Nigerian Christian Killed By Muslims for “Blasphemy” Sparks Outrage

A young Christian woman in Nigeria was murdered for alleged blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammed by a group of Muslim youths. This is not the first time such an atrocity has happened there.

The gruesome murder and burning of a young female student, Deborah Yakubu, within the premises of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, for alleged blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammed, and the subsequent arrest of two suspects in connection with the incident, has led to protests from Muslim youths who have burnt and destroyed churches in the metropolis. 

The victim was beaten and stoned to death on Thursday, May 12, 2022, by a number of Muslim youths at Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, Nigeria. 

The angry youths who accused her of insulting Islam’s Prophet made and shared the videos of how they stoned and beat the young lady to death and subsequently burned her body. 

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According to eyewitnesses, as they were filming everything, they kept shouting “Allāhu ʾakbar,” meaning, “Allah is the greatest.”

In her report on the Sokoto incident, an eyewitness whose sister is also a student in that institution disclosed that the student “was beaten mercilessly, stoned and burnt to death by some aggressive Muslim course mates” who accused her of posting “blasphemous” statements in a WhatsApp group.

According to the eye witness, the security personnel by the school gate “wanted to intervene but they were chased by the angry mob.” Curious Muslim passerby were invited to join in the attack. “I guess they used the Islamic doctrine in this case which goes thus ‘duk wanda ya zagi annabi jininshi ya halatta,’” which means, “Anyone who insults the Prophet deserves to die.”

Meanwhile, the College of Education has been locked down until further notice, and the Sultan has ordered that the culprits be prosecuted according to the extant laws of the land. 

Most Reverend Matthew Kukah, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, which covers Zamfara, Katsina, Kebbi, and Sokoto itself, has vigorously condemned the dastardly act. “We condemn this incident in the strongest terms and call on the authorities to investigate this tragedy,” he stressed in an official statement. 

Bishop Kukah explained that “the only obligation that is owed her immediate family, her fellow students and the school authorities is the assurance that those who are guilty of this inhuman act, no matter their motivation, are punished according to the extant laws of our land.” 

The fiery cleric added that “this has nothing to do with religion” while insisting that “Christians have lived peacefully with their Muslims neighbours here in Sokoto over the years. This matter must be treated as a criminal act and the law must take its cause.”

While praying for God to grant her soul eternal rest and comfort her family, the Prelate urged “Christians in Sokoto and around to remain calm.”

On his part, Muhammadu Sa’adu Abubakar III, the Sultan of Sokoto, who is the leader of Muslims in Nigeria, also condemned the act, calling for calm. “The Sultunate Council has learnt with dismay the unfortunate happenings at the Shehu Shagari College of Education (SSCOE) Sokoto that led to the loss of life of a female student of the institution,” the statement read in part. “The Sultunate Council condemned the incident in totality and has urged the security agencies to bring the perpetrators of the unjustifiable incident to justice” the statement continued. “The Sultunate Council has urged all to remain calm and ensure peaceful co-existence among all people of the state and the nation,” the statement affirmed.

Briefing reporters at Government House, Sokoto, the Commissioner of Information, Isah Bajini Galadanci, confirmed that Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal ordered the immediate closure of the school and investigation by the Ministry of Higher Education and other security agencies.

He maintained that the Governor has “called on the people of the State to remain calm and maintain peace as the government would take appropriate actions on the findings of the investigation.”

Deborah was in her second year (200 Level) of the institution and was a student of Home Economics before the unfortunate incident. 

In most parts of Africa, killing in God’s name is a recurrent theme, as a similar scenario played out on July 9, 2016, when evangelist Eunice Elisha was killed for preaching Christ in Kubwa, Federal Capital Territory, Nigeria. 

That same year, Bridget Agbahime was beheaded in Kano for blasphemy. But in the two cases, no one was punished. 

In March 2021, a man identified as Talle Mai Ruwa was burned to death by an angry mob in Sade community, Darazo Local Government Area of Bauchi State, for allegedly insulting the Prophet.

Last year, in the district of Mangochi in Malawi, a pastor was accused of mocking the “Muslim God.” Although he escaped being lynched, some Muslim youths burnt down his church and house. 

