The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) joins members of the public to condemn the brutal and gruesome killing on Thursday 12 May 2022 of Ms. Deborah Samuel, a second year student at Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, by her schoolmates for purportedly committing blasphemy. She was said to have made a comment on the class WhatsApp group which allegedly denigrated Islam. As a result, she was lynched and set ablaze by an irate mob.
Her death and other cases of mob violence across the country, like the brutal murder of a sound engineer David Sunday in Lekki, Lagos State, and of an army couple reportedly in Imo state, indicate Nigeria is on the verge of descent into full-blown barbarism unless the working masses fight to take political power, end the current rotten, chaotic, failing system and enthrone a socialist Nigeria.
There is presently an urgent need for the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to begin to organize a series of mass actions in order to mobilize the Nigerian working people to begin to fight around issues of deepening poverty, the rising cost of living, democratic rights, and anti-poor policies. This is the only way to ensure that frustration at the worsening situation of the country does not find outlets in ethnic and religious clashes and sentiments.
We welcome the arrest of two of the alleged perpetrators and demand a nationwide search for those still at large and their speedy and conclusive trial. The identity of Deborah’s killers, as well as those who enabled the killing, is quite known because the whole action was filmed and circulated on social media. In fact, it is incontrovertible that some of the perpetrators are students of the school and Deborah’s classmates. Hence we warn against any attempt by the corrupt police and the Nigerian State to deliberately arrest and prosecute innocent people in an effort to weaken the case and allow the real perpetrators to escape justice. We also warn against any cover-up. We consider laughable the charges of criminal conspiracy and inciting public disturbance preferred by the Sokoto State government against the two killer suspects. These weak charges and the boastful speeches of the 34 lawyers arranged to defend the accused in court, indicate that this may be nothing but a show trial to further justify the killings, mock the deceased and inflame passion on both sides.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that such a dastardly act was committed but the murderers were released or discharged following a similar show trial. For instance, sixteen suspects in the murder of a Christian secondary school teacher, Christiana Oluwatoyin Oluwasesin, at the Gandu Government Day Secondary School Gombe, were released without charge in 2007. Christiana, a married mother of two, was brutally murdered on 21 March 2007 after a Muslim student falsely accused her of having torn a copy of the Quran. A few months after, her murderers were subsequently discharged on the basis of “no case to answer”. In a similar vein, five suspects in the murder of Bridget Agbahime were also freed by the Kano State government without any explanation. Mrs. Agbahime, 74, was accused of blasphemy against Islam and murdered at Kofar Wambai Market in downtown Kano on June 2, 2016.
In our view, the inability of the state to respond to these developments firmly and punish perpetrators decisively is one of the reasons why such occurrences have become common. This, on the one hand, represents another feature of state failure in Nigeria and the capture of the state by competing religious interests, particularly in the Northern part of the country that deploys state institutions in the service of religious interests. For instance, Northern Muslims also accuse the State of not acting decisively when cases of blasphemy are reported thereby justifying the resort to self-help.
Be that as it may, it needs to be stressed that nothing on earth can justify the brutal killing of Deborah and similar victims. If the state fails to act when grievances are reported, what is expected is for people to organize to fight to make the state act or to overthrow the state altogether and replace it with one that is more responsive. Resorting to self-help to kill and burn a student who simply complained about the conduct of other classmates on a common WhatsApp group is barbaric, reprehensible and outrageous.
Since this unfortunate incident, we have seen efforts by some reactionary Islamic clerics, scholars, members of the Northern ruling oligarchy, and others to justify Deborah’s death. At the same time, we have seen other forces, especially from the South, trying to capitalize on the situation to further deepen the ethnic and religious divides in the country by spreading on social media false propaganda videos. As far as we are concerned, while recognizing the need to respect people’s religious sensitivity, no one deserves to be killed or persecuted for expressing their freedom of speech and thought.
In the same vein, we consider blasphemy an archaic and barbaric conception dating back to the Middle Ages which seeks to annul freedom of thought and conscience guaranteed in Nigeria’s 1999 constitution. For instance, a prominent Nigerian humanist and atheist, Bala Mubarak, was on Tuesday, April 5, 2022, sentenced to 24 years imprisonment by the Kano State High Court for blasphemy and public incitement. All Bala Mubarak did was renounce his Islamic faith and publicly acknowledging that he is an atheist.
Socialists and religion
Socialists hold that religion is a personal affair. This is why we demand the separation of religion from the State. Unfortunately, it is the Nigerian capitalist ruling elite who have contributed to the rise of religious identity by using religion as a means of control and influence-peddling through sponsorship of pilgrimages, the building of mosques and churches imposing religious teachings and morality in schools and other public spaces and integration of religious leaders in the affairs of the state. As far as we are concerned, while we believe the peaceful coexistence of all the peoples of Nigeria is possible, this cannot be achieved by allowing any organized religion to dictate the limit of freedom of thought and conscience. To this extent, we condemn the blasphemy laws while, at the same time, emphasizing the need for mutual tolerance and respect for people’s religious sensibilities. Ultimately, only the united struggle of the working masses across ethnic and religious divides can proffer hope for a resolution of the seemingly insoluble crises facing Nigeria.
In conclusion, all the recent attacks and mob violence across the country point to a rapid descent of Nigeria into barbarism. Only the urgent intervention of the working masses through a programme of struggle and a mass workers’ political alternative armed with socialist policies can salvage Nigeria.