The recent killing of Miss Deborah Yakubu, a 200 level student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, over alleged blasphemy, is barbaric and reprehensible. Deborah had reportedly admonished her classmates to stop posting religious and non-academic contents on the class WhatsApp platform. However, some of her classmates, who considered some of the words used in the post as blasphemous, mobilised and stoned her to death. They equally set the corpse ablaze, attacked some churches and looted shops.
This type of jungle justice has been a recurring phenomenon in northern Nigeria. In December 1994, the wife of an Igbo trader, Gideon Akaluka, was falsely accused of desecrating the Koran in Kano. Police arrested Gideon, but hoodlums invaded the police cell where he was kept, beheaded him and paraded his head around Kano metropolis. In 2002, fanatics killed over 250 people while protesting against a journalist with ThisDay newspaper, Isioma Daniel, who allegedly blasphemed Prophet Mohammad in an article she wrote about that year’s Miss World Beauty Pageant billed for Abuja. In 2007, a female teacher, Oluwatoyin Oluwasesin, was falsely accused of desecrating the Koran by the students she was invigilating during an exam in Gombe State. She was instantly lynched. There are many other examples of public lynching on account of alleged blasphemy.
In 2015, an Islamic Court sentenced eight men and one woman to death in Kano for blasphemy. In 2020, an Islamic court in Kano sentenced a gospel musician, Yahya Sharif-Aminu, to death for blasphemy. In April this year, the president of the Nigeria Humanist Association, Mubarak Bala, was sentenced to 24 years in prison for blaspheming Islam. All these run contrary to Sections 38 and 39 of the Nigerian Constitution which guarantee freedom of thought, religion and expression.
Incidentally, Nigeria is not the only place where these strange things happen. In 2005, a cartoon of Prophet Mohammad in a Danish magazine, Jyllands-Posten, sparked riots across the Muslim world. At least, 50 people were killed. In Nigeria, rioters killed about 16 people and burnt churches, shops and homes. In 2012, cartoons portraying Prophet Mohammed in a negative manner by French magazine, Charlie Hebdo, sparked unrest in different parts of the Muslim world. Also, the posting of a crude video, made in US, on YouTube, which ridiculed Mohammad, sparked protests in many countries. The protests led to the killing of the United States Ambassador to Libya and three other Americans in Benghazi as well as a deadly suicide bombing in Afghanistan. Furious Muslims also attacked some foreign embassies in cities across the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
It is sad that people should be killed on alleged blasphemy in 21st Century world. It is sadder that the recent Sokoto incident happened at the behest of students of a higher institution who, ordinarily, should be enlightened enough to tolerate opposing views and offer corrections where necessary.
We commend the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III; President Muhammadu Buhari, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto Islamic Scholar, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, and others, who condemned the barbaric act.
We condemn the act in its entirety as it is not in consonance with modernity. Religious leaders are enjoined to preach against lynching based on blasphemy. When people resort to jungle justice in the name of religion, they are not helping the faith at all. There are lawful channels for redress if anyone feels that his rights have been trampled upon. There is need to respect and ensure the religious rights of all Nigerians.
The Sokoto incident reflects how divided we are as a people. The Nigeria Inter-Religious Council should be further reinvigorated so that the two main religions could dialogue and find amicable solutions to some of these contentious issues.
At the same time, the law enforcement officers must be alive to their responsibilities. Unfortunately, the police could not protect the deceased. But it is important to caution that in a matter like this, security personnel must be patriotic and ensure security of lives.
Although the Police in Sokoto have arraigned two suspects and declared others wanted, the case should not go the way of others, especially the 16 suspected killers of Oluwatoyin in Gombe, who were arrested but later released without charge. Killings based on blasphemy cannot stop until the perpetrators are brought to justice. There is need to ensure justice for Deborah and other victims of religious extremism in Nigeria.