Deborah’s murder was emblematic of everything wrong in our system at all levels. Her’s was the latest in the long list of those killed by inveterate and sadistic religious extremists who deserve agonising capital punishment. She was a metaphor of helplessness at her dying moment; a blossoming beautiful flower that withered at morn, a pulchritudinous avatar cut down in her prime, our candle in the wind and a determined heroine who deserved to live and make her own contributions to the development of our country.
Chronicle of religious upheavals in Nigeria
Late 1970s and early 1980s
Maitatsine and Yan Tatsine uprising, leading to several thousand deaths.
Muslim zealots prevented the expansion of the Anglican Church house, which was built before a nearby mosque was built.
A Muslim-Christian riot started in College of Education, Kafanchan but later spread to the whole town and neighbouring villages. Houses, mosques, and churches were burnt, with many people dying.
The late German evangelist, Reinhard Bonnke was to have a crusade in Kano, which was scuppered. About a dozen people died in the ensuing religious riot.
Gideon Akaluka, a young Igbo trader was beheaded in Kano for alleged blasphemy. Up till today, the purported perpetrators are walking free and some even became VIPs.
July 14, 1999
In the village of Randali in Kebbi State, a Muslim mob beheaded one Abdullabi Umaru. The mob accused him of blasphemy against Prophet Mohammed (SAW).
2000 and 2001
Riots in Abuja and Jos between Christians and Muslims over the appointment of a Muslim politician, Alhaji Muktar Mohammed, as a local coordinator of the federal programme to fight poverty, led to mass riots in the two cities.
Another religious riot occurred in Kano over the implementation of Sharia law, with more than 100 people getting killed in the upheaval.
November 20, 2002
A Nigerian journalist, Isioma Daniel wrote an article in ThisDay newspaper about the 2002 Miss World contest that was to be hosted by Nigeria. The article was deemed insulting to Prophet Mohammed (SAW), and it the violence that subsequently happened, more than 250 people were killed. The beauty contest was moved from Abuja to London and a fatwa was placed on Isioma Daniel’s head.
The rest of the 2000s saw repeated inter-religious violence in Jos and Kaduna.
September 30, 2005
The reaction to the Jyllands-Posten Mohammad cartoons crisis began after the Danish newspaper published 12 editorial cartoons considered offensive to Muslims. This led to violent demonstrations across the world, and in Nigeria. There were clashes between rioters and the police, which claimed up to a hundred lives, and led to reprisal attacks in Southern Nigeria, especially in Onitsha.
In Bauchi, Florence Chukwu, a Christian teacher, confiscated a copy of the Quran from a pupil who was reading it during an English lesson. The incident provoked rioting by Muslims, which led to the death of more than 20 Christians and the destruction of two churches.
March 21, 2007
A mob of Muslim students and neighbourhood extremists beat to death Christianah Oluwatoyin Oluwasesin, a mother of two from Ekiti State and teacher at Government Secondary School, Gandu, Gombe. A student had complained that Oluwasesin, a Christian, had touched a bag, which allegedly contained a Quran, and had thereby defiled the Quran.
September 28, 2007
A Muslim mob rioted at Tudun Wada in Kano State, killing nine Christians, burning several churches, and destroying the homes and businesses of some non-Muslims. The Muslims complained that Christian students had drawn a picture of Prophet Mohammed (SAW). However, the Christians reported that the violence erupted after they had prevented one of their own from converting to Islam.
February 4, 2008
A Muslim mob besieged a police station and set it on fire in the city of Yano in Bauchi State. A Christian woman, who had spurned the marriage proposal of a Muslim man took refuge in the police station. She was also accused of desecrating the Quran. In the ensuing snafus, five churches were set alight by Muslims, while Christian shops were torched and the homes of policemen attacked.
February 9, 2008
A Muslim mob rioted in the town of Sumaila in Kano State, acting on the alleged distribution of a leaflet deemed to have slandered Prophet Mohammed (SAW). The mob killed a Christian police inspector and two civilians, while wounding 20 others. The fundamentalists set vehicles and the police station ablaze.
