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    Deborah: Violent Sokoto protest that leaves shops looted, churches destroyed

    Normalcy has yet to return to Sokoto State a week after a protest by some youths calling for the unconditional release of those arrested in connection with the killing of Deborah Samuel, a 200-level Home Economics student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education, in the state.

    Some of the late student’s colleagues claimed that the victim blasphemed their religion.

    Thus, they battered and stoned her before setting her ablaze. It was gathered that Deborah reportedly advised her colleagues against posting religious materials on a WhatsApp group meant for assignments. Her vile killing caused the school authorities to immediately order closure of the school.

    The police later arrested two suspects in connection with the murder; an exercise that triggered violence in some parts of the state last Saturday. The development made the state governor, Aminu Tambuwal, to impose a 24-hour curfew on the metropolis to restore order. The protest led to property destruction and looting of shops in some parts of the metropolis on Saturday. Residents also had a tough time running helter-skelter to avoid being caught in the melee as the protesters also attempted to attack the palace of the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar, spiritual leader of Muslims in Nigeria, who like many others faulted Deborah’s killing.

     

    Some facilities belonging to the Catholic Church in the state were attacked. The hoodlums besieged the Holy Family Catholic Cathedral at Bello Way, Sokoto, where they destroyed church glass windows of the Bishop Lawton Secretariat and vandalised a community bus parked within the premises. The St. Kelvin’s Catholic Church, Gidan Dere, Eastern By-Pass was also attacked and partly burnt. The hoodlums shattered windows of the new hospital complex under construction on the same premises.

    The police also arraigned the two suspects; Bilyaminu Aliyu and Aminu Hukunci on Monday and the court ordered that they should be remanded.

    Commenting on the incident in a statement, Director, Directorate of Social Communication, Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Rev. Fr. Christopher Omotosho, noted that a team of mobile policemen were quickly dispersed before the hoodlums could do further damage.

    He said, “The hoodlums also attacked the Bakhita Centre located along Aliyu Jodi Road and burnt a bus within the premises.’’

    Omotosho added that the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Rev. Matthew Kukah, commended the governor for acting promptly by declaring a 24-hour curfew to curb the protest.

    The statement further stated that Kukah also praised the security forces for promptly rising to the occasion to prevent further damage to the diocese’s facilities. Noting that no life was lost to the protest, the statement debunked the claim that Kukah’s residence was attacked. Masses in the Sokoto metropolis were suspended until the lifting of the curfew.

    Some shops were also looted during the protest, a development which left many of the affected traders in tears. One of our correspondents who visited the Sokoto metropolis on Thursday observed that business and other activities had yet to commence after the protest.

    Some of the traders who spoke with Saturday PUNCH noted that the atmosphere in the state was yet conducive to resume trading activities compared to its peaceful milieu before the incident.

    The traders described the experience as one of the worst in their lives as residents in the state.

    One of them identified only as Okechukwu from the South-East said his shop located along Emir Yahya was looted by some of the hoodlums who converted the protest to their selfish interests.

    The trader who was visibly sad said he had been trading in the area for a long time without any ugly incident until the recent one.

    He said, “We have been selling in this area for a long time without any rancour either with residents or our customers. The issue of religion or ethnicity has never been a problem in Sokoto for a long time until the latest development. The murdered student was a northern. We try to know the level we go in the state in terms of religion since we are from the South. It’s unfortunate that we have to pay for something we know nothing about.”

    Another shop owner identified only as Stanley, whose car was damaged by the protesters, described the situation as one he never wished for in his life.

    The trader, whose shop is located in the Hajia Halima area, said the hoodlums who took advantage of the protest to vandalise his car were mostly young boys.

    Stanley stated, “As I was trying to protect my goods because the information came to us suddenly, we saw them with sticks and vandalising cars where they were parked. They broke windscreens while some deflated tyres during the rampage. It was unfortunate but what can we do than to appeal to everyone to take things easy.

    “We don’t have issues with our hosts in the state. That is why anytime there is a disagreement; we are always the target of attack. I think it’s high time we addressed this issue. We have rights to live and do legitimate businesses in this state as our hosts have the same right to stay and do legitimate businesses in the South-East. We appeal to everyone to allow us to live in peace as that is the only solution to the myriad of problems facing our country.”

    An executive member of Ndigbo, a socio-cultural group in the state, who spoke on condition of anonymity, stated that the leadership of Igbo traders in the state would soon hold a meeting.

    He said the meeting would determine the value of what was lost to the protest by his kinsmen.

    He cautioned members of the public, especially his kinsmen, to refrain from making further comments on the matter in order not to aggravate the already tense atmosphere in the state.

    Some of the areas mostly affected by the protest included Emir Yahya road where some shops were reportedly looted.

    Another area is Hajia Halima, where vehicles were destroyed, and shops looted according to eyewitnesses’ accounts. The hoodlums also made attempts to invade the Holy Family, Catholic Church on Bello Way but they were reportedly repelled by security agents.

    Also, along the Bello Way area, a burnt car was seen by one of our correspondents lying by the roadside. It was observed that the hoodlums vandalised the car and set it ablaze where it was parked.

    At Aliyu Jodi, an ECWA church was also attacked and a Catholic Church branch opposite Vision FM Station, Gidan Dere, was attacked and a part of it burnt.

    An eyewitness said that the early arrival of men of 8 Division Army barracks saved the situation from getting out of hand.

    Efforts to speak with the leadership of the affected churches were not successful as none of them was willing to comment on the matter.

    One of them who spoke on condition of anonymity said the instructions from the Christian Association of Nigeria leaders in the state was that they should remain calm about the issue.

    He said, “CAN asked us to remain calm for now. I believe when the time is appropriate, we will call journalists in the state for proper briefing.’’

    Contacted to know the command’s efforts in curbing a recurrence of the public disturbance, its spokesperson, Abubakar Sanusi, didn’t take the calls made to his mobile. He had also yet to reply to a text message sent to him as of press time.

    Copyright PUNCH.

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