Violence erupted in some parts of Sokoto metropolis on Saturday when some Muslim youths trooped to the streets to demand the release of the two suspects arrested in connection with the killing and setting ablaze of a 200-level female student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Deborah Samuel, over alleged blasphemy.
Following the violence, the Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, imposed a 24-hour curfew on the metropolis to restore order in the city.
Deborah was on Thursday stoned to death and burnt by her colleagues for making a WhatsApp post on a group platform that allegedly blasphemed Prophet Muhammed (SAW). In the post, the deceased reportedly advised against posting religious materials on a WhatsApp group meant for assignments.
Saturday’s protest, however, led to the vandalism of properties and looting of shops in some parts of the metropolis, with many residents running helter-skelter for safety. The protesters also made an attempt to attack the palace of the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar, who is the spiritual leader of Muslims in Nigeria and had condemned Deborah’s killing, which many described as barbaric.
The protesting youths, shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great), while bearing placards with different inscriptions, started their demonstration peacefully at the Zabira Mall roundabout and marched through Gao-Nama on Maiduguri Road within the metropolis.
However, despite a combined team of security operatives, including soldiers from the 8 Division, police and personnel of the Department of State Services and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, monitoring the protests to avert its takeover by hoodlums, there were reports of attacks on some public buildings, including an ECWA Church at Aliyu Jodi and a section of the Catholic Clinic, opposite Vision FM.
At the St Backita Catholic Secretariat in the Aliyu Jodi area of Sokoto, which houses the office of the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Kukah, the protesting youths burnt the security post and a vehicle on the premises. Kukah later announced in a statement that he was safe and unhurt and that his house was not burnt as rumoured.
He also announced the suspension of Masses across the diocese until the curfew imposed by the state government is lifted.
The statement signed by the Director, Directorate of Social Communications, Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Rev Fr Christopher Omotosho, noted, “ During the protest, groups of youths led by some adults in the background attacked the Holy Family Catholic Cathedral at Bello Way, destroying church glass windows, those of the Bishop Lawton Secretariat and vandalized a community bus parked within the premises. St Kevin’s Catholic Church, Gidan Dere, Eastern Bypass was also attacked and partly burnt.”
Eyewitnesses told Sunday PUNCH that the irate youths stormed the church wielding machetes, stones and sticks. They started throwing stones into the church compound before overpowering the security men at the gate and gaining entrance into the premises. The extent of the damage was unclear as of press time.
One of the eyewitnesses said, “The protesters came en masse. I was across the building opposite the Zenith Bank in Minanata when they began to throw stones into the church. Some of them were attacking traders around the area and burning their wares. They were outraged.
“One of the youth said in Hausa and a very harsh tone that the church wrote an article on its website about Deborah’s murder and called the killers ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’. I called the police as I tried to escape and they told me to leave the place immediately to avoid unforeseen circumstances, so I had to run away.”
The article referenced by one of the protesters was perhaps the statement issued by the Kukah to condemn the killing and ask Christians to pray for the repose of her soul.
Confirming the attack on the secretariat, a senior official of the church, Mr Matthew Otalike, said the protesters gained entry into the building and burnt down a vehicle. He added that they also invaded Kukah’s residence in the building but that the swift arrival of security agents prevented them from torching the residence.
Meanwhile, the youth also made attempts to attack the palace of the Sultan, but were repelled by security agents, led by the state Commissioner of Police, Kamalden Okunlola. When one of our correspondents visited the palace, broken bottles, glasses and sticks littered the floor. Some of the protesters also used the opportunity to attack traders in the market, looting and setting ablaze some of their wares.
A trader, who gave her name simply as Onyedikachi, said, “They attacked my sister’s shop where she sold foodstuff at the Sokoto Main Market. When I read that some people planned to protest on Saturday, I went there to warn her to close the shop. She was packing her goods when they came in from the back and we all ran away. We were told that they later set some shops ablaze and chased other traders away. In the process, some hoodlums looted shops unrestrained.”
Onyedikachi said she and her sister had fled the state before the curfew was imposed and were on their way to Jos, Plateau State, to join a bus to their state in the South-East.
Another eyewitness said, “Sokoto metropolis is boiling as I speak to you. The police are not doing enough. Even the curfew imposed by the governor didn’t change anything. I advise Christians in Sokoto to run away for their lives in case the violence escalates.”
It was also reported that the protesters laid siege to the St Mary Catholic Church, Sokoto, but were repelled by security operatives.
A resident, who gave his name simply as ThankGod, in a chat with one of our correspondents, said, “Sokoto metropolis was thrown into chaos by those young protesters asking for the release of the two persons arrested for Deborah’s killing. Shops have been burnt and properties have been vandalised. The smell of teargas was in the air for some time.”