April 20, 2008
Muslim rioters in the city of Kano burnt the shops and vehicles of Christian merchants, after one of them was alleged to have disparaged Prophet Mohammed (SAW).
August 9, 2008
A Muslim mob in Kano State beat a fifty-year old Muslim man who blasphemed against Prophet Mohammed (SAW) to death.
2009 till date
Boko Haram has fought a fratricidal war in the country and many people considered enemies of the version of Islam being propagated have been killed.
June 19, 2009
A Muslim mob in the town of Sara in Jigawa State burnt a police outpost and injured about 12 people over an alleged blasphemy against Prophet Mohammed (SAW). The mob complained that someone was distributing blasphemous pamphlets and it demanded that the Police should give up a mad man who had sought refuge in the police outpost.
July 9, 2016
A 42-year old mother of seven, Mrs Eunice Elisha was murdered for allegedly engaging in evangelism around the Gbazango-West area of Kubwa, a satellite town of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
August 10, 2020
A Kano State Shariah Court pronounced the sentencing of two perceived blasphemers. Yahaya Sharif, aged 22 years, was sentenced to death by hanging for the offence of blasphemy against the Prophet in his song, which was circulated on WhatsApp in March 2020. His family home was also burnt. The other person, Omar Farouq, aged 13 years, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for blasphemy.
In the aftermath of the gruesome killing of Miss Deborah Yakubu by some depraved beastly goons and religious fanatics at the College of Education, Sokoto State, on Thursday May 12, the nation has, once again, been plunged into another dark abyss of religious upheaval, which has been a recurrent decimal in the annals of our chequered history. It was another sombre day in our unenviable recording of needless, horror-stricken deaths, arising from ethno-religious intolerance, perfidy and rabid insensitivity that appallingly lent credence to the cheapness of human lives in our perilous enclave. The usual avalanche of rhetorics of condemnation and bland promises of “fishing out the perpetrators” trailed the dastardly act from our theocratic monarchs, government officials at all levels and many people across the geopolitical and religious divides. Before long, the whole story will be consigned to the dustbin of history, while the ever-insatiable, blood-lusting fetid maggots – sweeping into our terrains with unabashed hauteur – will be targeting their next unsuspecting victims. The knee-jerk reflexes since this latest murder only showed many Nigerians as nothing but mawkish crybabies not interested in laying to eternal rest the roving ghost of murders from religious fanaticism.
Albert Einstein is claimed to have defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. We have trod this inglorious and famished path many times as a people but the antidotes to this malady remains a mirage. No lessons have been learnt from the previous incidences of religious riots and the attendant needless deaths and, therefore, the savages are increasingly more emboldened to commit more heinous crimes against their victims, now and in the future. The fungating sore of religious bigotry keeps festering, unfortunately to our detriment as a people.
The insensate ferocity of mayhem and the frighteningly-low threshold to kill and maim in the name of God are gallingly sickening. Unfortunately, the perpetrators of these crimes – often mired in moral turpitude – have been brainwashed to believe that they can always fight and avenge on God’s behalf and earn eternal glory. Blasphemy, which is often the reason behind these cases of killings and violence, is an impious utterance or action concerning God, including not only the mocking or vilifying of attributes of Islam but denying any of the fundamental beliefs of the religion. Examples include denying that the Quran was divinely revealed, the prophethood of one of the Islamic prophets, insulting an angel, or maintaining that God has a son.
According to some islamic scholars, the Quran curses those who commit blasphemy and promises blasphemers humiliation in the Hereafter. However, whether any Quranic verse prescribes worldly punishment is debatable: Some Muslims believe that no worldly punishment is prescribed, while others disagree. The interpretation of hadiths, which are another source of Sharia, is similarly debatable. Some have interpreted the hadiths as prescribing punishments for blasphemy, which may include death, while others argue that the death penalty applies only to cases where a perpetrator commits treasonable crimes, especially during times of war. Different traditional schools of jurisprudence prescribe different punishments for blasphemy, depending on whether the blasphemer is a Muslim or non-Muslim, a man or woman.
