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Alleged Blasphemy: Nigerians demand justice for Deborah

By Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze and Sodiq Omolaoye (Abuja), Chris Irekamba, Ijeoma Thomas-Odia, Eniola Daniel, Sunday Aikulola and AdelowoAdebumiti (Lagos)
14 May 2022   |   4:27 am
More condemnations yesterday trailed the killing of a 200-level female student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, Deborah Samuel Yakubu, last Thursday, over alleged blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad.

Deborah

• Her Killing Barbaric, Say CAN, Amnesty International, HURIWA, Womanifesto
• Murder Anti-Islam, MURIC, MMPN Declare
• Christian Youths Petition IGP As Buhari Orders Probe

More condemnations yesterday trailed the killing of a 200-level female student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, Deborah Samuel Yakubu, last Thursday, over alleged blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad.

President Muhammadu Buhari, Amnesty International (AI), the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) all condemned the dastardly act.

While the President has ordered a probe into the incident, AI, CAN and HURIWA said the Federal Government must ensure that all those responsible for the Deborah’s death are arrested and brought to book.

The Muslim Media Practitioners of Nigeria (MMPN) and Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), also stated yesterday that the act was “anti-Islam, barbaric and sad,” stressing that “it is a criminal offence in the Shari’ah of Islam for anyone or any group to take the law into their hands.”

This is even as CAN Youth Wing (YOWICAN) has petitioned the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Usman Baba Alkali, urging him to commence investigation into Deborah’s murder.

Condemning the resort to self-help by the mob, which resulted in violence, destruction and killing of Deborah, President Buhari, in a statement signed by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said the news of the killing of the young lady by fellow students was a matter of concern and demanded an impartial, extensive probe into all that happened before and during the incident.

Buhari said: “Muslims all over the world demand respect for the Holy Prophets, including Isah (Alaihissalaam, Jesus Christ) and Muhammad (SAW) but where transgressions occur, as alleged to be the case in this instance, the law does not allow anyone to take matters into their hands.

“Moreover, religious leaders preach that it is not for the believer to judge the actions of another person. The constituted authority must be allowed to deal with such matters when they arise.

“No person has the right to take the law in his or her own hands in this country. Violence has and never will solve any problem.” President Buhari also directed the Ministries of Information and Culture, Police Affairs and that of Communications and Digital Economy to work with GSM providers and Tech companies to help contain the spread of false and inflammatory information through social media.

He extended his condolences to the family of the deceased student and wished all those injured a quick recovery.  Buhari commended the immediate response to the incident by the Sokoto State Government and urged religious and community leaders to call citizens’ attention to the need to exercise the right to freedom of speech responsibly.

The President called for tampered comments by the media and calm among the general population while investigation is ongoing to find out the remote and immediate causes of the incident.

However, the Country Director of Amnesty International, Osai Ojigho, told The Guardian yesterday that Nigerian authorities must ensure that those responsible for Deborah’s death must immediately be arrested and brought to justice.

She stated that the trending video of her death shows where she was being beaten and stoned in front of her school security post before tires were placed on her, adding that a second video shows her attackers boasting about her death.

She noted that the Federal Government must curtail the impunity that has led to “an impunity in mob violence and arrest all those involved in this reprehensible act.”

According to her, a prompt, thorough, independent, impartial and effective investigation must also be launched on all cases of mob killings.

On its part, CAN called on the Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, to ensure that the matter is not swept under the carpet. In a statement yesterday in Abuja, CAN’s General Secretary, Joseph Bade Daramola, a lawyer, alleged that the failure of the security agencies and the government to rise up to such criminalities in the past gave birth to terrorists and bandits, stressing that “as long as the State fails to bring these beasts and criminals amidst us to book, so also the society will continue to be their killing fields.”

Daramola stated that the unlawful and dastardly act must not only be condemned by all right thinking people but also the security operatives must fish out the perpetrators and prosecute them as it is expected of them.

His words: “We acknowledge the swift reaction of His Eminence, Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar 111, who not only condemned the criminal and religious intolerant action, but called on the security agencies to bring the perpetrators to justice. We also call on all teachers and preachers of religious intolerance, extremism and terrorism to repent before the wrath of God descends on them if the State failed to bring them to book. They are agents of death amidst us.

“We recall the provocative and demeaning advertisement of the Sterling Bank where the bank compared the Resurrection of Jesus Christ to ‘Agege bread.’ Up till now, nobody was attacked and even the CAN leadership has accepted the apology tendered by its Chief Executive, Abubakar Suleiman. Killing for any God in the name of blasphemy is ungodly, satanic, foolish, reprehensible and totally unacceptable.

