By Kene Obiezu
From the beginning of time, since man became conscious of the different factors that together form the confluence of existence, religion has always been an awkward companion for the state. As societies have continued to become states with the hope of becoming nations, religion has always proven an uncomfortable seatmate to the state so much so that even the uninitiated know to keep the conspicuously awkward pair as far away from each other as possible. However, it has also been the human experience that sometimes religion needs to check the excesses of the state and vice versa. Like a burning scroll, Sokoto, the seat of the sultanate in Nigeria now burns in the psyche of Nigerians for all the wrong reasons, and it appears the flames are not going out anytime soon.
On Thursday May 12 2022, Ms. Deborah Yakubu, a 200-level student of Home Economics of the Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto was beaten to death and then burnt. Her killers’ justification was that she had by a WhatsApp voice note sent over her class`s WhatsAPP group made blasphemous comments about Prophet Muhammad. When the furor started, Ms. Deborah was smuggled to a police station but her attackers soon overwhelmed the police station before subjecting her to the most agonizing of deaths to send shockwaves rattling down the spine of entire country.
Now, lest the issues raised by Ms. Deborah`s gruesome death be fogged by the foolery and futility of farcical arguments put forward by those whose judgment is beclouded by bias, it is important to clarify some points. Given how sensitive religion is for many people, it is both unwise and unnecessary to blaspheme religion. The rudiments of respect irreducibly demand that as long as you are allowed to observe your own religion in peace, you should let others be. In a country of such ruinous religiosity as Nigeria, blaspheming religion is outrightly dangerous. However, in a country set on secular stones, the law expects that anyone who blasphemes religion is punished within the limits of the law and never within the margins of any mob. Do our laws not prescribe the statutory hurdles that must be scaled before such a person who has blasphemed religion can be made to pay for their costly indiscretions? It seems the murderously maddening crowd in Sokoto was so much in a hurry to kill that it took leave of the law as it lurched into a lather of lawlessness.
The biggest suspicion the state has always nursed against religion is that it beclouds judgment and reason and most damagingly, casts critical issues alongside the lines of right and wrong while completely effacing the middle ground often so crucial to the duet of diversity that is at the heart of successful nation-building. So, many times, the state prescribes that religion be kept under leash so that people do not cast reason overboard while dealing with others who may not necessary share their religious beliefs. There is no doubt that the murderous mob which acted as both judge and jury in sentencing Ms. Deborah to such a swift and savage death roasted reason by their actions and ruined Nigeria’s fragile dialogue with diversity.
If Ms. Deborah`s killers intended to send a message by the ruthlessness of her summary execution, the burning torch has come hurtling into Nigeria’s rickety camp. In a country where there are many who drive religion as a wedge between people, Ms. Deborah’s gruesome death. lets off a fusillade of questions in the wider context. At what point does Nigeria become indissoluble and indivisible not because a tenuous constitution has said so but because the people who never resolved to live together in the first place but were instead lumped together by one’s man disingenuity sufficiently feel they are now one?
In a country where religion and ethnicism stoke suspicion and often conflicts, what did those who gruesomely murder Ms. Deborah know about optics? The fatal folly and flames do Islam no good and do even worse to the prospects of a united Nigeria. Islam prides itself as a religion of peace, but at times like these when its adherents cut loose and act so ruthlessly against people who can actually cite their ignorance as the reason they should be pardoned, Islam is invariably put on trial. In a country where flames ignited by terrorists have been burning non-stop for many years in many places, what Nigeria needs is those who put out fires and not those who stoke it. In the aftermath of Ms Deborah’s heinous murder, some notable Islamic scholars in the country have stopped short of justifying the actions of the murderers. There is no doubt that Nigeria can do without the incendiary words of people like these. Those who kill in the name of religion, those whose first impulse when their religious beliefs are threatened or challenged is to respond with violence instead of well-calibrated arguments, are indescribably dangerous to Nigeria’s unity. That they act like that at the slightest provocation indicts those who should guide them properly but don’t.
That even within the four walls of a school, the slightest attempt at expression can be met with a fiery death shoves Nigeria’s education into the eye of the storm. The flames which burnt up Ms. Deborah harshly ask Nigeria whether at the most basic level of nation-building, the North and the South, so hastily lumped together by Lord Lugard in 1914 can work together giving their inveterately divergent approaches to issues and provocation. The flames surely singe what little mutual trust Christians and Muslims share in a country that is always one careless world away from costly conflagrations. The flames ask Nigeria questions it will struggle to answer about its unity as a country. With so many poor students of history in the country and many ignorant people remorselessly adept at casting the first stone, Nigeria is poised to continue to flunk these questions.
Religion should bring life and not take it. To do otherwise is to betray religion. To do otherwise in Nigeria is to pile stones in Nigeria’s road to nationhood.
Obiezu writes via [email protected]