NIGERIA prosecutors on Wednesday withdrew murder charges against a 15-year-old girl who was accused of using rat poison to kill the 35-year-old man she had married.
Prosecutor Lamido Abba Soron-Dinki asked the High Court in Gezawa, Kano state, to “terminate the case of culpable homicide against Wasila Tasi’u”, who was 14 when she married Umar Sani.
“With a heavy heart, I apply that the accused be discharged,” he added.
Judge Mohammed Yahaya told the court he required either a written or oral presentation from the office of Kano’s attorney general before formally dropping the charges and agreeing to Tasi’u's release.
He ordered that presentation to be made on June 9.
The defendant, who has grown emotional during past hearings, stood silently in court on Wednesday.
As much of the discussion occurred between the judge and lawyers in English with no translator, it was not clear if she understood the events as they were unfolding.
Legal sources in Kano told AFP separately that Nigeria had faced pressure to drop the case which has angered rights activists.
Soron-Dinki told AFP that the Emir of Kano, Mohammed Sanusi II, who is Nigeria’s second most powerful Islamic cleric, had offered to “shelter” Tasi’u following her release.
The emir is also known as Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, a Western-educated former central bank governor whom many people saw as a progressive leader when he served as the country’s top banker.
It was not clear if the emir had any role in the prosecution decision to apply to drop the charges.
The murder charge dates back to April 5, 2014, when Sani hosted a small wedding celebration at his home in the small Kano village of Unguwar Yansoro.
Prosecutors claimed that Tasi’u prepared the food and laced it with rat poison before serving it to her guests. Four people, including Sani, died within hours of eating the meal.
Judicial sources said the Kano state government intended to offer financial compensation to the victims’ families.
The case highlighted starkly contrasting attitudes towards underage marriage, especially in the north, where the practice is widespread.
Locals in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north, Tasi’u's home region, had rejected claims that she was a victim forced to marry a man more than twice her age, noting that 14 was a standard marrying age in the deeply conservative area.
Sani’s family and even Tasi’u's parents said she chose her husband from a range of suitors and told close friends that she wanted to marry.
Some in Unguwar Yansoro called for Tasi’u to face stiff punishment to discourage other girls from taking similar action if they become unhappy in their marriage
But rights activists maintained that Tasi’u was a minor in need of rehabilitation and could not be charged as an adult with murder.
The judge had previously rejected calls for the case to be transferred to juvenile court.
The case was further complicated by the co-existence of both secular and Islamic law in northern Nigeria.
While both are technically in force, the precise relationship is poorly defined, leaving law enforcement officials to seek their own balance.
The southern half of the Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is mostly Christian.