The sequence of events following the callous murder of Deborah Yakubu by a lynch mob is alarming. Deborah, a 200-level Home Economics student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, was killed over allegations of blasphemy.
After swiftly arresting two suspects, Bilyaminu Aliyu and Aminu Hukunci in connection with the murder, the Sokoto State Police Command, declared matter-of–factly that one of the principal suspects widely seen in a viral video proclaiming his role in the murder, had escaped from Nigeria and was not, in any case, a Nigerian. The Police authorities claimed that he had fled the country, and thereafter declared him and other suspects wanted.
On the heels of this manifestly disturbing action by the Police, was the violent protest by an irate mob demanding the immediate release of the suspects arrested in connection with the murder of Deborah. The impunity displayed by the mob’s brazen attacks on public properties, including two Catholic Churches, suggests an uncomfortable nexus between the killing of Deborah and the misconception that permits this kind of murderous barbarity as a religious duty.
Curiously, the Sokoto State government arraigned the two suspects in Police custody before a magistrate’s court with twin charges of Criminal Conspiracy and Inciting of Public Disturbance”. Legal experts have demanded that the charges should reflect the offence committed. President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olumide Akpata has urged the state government to “file charges that truly reflect the gravity of the situation”. Similarly the National Human Rights Commission had lend its voice to calls that “charges should reflect the offence of murder and nothing less in the circumstance.”
Equally disturbing was the tweet attributed to the Chief Imam of the National Mosque, Abuja, Prof Ibrahim Masqari, who justified Deborah’s killing, citing “we the Muslims have some red lines beyond which MUST NOT be crossed”. This seeming justification of murder by a prominent Islamic figure and a government appointee, even if inadvertent, appears as an overt sympathy for the murderous mindset that arrogates to itself the right to define a grievance of blasphemy and inflict punishment, regardless of the laws of the land.
Masqari’s message runs contrary to the teachings of Islam. The Holy Qu’ran which is the foundation of authority for Islamic jurisprudence makes provision for fair hearing and due process, and warns against mob action to take a life. Specifically the Qur’an, 6.151 states: “Do not kill a soul which Allah has made sacred except through the due process of law,”
The National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity), very worried about these developments notes that, His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari in his response to the killing of Deborah ended it with a worrisome admonition urging “religious and community leaders to call citizens attention to the need to exercise the right to freedom of speech responsibly”. These observations provide unfortunate commentary to an enabling climate of bigotry, lawlessness and casual disregard for our laws and the rights of other citizens.
Lest we forget, Miss Yakubu is not the first victim of murderous barbarity undertaken by religious zealots in northern Nigeria. Before her, there have been:
- Gideon Akaluka, beheaded in 1994 in Kano over allegations that his wife committed blasphemy;
- Florence Chukwu, accused of blasphemy and murdered in 2006 along with 20 other Christians in Bauchi;
- Christiana Oluwatoyin Oluwasesin, lynched by her own students at Government Day Secondary School, Gandu Gombe in 2007 for allegedly desecrating the Quran.
- Adie Grace Ushang, killed in August 2009 in Borno by people who took offence that she wore khaki trousers, the official uniform of the National Youth Service Corps.
- Mrs Bridget Agbahwe, who was beheaded by a mob in June 2016 in Wambai Market, Kano State, also over allegations of blasphemy.
- 24-year-old Methodus Chimaije Emmanuel, who after being accused of posting a blasphemous comment on Facebook was killed alongside four other people in Niger State.
These examples of killings under the banner of religious zealotry show no signs of abating anytime soon. The sheer cruelty fuelled by religious fanaticism disregards secular laws and even the true injunctions of the religion it claims to fight for, and debases human lives indicating a serious problem with societal impunity. It speaks to lack of clarity about religious doctrines and a refusal to recognize the supremacy of our secular laws prohibiting murder and assault on another person. It encourages misguided and impressionable youths, sometimes goaded by demagogic clerics and opportunistic political leaders, to perpetrate violence on other citizens unflinching of dire consequences from the law enforcement agents.
The impression being created and sustained is that government authorities are not bothered by these violent assaults and murders, and care less about the lives and property of Nigerians. This effortlessly conveys the impression of tacit approval for extremist behaviour which has invariably emboldened unbridled savagery.
We are of the firm view that the political and religious leadership in Nigeria need to depart from this path of ambivalence and its temporary advantage of political popularity, and recognize the damage recurrent violence does to communities, and national cohesion.
Our government must resolutely demonstrate, firmly and consistently, that every Nigerian has a right to life. No one should take the life of another human without being held accountable and subject to the weight of our laws. This includes those that commit violence and murder, and their enablers.
The Federal Government of Nigeria and the Sokoto State government owe Deborah Yakubu justice in order to put an end to extrajudicial killings fuelled by religious misconceptions. This is an urgent and serious governmental responsibility to begin the long overdue journey towards restoring respect for the sanctity of human life.