On May 12, 2022, in the Shehu Shagari College of Education, located in Nigeria’s northwesternmost state of Sokoto, a female student, Deborah Samuel Yakubu, was beaten to death and set on fire by fellow students, a group of young men, who accused her of posting blasphemous statements in a student messaging group, according to two witness statements and the police report.
Deborah Samuel Yakubu, photo from her social media account
According to one of the witnesses who demanded to remain anonymous, the tension escalated over a WhatsApp group message, where some Muslim students posted Islamic pieces and Yakubu criticized their posts in an audio message, reminding her classmates the purpose of the chat facility, that is, course-related communication. Her message was received as a blasphemous attack on the Prophet of Islam. Students forcefully removed her from the school room where she was hiding, killed her and burnt the building. The governor of Sokoto has issued an order to close the school and ordered the Ministry of Higher Education and law enforcement agencies to investigate the horrendous incident.
Nigerians have expressed their outrage on Twitter and denounced the killing. At the moment, there are fears that the Yakubu’s violent death could heighten sectarian tensions in the country, between the majority Muslim north and the predominantly Christian south. Community leaders have called for calm and urged authorities to take action.
Kola Alapinni, a lawyer who has defended blasphemy cases in Nigerian courts stated to CNN that blasphemy does not exist under Nigeria’s constitutional laws, although some northern Muslim states recognize it under Sharia law. “The State government hides under a section of its Sharia laws that punishes inciteful statements or insulting statements to Prophet Muhammad (…) The primary job of the State is the security of lives and property. And here, it has failed,” Alapinni added.
There have been previous incidents of mobs attacking people for alleged blasphemy in Nigeria. Such vigilantism usually goes unpunished. In the past decade, the number of mob attacks with sectarian motives has notably increased. Endangered Scholars Worldwide remains deeply concerned about the mob attacks and sectarian divisions targeting academics and students in Nigeria. ESW calls upon all international organizations, academic and professional associations, and other groups and individuals devoted to the promotion and defense of human rights to strongly protest and condemn religious violence and the government’s failure to protect its citizens’ freedom of speech, let alone their right to live.