Nigeria's Christians have called for a National Day of Protest and government intervention after the stoning to death and burning of a Christian student in Sokoto for alleged blasphemy.
Deborah Samuel (also known as Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu) was beaten to death and burned after giving thanks to Christ for passing her exams on her college WhatsApp chat.
According to media reports, a mob dragged her from her student hostel, stoned her to death and burned her.
A video of her burning body went viral on social media. A young man boasts of having killed her while another in the background shouts ‘Allahu Akbar (Allah is greater)’.
Police imposed a curfew and called for order. According to a police statement: ’Students forcefully removed the victim from the security room where she was hidden by the school authorities, killed her and burned the building.’
‘Release International is horrified and appalled by this unjustified killing,’ says Paul Robinson, CEO of the charity which supports persecuted Christians in Nigeria and around the world. ‘Our hearts go out to her parents.
‘The cry of blasphemy, the murder, and the rioting reflect the growing climate of violence towards Christians, especially in the north of the country, where Nigeria has become a killing zone for Christians.
‘We continue to call on the government of Nigeria to prevent this violence and on the international community to press Nigeria to act immediately.’
After police moved in to arrest the suspects, a mob called for their release and attacked churches.
The Sultan of Sokoto, the leader of Nigeria's Muslims, condemned the killing: ‘The sultanate council condemned the incident in its totality and has urged security agencies to bring perpetrators of the unjustifiable incident to justice.’
The killing and the rioting provoked a storm on social media, reflecting steeply polarised opinion.
Nigeria’s President Mahammadi Bhuari added his own condemnation of the killing, but the chief imam of the National Mosque in Abuja appeared to defend the action.
In a social media post President Ibrahim Maqari reportedly stated: ‘We the Muslims have some redlines which MUST NOT be crossed. The dignity of the Prophet (PBUH) is at the forefront of the redlines. If our grievances are not properly addressed, then we should not be criticized for addressing them ourselves.’
And the Bauchi Commissioner for Education, Aliyu Tilde, reportedly said on Facebook: ‘The stupidity that the girl [Deborah] showed is so horrific that no Muslim would take it mildly.’
Some extremists went even further. One posted on YouTube: ‘When you touch the prophet we become mad people. Anyone who touches the prophet, no punishment – just kill! Even if the person repents or accounts, we must kill such. Allah bless you. Kill and disperse!’
Comments on social media called for Nigeria to be divided between North and South and for every Christian in Sokoto state to be butchered.
The Sultan’s condemnation of the killing led to protests outside his palace. A crowd chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ started fires on the street and demanded the release of the suspects. Police had to use teargas to disperse the mob.
Then the rioters started fires at the Holy Family Catholic Cathedral, St Kevin's Catholic Church and an Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Sokoto, according to Morning Star News. Dozens of shops belonging to Christians were reportedly looted and destroyed.
The President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Samson Olasupo Ayokunle, called on all church leaders to organise a national peaceful protest on May 22 demanding: ‘No more killing in God's name’ and justice for the murdered student. He said he wanted to ‘avoid more loss of lives’.
Deborah Samuel was a Christian leader at Shehu Shagari College of Education and a member of the Evangelical Church Winning All in Niger state. She was reported as studying home economics.
A Kaduna pastor said Christians at the college described the events they believe led up to the killing. David Ayuba Azzaman told Morning Star News: ‘Deborah was complaining in a WhatsApp group chat how they discriminate against Christians in the school in assignments and tests in favour of Muslims.
‘This is what they used as a yardstick to say she insulted Mohammed. She didn't insult Prophet Muhammad. But it was discovered that she turned down a Muslim proposal to date her.’
Deborah’s father, Emmanuel Garba, brought her remains back to the family home. Deborah was the second of seven children. Mr Garba told Nigeria’s Daily Post: ‘We can’t say or do anything. We have left all to God.’
At her funeral, the Rev Steven Makeri urged Deborah’s parents not to lose hope and called for peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims.
The president of ECWA, Rev Stephen Baba Panya, has called on the governor of the state to see that justice is done. ‘The entire world is watching, waiting and crying out for justice,’ he told Morning Star News. ‘Light will ever prevail over the forces of darkness.’
The General Secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev Joseph Daramola, said the government and security agencies were failing to take a stand against violence. ‘As long as the state fails to bring these criminals to book, Sokoto will continue to be their killing fields.’
The CAN general secretary commended Christian students at the college for their restraint in refusing to be drawn into the violence. ‘Christian students refused to embrace reprisal attacks on those who murdered their colleague.’
He said he was praying that the murder and the rioting ‘would not push the country to a religious war’.
According to research, more Christians were killed in Nigeria in the past year for their faith than any other nation on earth. Release International recently warned that religious violence was likely to increase in Nigeria ahead of the 2023 elections.
UK-based Release International is active in around 30 countries. It works through partners to prayerfully, pastorally, and practically support the families of Christian martyrs, prisoners of faith and their families, as well as Christians suffering oppression and violence, and Christians forced to flee.