On Monday, January 27 2020, Justice Yusuf Halilu of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court found Maryam Sanda guilty of killing her husband, Bilyaminu Bello and sentenced her to death by hanging. According to the trial judge, the accused Sanda stabbed her husband with a kitchen knife with clear intent to kill. The sentencing of Sanda marked the climax of a sensational murder trial which began in November 2017 after the accused killed her husband following a violent exchange. A friend of Bello, Ibrahim Mohammed, who witnessed the earlier altercation between the couple told the court that Sanda had threatened to harm her husband by cutting off his genitals after she saw what was believed to be an indecent picture of another woman on his mobile phone. According to the witness, the accused made several attempts to stab the deceased with weapons such as broken bottles and a kitchen knife. “Those attempts were repelled initially,” he told the court.
Sanda on her part admitted she had a fight with her husband on the ill-fated night but denied stabbing or using any weapon on him, even though she made such threats. In her defence, she claimed that her husband died from a wound on the chest by a broken Shisha pot (a multi-stemmed device that is used to either smoke or vaporise flavoured tobacco). In her words, “he pushed me and as I was falling down, I mistakenly broke his Shisha bottle and the water inside spilled on the floor.” The accused told Justice Halilu that the deceased fell against the broken Shisha pot in an attempt to hold her down. “I saw a broken bottle pricked into his chest which I removed and covered the chest with a scarf.” The deceased, she claimed, was rushed to a hospital in Maitama District in Abuja where the medical personnel confirmed him dead.
Well, the judge does not believe any part of Sanda’s story even as he also chided the police for shoddy investigations, insisting the police could have done better with their finding and not come to the court with haphazard evidence which according to him led to the prosecution’s failure to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. To convict Sanda, the judge had to rely on the “Doctrine of the Last Scene”, which stipulates that the last person at a crime scene bears full responsibility. Sanda would die by hanging as the judge ruled, unmoved by the late drama put up by the accused.
This is a tragic story with no bright angles to it. For one, the convict and her late husband had two children together. What happens to those children now, who would raise them and what they would be told happened to their parents would remain within the realm of conjectures for a long time. What is however certain is that the children would grow without the care and love of their parents- a terrible way to begin in life. Think about the stigma that may follow those children for life, the shame of being children of a murder convict and the endless stares they would get from their mates, the registration officers at schools the minute they mention their names, the immigration officials and just about anyone who would recognize them as the children of the “murder convict Sanda.” No doubt they would need strong emotional and psychological support and of course- the grace of God to stand what lies ahead. Another dilemma for the kids has to do with the eternal animosity that has now been created between the Bellos and the Sandas. Who will take responsibility for the upbringing of the children? Only time will tell.
Beyond that, it is about time we began to pay greater attention to disagreements and disputes amongst young couples. According to a recent report from Daily trust, since November 2017 when Maryam Sanda murdered her husband and January 2020, a total of 53 others have reportedly killed their spouses across the country. 36 housewives were allegedly killed by their husbands while 17 husbands have been killed by their wives. Just yesterday, Tuesday, 28th January 2020, several news channels reported the killing in Katsina state of a 25 year old man by his 19 year old wife. Also on Monday in Abia State, a man was mobbed and set ablaze by the youths in Nkporo, Bende LGA after he allegedly shot and killed his wife. Also in Abia state in December 2018, a man reportedly set himself ablaze in Isuikwuato after allegedly killing his wife. You may wish to bear in mind that these deaths are the ones that were reported to the authorities, a lot more could have gone unreported or dealt with in line with native laws and customs without any traces in the media or in the police records. Why are spouses killing each other? How did things deteriorate so badly between two persons who previously professed love to each other that death became the outcome?
Many have tried to blame poor parental upbringing, the failure of religious leaders and elders to effectively counsel and advise couples passing through hard times, the influence of social media, social pressures, economic hardship, infidelity and mental health issues for the rising number of individuals who mastermind the death of their spouses.
In Sanda’s case, it is alleged that her mother, Maimuna Aliyu was complicit in her crimes as she was charged by the police alongside her son- Aliyu Sanda- for evidence tampering. Commentators weighing into the matter have tried to ask questions about the kind of upbringing Maryam had and what she could have learnt from her own mother and other older family members who nurtured her. Was she taught the virtues of patience, endurance, tolerance and forgiveness? Did she learn all of these and later threw them aside? What could have made a young lady pick up a kitchen knife to stab her husband repeatedly?
A few have pointed out that Sanda, before killing her husband had a retinue of options: have an open conversation, forgive him and move on or simply walk away. Why did she resort to the kitchen knife even after she had been restrained severally? Could this be why the judge opted to give her the maximum punishment?
Many have also looked at the role of religious leaders and the quality of support they provide couples facing marital challenges. When would anger management become a key element of the training provided to couples preparing to get into the marriage covenant? If Sanda had learnt to manage her anger effectively, without doubts, things certainly would have been different for her.
Then infidelity. It is about time a serious conversation began about the destructive influence of social media, instant messaging platforms and technology in general on marriages. Many couples are known to hide their phones from their spouses or keep the access codes secret and the reasons for this are not farfetched. How can married couples overcome the temptations that come from social media, smartphones and preserve their marriages? Or as we have noticed recently, their lives?
Many have faulted the judge for sentencing Sanda to death but according to Justice Halilu, he only served the dictates of justice- blood for blood. The good thing in this instance is that the convict is at liberty to appeal the ruling up to the Supreme Court. It is however doubtful that she may get a significantly different outcome considering the weight of evidence against her. Some have opined that she may have her murder sentence commuted to life imprisonment but again- a lifetime behind bars may not have been the outcome she hoped for an hour before stabbing and killing her husband.
Are there lessons to learn from Sanda’s travails? A lot. One, anger has never served any useful outcome. Two, it is always better to leave the company of an angry party- even if momentarily. What if Sanda had walked away to preserve her sanity? What if Bello had left with his friend Ibrahim Mohammed who had come to make peace between him and his wife earlier in the day? Perhaps things would have been different. Lastly, forgiveness is always a better option in disputes. Forgiveness does not wipe out an injury; it does however free you from the burden of irrationality- the type that landed Sanda in this uncomfortable position.