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Naija! My Heart Breaks for You

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Naija! My heart breaks for you; I swear. Last week, Deborah Samuel, a young student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, was murdered. 

An angry mob dragged her out of the security room where guards tried to protect her and beat her to death, after which her corpse was burned, as was the building where she’d hidden for protection. The mob was led by her fellow students, some of whom have been arrested. Her crime? She was accused of blasphemy against Islam for comments she made on her coursemates’ WhatsApp group.
Deborah samuel
After the news of her death broke, former VP and presidential hopeful, Atiku, wrote a post rightfully denouncing the killing and calling on justice for the victim. Hours later, the post was deleted and Atiku denied being responsible for it. Why would a man who wants to be the president of Nigeria distance himself from a sensible post disapproving of a heinous, heinous crime? The mind boggles, honestly. Apparently, he did so because his aides didn’t get his approval to tweet it “so I asked them to take it down.” Which begs the question:  why go to the trouble of deleting a tweet your “aides” who ought to know what you stand for and how you’re likely to respond, posted on your behalf? Naija! My heart breaks for you; I swear.

I had wanted to write something happy this week, but Deborah Samuel’s murder hasn’t stopped haunting me. I think of the pictures of her shared by newspapers: this beautiful, young woman with hopeful eyes. I imagine her dreams; the things she will never get to achieve because her classmates, people she might have even considered friends, folk she might have eaten and drunk with, decided that the only way to defend their faith was by taking a life and taking it in the most barbaric of ways, and then posting videos (with their faces in it) to share with the world, confident that they will go free. Chai! I cannot get my head around it.

President Muhammadu Buhari, Amnesty International (AI), the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), among others have all condemned the murder, but eloquent condemnation isn’t enough. Hashtags won’t do. When I think of Deborah Samuel lying there, terrified, surrounded by beasts bludgeoning her to death, I want more than sound bytes. I want justice for her. We all should. What would that justice look like?

Nigeria has freedom of religion. Chapter 10, section 1 of the Nigerian Constitution categorically states that "The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion." Deborah wasn’t Muslim. So how could she have blasphemed against a religion that to her wasn’t the true one? She had the right, under the constitution of the country to which she fully belonged (as an ama ala like Ndi Igbo say), to disagree with her coursemates. Nigeria is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state and that fact must be respected by all citizens at all times. Samuel’s classmates could have attacked her rhetorically, using words like she did to disparage her own religion, her own faith if they so chose.  Or to show her that she was wrong as they believed she was. They were students of a college of education for goodness’ sake! What were they learning there?  They must know how to defend their  position without resorting to violence. In a country like ours , a democracy, anyone who thinks that they can kill in the name of religion ought to be hunted out and punished with the full chest of the law.

Justice would also include some sort of legal punitive action against all those who instigate such attacks in their places of worship; those who encourage and praise these attacks – especially public officials— on their social media handles. One of the most terrifying things was seeing a lawyer’s post where he argued that he’d kill anyone who blasphemed his God. Is God no longer almighty? How arrogant must you be to believe in God and then think He needs you,  puny mortal,  fighting for Him or killing in His name. If these people won’t fear the God they purport to believe in enough not to kill, let them fear the long arms of the law.

Justice would include state governments and a national government committed to ensuring the safety of all of its citizens. There is a link between a former number 2 citizen deleting a rational, relevant tweet denouncing a crime and the perpetrators of that same crime disseminating videos of their act with their faces as if they’d done something worthy for which they ought to be recognized. Naija! My heart breaks for you.

May Deborah Samuel’s soul rest in peace, Amen

Written by Chika Unigwe

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