Charles Dike, a resident of nearby Kaduna State, said he went to visit his uncle in Sokoto when he was held back by the protest. “They (security operatives) were shooting and some people were injured. I could not even see my uncle. The situation was almost getting out of hand, which was why the state government imposed a curfew and the Nigerian Army had to step in,” he added.
Attempts to attack the Catholic Church on Ahmadu Bello Way were also repelled by a team of security personnel, who fired teargas to disperse the irate youth.
Also attacked by the protesting youths were some shops along Emir Yahya and Sahara roads, where some hoodlums took advantage of the situation to loot shops. There was also a report of an attack on some business centres and vehicles parked at the Hajia Halima area of the town. A video released by the victims of the attack in the area showed several vehicles attacked with most of their windows and windscreens smashed.
Tambuwal imposes curfew
Meanwhile, Tambuwal said in a statement on Saturday, “Following the sad incident that happened at the Shehu Shagari College of Education on Thursday and sequel to the developments within the (Sokoto) metropolis this morning till afternoon, by the powers conferred on me by Section 176(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; and Section 1 and 4 of the Public Order Act; and Section 15 of the Sokoto State Peace Preservation Law, I hereby declare, with immediate effect, a curfew within the metropolis of Sokoto township for the next 24 hours.
“I appeal to the good people of Sokoto State to kindly continue to observe law and order and calm down (on the) restiveness currently pervading the metropolis. Everyone should, please, in the interest of peace go back home and observe this measure with a view to re-establishing peace, law and order in the state.
“It is not in the interest of anyone for us to have a breakdown of law and order. I, therefore, appeal for restraint; and for people to observe and respect the rule of law.”
Meanwhile, the state Commissioner of Police, Okunlola, has appealed to residents of the state to maintain peace among themselves. While addressing newsmen at the palace of the Sultan, the police boss gave an assurance that the security agencies would enforce the curfew as declared by the governor.
Unconfirmed reports said some of the protesters were injured, while one of them reportedly died, a report denied by the security agencies.
APC, PDP presidential aspirants keep mum over Deborah’s murder
Amid growing outrage over the killing of Deborah, most presidential aspirants across the political parties, including the ruling All Progressives Congress and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, have kept mum over the incident.
Two days after the incident, however, the presidential aspirants, most of whom had visited several northern states for consultation and promised to uphold the sanctity of life if elected into office in 2023, remained silent over the issue.
There are strong insinuations that the aspirants distanced themselves from commenting on the issue so as not to offend northern electorate and powerful voices in the region so as not to hurt their chances in the forthcoming party primaries and the 2023 elections.
In the APC, prominent aspirants who have yet to speak on the incident include a national leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State; Governor Abubakar Badaru of Jigawa State; Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi; and the Serving Overseer of the Citadel Global Community Church, Pastor Tunde Bakare, and about 22 others. Only Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo condemned the killing while speaking to journalists at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport on Friday.
n the PDP, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar; a former Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki; Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State; former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi, and 10 others also refused to speak on the issue.
In the opposition party, only a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Pius Anyim, condemned the incident in a statement on Friday, describing the killing as cruel, illegal, callous and inhumane. “We cannot afford now to add religious intolerance to the plethora of problems bedevilling our country. I condole with the immediate family and friends of Deborah over the painful death and irreparable loss,” he added.
Atiku, who earlier condemned the killing in a tweet on his verified handle, @Atiku Abubakar, later disassociated himself from the post. His initial tweet read, “There cannot be a justification for such gruesome murder. Deborah Yakubu was murdered and all those behind her death must be brought to justice. My condolences to her family and friends.”
After some tweeps commented on the post, most of whom threatened to vote against him in the coming election, Atiku pulled down the tweet. He later made a Facebook post in Hausa language, which translates, “This evening I received information that a post was made that doesn’t agree with my orders. I use this to announce that any post without A. A. is not from me. May God protect us.”
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), the Christian Association of Nigeria and some Islamic clerics had condemned Deborah’s killing, saying the law forbids people from taking the law into their own hands.
Family buries victim in Niger
Meanwhile, the remains of Deborah were interred around 6.30pm on Saturday in her hometown, Tungan Magajiya, in the Rijau Local Government Area of Niger State.
Prior to the interment, however, youths in the community protested against the manner in which her remains were returned to the community, saying the state government should have been responsible for her burial and insisted that the corpse be returned to Sokoto. But the family insisted on burying her to put the past behind them.
Her uncle, Emmanuel Maji, a pastor of the ECWA Church in Tungan Magajiya, who spoke with one of our correspondents in a telephone interview, stated that the father of the deceased was called on Friday to come and collect the corpse for burial.
