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Blasphemy and the rising jungle justice

By Carl Umegboro
09 June 2022   |   2:51 am
The gruesome murder of Deborah Samuel, a Christian and student of Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto by a mob of Islamic extremists on 12th May is one of the most atrocious incidents

Deborah Samuel, a 200 Level student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto

The gruesome murder of Deborah Samuel, a Christian and student of Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto by a mob of Islamic extremists on 12th May is one of the most atrocious incidents in recent times.

The promising young lady was ambushed, mob-beaten, and stoned to death. Still unsatisfied, the heartless mobs assembled tyres and set her ablaze on a broad day.

Whilst the nation is grief-stricken, a similar incident occurred a moment ago adjacent to the airport road in the
e Federal Capital Territory on Saturday 4th June against a young man, Ahmad Usman, a member of a vigilante group who was beaten, and burnt alive by Muslim youths in countless numbers. Police report reveals that the mob attack followed his argument with one Imam in the area. These two incidents in less than a month point to a looming serious crisis if not arrested urgently.

Deborah’s crime was discontent over a religious post by a Muslim student on a Students’ group platform which was perceived by her Muslim colleagues as a blasphemy against Islam. A report discloses that immediately after the news broke out, Islamic scholars read out a verse of the Qur’an prescribing death on anyone that blasphemes against Islam leading to her ambush and attack.

After the ugly incident, the Chief Imam of the National Mosque in Abuja, Professor Ibrahim Maqari backed the mobs’ action claiming that a redline was crossed. Furthermore, about 34 lawyers from the religion trooped to the court in solidarity with the alleged killers. The question? Could the religious bigots justify the barbaric act of culpable homicide over a violation of fundamental human rights?

Regarding the ‘redline’ used by Professor Maqari, I agree with the Chief Imam on ‘crossing a redline’ but partly. A redline was indeed crossed. But by who – is our point of divergence. Overtly, Deborah’s life was unlawfully terminated by the extremists against her Right to Life in Section 33 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended. Her Right to Dignity of human persons in Section 34 supra was invaded. Her Right to Fair-hearing in Section 36 supra was trampled upon. Her Right to Freedom of Expression in Section 39 supra was eroded. These breaches amount to crossing a redline. Credits to the Nasrul-Lahi-I-Fatih Society (NASFAT) Nigeria, an Islamic group that boldly condemned the barbaric act.

The Chief Imam’s utterance has continued to generate public uproars including from the Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka calling for his arrest by the government. It must be noted that the laureate is neither a Christian nor Muslim. Furthermore, his ethnic region; Southwest has a blend of the two religions existing tranquilly. Thus, it cannot be said he has a personal interest in any. In fact, from the record, it is in the Southwest that a family could harmoniously practice the two religions. An example is the APC stalwart, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, a devout Muslim and his wife, Oluremi, a Christian and even a pastor. Ditto on the Minister of Works and Housing, Babajide Fashola (SAN), a Muslim and his wife and children; are Christians.

Let’s even assume the Qur’an endorsed the death sentence for blasphemers, did anyone find their names in the Qur’an as the enforcers on blasphemy? Are the mobs the Court of law or Sharia Court that find perceived offenders guilty? Are they law enforcement personnel approved by the government? These are critical questions that must be answered. Blasphemy is synonymous to hate speech. Can anyone or a group of citizens become the accuser, judge and also the enforcer – to stone, murder and set ablaze citizens over alleged blasphemy or wrongs? The answer is No. Thus, a red line was crossed.

In Christianity for example, in the Bible, similar punishments are prescribed especially in the Old Testament as follows. In Leviticus 24:16, it says “And he that blasphemeth in the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him… Similarly, in the Book of Exodus 31:15, it says “Six days may work be done, but in the seventh is the Sabbath of the Lord; whosoever doeth any work in the Sabbath day, shall be put to death”. Even in the New Testament of the Holy Bible, Matthew 26:52 says ‘……all those who kill by the sword shall perish with the sword. These verses attest that no religion has a monopoly on the death sentence including stoning to death.
The question is, has any Christian ever harmed anyone vis-à-vis enforcement of these doctrines in the Bible? Or are they fools – No. They understand that the law enforcement agencies approved by the government are the only lawful body to arrest or enforce laws with a fair hearing in the court. That is the way to go. If a nonbeliever is perceived to have engaged in blasphemy or any act that may lead to aggression, the appropriate action is to report to the Police and not for anyone to take laws into his hands.
Likewise, in the Criminal Code, Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, some crimes are pegged to death by hanging particularly murder and armed robbery. However, the provisions do not authorize even the Police to punish or kill suspects but to arrest except in exceptional cases like self-defence. Where the Police or any other law enforcement personnel arbitrarily kill a suspect without conviction and sentence by a court of competent jurisdiction, it will attract sanctions accordingly. This, therefore, suggests that the Chief Imam is taking religious sentiments to the redline.

Emphatically, no religious group – Christians, Muslims, Jews, traditionalists, pagans has any right to kill any citizen for whatever reasons including blasphemy. No matter the doctrines, as far as Nigeria’s space is concerned, the Nigerian Constitution is supreme. Arbitrary killing for any reason is murder – this is the redline and must stop. It doesn’t matter if the victim is a believer or an unbeliever in the religion. It is therefore expedient that the culprits must face the full weight of the law for deterrence. Ignorance is no excuse in law. Instructively, nobody can be guilty of any crime until arraigned and convicted by a court of law.

So, the government must not take these calamities lightly, particularly on account that the first scene took place in a government school premises. The government should also pay reasonable compensation to the family to set the record straight that she was unjustly hacked to death by religious extremists. This will send a strong message across quarters that the government strongly condemned the act and not paying mere lip service. Ditto on the recent victim, a fellow Muslim in Abuja.

Furthermore, as a proactive security measure, the government must ensure that the Chief Imam that publicly backed the barbarism is adequately sanctioned, otherwise, he may further mislead the vulnerable followers through his position to create anarchy in the FCT.

Emphatically, arbitrary and extrajudicial killings under whatever creed or belief must be stopped. Above all, the government should expeditiously convene an all religions summit for education on human rights and redline doctrines. Every religious group must know its boundary. Enough of reactions, and condemnations after barbaric incidents which is akin to medicines after death. The Police should also consider transferring the Sokoto case to FCT to reduce possible pressures from some quarters on the court, particularly the fanatics overcrowding the court. The time to act is now.

Umegboro, ACIArb is a public affairs analyst and social advocate.