FRIDAY, May 12, was the anniversary of the barbaric killing of Deborah Samuel, 22, a second-year Home Economics student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, but there is no word on the whereabouts of her murderers. It is an eerily familiar pattern in Northern Nigeria: fiendish mobs, inebriated with religious or ethnic hatred, would rise to kill, maim, burn, and destroy, and thereafter go unpunished, free to repeat their heinous crimes in future. One year after Nigerians joined the grieving family over her murder, the police, the state government, and the Federal Government have failed to apprehend the perpetrators and put them on trial. It is yet another episode on how Nigeria fails her own citizens.
Deborah’s case was gruesome. She was stoned and beaten to death by fellow students, drunk on the opium of religious extremism, after she advised them against posting religious comments on the class WhatsApp group. For the religious fanatics in the group, that was enough provocation. They accused her of “saying unacceptable things,” beat her mercilessly with sticks, clubs and heavy stones.
Constituting themselves into accusers, judges, and executioners, they crowned their demonic assault by dousing her with petrol and setting her body ablaze. It was a horror tale, and the perpetrators filmed the scene for theirs and their cohorts’ enjoyment and as evidence of their piety!
The authorities could not save her; the state Police Public Relations Officer, Sanusi Abubakar, explained that the rioting students had “forcefully removed the victim from the security room where she was kept by the school authorities, killed her and burnt the building.” Deborah’s father, Emmanuel Garba, collected her corpse and quickly took her away for burial.
During the US International Day Commemorating the Victims of Violence Based on Religion or Belief in August 2022, the American government honoured Deborah, describing the incident as “vicious violence” spurred by hatred, religiously motivated abuse, and discrimination. It was all that and more; the aftermath confirms a culture of impunity nurtured by the Northern elite and the Federal Government.
This was not a scene from ISIS’ short-lived caliphate during which the world was treated daily to uploaded videos of savagery by jihadists; in Nigeria, atrocities by religious fanatics are not undertaken only by Salafist jihadists of Boko Haram, Ansaru and ISWAP, but sometimes also by supposedly ordinary persons, including the al-majirai, and students egged on by some preachers and tolerated by some sections of the Northern elite that are comfortable with religious fanatics, poverty and mass illiteracy rather than educate their youth.
The Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, newly posted Sokoto Commissioner of Police, Ali Kaigama, and the outgoing Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, have no excuse: the killers did not hide their identities but filmed themselves while in the act. One clip showing one of the killers boasting with demonic glee of his gory exploit went viral. The State Security Service has the details, as a senior officer had tried vainly to save the lady from the mob. A security spokesman said immediately after the murder that the boastful suspect had escaped to Niger Republic. They should track him and his accomplices down and bring them to justice.
Christiana Oluwasesin, a schoolteacher in Gombe, was similarly killed by thugs and her own students in March 2007 after one of them accused her of seizing and tearing a copy of the Koran. All 16 suspects arrested in connection with the killing were later released. Other victims like Florence Chukwu, Abdullahi Umaru, Methodus Chimaije Emmanuel, Bridget Agbaheme, and Eunice Elisha were also at various times gruesomely murdered by religious fanatics for no reason than belonging to a different faith.
A 42-year-old mother, Mrs Elisha, while engaging in early morning Christian evangelism, was hacked to death by fanatics in July 2016 at an Abuja suburb. The FCT police command in July 2017, buried the case, claiming that it “cannot manufacture” suspects.
In Kano, a 45-year-old woman was stabbed to death at Kofar Wambai Market by a mob, which accused her of “blasphemy.” The killers slit her throat, and also attempted to murder her husband, but for the intervention of the police.
Deborah’s case also reflects the plight of the girl-child and women in Northern Nigeria. They are constantly at the risk of being kidnapped, and are prime victims of terrorist attacks, forceful religious conversion and forced marriages.
Sociologists say the failure to punish random acts of violence by fanatics fostered impunity and laid the ground for the emergence of terrorist groups.
In April 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State. Nine years after, 98 remain in captivity. In February 2018, 110 schoolgirls were similarly abducted by Boko Haram from Government Girls’ Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State. Four years after, five died, government negotiated the release of 104 students, while Leah Sharibu remains a captive for refusing to convert from Christianity to Islam.
Government must wage a well-coordinated and successful war against terror organisations and their sympathisers, while making all schools safe zones for learning through strategic surveillance and personnel deployment. It must discourage the mobs taking the law in their own hands by swift intervention, arrest and punishment of suspects.
Alarmingly, 61.7 percent of the North’s population is illiterate; 48 percent of girls were married by age 15 and 78 percent by age 18 in the North-East and North-West. UNICEF states that more than half of the female students are not attending primary schools—North-East states have 47.7 percent, and North-West 43.7 percent female primary net attendance. Northern governors should work to reverse these instead of inadvertently feeding fanaticism.
The incoming government must enforce justice without kowtowing to the fanatics that disrupt the tranquillity and freedoms of other residents under the guise of religion. It must mandate security operatives to apprehend and prosecute those who entrench violence with impunity. The blasphemy law violates the Nigerian constitution and fundamental human rights.
It is sad that no one has been convicted for Deborah’s murder. On May 17, 2022, the police arraigned Bilyaminu Aliyu and Aminu Hukunci, classmates of Deborah in court for alleged “inciting breach of public peace.” In solidarity, their supporters mobilised at least 34 lawyers to defend them, a bold statement on how some Northern elites enable extremism.
In August 2022, the Sokoto State Police Command explained that the accused persons were part of those who organised the riot, but “are not the prime suspects” and were arraigned for circulating pictures of the alleged killers. Yet, the police are yet to apprehend the murderers.
Beyond promises to act, meeting with religious leaders and imposing a curfew, Tambuwal will leave office this month without delivering on his promise. Although the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), also condemned Deborah’s killing, he did not follow this up.
On the flipside, there was swift deployment of intelligence in the arrest of self-determination campaigner, Sunday Igboho, separatist leader, Nnamdi Kanu, and Shiite leader, Ibrahim el-Zakzaky. Security operatives were quick to swoop on these men, ignore court orders, and went to the extent of smuggling Kanu into the country to face trial for treasonable crimes. Tukur Mamu, a bandit negotiator, was arrested in Cairo, Egypt, and repatriated to Nigeria.
Security operatives should deploy the same fervour in nabbing Deborah’s murderers. Baba, Kaigama and Tambuwal should be constantly reminded of their duty to punish crime.