Religious conflicts have escalated dramatically in recent years. Throughout the 1950-1996 periods, these conflicts constituted 33% to 47% of all conflicts.
Few continents are exempt from this picture of faith-based conflict, and today Nigerians are grappling with a troubling theological issue following the stoning death of a Christian college student, allegedly for committing blasphemy on a social media site.
Few have seen the site or what Deborah Yakubu Samuel, age 25, a student at the Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto state is alleged to have said on the WhatsApp online platform.
What is known is that a group of young men, crying ‘blasphemy,’ took the law into their own hands, snatching her from school, stoning her and then covering her with tires which were set on fire.
Some have defended the violent action, noting that Nigerian law upholds punishment for “insult to religion.” Section 204 of the Criminal Code states: “Any person who does an act which any class of persons considers a public insult on their religion… is guilty of a misdemeanor and liable to imprisonment for two years.”
But another section in the Constitution entitles every Nigerian to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and freedom of expression.
Nonetheless, dozens of cases of mob punishment for blasphemy have taken place over the years including one ignited by a daily newspaper, Thisday, suggesting that Muhammad would have approved of a Miss World pageant that was taking place in Abuja.
Muslim mobs attacked the paper, burning down its office building in Kaduna. Churches and properties owned by Christians were attacked. Soldiers and police intervened. About two hundred and fifty people died.
In another case, rioting took place after a Christian teacher confiscated a copy of a Quran from a pupil reading it during an English lesson. More than 20 Christians died in the rioting and two churches were destroyed.
Fellow student “Rakia” remembered how the murderous melee began, starting with a discussion on the WhatsApp platform created for students. Someone asked Deborah how she passed last semester’s exam and she replied it was ‘Jesus o.’
Immediately, about three other chats came in from two Muslims and one Christian, telling her to retract the statement. Two students from other departments told Deborah’s close friends to prevail on her to retract the statement. But she replied via a voice note: “The group wasn’t created for that but rather as a notice on test, assignment, exam, etc, not these nonsense religious posts.”
Young men from outside the school were led inside to look for Deborah, Rakia recalled. “Those in the class took her to the security post where a cab was waiting to drive her to the police station.
Unfortunately, the mob overpowered everyone who tried to save her. They even threatened to kill anyone who attempted to stand in their way.”
“She was dragged out, flogged and stoned. Her last words were ‘what do you hope to achieve with this?’ Finally, all the Christian students fled the school premises. When I got home I heard she was set ablaze. Since the incident, I have been having a flash of her pleading for mercy…
“What a cruel way to die.”
While President Muhammadu Buhari, the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III, and others have condemned the violence, several Muslim leaders defended the action. Chief Imam of the Abuja National Mosque, Prof. Ibrahim Maqari, justified the murder on his Twitter page. Maqari warned those who broke the religion’s red lines would face severe consequences. Anas
Mohammad Sani, a government official in Sokoto, also threatened that Christians in Nigeria would be killed if they said anything derogatory about the venerated Prophet Muhammad.
Former vice president and current aspirant Atiku Abubakar also hesitated to condemn the murder. His first post on Twitter attacked the violent mob but he later deleted it, claiming he had not authorized the post. Critics claimed it followed a threat to deny him thousands of votes from the northern area.
Last but not least, Dr. Abiola Afolabi-Akiyode, speaking for a coalition of women’s groups declared: ”The blatant disregard for human lives and the continuous killing of women and girls with impunity and the normalization of jungle justice shows the failure of states to secure the people.”
The burial of Deborah Emmanuel has taken place in her hometown, Tunga Magajiya, Niger State, amidst tears.
For updates to the story, visit news reporter Adeola Fayehun on YouTube, Instagram or Twitter.