By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
Last week the video of a body set ablaze by a mob went viral on social media. It was preceded by the still picture of a lady dressed in red lying on the ground in a grotesque manner. Life was no longer in her. She had succumbed to savagery and jungle justice by overzealous morons who accused her, found her guilty and executed in a most barbarous manner reminiscent of the Stone Age. She died a most horrendous death in the hands of her class or school mates. She was stoned to death by students at a College of Education. The barbarous act was carried out by some teachers of tomorrow. What kind of educators would these teachers be in future? Do they recognize Nigeria? Do they realise that Nigeria is not an Islamic Republic, that is, supposing an Islamic Republic will tolerate such a murder? How are the killers better than bandits or terrorists currently plaguing the northern part of Nigeria? We have allowed a monster out of religion, fighting wars for God who obviously did not ask us to fight for Him!
It turned out that it was the body of Citizen Deborah Yakubu, a student at Shehu Shagari College of Education Wamako Sokoto, who had been murdered because, according to her traducers, she blasphemed the name of Prophet Mohammed. In a class WhatsApp platform, she had complained that the platform had been inundated with religious posts and that the platform should be used for what it was created for. Her traducers claimed she made some uncomplimentary remarks about Prophet Mohammed. Later a sweaty nincompoop, with the dark looks of a savage, released a video in which he claimed gleefully that he was the one that killed the lady in question. This in 21st century Nigeria? This is unacceptable. It is indicative of the deep division between world view of extremists in the north and the rest of the country.
The ugly news has not been carried by cable network stations. If it happened in Afghanistan or the Middle East, her death would be on the airwaves. Fortunately, and appropriately, the Sultan of Sokoto, leader of Muslims in the country, has spoken against the murder. But he should not stop there. We expect him to personally get involved and ensure that the killer is paraded before the press as a common criminal. Except he does this, we would see the condemnation as mere lip service. The irrepressible Father Matthew Kukah has also condemned the murder and called on the government to fish out the perpetrators for the right punishment, stating that ‘’the only obligation that is owed her immediate family, her fellow students and the school authorities is the assurance that those who are guilty of this inhuman act, no matter the provocation, are punished according to the laws of the land’. Writer Gimba Kakanda wrote on a Facebook post: the barbarism that transpired in Sokoto today has no basis in Islam, and it indicts us all. This culture prevails because past self-appointed punishers of blasphemers got away with their crimes. Whether in Islamic jurisprudence or our secular law, there’s no place for jungle justice, no matter how any offended mob feels’.
But the misguided zealots don’t feel any remorse. Some posts which followed the gleeful announcement on social media are instructive. The killer whose photograph is prominently displayed on social media boasted: ‘I killed her. I burnt her. You can see the matchbox I used in setting her ablaze’. One Muhammed Mode Gagi wrote, just as Bilyaminu Ladan, Sirajo Isiya and Balkisu Umar Ibrahim that: ‘You have done well, may God increase the status of Prophet Muhammed (s.a.w). Sufiyenu Yabo then concluded it: ‘Praise be to God. May Allah reward you with paradise! Which God? My question is if the head of Muslims has called it murder, from which book did the young Muslim boys and girls learn that to inflict jungle justice on a woman who supposedly blasphemed is carrying out a divine injunction?
I must state from the outset that no one has the right to insult another religion, either directly or indirectly. Christianity and Islam are the two major religions in Nigeria. Adherents must their boundaries. To insult Prophet Mohammed is unacceptable. But it also unacceptable for an individual to take the life of another citizen in the name of religion. This is how religious wars start. Pause for a minute and imagine what it would be if Christians in Sokoto decide to take the life of a Muslim youth in vengeance. Or if in the Christian-dominated south a Christian family carries out a reprisal attack. An endless cycle will start, the end of which no one can predict. Therefore, the Sokoto State government must rise to the occasion and bring the culprit to book.
There had been other killings in the name of religion in the past. In 1995, one Gideon Akaluka was decapacitated by Muslim fanatics for blasphemy. Nothing came of it in the form of punishment on her killers. In June 2016 Mrs. Bridget Agbaheme was brutally murdered by suspected Islamic extremists in Kofar Wambai market Kano state, over allegations that she blasphemed the name of the Holy Prophet. Except the government takes a decisive action against such criminals, more of such acts will occur in future.
The killing is most incendiary. It is provocative. It could trigger off sectarian war. As we know, religious wars are difficult to contain. Christian Association of Nigeria should get actively involved to ensure that Deborah does not die in vain. Justice must be pursued to serve as a deterrent. The NBA and allied associations must rise to the occasion. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN) as urged NBA-SPIDEL not to hold any conference in the State where a Nigerian citizen has been brutally murdered and burnt to death…we should make a statement to the government by cancelling the Conference and hold it in a neighbouring State in the North’.
What has given Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai an international stature? It is the attack on her person by religious extremists because of her stance on education. Deborah is our own Malala, and she should be accorded that status. Her death in the hands of ignorant and defiant zealots diminishes all of us. I expect the President, the State governor and high-ranking state officials from the North to condemn the killing and order the arrest of the killer. The College management should suspend the suspect pending full investigation. There will be no love lost between the killer squad leader and other Christian members of the class and indeed all other Christian students in the College. Some acts, small as they are, help to define a nation. Except the government punishes the killer, the government would inadvertently be promoting the emerging narrative that there is no ‘One Nigeria!
POSTSCRIPT: After submitting the essay, further developments made me return to my submissions. The culprits were appropriately arrested, leading to mass protests. There have been riots in Sokoto, with houses and properties belonging to non-Muslims being targeted. Alhaji Atiku has withdrawn his condemnation of the killing of Citizen Deborah. He has lost votes, thereby. The State government has imposed a 24hour curfew. But soldiers ought to be drafted to quell the riots that have led to destruction of lives and property. This is no way to grow a federal republic! Government must stand firm! Mr. President must condemn the arsonists.
Professor Hope O. Eghagha teaches at the Department of English, Faculty of Arts, University of Lagos, Akoka.