‘’Conscience is an open wound, only truth can heal it.” This profound statement has been attributed to Uthman Dan Fodio, the founder of the Sokoto Caliphate and the arrowhead of the spread of Islamic religion in most of what is today known as northern Nigeria. He was a proponent of holy or religious war, which made him a jihadist. He was reputed to be a warrior and an intellectual at the same time. He believed in guile, scheming, stooping to conquer and of the Nicholo Machiavelli school that the end justifies the means. The profound statement that has been attributed to him may be part of the armour in his acts of subterfuge.
But let us leave the man and make an attempt to apply his legendary and enduring statement to today’s Nigeria and its leadership elite. Many of our political elite do not have any conscience. And where there is no conscience, there will be nothing to prick and there won’t be any wound. If per chance there is any with conscience, the conscience is seared, and has over time atrophied and decayed. Perhaps there is no better time to interrogate the conscience and gauge the guts of our leadership elite than now, a season that leads to the general election of 2023.
Surely, some incidents are providing veritable barometers to measure the humanity and courage of conviction of those who are offering to lead us, come 2023. One such incident is the gruesome and cold-blooded murder in Sokoto, the seat of Dan Fodio’s Caliphate, of Deborah Samuel Yakubu, a second-year student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education. Her offence: alleged blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad as determined by her fellow students who were the accusers, the complainants, the judges, the jurors and the executioners. Deborah’s trial, conviction, sentence and execution lasted for only hours on Thursday last week inside a higher institution.
There are many versions of what led to the execution of Deborah. We will take one of the versions that seemed closer to the truth. There was a report that her class WhatsApp platform designed for academic purposes was being abused by some Muslim students through posting of sectarian and divisive materials. Deborah reportedly posted a voice note condemning the abuse and then also said what was determined as blasphemy by some Muslim students in her class. The note read: ‘’Holy Ghost fire, nothing will happen to us. The [WhatsApp] group was not created for sending nonsense stuffs. It was rather created to send past questions, if there is test, or if we are given assignments, not all these nonsense things. Which kind prophet, nonsense prophet’.’
Apparently, the last sentence was the trigger that led to her execution and the riots in Sokoto last weekend. How that is a capital offence beats the imagination.
The Sokoto State government and the Federal Government issued statements on the tragedy but failed to call it murder. Another thread in their statements was the attempt to look for false equivalence and the refusal to demand that the murderers be apprehended and tried. In fact, an aide of the President, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, on new media, Bashir Ahmad, tweeted out that the punishment for blasphemy is death, an apparent endorsement of the action of Deborah’s murderers. The chief imam of the National Mosque in Abuja, Prof. Ibrahim Maqari, was more forceful and threatening. He said: ‘’It should be known to everyone that we the Muslims have some redlines beyond which MUST NOT be crossed. The dignity of the Prophet [PBUH] is at the forefront of the redlines. If our grievances are not properly addressed, then we should not be criticized for addressing them ourselves.”
In the Sokoto murder, what was the grievance? To whom was the complaint made? And how was it not addressed?
It is curious that the majority of those who are angling to become Nigeria’s President in 2023 have shied away from commenting on the murder of Deborah, except for Anyim Pius Anyim and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo. In sane climes, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar’s presidential aspiration on the platform of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party [PDP] should have been dead by now because of his flip-flop on the Sokoto murder. He wrote condemning the murder and demanded the arrest and prosecution of the culprits. It seemed the right thing to do, until some Muslim voters told him on social media to forget their votes. Atiku quickly recanted, deleted the tweet, pulled down the one on Facebook Hausa and then proceeded to disclaim the posts. For letting courage fail him, Atiku may have lost some Muslim voters and certainly many Christian votes.
A life was involved. Deborah was killed. She was somebody’s daughter. She was someone’s sister, cousin, aunt, friend and acquaintance. She had her future before her. She had hopes and there must have been expectations of her. If death had not been involved, what happened in Sokoto would have been a good lesson to draw from. It tells us in unmistakeable terms the nature of the men and women who are jostling to lead us. We now know, if actually there had been any doubt, that, to the typical Nigerian politician, votes are thicker than blood.
The point to note is that there will be another Deborah. And another. And another. There had been other Deborahs in Nigeria’s blighted past and there will be more in our uncertain future. The killers of Deborah will go scot-free. All the signs are in full display. From the statement by the Federal Government, it is clear that it has little interest in the matter. The Sokoto State government is only concerned about the riots by those demanding the release of the suspected murderers. And the leading candidates to succeed Buhari are unconcerned because they are afraid of some Muslim voters who are happy that Deborah was murdered. In any case, tomorrow another issue will crop up and Deborah will be crowded out of the media headlines. Our country’s dark history is littered with killings for alleged blasphemy by fundamentalists in the name of Islam that attracted no consequences for the perpetrators.
It is not only Christians that are routinely killed in the guise of blasphemy. But mostly Christians are killed. In 2007, in Gombe, Christiana Oluwatoyin Oluwasesin, a teacher, was murdered for touching a bag that had a copy of the Koran inside it. It did not matter that she was not aware of the content of the bag. In June 2016, the wife of a pastor was killed in Kano for blasphemy. Her blasphemy was in telling a Muslim to stop doing ablution in front of her business premises because it was causing his customers inconvenience. A Nigerian newspaper had also been at the receiving end. In 2002 or thereabouts, the newspaper published a story that the Prophet would have approved of a beauty pageant that was then scheduled for Nigeria and possibly take another wife from among the contestants. The newspaper’s offices were attacked and a fatwa [death sentence] issued for the reporter. The reporter fled Nigeria. But the fatwa subsists.
Obviously, what we have on our hands in Nigeria is a case of one country, different destinies.
Early in the life of this democratic dispensation, Zamfara state virtually declared its independence from Nigeria and adopted Sharia Law. It caught on with many other states especially in the north west. Nothing happened. Today in Kano, Hisbah sectarian police frequently destroys truckloads of alcoholic beverages coming into the state or on transit in the guise that such products are forbidden by Islam. Nothing happens. No consequences. But when value added tax which derives from the same alcoholic beverages are shared, Kano collects a hefty portion. The state pretends that’s fine. Hypocrisy. The hypocrisy continues because Nigeria is a lie. It’s a federation which created the federating units. It’s a federation that derives its power from of itself, not from the federating components. It is a federation with one centralised police force, election management body and ownership of all mineral resources. It is a federation in which the headship of strategic institutions, especially security, is disproportionately domiciled in one religious and ethnic group. A lie does not last. And Nigeria the way it presently is structured should not expect to endure.