This is not a Stone Age and Nigeria is not a Banana Republic.” Daramola maintained that Nigeria remains a non-religious State where no religion is supreme to the other.

“We acknowledge and commend the restraint of the Christian students of the College who refused to embrace self-help and reprisal attacks on those who murdered their colleague. It is our prayers that those vampires in religious garments will not push the country to a religious war. This is why both the government and the security agencies must stop treating them with kid gloves. Enough is enough. CAN commiserate with the family of Deborah and other bereaved. May God console and comfort them in Jesus Name. Thanks to many other Nigerians who condemned this heinous crime. It was quite an unfortunate development in 21st century Nigeria,” he added.

Also reacting to the development yesterday, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) warned that reprisals might become inevitable if the case is swept under the carpet like similar cases of murders of Christians over alleged blasphemy by Islamists in Kubwa Abuja and twice in Kano State.

In a statement yesterday by its National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, HURIWA said the strongest deterrent action provided by law must be applied against Deborah’s killers or else the Federal Government has unwittingly authorised that reprisals should occur. He added: “These violence will do Nigeria no good, because religious violence could lead to a civil war.”

HURIWA condemned the management of the College for allegedly standing by and doing next to nothing while the riotous Islamic extremists within the students body descended on their fellow students and killed her like a chicken. The group also tackled former Vice President Atiku Abubakar for reportedly debunking his initial condemnation of the dastardly act.

“Atiku Abubakar denied ever condemning the killing of the young Christian girl, Deborah, in Sokoto, because Islamists threatened him on his Facebook and Twitter not to cast their votes for him. Let us ask Atiku Abubakar: If your daughter is at this receiving end of this barbaric murder, will you prefer the so-called votes of the lawless Islamists or will you stand by the Nigerian Constitution, which in Section 36(5) guarantees fair hearing to all accused persons and Section 6 concedes judicial power of the federation to courts of competent jurisdiction listed therein? We ask President Buhari: If one of your daughter is the one treated like a chicken like Deborah, will you maintain conspiratorial silence as if you are not on this planet with us?”

The National President of MMPN, Abdur-Rahman Balogun, maintained that the action was “anti-Islam, barbaric and sad”, just as the Director of MURIC, Prof. Ishaq Akintola, described it as “outrageous, illegal and unlawful.”

Balogun stated that mob killing is a criminal offence in Islamic law. His words: “Allah says in Qur’an 5 verse 32 thus: … ‘We ordained for the children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people…’

“So, the punishment for any offence in Islamic law is decided by a judge. No other member of the public has that jurisdiction.

“In essence, it is a criminal offence in the Shari’ah of Islam for anyone or any group to take the law into their hands.

“Even if it is a crime committed against the state, it is when the specific punishment is prescribed in the Qur’an or Hadith, only a competent judge of a Shari’ah court is allowed to approve of the witnesses and evidence, and to give the sentence for the execution of the appropriate punishment.

“In essence, anyone who takes the law into their hands is a criminal that should be punished for their crime.” He said what happened in Sokoto was a manifestation of ignorance on what the religion of Islam preaches, hence the need for Islamic scholars to renew their commitment to preaching peace, love, tolerance and understanding as taught by the Prophet Muhammad himself.

On its part, MURIC, in a statement signed by Akintola said: “MURIC strongly condemns this killing and all others that have been happening in Nigeria in recent times. Those aggrieved by the student’s post should have reported her to the security agencies or to the Shariah police, the hizbah. Mob killing is archaic and bohemian. It belongs to the Stone Age. Nobody has the right to take the law into his hands.

“This incident should not be condemned in isolation. The recent trend whereby Nigerians now freely shed their brothers’ blood should be condemned by all patriots. In this regard, we also strongly denounce the killing of several Northern Muslims in the South East in the past few months.

“We frown at the recent burning of a truck fully loaded with cows in the South East as well as the killing of many Muslims of South East origin by their Igbo brothers in the same South East. We note with keen interest that Muslims in the North did not retaliate when these killings were taking place.

“MURIC calls on the Sokoto Police Command to do everything within its power to get to the bottom of the killing of the female student over alleged blasphemy. We appeal to members of the public to remain calm and law abiding. Nigerians should allow the police to carry out its investigations on the case. The Sokoto Police Command has started well as it already has two suspects in detention for the killing.” He urged Nigerians to always exercise restraint on matters of religion.

“We therefore appeal to Nigerians to desist from insulting, deriding or abusing the prophets of other religions. Muslims should continue to respect Jesus (peace be upon him) whom the Christians hold very dear. In the same vein, Christians should avoid casting aspersion on the person of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). We have experienced enough religious crisis in the land,” he stated.

