Date: May 18, 2022
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 645
NIGERIA: HORRIFIC KILLING; PIVOTAL CASE.
- ethnic-religious tensions soar; risk of spread
by Elizabeth Kendal
Alheri Emmanuel and Emmanuel Garba
Deborah's parents: 14 May 2022
Deborah Emmanuel was a member of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Tungan Magajia in Niger State's Rijau Local Government Area. No doubt Deborah's parents were very proud when she - the eldest of their eight children - became the first sibling to go to college. However, since burying the burned remains of their beautiful daughter, they have decided that 'none of [their] seven surviving children will ever go to school again', for in today's increasingly hostile and lawless northern Nigeria, the risk is just too great. According to UNICEF (10 May 2022), 18.5 million children are out of school in Nigeria due to insecurity, up from 10.5 million in 2021. While UNICEF blames 'attacks on schools by jihadists and criminal gangs in the north', Deborah's gruesome death came at the hands of fellow students - ordinary Muslim boys (as distinct from jihadists, terrorists, or 'bandits') - after one accused her of blasphemy.
MURDER: As a student of Home Economics at Sokoto's Shehu Shagari College of Education, Deborah was included in a WhatsApp group created to facilitate the sharing of information about classes, assignments, subject matter and exams. When Muslim students kept using the platform to promote Islam, Deborah objected to the barrage of 'useless information'. On Thursday 12 May, when Deborah was asked, via the WhatsApp group, how she managed to pass the exams, she answered: 'Jesus!' When pressured to retract that comment, she refused and questioned why her classmates kept using the WhatsApp group for 'nonsense religious posts'. A Muslim student, whose advances Deborah had reportedly rejected, whipped up Islamic rage against her by accusing her of blasphemy. Enraged Muslim classmates incited other Muslims males to join them in attacking the 'blasphemer' and the situation quickly spiralled out of control. School authorities deployed security officers to protect Deborah; but they were overwhelmed by the angry mob. Or, in the words of one second-year student: 'The police sacrificed the lady after the students began throwing sticks and stones at them.' In a frenzy of blood-lust, and to cries of Allahu Akbar (Allah is greater), the 100-strong Muslim mob beat and stoned Deborah to death. Then they put tyres over her body and set it on fire. The school is now closed indefinitely. Two males have been arrested in connection with the killing and a manhunt is underway for other suspects clearly identifiable in video footage widely shared on social media.
"Release our brothers."
PROTESTS: On Saturday morning 14 May, many hundreds of Muslims took to the streets in Sokoto to protest the arrests. Tensions soared and a riot ensued, complete with bonfires and targeted vandalism. A crowd of protesters besieged the palace of Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar - the Sultan of Sokoto and head of Nigeria's Inter-Religious Council for Interfaith Harmony - who had condemned the killing and demanded that those involved face justice. When police asked them to leave, the rioters 'became unruly', forcing police to fire into the air and deploy teargas to disperse the crowd. Ominously, the mob also targeted dozens of shops, market stalls and businesses owned by ethnic Igbo Christians from Nigeria's south-east. Three church buildings suffered damage in the pogrom: the Holy Family Catholic Cathedral, St. Kevin's Catholic Church, and an Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) building. To restore order, Sokoto Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal declared a 24-hour curfew in the city and ordered everyone to return to their homes.
COURT: On Monday 16 May the two arrested students - Bilyaminu Aliyu and Aminu Hukunci - faced court backed by a team of 34 lawyers led by defence counsel, Mansur Ibrahim. Both pleaded not guilty to the charges of criminal conspiracy and disturbing the peace. They were remanded in custody after the trial judge reserved ruling on their bail application until Wednesday 18 May. The killing sent shock-waves through Nigeria and the case is garnering nation-wide attention. Opinions are polarised between abject horror, revulsion and shame, to defiant pro-Sharia Islamic defensiveness. On 16 May video footage emerged of a Nigerian policeman voicing his support for the lynching of Deborah Emmanuel. 'Anyone insulting the prophet should be killed and anyone questioning about that is a Kuffar (unbeliever),' he said in Hausa language.
RISK OF SPREAD: The Christian Association of Nigeria has called for a nationwide peaceful protest on Sunday 22 May to demand justice for Deborah. However, fearing Islamic rage could spread like wildfire, the Kaduna State government had already placed a ban on all religious protest in volatile Kaduna State.
PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR MERCIFUL GOD WILL
- comfort and sustain Deborah's traumatised and grieving parents, siblings and friends, both in Sokoto and at home in Tungan Magajia; may the Lord supply all their needs and carry them as on 'eagles' wings' (Exodus 19:4).
- grant the Christians of Sokoto wisdom, guidance and discernment as they navigate these difficult days. We pray especially for those who lead the Fellowship of Christian Students at Shehu Shagari College, and for Christian pastors who lost church property in the pogrom and must lead congregations now wracked with fear and anger; may the Lord guide and protect them.
- grace Sokoto's Governor Aminu Tambuwal, the Sultan of Sokoto Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar, the judge overseeing this trial, along with others in politics, the media and civil society with a deep unbiased conviction that life must be protected, security must be guaranteed, vigilantism must be condemned, evil must be deterred and justice must be done. May God give them the courage to pursue these things in the face of Islamic protest and indignation ... for the sake of the Gospel and the Church in Sokoto.