In a press statement signed by the Command Public Relations Officer, ASP Sanusi Abubakar, and made available to newsmen in the state on Thursday, May 13, 2022, the Sokoto State Police Command assured that two persons have been arrested in connection with the killing of Deborah Yakubu.

While speaking to the media, Emmanuel Garba and Alheri Emmanuel, the parents of the slain Sokoto student, disclosed that they have handed everything to God. “We can’t say or do anything, except to take it easy as an act of God. We have left all to God, we have decided to take it like that,” stated the parents. 

Following the arrest of the suspects, there have been protests in Sokoto by Muslim youths and some adults, which have led to the destruction of livelihoods. 

The Director of the Directorate of Social Communication, Sokoto Diocese, Reverend Father Christopher Omotosho, confirmed that “during the protests, groups of youths led by some adults in the background attacked the Holy Family Catholic Cathedral, at Bello Way, destroying Church glass windows, those of the Bishop Lawson Secretariat and vandalised a community bus parked within the premises.”

According to him, “St. Kevin’s, Gidan Dare, Eastern Bypass was also attacked and partly burnt; windows of the new hospital under construction in the same premises were shattered.” Fr. Omotosho further disclosed that “the hoodlums also attacked the Bakhita Centre located along Aliu Jodi road and burnt down a bus within the premises.” 

The Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, declared a 24-hour curfew to stem the protests.

In his reaction, Bishop Kukah “commended the governor—for acting promptly by declaring the 24-hour curfew to stem the protests” and deploying security forces to promptly “prevent further damage at our facilities.” 

Bishop Kukah instructed that “all Masses in Sokoto metropolis have been suspended until the curfew is lifted,” while appealing “to Christians to remain law abiding and pray for the return of normalcy.” 

Some prominent Muslims in the country, like former vice president and presidential hopeful of the opposition, People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, had to delete a tweet which condemned the killing of Deborah over threat claims and political correctness. 

Meanwhile, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the nation’s apex Christian body, has directed all Secretariats to stage a peaceful protest, demanding justice for Deborah Yakubu.

In a statement signed by CAN General Secretary Joseph Daramola on Saturday, May 14, 2022, CAN President Reverend Dr. Samson Ayokunle urged all Nigerians in the diaspora to also stage protests at Nigerian embassies worldwide to call the attention of the international community to weigh in on the matter. 

The statement, titled “A Request for Nationwide Peaceful Protests, Calling for Justice for Deborah Yakubu” directed all secretariats to stage the protest on Saturday, May 22, 2022.

According to the statement, 

I have been directed by the CAN President, His Eminence, Rev. Dr. Samson Olasupo A. Ayokunle, to request all Church Leaders, through your various Churches to organise a peaceful protest in honour of one of our daughters, Deborah Yakubu, who was gruesomely murdered on Thursday, May 12, 2022, at the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto in Sokoto State by some Islamic extremists. The protest will take place on May 22, 2022, in the afternoon by 3:00 pm in every Secretariat of the Christian Association of Nigeria nationwide and not on the streets in order to avoid further loss of lives.

In part, it also read: 

Those without CAN’s Secretariat may use any church with big premises. We are to hold placards with some succinct messages like, ‘WE DEMAND JUSTICE 4 DEBORAH,’ ‘NO MORE KILLING IN GOD’S NAME,’ ‘ENOUGH IS ENOUGH,’ ‘POLICE, STOP UNPROVOKED KILLINGS IN NIGERIA,’ ‘CHRISTIANS ARE NOT SECOND CLASS CITIZENS,’ ‘KILLERS OF DEBORAH MUST BE PROSECUTED,’ ‘WE CONDEMN RELIGIOUS KILLINGS,’ ‘WE SAY NO TO ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS.’

We urge those who could afford it to make use of the traditional media and the social media and others can use only the social media to give it wide coverage in order to sensitise the whole world. We also call on Nigerian Christians in the diaspora to join us using our embassies all over the world. The occasion can also be used to pray for Deborah’s family and friends, peace for the country, victory for the Church and godly political leaders in the coming general election.

The slain student was buried on Saturday, May 14, 2022, in her hometown, Tungan Magajiya, in Rijau, local government area of Niger State, amidst tears.

[Photo: Deborah Yakubu (supplied by author)]

  • Fr. Justine John Dyikuk

    Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication at the University of Jos, Editor of Caritas Newspaper, and Convener for Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.

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