Blasphemy: We Demand #JusticeForDeborah And End To Barbarism
It was quite horrific watching videos circulating on social media on Thursday, particularly the one which captured the moment Ms Deborah Samuel was murdered in the most gruesome murder by those who should be teachers in training. No, she wasn’t at the receiving end of some xenophobic rage in South Africa or Ghana, the highly cringing scene was in Nigeria where the life of a promising Nigerian was cut short in her prime by some savages who should be her compatriots. If their beastly tendencies had been visited on bandits who have made their lives so miserable, perhaps Nigerians will not have been as incensed. Yet, the civilized world wouldn’t excuse such jungle justice on even the vilest offender, not to talk of being visited on someone who was just exercising her inalienable right of expression in her country! Even if Deborah was reckless with her tongue and “insulted the Holy Prophet”, shouldn’t she have been handed to the police and allowed the law to take its course?
According to reports, the late Ms Samuel, a second-year student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto, was in a discussion with her classmates in a WhatsApp group chat when she was questioned about how she passed her exams, Deborah responded that it was because of Jesus. She was then asked by religious fundamentalists to retract her statement and apologize but she refused and railed against the incessant posting of religious content on the platform as the group was created for academic-related notices. Following threats to her safety afterward, the school security intervened and took her to their post. The bloodthirsty students dragged Deborah from the refuge and lynched her to death with sticks and rocks. They went on to set her ablaze right there on campus. Ezenwoko’s Blog wonders why this fate will befall Ms Deborah when Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) upholds Nigeria as a secular state whereby no religion is a state religion. Why snuff the life out of her when the constitution guarantees her freedom of religion? Even if she was guilty of infringing on the religious sensibilities of others, Section 36(5) of the Constitution guarantees a fair hearing to all accused persons, while Section 6 concedes judicial powers of the Federation to the Courts of competent jurisdiction.
In the face of these legal safeguards, it’s the height of impunity for the students to make a video of themselves claiming responsibility for the cold-blooded killing of Deborah. One of them even brandished the matchbox he used in torching her. It is quite troubling for this will happen within the confines of an institution of higher learning with the authorities and law enforcement agents not saving the situation. It is not as if cold incidents like this have not been happening in a section of the country, but for it to be perpetrated by persons who are meant to teach the next generation shows Nigeria is regrettably in a long night with religious fundamentalism. What knowledge will these be imparting to the young ones when they eventually get to the classrooms? Going by reactions on social media where even the enlightened provide justification for the extra-judicial murder, it is clear that some Nigerian have no qualms killing a fellow citizen for purportedly passing unflattering comments about Prophet Mohammed. Members of the northern elite defending the murderers do not know better than President Buhari, who in strongly condemning the murder of Deborah, declared that, “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”.
Posting @profmaqari, Prof. Ibrahim Maqari wrote, “It should be known to everyone that we the Muslims have some redlines beyond which MUST NOT be crossed. The dignity of the Prophet (PBUH) is at the forefront of the redlines. If our grievances are not properly addressed, then we should not be criticized for addressing them ourselves“. With such a hard line, if adherents of the other faiths goes ahead to draw and enforce their redlines, where will that leave the country? As Prof. Farooq Kperogi argued while responding to a comment on his Facebook post, “most of us Muslims would be guilty of blasphemy in Christianity. We say Jesus isn’t the son of God. That’s blasphemy in Christianity. We say he wasn’t crucified. That’s blasphemy in Christianity. We say the modern Bible is a corruption of the original one. That’s blasphemy in Christianity. Christians would also be guilty of blasphemy in Judaism in several of their theological claims. And all Abrahamic faiths would be guilty of blasphemy in polytheistic faiths, including in traditional African religions. So, where do we draw the line?
Unfortunately, so virulent was the defence of the barbaric action that a presidential aspirant believed to have a moderate Islamic disposition deleted posts he earlier made to condemn the murder of Deborah in cold blood. His action came after the religious fundamentalists openly threatened to vote against him in next year’s election. It is within this context that the audacity of the murderers in making a video to claim responsibility for the dastardly deed can be understood. They see their lynching of Deborah as heroism and in service to their God. Unfortunately, opportunists have used this means to rise to prominence or build a cultic following in the country, a case in point was the Kano man who in 1995 spearheaded the public beheading of one Mr. Gideon Akaluka, an Igbo man who was falsely accused of desecrating the Muslim holy book. Ezenwoko’s Blog believes that not until misguided masses stop venerating bloodlust religious fundamentalists in the country who seek every opportunity to instigate mob action against those who blaspheme their religion, Deborah’s sad end may not be the last.
As referenced above, this bloody absurdity dates back to 1995 and has been reincarnated in various fashions. On March 21, 2007, muslim students at Government Secondary School, Gandu, Gombe State along with outside Islamic extremists, murdered a teacher named Christianah Oluwasesin over claims that she desecrated the Quran. They beat, stoned, and clubbed the supervisor of a class taking final examination on Islamic Religious knowledge to death, then burned her corpse. In July 2016, a mother of seven and an RCCG deaconess, Eunice Elisha, was murdered by unnamed suspects while she was preaching around the pipeline area of Kubwa, a satellite town of Abuja. The bereaved husband said at the time, “There was a particular day she went out and she told me that there is a mosque at the back where they commented about what she said”. It can also be recalled that in 2016, a woman, Bridget Agbahime, at Kofar Wambai market in Kano was killed by a Muslim mob over alleged blasphemy against the Islam Prophet. In 2020, an upper Sharia court in the Hausawa Filin Hockey area of Kano State sentenced 22-year-old Yahaya Sharif-Aminu to death over blasphemy in a song he circulated via WhatsApp.
This unfortunate development must not be allowed to continue hence the need for all conscientious Nigerians to rise in condemnation of the gruesome murder of Deborah. The British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, in her reaction on Friday, tweeted, “I condemn the murder of Deborah Samuel in Sokoto, and urge the police and relevant authorities to ensure the perpetrators of this horrific act are made to face justice in line with the law”. We recall that the British Parliamentary Group had in 2019 released the International Religious Freedom Report on Nigeria which painted a picture of “an ongoing religious/ethnic cleansing ongoing in Nigeria”. After this report titled “Nigeria – Unfolding Genocide?” was released, the Buhari government went on overdrive in trying to refute the claims. President Buhari must know that it is instances like the gruesome murder of Deborah over her faith that feeds the perception that the international community has of his reign. He must therefore go beyond strongly condemning the killing into working closely with the Sokoto State government to see to it that the culprits face the full wrath of the law.
Ezenwoko’s Blog expresses our deepest heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family and urges Nigerians to remember them in their prayers. We call on the people to remain calm and not allow an escalation of the tension caused by this tragic incident. We stand for religious tolerance in the country, and justice for Deborah Samuel. Moderate Islamic clerics must do more to counter radicalism being propagated in northern Nigeria. They will be doing the religion a world of good when adherents become more tolerant and respect the sanctity of life. No Nigerian should be killed for saying what hurts the feelings of others. Law enforcement agents and the courts must be allowed to play their roles!
This article was originally published on Nigeria News