Deborah: Crossing The Red Line Of Impunity

Amid the uproar over the recent killing of Miss Deborah Yakubu, the imam of the National Mosque, Abuja, Ibrahim Maqari, reportedly said that Muslims had some red lines, which must not be crossed.

To him, the dignity of the Prophet is at the forefront of the red lines. Apparently, the imam justified the killing of Deborah, who was a 200 level student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto. She was alleged to have committed the sin of blasphemy against Prophet Mohammad. All she reportedly did was to admonish her classmates to stop posting religious and non-academic material on their class WhatsApp platform.

And without considering the bond that bound them together as classmates, these accusers, prosecutors, judges and executioners stoned the young lady to death. To further punish her, they heaped tyres on the lifeless body and set it ablaze.

I am pained by this act of insanity. I am more pained that the perpetrators of this barbarism are students of a higher institution, who are supposed to be enlightened. And for an imam to justify it shows how we have deeply debased life in Nigeria.

Unfortunately, some Muslims see the voices that spoke against the killing as infidels. That is why the lynch mob almost destroyed the palace of the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III. The Sultan, who is the head of Muslims in Nigeria, condemned the killing, just as President Muhammadu Buhari, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto and Islamic scholar, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi. As Gumi said, Prophet Mohammad never killed anyone despite the fact that he was insulted many times. According to him, whoever kills a non-Muslim, who they have agreed to live peacefully with, will never smell the fragrance of Paradise for 40 years.

The president of the Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria and an Islamic Law lecturer at the University of Ilorin, Professor Ibrahim Abikan, toed the same line. According to him, mob action is criminal in Islam. In an interview with The Punch, Prof. Abikan said Deborah’s killing “is the worst barbaric act that can be carried out by any set of people in the country. It is barbaric and un-Islamic. It is against the tenet of the teachings of any religion in the world.”

He said, under Islamic law, every accused person must be tried in due process and no individual had the power or prerogative to declare a statement blasphemous.

A typical example was the sentencing of nine people to death for blasphemy in 2015 by an Islamic court in Kano. A similar death sentence was handed over to a gospel musician, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, in 2020, by an Islamic court in Kano for blasphemy. However, Sharif-Aminu’s case was sent back for retrial by the high court. In these cases, the rule of Islamic law was followed and there was no need for jungle justice. The propriety or otherwise of the judgement is another thing entirely.

Killing in the name of God has persisted in Nigeria because no one has received adequate punishment for it. When some misguided fundamentalists invaded the police cell where Igbo trader, Gideon Akaluka, was detained and beheaded him in December 1994, we chuckled but did nothing. With impunity, the lynch mob paraded his severed head across Kano metropolis, and we moved on as if nothing happened. Akaluka’s sin was that his wife allegedly used some pages of Koran as toilet paper to clean her baby. This turned out to be false.

In 2007, a student accused a schoolteacher, Oluwatoyin Oluwasesin, who was invigilating in an exam in Gombe State, of desecrating the Koran. Immediately the student raised the alarm, Oluwatoyin was sentenced to death by the mob. They pursued her while trying to escape, caught her and lynched her. Sixteen suspects were eventually arrested for this jungle justice. They were later released without charge.

In 2002, there was to be a Miss World beauty pageant in Abuja. A reporter with ThisDay newspaper, Isioma Daniel, wrote something that was considered blasphemous against Prophet Mohammad. A fatwa was pronounced on the reporter. The riots that broke out in some parts of the North claimed the lives of over 250 people. Till date, nobody has been made to pay for this.

I doubt if there will be diligent prosecution of the current case in Sokoto. The police have arraigned two people and declared others wanted. Already, there are fears that these suspects may escape justice. The same mob went on the rampage on hearing that two people had been arrested. While demanding the release of their colleagues, they attacked churches and looted some shops belonging mainly to the Igbo.

It is regrettable that security agents failed Deborah and invariably failed the nation. When the storm was gathering, conscientious law enforcement agents should have quickly intervened and smuggled the young lady out of harm’s way. To me, the explanation of Gov. Tambuwal of Sokoto that the mob overpowered security agents does not hold water. They took belated action and we are now reaping the consequences.

It is pertinent to note that killing in the name of God is not peculiar to Nigeria. In 2012, a crude video that ridicules Prophet Mohammad surfaced on the YouTube channel. It emanated from the United States of America (USA). The Muslim world erupted in anger. The U.S. Ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were consequently killed in Benghazi. There were attacks in foreign embassies in different parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

In 2005, a Danish magazine, Jyllands-Posten, published a cartoon considered blasphemous against Mohammad. Over 50 people were killed in some parts of the world. In Nigeria, attackers killed about 16 people and destroyed some property, including churches, shops and homes. And this was something that had nothing to do with Nigeria.

Jungle justice will never stop in Nigeria until the authorities take decisive action against it. No law, including sharia law, condones taking another person’s life unjustly. Hence, whoever is found culpable in taking the life of Deborah, or any other person for that matter, must be made to face the full wrath of the law. May the soul of Deborah and the souls of all those killed unjustly in Nigeria rest in peace.

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