Yet Another Blasphemy Killing

AHMAD Usman, a 30-year-old member of a vigilante group providing security for a market in Lugbe, Abuja, was murdered recently by religious fanatics for alleged blasphemy. He was accused of insulting Prophet Mohammad while arresting those who ran afoul of the market regulations. The hoodlums masquerading as defenders of the Islamic faith reportedly hit his head with sticks and stoned him. And when he became unconscious, they poured petrol on him and set him ablaze. The deceased was reportedly lynched in this manner by the mob at Tipper garage, Federal Housing Estate, Lugbe District, Abuja. Is it not awkward and frightening that this atrocious incident could happen in Abuja, the seat of the Federal Government, and at a time when the country was still smarting from the gruesome murder, on May 12, of Deborah Emmanuel, a student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto?

The Sokoto incident drew widespread outrage from Nigerians and the international community, yet an incident with similar gory details has just happened in less than a month. This time, the victim was a Muslim. Certainly, the fact that the victim was a Muslim does not in any way detract from or dampen the seriousness of this highly condemnable crime against humanity. No one, irrespective of his ethnic or religious inclination, deserves to die through the instrumentality of jungle justice. Somehow, it would appear that the perpetrators of such dastardly acts are set in their ways, and so could not be swayed by appeals for decent and civilised conduct. The spate of religious intolerance in the country is, to say the least, really disturbing. It is evident that this sordid state of affairs persists, and is indeed worsening, because the perpetrators have a history of impunity which provides them with incentives to repeat the hideous and barbaric acts.

The country has more or less become a clime where there is no respect for the sanctity of human lives. It is saddening. The murder of innocent citizens, which occurs almost on a daily basis in different parts of the country and is perpetrated by terrorists and other violent non-state actors, is fast being construed as mere statistics by many because of its frequency. Yet, some ignorant and callous persons who see themselves as defenders of Islam are exacerbating the intolerable loss of lives by killing innocent citizens under the guise of protecting and sustaining fidelity to the practice of a religion about which they are pure illiterates. And is it not even hypocritical that many of these religious fundamentalists are known to often exhibit their piety mainly by perpetrating horrid acts against supposed blasphemers and innocent people rather than by showing kindness to humanity as enjoined by the holy book?

Is it not also ironic that the victims of the chilling actions of religious violence are usually the lowly members of the society with whom the perpetrators share similar pitiable socioeconomic characteristics, while the affluent members of the society whose conduct may be at variance with the dictates of the faith are hardly affected? We draw the above parallel not because we approve of anyone taking the law into their own hands against the rich or the poor but to underscore the fact that these religious extremists are mere psychopaths who latch onto and hide under the cloak of religion to subject defenceless members of the society to grave inhumanity. It is even believed in some quarters that some of these heinous incidents have nothing to do with the religious offences alleged but were merely orchestrated by some malicious cowards to settle scores with their victims. It is all about calling a dog a bad name in order to hang it. It is a shame that life is becoming meaningless in the country and unless serious actions, as spelt out in the statute books, are taken against ignorant and morally depraved persons who kill in the name or in defence of God, it may soon descend inexorably into full-blown anarchy, particularly in the North. This promises to be the inevitable sequel, especially when victims and potential victims of sectarian violence begin to make prior arrangements to defend themselves against violators.

It is true that the grave socioeconomic situation of the country has robbed many people of their sense of decency and moral rectitude. People are becoming tensed up and driven to the precipice by pangs of misery. However, visiting their frustration on innocent citizens who are co-victims of the tottering economy is misplaced and cannot be a solution. We urge the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to double down on its sensitisation efforts to educate citizens to embrace religious tolerance and eschew violence of whatever colouration. That citizens are still being visited with jungle justice over allegations of blasphemy in this day and age, and in a society that claims to be free and to operate based on the rule of law, is embarrassing and demeaning. It is, nonetheless, gladdening to know that the police have made some arrests in respect of the dastardly and unfortunate Abuja incident.

We urge the police to launch a painstaking inquiry into the killing of Ahmad Usman and ensure that the perpetrators of the monstrous crime are brought to book as expeditiously as possible. Undoubtedly, in addition to other measures, strong and dispassionate application of deterrence is required to rein in the escalating incidence of religious violence in the country.

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