(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, 16 May, 2022)
A Sokoto mob on Saturday violently protested against justice for Deborah Yakubu who was murdered by her schoolmates in broad daylight. They wanted her suspected killers released without trial. The mob thought the state did not owe the murdered that duty of care, even in death. She was a Christian from a minority part of the North. I read what the Sultan wrote about her murder; I read the reaction of the Sokoto State government. Both statements were very carefully written; stylists and stylisticians would say they were written under extreme caution and fear. You read the condemnation of the murderous act in the Sultan’s statement; you also watched how the Sultan suffered for his audacity on Saturday when fanatics attempted to storm his palace. President Muhammadu Buhari waited till after 24 hours before he said something. Atiku Abubakar was rather fast in condemning the murder. He soon learnt how to run for cover from what his place of birth keeps as Nigeria’s pets. He deleted the godly social media post and went into a cocoon of embarrassing silence. Activist Shehu Sani did ‘a little to the right, a little to the left’ and left his readers wondering where he was. People who do not know what problem the North is would ask: What are these men of power and means afraid of? The answer is what you witnessed on Saturday on the streets of Sokoto and the tension across the North. The place is in the firm grip of powers and principalities who bathe in blood.
Northern Nigeria is a huge problem for humanity. We should all wish Deborah’s murder to be the last in that fundamentalist place. But wishes are not horses. This lady’s case is just a symptom of a disease that is over 200 years old. Ask yourself: why does Saudi Arabia, the world capital of Islam, not do festival of street murders which are regularly staged in northern Nigeria in the name of religion? My non-Fulani Hausa friend has an opinion. He sent me a text message days ago. He said those who did the Jihad of 1804 who “can’t build anything; never built anything anywhere in the world” destroyed the place. He said “they thrive in violence and conquest and destruction. When they came to Hausa land, they met a functioning system. They’ve destroyed everything.” He may not be entirely right. No one is entirely good; no one is completely bad. But then, the brand of Islam planted by the Fulani in northern Nigeria does not exist anywhere else in the world.
There is a list of victims of mob lynching in the North. I have read some commentators struggling to remember the names and the incidents that claimed those lives. It is difficult to know all; just mention the ones you can readily recollect, refresh our memory, and warn those dreaming to live in the North. The northern mob is wild and powerful and, literally, harvests heads and does not take prisoners. The murderous mobsters there are, above all, above the law.
On 14 July, 1999 an insidious rumour spread across two very poor Kebbi State villages, Kardi and Randali in Birnin Kebbi Local Government Area. The bearers of the rumour said one Abdullahi Alhaji Umaru of Randali village had insulted the Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W). Some busybody enforcers of divine piety sent for one another; they must avenge the insult. They went hunting for their blasphemous prey. One of the hunters was a man called Usman Kaza. Another was a man called Abubakar Dan Shalla; another was Musa Yaro. There were at least three others, including a man called Mohammed Sani. They combed here and there and everywhere looking for the blasphemous Abdullahi who had gone into hiding. They eventually found him in Randali village and got him arrested. The prey was dragged to a spot near the burial ground on the outskirts of Kardi village. Abdullahi was kept there in the custody of one Suleiman Dan Ta Annabi and one Mohammed Sani.
Now, the abductors asked one another: did Abdullahi really insult the prophet? They were not sure. So, Musa Yaro, Kaza and one other went back to Randali, the village of Abdullahi, to ask if he uttered the insult or not. Everyone they asked said they did not hear the offensive words from Abdullahi. The hunting party was made of tenacious fundamentalists who were adamant and unyielding. They then went to the village head at Kardi. They informed him that they had caught Abdullahi insulting the prophet. The village head asked them what they intended to do with him. Their response was that death was the punishment for anyone who insulted the Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.). And they would kill this one like others before him. There was a scholar in that village, Ustaz Mamman, who sought to intervene. He told the wild enforcers that blasphemy was truly a grievous offence in Islam, but only the court could determine anyone’s guilt and no one had the authority to kill anyone outside the law. The men who arrested the blasphemous looked at the Ustaz with contempt and disgust. They declared the knowledgeable gentleman an infidel. He kept quiet. The village head learnt from this and kept quiet too. They left.
The arrestors went back to their prey in the bush where he was kept. Musa Yaro then brought out a piece of paper. In that paper is what is called the Risala, a seminal text on Islamic jurisprudence. Facing the accused, he informed him that anyone caught insulting the prophet must die. Yaro finished the recitation and looked at his friend, Mohammed Sani. That one sprang into action and macheted Abdullahi on the neck; Kaza followed with his own blow on the poor man’s head. Abdullahi fell down. Abubakar Dan Shalla brought out a knife, stopped over the fallen man, and “just like a goat,” he slaughtered their captive by the neck. The murderers, thereafter, went home satisfied that they had done something great and noble. The matter did not end there.
So, you see Deborah’s murder was not the first. There had been several before it. Some went with consequences, many without repercussions. I heard people who say we must make Deborah’s own the very last. But can it really be the last without uprooting the evil trees that fruit murderous fundamentalism in the North? Evil is best committed at night under the cover of darkness. That is not the case with northern Nigeria. They do their thing in broad daylight and dare the law to speak against their crime. Murders go unpunished there because the place is long lost to principalities who finance the opposite of peace and teach what religion is not. The 1999 murder of Abdullahi in Kebbi State, as related above, was committed by some very poor, dangerously ignorant villagers. But what happened when they were arrested and taken to court? They got very powerful, rich people to finance and help them such that the case went all the way to the Supreme Court which eventually affirmed their death sentence.
