NASSARAWA, KANO: In January 2021, #JustifeForHanifa trended on social media platforms in Nigeria after the decomposed body of a five-year-old Hanifa Abubakar was found in a shallow grave in Kano State.
The efforts and investigations by the Nigerian Police Force and Department Of State Security or DSS led to the arrest of Abubakar school’s proprietor, Abdulmalik Tanko, who confessed that on December 2, 2021, he abducted the girl while she was going back home from school and kept her at his residence at Kwanar Dakata in Nassarawa, Kano State.
Tanko had told his wife that Abubakar was the daughter of his staff who travelled. And two days later, he called her parents, requesting a ransom of six million naira.
On December 18, 2021, when he realized that the girl recognized him, he took her out of his residence, telling her that he was taking her to her uncle’s house, and along the way, he poisoned her.
He then took Abubakar to one of his school’s branches at Tudun Murtala in Nassarawa, where she breathed her last. With the help of one Hashim Isyaku, he put her corpse inside a sack and buried her in a shallow grave he dug inside the school building.
After his confession, the 34-year-old proprietor of the Noble Kids Academy school led the police to the location where her remains were exhumed for medical examination before passing it to her family for burial.
In an interview with BBC, the girl’s father, Abubakar Abdussalam, demanded justice for his daughter.
Abubakar’s murder was only one of the many several cases of child abuse recorded in Kano State.
According to data from the Sexual Assault Referral Centre, there were over 4000 child rights abuse cases, including rape and murder, mostly against children below 13 years within Kano State. UNICEF has also stated that six out of every 10 children in Nigeria experience some form of violence.
Protesting against injustice
In reaction to the murder of Abukakar, youths and women in Kano marched to the streets in January 2022, demanding justice for Abubakar. With raging anger, some of the youths burnt down the school where her remains were discovered.
Civil Society and Community-Based organizations also held a peaceful demonstration calling upon the government to act on the issue.
The International Federation of Women Lawyers or FIDA, an organization fighting violence against women and children, also condemned the killing of Abubakar and also partnered with the Nigerian Association of Women Journalists and the Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative, calling putting pressure on the government to diligently prosecute the case and also asked the state government to adopt and sign the Child Rights Act (2003) bill into law.
In July 2022, Abubakar got justice. A Kano State High Court, presided by Justice Usman Na’Abba sentenced Abdulmalik Tanko and Usman Isyaku to death by hanging.
The girl’s father, Abdussalam, told journalists that the judgement came as a relief. “I’m not the only one happy with the judgement, but my family members too. We conquered at the end. What we expected was what actually happened, and we are getting over it as well,” he said.
Passing the bill into law
After carrying out various stakeholders’ meetings and legislative processes, the Kano State House of Assembly, in May this year, finally passed the Child Protection Bill into law.
Speaking after the bill was read the 3rd time in the House, Alhaji Dahiru Zarewa, then deputy majority leader, said the passage of the bill is a testament to members’ dedication to child growth and development.
Zarewa added that the bill is expected to address issues related to child abuse and the education of children in the state.
The bill was later accented to by the former Governor of the state, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, making bringing Kano to join the list of states in Nigeria to have adopted the Nigeria child rights act into law.
Nigeria’s Child Rights Act is a significant piece of legislation aimed at protecting and promoting the rights of children in the country. It was passed on July 31, 2003, by the National Assembly and signed into law by then-President Olusegun Obasanjo. The Act is a comprehensive legal framework that seeks to address the various challenges and issues faced by children in Nigeria.
Before the enactment of the Child Rights Act, Nigeria’s legal system did not have a specific law dedicated to protecting the rights of children. Instead, child-related matters were governed by a patchwork of customary practices and existing laws that did not adequately address the diverse needs of children across the country.
The introduction of the Child Rights Act was a significant step towards providing comprehensive legal protection to children. The Act is based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child or UNCRC, which sets out the fundamental rights that every child should enjoy, including the right to survival, development, protection, and participation.
Despite its perceived importance, the adoption and implementation of the Child Rights Act faced challenges in some states, including Kano, due to cultural and religious factors, but sustained campaigns from civil society groups and activists led to what many consider a huge win in the battle against child abuse in Nigeria second most populous state.
Commending Kano for the signing of the law, Rahma Farah, Chief of the UNICEF Field Office in Kano, highlighted that the Kano State Child Protection Law is an achievement that he hopes to benefit the children and people of the state.
“It will establish a legal framework to ensure the protection of children’s rights within the state. Now that the law has been established, it is crucial to allocate the necessary resources and establish mechanisms for its effective implementation. We urge the new administration in Kano State to take this vital step and provide adequate resources to ensure the comprehensive enforcement of the law,” said Farah.
Sameen Saeed, a child rights activist based in Kano State, believes that the benefits attached to the bill are tremendous.
“It will help to protect the rights of children from the violators; their rights to have happiness of all kinds. The law ensures the rights of children to be in school and protects children from perpetrators of illegal person-trafficking, murder, and raping or sexual related abuses,” he told Prime Progress.