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Repeal Blasphemy Laws: One Year After the Gruesome Murder of Deborah Samuel in Sokoto Nigeria

The death of Deborah Samuel a year ago was not unusual, Christians in Northern Nigeria have seen more gruesome extrajudicial killings than Deborah’s propelled by ‘’Blasphemy accusations”. One of the reasons why Deborah’s death was mainstream was because her death debunked an age-long Myth.

For a long time people lived under the illusion that Islamic extremists in Nigeria were uneducated, barbaric terrorists and gun-wielding degenerates who could not possibly live among civilized people, however, on the 12th of May, 2022, the world saw that Islamic extremists could be university students or the 34 lawyers who signed up to defend the murder of a 19-year-old girl in her prime over a WhatsApp message. That was the surprise, everything else has been in existence for eons.

This past year has seen a percentage increase in the advocacy to repeal blasphemy laws in Nigeria. Rhoda Jatau and Yahaya Aminu Sharif are on trial, accused of spreading blasphemy on WhatsApp and through a piece of self-composed music respectively.

Several other Nigerians have been executed, hung to death, faced prison sentences or mob-lynched to death on similar charges in the past.

Blasphemy laws are used arbitrarily and inconsistently. What may be considered blasphemous in one context may not be considered blasphemous in another, and this can lead to confusion and abuse of power by those who consider themselves authorities or fanatic adherents.

The advocacy against blasphemy laws argue that it is inherently an abuse of all forms of human rights including freedom of worship, freedom of speech and freedom of association to mention a few that is why we are trumping up the effort to put the torch on this subject, more so, as we open old wounds this week.

For context, Deborah Samuel was a student Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, who was publicly lynched by a mob of Muslim students on 12th May 2022, after being accused of blasphemy. The incident, which was caught on video, sparked widespread outrage and condemnation globally with social media being the primary distribution tool. One year after the gruesome murder, her perpetrators are yet to be brought to book.

The murderers (fellow students) brazenly recorded their actions in High Definition (HD), revealing their faces and publishing them on the internet with no fear of consequence because there is none. They in fact believed that their actions were in the name of Allah and would lead to rewards in the afterlife, as well as on earth where influential individuals would welcome them into their homes and bless them.

Authorities such as the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, the European Union, the British High Commissioner Catriona Lang, right-thinking individuals and civil societies like PSJ UK, and the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) weighed in on the advocacy for Deborah’s case to get justice and prevent a reoccurrence of such a barbaric crime. Here is what we know so far.

Two students who were identified from the video were arrested and charged for their alleged involvement in her lynching. They pleaded not guilty in court, and 34 lawyers volunteered to represent them pro bono, led by Prof. Mansur Ibrahim of Usmanu Dandodiyo University. The defense filed for bail on constitutional grounds, and the trial judge, whose name was withheld for “security reasons”, reserved his decision.

The fate of the two suspects remains unknown, as their trial was held in a closed-door session without cameras. It appears as though the authorities have reneged on their promise to bring all those involved to justice, although the public has not forgotten.

The Sokoto State Police Command arrested 11 suspects in connection to the crime, who, according to DSP Sanusi Abubakar, were not the main suspects but participants. Their apprehension as enablers of the crime sparked a riot in the town where hundreds were protesting their arrest, demanding they are released. They were heroes. In the upheaval, the mob violently attacked Christian sites properties were destroyed and many were injured.

The Commissioner of Police in Sokoto State, Kamaldeen Okunlola, now promoted to Assistant Inspector General announced that the case was still under investigation and that the police were working to ensure that the perpetrators were brought to justice. Considering that the 11 suspects were released from custody and the main suspects whose faces were caught on camera have not been sentenced, there is no justice for Deborah to this day.

Mrs. Rhoda Jatau, a Christian, shared a WhatsApp video that condemned the gruesome murder of Deborah with her colleagues at the Primary Healthcare Board Warji who did not receive it well. The news of Jatau’s actions reached the public many immediately called for her death. A Muslim group posted her photo online and called her “the one God has cursed.” A riot ensued shortly after and 15 Christians were seriously injured, and several buildings were burned down. Rhoda Jatau has been in prison on blasphemy charges since May 2022 and there are increasing fears for her safety and well-being.

Yahaya Sharif-Aminu an Islamic gospel musician from Kano State, northern Nigeria was accused of one count of insulting the religious creed, contrary to Section 382 (6) of the Kano State Sharia Penal Code Law of 2000, for a series of audio messages circulated via WhatsApp which became public knowledge in March 2020. The messages are said to have “praised an imam from the Tijaniya Muslim brotherhood (Ibrahim Niasse) to the extent it elevated him above the Prophet Muhammed.” Sharif-Aminu went into hiding following backlash for his recording, when protestors burned down his family home. He was subsequently arrested.

On August 10, 2020, the Hausawa Filin Hockey upper-Sharia court found Sharif-Aminu guilty of blasphemy and sentenced him to death by hanging. In January 2021, a higher court in Kano state overturned Sharif-Aminu’s conviction and ordered his case to be retried due to irregularities in the original trial. His life hangs by a thread.

Several individuals and groups have advocated for justice for Deborah Samuel, Rhoda Jatau and Yahaya Aminu-Sharif. Notable among them are the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), which has consistently called for the prosecution of the perpetrators and the protection of the rights of non-Muslim students in Northern Nigeria. HURIWA has also called on the Federal Government to take decisive action to prevent the recurrence of such incidents.

The slow pace of the investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators of Deborah Samuel's murder raises serious concerns about the state of the Nigerian justice system. The lack of progress in the case is consistent with the wider trend of impunity for crimes committed against religious minorities in Nigeria. Despite the existence of laws criminalizing hate speech and incitement to violence, these laws are rarely enforced, leading to a climate of impunity and a sense of insecurity among Christians who are religious minorities.

There is a need for urgent reforms in the Nigerian justice system and the repeal of blasphemy laws. It is time for the Nigerian government to take decisive action to ensure that justice is served and to protect the rights of all citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs, and we hope it starts now.

Useful Links

Video of Deborah being stoned to death:

Parents of the victim:

34 Lawyers agree to defend the alleged killers of Deborah without pay

Christian lawyers fellowship:

MURIC,12 others demand justice for Deborah Samuel

Democratic socialist movement condemns gruesome killing of Deborah Samuel:

Osinbajo condemns killing of Deborah Samuel:

British High Commission condemns killing of Deborah Samuel:

Buhari condemns killing of Deborah Samuel:

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