The murder of Deborah Yakubu

IN a most chilling act of cold-blooded murder, Deborah Yakubu, a Christian and  a 200 level student of Home Economics at the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, Sokoto State, was killed recently by some of her Muslim classmates, allegedly for blasphemy. Ironically, since her gruesome murder, no one has been able to  pinpoint the actual statement Deborah uttered or wrote that constituted blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad (SAW) to warrant her being subjected to such a level of cruelty and barbarism. But that type of criminal and dastardly act is not new in northern Nigeria where innocent citizens are  wantonly decimated by callous and ignorant zealots on flimsy excuses of religious offence, as if self-help is permitted by the law in that part of the country.

Sadly, the scene of the instant  incident, a campus of a tertiary institution, is  a serious cause for concern. To say the least, the location was  most unusual and unexpected. How could such a ghoulish action take place on a campus of a citadel of learning? What kind of education are the students being given?  It is against all logic that anyone can be killed in such circumstances, especially in an ivory tower. A situation where students of tertiary institutions, who should be the light of the society,  have yet to wean themselves from religious extremism and zealotry portends grave danger. And  that does not bode well for the future of the country and the unity of its multi-religious people.

The various accounts of this gory incident are not fundamentally different. And they are related to altercations where certain statements were alleged to be blasphemous. She was reportedly clubbed, battered and stoned to death, and her lifeless body was burnt under a pile of tyres. Indeed, one of the felons who participated in the hideous act was seen on a viral video brandishing the match which was used to light the fire that immolated the victim. How wicked and audacious can anyone get?

The role of the college security and the police should be examined. How was it so easy for the zealots  to overpower the internal security of the college and remove the deceased from their custody?  Why did it take the police so long to arrive at the scene of the incident? What stood in their way until irreversible damage had been done? Or  were they not contacted early enough? On the following day when the religious extremists mobilised, demanding the release of the two persons arrested over the killing of Deborah, the incident literally snowballed into ethnic and sectarian crisis. It is imperative that the state braces up to the challenges of religious and ethnic intolerance in the North, and treating perpetrators with kid gloves will not help. The problem has persisted because there were no consequences for perpetrators in the past. And such incidents will recur unless the current one is treated differently and the perpetrators are punished as specified by law. If you take the law into your own hands, then you are not fit for modern society. No religion preaches jungle justice, especially by self-appointed spiritual police.

The disposition/ reaction of some prominent Nigerians towards this crime against humanity is worrying. Amongst individuals currently jostling to become  president, there was a conspiracy of silence. Only one or two of them condemned the act. Another aspirant on whose handle a message was tweeted condemning the act dissociated himself from the tweet, allegedly when he was threatened with electoral backlash. And although the governor of Sokoto State promptly condemned the incident,  his government filed  very weak and feeble charges  against the perpetrators, leaving out the main offence of murder. President Mohammadu Buhari’s reaction did not come until 24 hours after the sickening incident.  He condemned the incident and directed that it should be investigated but he quickly admonished that “people should  respect other people’s religion”. Not a few are still wondering why Mr. President could not wait for the outcome of the inquiry he ordered before implying that lack of respect for other people’s religion was the cause of the odious action that culminated in Deborah’s murder. And in any case, since when have differences in religious belief become a justification for anarchy? Or what is the essence of the rule of law?  It is this kind of official ambivalence and seeming tacit approval of religious fundamentalism as well as unchecked false indoctrination by some unscrupulous Islamic clerics that threw up and egged on Boko Haram insurgents and bandits until they burgeoned into the monsters and daunting security menace they constitute today.

It is nonetheless heartening that a number of Islamic scholars and clerics have condemned Deborah’s murder and dissociated themselves and Islam from the act of cruelty perpetrated by the hoodlums pretending to be spiritual police  in Sokoto. The admonition of one of the prominent clerics that any Muslim that kills Christians will not smell heaven is most instructive and soothing. That is the kind of courageous statement that can engender the much needed religious reorientation and moral rearmament required to truly foster unity in diversity in the  land.

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