Also weighing in on the matter, the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Most Rev. Alfred Adewale Martins, described it as appalling, provocative and inhuman.

In a statement by the Director of Social Communications, Rev. Fr. Anthony Godonu, the Archbishop charged law enforcement agencies to quickly swing into action, identify the culprits and bring them to justice in line the country’s criminal laws.

He condoled with the family of the deceased student and the people of Sokoto State and also prayed for the repose of the soul of the deceased.

His words: “I feel very saddened by the callous manner Deborah Yakubu’s life was cut short in her prime by a bloodthirsty jungle justice mob. It shows how little the value that some people place on human life.”

This act once again attests to the fact that much still needs to be done in this country for us to appreciate the fact that every human life is sacred and invaluable, something to be nurtured and never trivialised. 

“When you murder a fellow human being on an allegation of blasphemy, you have not only committed murder but have sown the seed of hatred, suspicion and triggered corresponding negative emotions that could snowball into a deep crisis. No one has a right to arbitrarily shed human blood. It is not in our constitution; it is not in our customs or tradition. Such an act is archaic and reprehensible and should be expunged totally from our DNA. All those found culpable in this killing must be made to face the consequences and we must all ensure that justice is seen to be done.”

In its petition to the IGP signed by its National Chairman, Belusochukwu Enwere, yesterday, YOWICAN alleged that the killing of its members for inexplicable reasons had persisted unabated.

It, therefore, called for in-depth investigation into the circumstances surrounding the unfortunate lynching and burning of Deborah. The statement read in part: “We humbly write on behalf of YOWICAN, the umbrella body that coordinates and oversees the affairs of all the Christian Youths in Nigeria, over the barbaric killing of Deborah Samuel Yakubu by her fellow students, over a comment on WhatsApp group platform.

“Prior to her demise, the deceased was a 200-level student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education Sokoto.

“Information reaching us from reliable sources, including friends, students and close family members, reveal that Miss Deborah Samuel Yakubu was tortured, stoned, lynched and gruesomely murdered and her body subsequently set ablaze as a result of comment she made in her departmental group WhatsApp platform, which her killers alleged to have blasphemed Prophet Muhammed.

“We as well gathered that the acts of killing of our members for inexplicable and most times flimsy reasons, have persisted unabated and has been largely kept away from the Christian fold and the general public by the perpetrators, who appear to be working as a syndicate with some affiliation to the dreaded Boko Haram and ISIS, before this unfortunate episode that happened in Sokoto State.

“Sir, we heard that only two people were arrested while over 200 students participated in committing this crime. We hope this is not a way to sweep this matter under the carpet.

“The unlawful and dastardly action of the perpetrators must not only be condemned by all right-thinking people, but the Police, Department of State Services (DSS) and the Minister of Education must fish them out, prosecute them as it is expected.

“Our prayers: It is in the light of the foregoing that we as leaders and representatives of the Christian youth body, to which Miss Deborah Samuel Yakubu is a dedicated member, hereby petitions that you use your good offices to cause an in-depth investigation into the circumstances surrounding the unfortunate lynching and burning of our sister in the most degrading and inhuman manner in order to ensure justice.”

Similarly, a coalition of women groups in a statement signed by the co-convener Womanifesto, Dr. Abiola Afolabi-Akiyode, has said that the blatant disregard for human lives and the continuous killing of women and girls with impunity and normalisation of jungle justice shows the failure of states to secure the people.

According to the statement, “another bright young woman is killed in her prime for exercising her right to freedom to speak, education and association. A freedom enshrined in the constitution of Nigeria.

“The continued silence by the leadership, institutions and the law enforcement agencies is suspect. We would like to recall that several women have been killed, and nothing has been done by government to help bring justice to these women, who were killed in cold blood for ‘religious blasphemy’.

“This time again, another young woman Deborah whose only crime committed was to seek education and instead was killed for same ‘religious blasphemy’ in cold blood. The constitution of the county states that there will be no state religion and put the security of lives and property as a primary responsibility of the government.

“We therefore call on the state Governor Aminu Tambuwal to take immediate step to condemn this act and take positive action to forestall future occurrences. We call on religious leaders to speak out against this dastardly act, but words are not enough; we want to see people face the law for this murder of an innocent young woman.”

Womanifesto demands that the justice system leaves up to its role as the hope of the common women since the men have often been exonerated for crimes against women and girls.

“All this fixation with election 2023 in a country on the brink of collapse is a diversion of energy and majoring in the minor and will amount to the final division of this great nation if nothing is done.”