THE recent killing of a 74-year-old woman, Mrs. Bridget Agbahime, at the Kofar Wambai market, Kano, on June 2, is the latest in a long list of brazen murders committed in the name of religion in the country. The woman was reported to have been killed in the presence of her husband by a mob, after she was falsely accused of blasphemy during an altercation with a fellow trader in the market.
Two days earlier, another trader identified as Methodus Chimaije Emmanuel, 24, was reportedly attacked and murdered by another mob in Pandogari, in Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State. The killers alleged that he posted a blasphemous statement in the social media. Although the military quickly restored order, the mob resumed hostilities the next day and killed three more persons, including a member of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps. The killers also burnt a church, a house and a shop. At least 25 shops were said to have been razed as the mob blocked the Lagos—Kaduna Road, a major expressway linking the northern and southern parts of Nigeria.
On June 7, another mob was reportedly to have brutally attacked a 41-year old carpenter, Mr. Francis Emmanuel, in the Kakuri area of Kaduna metropolis. He was accused of not participating in the Ramadan fast.
The authorities in each incident have said the right things. The Kano incident even elicited a statement from President Muhammadu Buhari, who promptly condemned the murder and urged the prosecution of the perpetrators. The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar II, also condemned the incident. In Niger State, Governor Sani Bello and the military have been calming nerves. In Kaduna, the State Government’s spokesman, Mr. Samuel Aruwan, issued a ringing condemnation of the attack and reaffirmed that “there is no compulsion in religion.” The state government was unequivocal on its stance that “It is a free country, and that means no imposition of faith or religious practices on anyone.”
As much as we appreciate the sentiments of the president, the Sultan and the governors, we are constrained to point out that the failure to bring perpetrators of crimes of this nature to book in the past is responsible for the unending killings of innocent persons over blasphemy allegations in the country. There is no record of a single diligent prosecution and conviction of those who have murdered fellow citizens on account of blasphemy. That is why some citizens, on the slightest pretext, accuse their neighbours of blasphemy and get a mob to kill them with impunity. It is painful to recall the murder of Gideon Akaluka, who was savagely beheaded by a mob on the same charge of blasphemy, and had his head stuck on a spike and paraded around the city of Kano in a most barbaric manner.
It is time for the security agencies to stop these mindless killings that are capable of inciting both religious and ethnic upheavals in the country. And, the only way to do so is to ensure that all those who are found to have participated in such mob murders are fished out, tried and punished for the crimes.
We cannot continue to rely on the continuing tolerance, patience and forbearance of Christians who are often the targets of these attacks. Each incident is like a cut on the corporate harmony of Nigeria. Besides Akaluka, a number of other Nigerians have been killed over blasphemy charges. Indeed, in one of the incidents, a police outpost was set ablaze. In yet another, a female teacher was killed by her students. These killings are taking place as if there is no law against blasphemy in Nigeria. But, Section 204 of the Criminal Code Act prohibits blasphemy and prescribes severe punishment for offenders.
We observe with optimism the arraignment of five suspects for the murder of Mrs. Agbahime. We hope similar charges will be brought by the Kaduna and Niger State Governments against the people responsible for the killings in those states. We also urge the Sultan and Islamic organisations such as the Jamatu-Nasril Islam (JNI) and the Muslim Students Society (MSS) to remind all Muslims that blasphemy is a crime and whoever is suspected of that crime should be reported to the police for proper arrest and prosecution. They should not be subjected to jungle justice.
Killing of innocent people for posting messages on the Internet is an act of extremism and fanaticism that could lead to a conflagration. We urge all Nigerians to eschew religious fanaticism and work towards tolerance, peace and understanding in the country.