Nigeria: Killing of student for blasphemy raises question on place of religion

By 'Tofe Ayeni
Posted on Tuesday, 24 May 2022 16:23

The Sultan of Sokoto Alhaji Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar III and Emir of Kazaure Najib Hussaini Adamu (R) visit the family of late Emir of Kano Ado Bayero in Kano June 7, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

The brutal death of a Nigerian second year university student, Deborah Samuel, was in the name of blasphemy against Prophet Mohammad. Her death and previous incidents in the country question the role and place of religion in the country.

Allegedly, Deborah had requested that other students do not post religious material in a Whatsapp group meant for school assignments. Other reports state that she made a statement on social media insulting the prophet.

Samuel, a Christian, was first beaten and stoned before being set on fire on 12 May. Following the incident, the school was closed immediately, and the Sultan of Sokoto and the northern governors condemned the killing.

Although there have been arrests made, the charges were simply “criminal conspiracy and inciting public disturbances”, which many in the country have called out against.

Blasphemy and Sharia law

The Assistant General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God on Administration and Personnel, Pastor Johnson Odesola said: “Nigeria is one, Nigeria is a secular country, not a religious country.”

However, Sokoto is one of the northern states that practice Sharia law, and the Supreme Court of Nigeria does recognise blasphemy as a Sharia offence punishable by death. That said, it does state that the blasphemy “has to be established through evidence before a court of law” and that “the killing is controlled and sanctioned by the authorities.”

Reactions in the north

Following the arrests, there have been youth protests in Sokoto calling for the unconditional release of the detained. The state government reacted by imposing a 24-hour curfew on the state.

The Northern Governors Forum (NGF) has condemned the killing, with the chairman, Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State, issuing a statement. The Kaduna government has banned protests related to religious activity in the state, to start with immediate effect.

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