In the modern Muslim world, the laws pertaining to blasphemy vary by country, and some countries prescribe punishments consisting of fines, imprisonment, flogging, while others stipulate hanging or beheading. Capital punishment for blasphemy was rare in medieval Islamic societies. In the modern era, some states and radical groups have used charges of blasphemy in the effort to burnish their religious credentials and gain popular support at the expense of neo-liberal Muslim intellectuals and religious minorities. Other Muslims, instead, push for the greater freedom of expression.
The Bible also frowns at blasphemy. In Leviticus 24: 16: “anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death”. The entire assembly must stone them. Whether foreigner or native-born, when they blaspheme the name, they are to be put to death. There have been a series of blasphemies against the Church, the Bible and Christians through the ages but at no time has any Christian invoked that particular passage to resort to violence or the killing of alleged masterminds. Christians often have implicit beliefs in God, being almighty, to fight His own battle and bring any blasphemer to justice. To Christians, fighting to avenge blasphemy is akin to implying that God is powerless, and the Bible is replete with many cases where God fought for His own children who diligently sought after Him against many adversaries and also proved His supremacy as our inimitable and immutable God. Therefore, avenging for God on the basis of blasphemy is one of the most labyrinthine religious swindles and hypocrisies so pervasive in our country. Herein lies the cognitive dissonance between the faithful of both religions.
Late Deborah Yakubu was said to have written against sanctimonious proselytisation on what was to be a strict academic discussion group among her colleagues. This position was misconstrued and she was asked to apologise and recant her statement. Her steely defiance was borne out of the fact that she didn’t see any figment of insult or blasphemy in her innocuous statement. It was possible that there could have been a further nocturnal continuation of the WhatsApp correspondences among a few individuals who felt her statement was offensive to Islam and, therefore, had to be martyred for sacrilege. The plan to kill her the next day could possibly have been hatched among the few colleagues online after she had logged out.
The security outpost within the College where she ran to for refuge also fell short of expectations. Every school should know that it is responsible for the safety of the lives of students within its jurisdiction, when it is in session. To have sheepishly and voluntarily surrendered a female student in distress being pursued by her blood-thirsty assailants left much to be desired and demanded many answers. Diplomacy, tactical manoeuvring, deliberate pleading to calm tempestuous oceans and frayed nerves with promises of assuagement and official retributions, resolutions and negotiations, could have come handy as weapons, while one of them could have subterraneanly called the nearest police station to mobilise its personnel to quell the violence and nip the agonising death of the victim in the bud.
The gruesome appropriateness of death to any perceived blasphemer – as advocated by some die-hard religious bigots – can only serve to nourish their burgeoning bodies and catalyse their penchant for blood-letting at any remote inkling of blasphemy. However, through continual dialogical approaches, we can tame the monster. We can terminate the evil precocity of this abnormal foetus, and let it collapse on its own social disequilibrium, shorn of its external sustenance. We can make it wither like an aborted foetus, if it will not cease to smother the minds and sinews of our authentic beings.
A thorough investigation to unravel the immediate and remote causes of this dastardly crime is the least one expects from the State government. The thread of conversation the night before Deborah’s death must be dug into for everyone to see what constituted blasphemy – the trumped-up charge for which she paid the supreme sacrifice. All perpetrators of the crime must be made to face justice and nothing must be swept under the carpet. They deserve to live among wild animals. They don’t belong in the habitation of human beings. The security personnel who released her to the roaring lions as an easy prey must be made to account for their tawdriness, inefficiency, lack of circumspection and introspection. Serious efforts must be painstakingly deployed to know the level of culpability – or lack of – of all the security personnel in this murder case. The natural law of retributive justice must be applied to the letters. Justice must not only be done, it must be seen by all to be done.
Deborah’s murder was emblematic of everything wrong in our system at all levels. Her’s was the latest in the long list of those killed by inveterate and sadistic religious extremists who deserve agonising capital punishment. She was a metaphor of helplessness at her dying moment; a blossoming beautiful flower that withered at morn, a pulchritudinous avatar cut down in her prime, our candle in the wind and a determined heroine who deserved to live and make her own contributions to the development of our country. May your killers know no peace.
Deborah Yakubu, may your soul rest in peace.
Dele Afelumo is a practising physician. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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