Maji added that the father left for Sokoto on Friday and returned with Deborah’s remains on Saturday in a commercial vehicle.
He stated, “Our leaders said they did not agree that she should be brought back just like that without being accompanied by government officials or officials from the school. Since Deborah was killed in the school by her fellow students, we feel she had become government property and should be treated as such.
“When the driver of the commercial vehicle got to the compound, we tried to ask him questions; he just threw Deborah’s remains down and drove off, which angered the youth, who almost started protesting until they were pacified.”
The youth took the corpse and deposited it in the mortuary, but after being pacified, they returned it for burial.
He said the church wanted to ensure that the right thing was done, but the family felt that after such a great loss, it should be allowed to bury her bones.
Maji stated that Deborah’s mother had been downcast since the incident, while the father had also been indisposed and could not take calls.
Another uncle of Deborah contacted by one of our correspondents simply said, “I can’t speak to journalists at the moment. We are preparing for the burial.”
PFN condemns killing
Meanwhile, the leadership of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria in Sokoto State has condemned the gruesome killing of Deborah.
A statement by its state Chairman, PFN, Rev Ben Musa, on Friday said, “Inasmuch as we will not condone blasphemy, which she was alleged to have committed, we totally reject the unjustifiable jungle justice by the supposedly classmates, schoolmates, irate youths and perpetrators.”
While offering the PFN’s condolences to the deceased’s family, Musa called on the Federal Government, the Inspector-General of Police and other security agencies to investigate the volatile situation and serve justice without fear or favour.
El-Rufai bans religious protests, warns violators
Meanwhile, the Kaduna State Government has banned any form of religious protests across the 23 local government areas of the state with immediate effect.
The state Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, in a statement on Saturday, quoted Governor Nasir El-Rufai as directing security agencies to enforce the ban.
The statement read in part, “The Kaduna State Government, in consultation with security agencies under the umbrella of the Kaduna State Security Council, has placed a ban on protests related to religious activities throughout the state with immediate effect.
“This prohibition becomes imperative in view of moves by some unpatriotic elements to organise a series of for-and-against protests related to a security development in one of the northern Nigerian states.
“The governor also charged religious leaders, community leaders and traditional rulers throughout the state to complement the efforts of government and security agencies towards the maintenance of peace and stability.”
Kano, Katsina on red alert
Following the violence in Sokoto on Saturday, Sunday PUNCH gathered that the governments of Kano and Katsina states placed security agencies on red alert.
The Police Public Relations Officer for the Kano State Police Command, SP Abdullahi Haruna, told one of our correspondents that the Commissioner of Police, Sama’ila Dikko, had directed all area commanders, divisional police officers, tactical commanders and intelligence officers to be at alert and continue to monitor the situation.
In Katsina State, security sources revealed that a combined team of mobile policemen and other security and intelligence officers were already on the ground in various parts of the state to forestall any untoward development.
NBA SPIDEL calls for calm over conference
The Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Public Interest and Development Law NBA-SPIDEL, Mr Monday Ubani, has urged lawyers to be prudent over calls for the cancellation of the 2022 NBA-SPIDEL conference schedule to hold in Sokoto due to the killing of Deborah.
He said, “It is like asking for conferences billed for Owerri to be cancelled because of the killings of two army personnel – husband and wife – by unknown gunmen or asking that we cancel conferences in Abuja, because of some of the killings that have taken place there recently. Is there any sound logic to such rash requests?
“Let us be patient and await a statement from the appropriate authority sirs. Please take it easy gentlemen, I plead.”
300 women groups protest, demand state of emergency
A coalition of 300 women organisations, under the aegis of the Womanifesto, on Saturday protested against the killing of Deborah, saying “enough is enough.” The women groups said her killing without any protection from the school authorities was unacceptable but symbolic of the religious intolerance in Nigeria.
A statement titled, ‘Women groups in Nigeria condemn the cold-blooded execution of Deborah for religious blasphemy, signed by the Executive Director, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, partly read, “All her (Deborah) freedoms as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria were violated at once. The blatant disregard for human life and the continuous killing of women and girls with impunity has normalised the culture of jungle justice in evident failure of the Nigerian state to secure our people.
“We, therefore, call on Governor Tambuwal to take immediate steps beyond condemning this barbaric act and collaborate with the police and other relevant law enforcement and judicial establishments to commence prosecutorial action against all the identified murderers and school officials complicit in the killing and burning of Miss Samuel. We also call for positive action to forestall future occurrences. We also call on the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to make this a matter of public interest alongside the stalled cases of prosecution of the killers of Mrs Eunice Olawale and Bridget Agbaheme.”