The Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III, is the leader of Muslims in Nigeria. His office is not titular. Indeed, he is the leader and defender of the Islamic faith in Nigeria. In that position, the incumbent Sultan, as was the case with his predecessors, has kept faith in promoting his religion, effectively combining his religious role with not a little dose of acute national politicking in a society where religion has been consistently pushed to the centre stage to contend with an initial secular arrangement.
The Nigerian state came into being with more than enough tension within its fabric than can be imagined by many other countries. The constituent entities of the country, remarkably distinct in their values and culture, came in, or were brought into the union, with an understandable high level of sensitivity to their respective beliefs and idiosyncrasies. Chiefly among the items of interest on the shared table remains religion and how to manage it.
Curiously, in spite of its very touchy nature, or perhaps as a result of that, religion has continued to be thrust forward as a critical card in Nigeria’s national politics. Various governments in the country, even more so under military regimes, found in religion a sharp card to play as a strategy to gain or strengthen legitimacy, especially in the northern sphere. The impact of this tendency has been a steady corrosion of the foundation of an already troubled structure.
Now, if any individual should know what the Islamic holy book, the Koran, says and what is in the best interest of Islam, at any point in time, the Sultan of Sokoto should be the person. He is, after all, the pre-eminent face and voice of Islam in Nigeria. That is how it has been. But as part of the madness that enveloped Sokoto State last week, however, some imans and other cacophonous voices sprang up to prove that they were more pious than the Sultan.
In the immediate wake of the bestial lynching of Miss Deborah Samuel Yakubu, a second-year student at the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, by a baying mob, following an unsubstantiated allegation of blasphemy against Prophet Mohammed by an individual, the Sultanate Council in Sokoto spoke out. The seat of the defender of the Islamic faith in Nigeria, viewed the development “with dismay” and condemned the incident in its brutality.”
It sued for peaceful co-existence among the people of the state and the country.
It is important to state, right away, that the Sultanate did not condone and could not have, by any stretch of the imagination, condoned blasphemy against Prophet Mohammed. That offence, as all and sundry, including non-Muslims, have been jarringly reminded intermittently, is beyond negotiation. What the Sultan said, which was quite noble and reflective of the civilization of this age, was that, in all circumstances, including in allegations of blasphemy, nobody, no mob, has the right to take the law into his hands. Any offender ought to be apprehended and handed over to authorities to dispense the right judgment after some level of trial had been conducted. This, surely, is the way men, societies and all faith in the 21st century are expected to conduct themselves
Remarkably, the Sultanate was not the only source from which this civilized view point came. There were quite a number of similar condemnations of the summary murder of Deborah Yakubu, not counting those who promptly condemned and promptly reversed their condemnation in the face of the push-back from justifiers of the mob killing.
Of great significance in the debate that ensued among Muslims of the propriety or otherwise of such summary execution as was visited on Deborah Yakubu over allegation of blasphemy was a judgment by Justice Tanko Mohammed in 2007. Justice Mohammed is now Chief Justice of Nigeria. In the judgment that resonates with the tragedy and national embarrassment of the moment, the judge had held that: “Islamic religion is not a primitive religion that allows its adherents to take the law into their own hands and to commit jungle justice. Instead, there is a judicial system in Islamic system, which hears and determines cases, including the trial of criminal offences, and anybody accused of committing an offence against the religion.”
Were the dictates of this clear judgment adhered to by the misled characters that constituted the accusers, the judges and executioners of Deborah Yakubu, the country would have been saved the present sad distraction.
The sequence of events in the execution of Deborah Yakubu in Sokoto left a lot of room to create an impression of premeditated murder. The speed of action from the time Deborah purportedly committed the offence of blasphemy to the time she was accused by one individual, to the time a mob was raised, which promptly meted out the death sentence, was simply too fast for comfort. That, unfortunately, is the nature of mob judgments. They are not identified with reasoning.
It was bad and sad that a young citizen was summarily executed without room for any sober authority to hear her out and determine her guilt or not. Of great concern in the wake of the incident is the challenge to the voice of the Sultan of Sokoto, the leader of Muslims in Nigeria, by some Islamic clerics who seemed to be all for bloodletting. The issue, which the said clerics, including the chief iman of Abuja, seemed to miss completely is that the bone of contention is not for now on whether blasphemy against prophet Mohammed will draw blood and death. The issue is, what was the process of conviction before execution? Was any room given for any sober mind (if that is possible) to hear out and judge the accused? How does an individual stand up, shout, ‘Blasphemy, blasphemy!’ Raise a mob instantly and execute someone, all within a few hours? That was the point Tanko Mohammed CJ made in his ruling. There should be a process leading to such condemnation and execution of justice.
The easy and quick deployment of mobs to execute jungle justice does not present Islam in any positive light. A mob, noted more for lacking brain more than anything else, cannot be expected to give justice.
Unfortunately, the political elite, ever in pursuit of selfish interests, cannot be exculpated from promoting the culture, especially in the North, of easily calling up mobs to destructive action, often on the pretext of defending some bogus religious interest. More often than not, the mob constituents become something of dogs that hardly know their owners.
The gathering late last week of mobs at the entrance of the Sultan’s palace in Sokoto with intents that could not have been respectful, simply because they were informed that the Sultanate had taken a sober view of the execution of the young Christian girl who they were told blasphemed Prophet Mohammed, spoke of the time bomb at hand. The Sultan should consider intiating an extensive, long-term re-orientation of Muslim faithful, including the imams, to the substance of the point he and Justice Tanko Mohammed CJ had made on the Sokoto killing. The problem is not with punishment for blaspheming Prophet Mohammed. The issue is about the process through which judgment is arrived at before blood is spilt. The manner of killing of Miss Deborah Samuel Yakubu was bestial and unjustifiable.