We are all living witnesses to the fact that the anger that ought to have trailed the murder of Deborah Samuel was subverted by its corollary. The transgressor who ought to be on the run, ironically, assumed the moral high ground. He seized the stage to the consternation and amazement of the watching world. Everyone looked stupefied as he flew into a rage, leaving in his trail more blood and sorrow.
That is the amazing turn that the death of Deborah has taken. Deborah Samuel Yakubu, a student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, was said to have blasphemed Prophet Mohammed. Unable to come to terms with whatever she wrote or said about the prophet, a mob of Muslim fanatics went after her and terminated her life in a most gruesome manner. She was said to have been lynched by an irate mob who knew neither the law nor the sanctity of life. In the frenzy for the blood of the young lady, the killers were said to have overwhelmed the authorities of the school. Law enforcement agents could also not save the situation.
The murder of Deborah under the afore-stated circumstance was supposed to spark a national outrage. The Christian community in Nigeria was supposed to raise serious dust about the killing of a member of its flock over matters that border on religious belief. Deborah’s only sin was that she had a different belief system. She did not subscribe to whatever faith or tenet that guided her Muslim colleagues. But her side of the story was never told. It was forcefully subdued. The expected national outrage and Christian fury were quickly supplanted by sinful arrogance. The killers of Deborah and their backers went on the offensive, instead. They could not understand why anybody should complain about her murder. For them, it was not even enough to kill Deborah. The Christian congregation in Nigeria, beginning from Sokoto, ought to be taught some bitter lesson in intolerance. And so, rather than run away from the law over a grievous act of misdemeanor, the killers launched an onslaught against Christian institutions in Sokoto State.
Perhaps, Deborah reminded them of the audacious posturing of Most Reverend Matthew Hassan Kukah, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, who has been very critical of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration. The incident was an opportunity to give the cleric a red eye. And they did. Kukah and the church in Sokoto got a raw deal. That was an irony. Iniquity had to run over sanity. It developed wings. That was why the killers of Deborah did not go into hiding. Rather, they confronted the law. That brought about the twist in the tale, which is, that the greater majority of Sokoto residents were not averse to the killing. They were receptive to it. That was why there was a spontaneous orgy of street protests against the arrest by the police of two persons for the murder of Deborah. In other words, they consider the arrest of the killers as unwarranted and unwanted.
As if the audacious overreach of the murderers was not enough, some Islamic clerics added more insult to the injury with their support for the heinous act. A certain Ibrahim Maqari, who is said to be the imam of the National Mosque, was quoted to have justified the killing of Deborah. According to reports, the imam said Deborah was to blame for her death because she crossed Islamic red lines. He was quoted thus: “We the Muslims have some red lines which must not be crossed.”
Close to two weeks after, the imam has not disclaimed the statement. This leaves the impression that those who took the life of Deborah have backers within the larger Islamic community. This is a dangerous development, which Nigeria can ill afford. In fact, the street protests in favour of the killing and the justification of the act by some highly placed Islamic clerics have a ring of ominous foreboding. The sinful act can spark off a national crisis of immense proportions, if it is not checked. If such a culture of intolerance is allowed to take root, Nigeria could slide into a religious war.
Going by the pervasive sentiment around Sokoto State in favour of the killing, we cannot but ask: Does Islam permit the spilling of human blood? It is important that we get the right answer to this question because we do not seem to know where to draw the line between politically or religiously-motivated murders.
Those who have some knowledge of Islam tell us that the deployment of religious or political violence in situations dates back to the early history of Islam. Its origins, according to Islamic scholars, can be located in the behaviour, sayings and rulings of Prophet Muhammad, including those of his companions and the first caliphs in the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries. However, authorities say that mainstream Islamic law stipulates detailed regulations for the use of violence, whether corporal or capital punishment, as well as how, when and against whom to wage war.
The foregoing seems to suggest that Islam has codes of ethics and conducts, which its adherents must adhere to. Those who observe them in breach stand the risk of punishment, in whatever way it comes. But should these codes apply to non-Muslims? Deborah was a Christian. As one, she was not likely to subscribe to some of the teachings or beliefs that Islam is known for. The same thing is true of Muslims. There are a number of Christian teachings, doctrines and beliefs, which Muslims do not rely upon in the practice of their own religion. This difference in opinion or belief in religious matters is not a sin. It is an accepted mode of seeing and knowing. This, certainly, was Deborah’s point of departure with her killers. She repudiated an aspect of a belief system she did not subscribe to and did not mince words about it.
But what really rankles about this ugly chapter in the story of Nigeria is the elite silence that went with it. Those who have a voice in Nigeria went to sleep over the matter. They avoided it like a plague. They refused to condemn the intolerance that led to the murder of Deborah. They treated the matter as if it never took place. This conspiratorial silence is reprehensible. It makes the Nigerian elite a suspicious breed. Why did they have to pretend over something as heinous as the dastardly murder of a fellow citizen? This duplicity diminishes all of us in the eyes of the civilized world.