Nigeria is at the moment becoming a shadow of itself. The tension in the air all across the country is palpable. This tension is fuelled by religious crisis that is avoidable. Religious crisis and non-state actors are taking advantage of this crack in the country to foment terrorism in different parts of the country.
On Thursday, May 12th, 2022, a female student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, Deborah Samuel, was lynched and eventually burnt to death by some students of the institution. Her offense – she allegedly blasphemed the holy prophet, Mohammad. Her trouble started after she criticised an Islamic piece posted on a WhatsApp group created by her classmates for dissemination of relevant information to their studies.
Having killed a fellow student in cold blood, her assailants would not stop at that; they went ahead to unleash violence and destruction of lives on residents with focus on Christians in the Muslim dominated state over the arrest of suspected killers of the student. The protesters attacked some churches in the state capital, while demanding the release of the suspects. A Catholic Church and a building of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), were reportedly destroyed by the protesters. They went as far as targeting some shops belonging to indigenes of the south-east geopolitical zone of the country.
The killing spread to other parts of the north with tension in Bauchi, Bauchi state, where a staff of the state Primary Health Care, Roda Jatau, was alleged to have shared a video in a WhatsApp group in which a convert was said to have insulted the holy prophet.
Muslim youths reportedly mounted a search for the lady after Jumaat prayers but could not find her because she had been taken away for her safety. This led the angry youth to resort to destroying properties that belong to Christians in the area and setting their houses ablaze.
The same was also reported in Borno stateas a group of Muslim extremists in the state declared death sentence on a Christian lady identified as Naomi Goni, for alleged blasphemy and insulting Islam Prophet Mohammad in a Facebook post. The extremist group threatened to kill Goni if the Borno State government did not do anything about the alleged blasphemy. While dishing out the threat on Facebook, a leader of the extremist group, Tanko Izge, was emphatic. He said the punishment for blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad was death and as such, the lady must die.
Izge, in the post which was posted in Hausa wrote, “A message to Government of Borno State. There is a girl named Naomi Goni who insulted the Messenger of Allah (SAW) and in Islam it is a death sentence even if it is a Muslim. We therefore call on the Borno State Government to take immediate action or else we Muslims will not sleep and we will take action.”
Meanwhile, the lady reportedly denied making the post. She was reported to have said that her social media account was hacked by unknown persons who may have posted the offensive content.
Between 1999 and 2022, not less than 15 incidences of alleged blasphemy have occurred in Nigeria. With majority of it leading to murder, destruction of properties and uneasiness.
In December 1994, a mob stormed a jail in the north-western state of Kano where Gideon Akaluka, a young Igbo trader was being held by the police and having murdered him, gleefully paraded his decapitated head around the city. Police had taken Akaluka into custody after his wife allegedly used pages of the Quran as toilet paper for her baby.
In 2002, more than 200 people were killed in widespread rioting after Isioma Daniel, a journalist for This Day newspaper, joked that Prophet Mohammad would have chosen a wife from one of the contestants in that year’s Miss World competition scheduled to hold in the city of Abuja. Arsonists touched the paper’s office in Kaduna while the government of the north-western state of Zamfara issued a fatwa which urged “all Muslims wherever they are to consider the killing of the writer as a religious duty.”
In March 2007, Christiana Oluwatoyin Oluwasesin, a schoolteacher in Gandu in the north-eastern state of Gombe, was beaten and stabbed to death after a student accused her—falsely, as it happens—of tearing a copy of the Quran. All sixteen suspects arrested in connection with the killing were later released without charge.
In March 2021, a water vendor popularly known as Talle Mai Ruwa, was dragged from a police post in the village of Sade in the north-eastern state of Bauchi where he was being held, and beaten to death by a mob for allegedly insulting Prophet Mohammad.
Nigeria is no doubt a sensitive country when it comes to religion. It is rather amazing how those who profess to be adherents of a particular religion would defend sentimentally issues that has to do with their religion without taking logical reasoning. As the country prepares for the 2023 general elections, some of the politicians are weary and tread carefully in reacting to the recent killings.
Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, who had earlier condemned Deborah’s killing was quick to delete the tweet and rushed to Facebook to announce that his Twitter handle was hacked. In the now deleted tweet, Atiku said, “There cannot be justification for such gruesome murder. Deborah Yakubu was murdered, and all those behind her death must be brought to justice. My condolences to her family and friends.”
But defending his action in Edo state when his campaign train visited Governor Godwin Obaseki, Atiku said that he ordered the tweet to be deleted because he did not approve that it should be posted in the first instance.
“Every tweet has to get my approval. Unfortunately, this tweet – because I was travelling all over the country – did not have my approval. So, I said it should be taken down and that every tweet must have my express approval.
“I am not a person who is afraid to take stand on issues; you know the stand I took on Sharia. I was pelted, I was abused in the North, but then how long did the Sharia last?I told them they were having a political Sharia and I was vilified; they threw stones at me.
“There was nothing they did not do; that did not make me change my position as far as Sharia is concerned. Where is the Sharia today? So, the only thing that went wrong with that tweet was that it was not authorised by me.”
But Atiku seems to be the only aspirant that directly condemned the killing. Apart from Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who said, “the killing of Deborah Samuel is a deeply distressing thing, very disturbing – such an atrocious killing of the young lady by a mob who took the law into their own hands. It is very unfortunate,” no other aspirant has condemned the killing.
Our observation revealed that other aspirants are mindful of not suffering the same fate as Atiku who is having to do damage control over the matter. Some of the aspirants who refused to react include: Jigawa State Governor, Badaru Abubakar; Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike; Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi; former Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi; Pastor Tunde Bakare; Senator Ibikunle Amosun; Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi.
It is true that Deborah’s death might be a religious one but it would take political will to put a lasting stop to its reoccurrence. However, when those aspiring to lead a country where religion is a big deal, are timid and reluctant in taking a position on such matters, then how unfortunate are Nigerians?
Religion has contributed to the development of Nigeria, there is no doubt about that. All over the country, the two major religions, Christianity and Islam, have contributed in healthcare development, education and provision of social security to the society. However, the question remains, the level of religion’s contribution to the development of Nigeria, can it be compared to what it is contributing in other countries? The likes of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Dubai, Monaco, Finland and many others across the world are religious countries. There is little or no issues of terrorism in these countries.
The likes of the United States of America, Canada, and France that have maintained secularization, are gold standard in development. Why has Nigeria been less fortunate? The truth of it is that Nigerians need to tell themselves the truth. There can be no development unless there is understanding and tolerance. A former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, advised that for understanding and religious tolerance to well up in Nigeria, approaching issues of national importance should be separated from religious sentiment. “If you choose to respond to an attack coming from someone who claims to be speaking for Christianity and then you speak from an Islamic position, you will divide the country,” Sanusi said.
The Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III, said earlier this year at a Nigerian Interreligious Council (NIREC) meeting, “We have been reading and hearing reports about the persecution of Christians in Nigeria and I keep asking myself how? Christians are being killed, Muslims are also being killed and they are all lives created by God. For me, there is no persecution of anybody in this country. If you claim there is a persecution of Christians in Nigeria, there would also be claims of persecution of Muslims, but that would not solve the problem. People claim they are denied places to build mosques, churches in some parts of the country. But the right thing to do in such cases is to approach relevant authorities and not to make claims of persecution. I can quote from now till the next 100 years of things that have been done or not done to Muslims, but we usually approach relevant authorities in ways that we believe would bring solutions to the problems.”
At the heat of banditry last year, President Muhammadu Buhari directed Ibrahim Gambari, his Chief of Staff, to engage with political, traditional, and religious leaders throughout the areas of the country that had seen outbreaks of violence in order to combat insecurity and engage with the country’s significant youth population. This directive led to the Nigeria Governors’ Forum making commitment to guidelines to engage with religious, traditional, and civil society leaders to “drive a common agenda and generate support for security personnel who ensure the safety and wellbeing of all Nigerians.”
Religious tolerance and harmony are feasible in Nigeria if the political will is sincere and committed to making it work without any string attached.