On May 12, 2022, reports surfaced of the killing of Deborah Samuel, a 200 Level Economics student of Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto State.
Deborah was accused of sending a voice note on a WhatsApp group chat deemed to be blasphemous against Prophet Muhammad, after which she was stoned to death and subsequently burnt alive by an angry mob. The state government shut down the institution, but the mob was able to vandalise vehicles and obstruct a highway.
Perhaps, the most morbid part of the incident was the fact the perpetrators recorded and uploaded a video, coupled with support for their actions by some Internet users.
This is the most recent incidence of a religious killing in Northern Nigeria. Many would recall Deaconess Eunice Elisha, who was killed in July 2016 while on morning evangelism, and fewer would remember Gideon Akaluka, a trader who was incarcerated for allegedly desecrating the Holy Qur’an and subsequently beheaded in December 1994 by an incursive mob. Incidents of this nature are sometimes followed by investigations which end up being unsatisfactory.
The governments of the northern states could be doing a lot more to forestall such incidents and bring the perpetrators to book. On another end, the import of Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) is a dead letter and religious intolerance has simply eaten deep into the fabric of the Nigerian society. Either way, a daily threat will hover above a sizeable portion of the Nigerian population indefinitely, no matter what developmental quantum leap Nigeria takes.
It is easy for non-Muslims with reservations on the religion to use these incidents as an avenue to spread needless hateful statements. These statements may be interpreted as hypocritical in the face of relatively milder acts done under the guise of Christianity that are nonetheless inhumane. More importantly, hateful statements do not solve the problem.
Significantly, many Nigerians are a long way from home in this regard and a long-term approach is inevitable.
The key stakeholders are the government, the religious institutions and the family unit. The state governments, especially those in the North, need to be more proactive by ensuring that law enforcement agents pay special attention to areas that have witnessed religious killings in the past.
In addition, state governments need to display more administrative will to diligently investigate and prosecute religious killings. Religious institutions need to leverage on their influence by reiterating the need for peaceful relations between their adherents and non-believers, during religious meetings and services.
Furthermore, family heads should act in the same vein as religious institutions with their wards by consciously building the values of tolerance and respect from a young age.
Ultimately, there is only so much rehabilitative work that can be done with the present generation of Nigerian youths. Damage control may the best option in the meantime, but it would be simply be a big shame if Nigeria—or what is left of it – is still plagued by religious killings two decades from now.