures and attempts to make Islamic jurisprudence more closely resemble European forms) and by nationalist agitation against deviation from Islamic law. The ways in which Ayuba’s guilt was proven in court—and then by which his sentence was mitigated by colonial decisionmakers—outline political relationships that were being negotiated in preparation for national independence in 1960. Criminal culpability was in part determined by one’s area of origin and cultural background. These determined not only the codes of law to which one was subject but also the extent to which one was ultimately considered to be a responsible juridical subject—a belief in witchcraft and Ayuba’s “notoriously fiery” Fulani temperament made him less culpable than a more “modern” man’s would have been. Such practices have led to a continuing politics of indigeneity in Nigeria with long-lasting legacies.

This talk is part of the Centre of African Studies Michaelmas Seminars series.

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