On December 26, 1994, (that was five years before the Kebbi murder), a trader, Gideon Akaluka, was arrested after his wife was accused of using pages of the Quran as toilet paper for her baby. The police detained him. Akaluka’s people got him a lawyer, Paul Ukande, who provided proofs that the sheet of paper was not a page of the Quran; that his client was not at the compound at the time and that the woman accused of the ‘offence’ was not Akaluka’s wife. But all that did not stop a mob of about 1,000 from breaking into the Goron Dutse prison where Akaluka was kept. They broke in, killed him, and marched round the city with his severed head hosted on a spike. “They used a ladder to climb the wall and called him out. They broke the keys of the cell and killed Akaluka in the prison and cut off his head,” a prisons official told the Oputa panel years later.
There was a teacher, Christianah Oluwatoyin Oluwasesin, at Government Day Secondary School, Gandu, Gombe State. It was right in that school that she met her death – for blasphemy – at the hands of her own students on Wednesday, March 21, 2007. Her husband, Michael, told a newspaper the story: “She was in class to invigilate Islamic Religious Knowledge (IRK). In accordance with examination regulations, she requested all the students to put aside anything incriminating so that the exam could begin. But there was a lady who had a bag beside her. She refused to heed the instruction. My wife took the bag from her. As I was informed, after removing the bag, she either kept it outside or in front of the class. But to her (his wife’s) surprise, the girl started screaming Allahu Akbar (Allah is great). The female student claimed that there was a Quran in the bag. Then she raised an alarm and mobilized her colleagues. My wife was chased all over the school. She ran to where she normally left our little baby. The students laid siege to the house, threatening to burn it down if my wife and baby were not released to them. The lady was afraid, but she ensured my wife escaped. But she did not release our baby boy. My wife again took refuge in the principal’s office. The students were also at the principal’s office and requested she be released to them, a request the principal obliged and my wife was handed over to them. She was stabbed, flogged and later set on fire. People watched helplessly while this carnage was going on. She was completely burnt beyond recognition. But because she was my wife, I was able to recognize her.
“On Thursday March 22, I was in Gombe to collect her corpse. My investigation revealed, however, that there was no Quran in the bag. I was told it was an Arabic inscription on a piece of paper which bore relevance to the examination of that day. That was what they (students) considered as a desecration of the Quran. Curiously, that was the first time she would supervise IRK since she had been teaching in that school. Until she was killed, she was teaching Government. Even after my wife had been burnt, they still wanted to kill our little baby, Temiloluwa, who was ten months plus then. They came after him and surrounded the house he was being hidden to see who would come to take him away. Even when the police were called in, they could not do anything to help because of the mob. It was in that confusion that a lady disguised in “Jelbab” went into the house and sneaked him out on a motor bike. That was how our baby was rescued from their clutches after they had burnt to death his mother.”
24-year-old Adie Grace Ushang graduated with honours in Education Administration from the University of Calabar. She arrived Borno State from her Obudu, Cross River State home, for her one year compulsory national youth service in July 2009. By August 4, 2009, she was dead. Media reports said she was killed by some men who “took offence because she was wearing her Khaki trousers – the official uniform of the youth service.”
In June 2016, a plastics seller, Mrs Bridget Agbahwe, was beheaded by a mob in Kano’s Wambai market. They accused her of blasphemy. A police spokesman explained her death to the media: “At about 4:30pm, there was a disagreement between the murdered woman and some traders bordering on religion.” They accused her of uttering blasphemy and that ended her life. Her husband reportedly witnessed the mob slitting her throat.
Were people punished for these horrific crimes? Search and answer the question yourself. Some would argue that justice was served in the Kebbi case because the victim was a Muslim and a son of the soil. They would say that unlike Deborah’s case, there were no protests for the release of the murderers. They would cite other cases of persons from other places and of other faiths wrongly accused, criminally murdered by the North’s executioners but who never got justice. The Yoruba among the cynics would submit that when a slave died, even his mother was not informed; but when a free-born died, the entire household was enveloped in cries and wailings (Erú kú, ìyá ò gbó; omó kú, ariwó gba’lé kankan).
The quickest way to die is to be wrongly accused of blasphemy in northern Nigeria. If you are lucky, you will get locked up by a shariah court. One day, we may get to know how many undocumented persons are in legal and illegal jail houses there on account of being accused of saying the wrong thing. In 2020, a sharia court condemned one Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, a 22-year-old Muslim gospel musician, to death for committing blasphemy. Like Deborah, they said he did it in a series of private WhatsApp messages. He is still in court fighting to stay alive. There is also the case of 13-year-old Umar Farouk in Kano. He was lucky he escaped death from an accusation of blasphemy during an argument with a friend. A sharia court sentenced him to 10 years in prison with hard labour. Did you notice that under our laws, a thirteen-year old is supposed to still be a minor? Not in northern Nigeria where some sheikhs, who misread everything Islam, hold and control the levers of power. Farouk was eventually lucky with his appeal. The sentence was quashed on account of being underage. But even then after winning that case, and if the other person, Aminu wins in court as well, how are they going to win on the streets of fundamentalism where murderers don’t forget, don’t forgive and are the law?
The tadpoles of Sokoto danced violently on Saturday. They are not the problem; the real troublers of Nigeria are their drummers who are beating the hides under the waters. And we are very helpless. If the North won’t be angry, therefore, let me quickly ask why we are wasting borrowed money and expending valuable men and women fighting Boko Haram when the truth is that the streets of the northern North survives on terrorism? Or what is the difference between the teachings of Abubakar Shekau and the ideology of the North’s powerful sheikhs and mallams who daily terrorise the nation with murderous teachings and sermons?