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Killing of College Student in Sokoto Raises Intolerance Concerns

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On Thursday, 12th May 2022, a student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Deborah Yakubu was killed by her fellow students who accused her of ‘blasphemy’. According to reports, Deborah had in response to some postings on her class WhatsApp page, burst out asking her classmates to desist from posting religious messages on the platform, noting that the platform was created for studying and educational purposes. Her classmates, some of whom were muslims did not take kindly to what they considered to be an insult on the Holy Prophet Mohammed (SAW). In an unclear sequence of events, Deborah was accosted by her classmates, beaten and set ablaze. In video footages that went viral on the internet, some students of the College boasted that she had been taught a lesson. Some of the students even came out claiming responsibility for her killing. There was apprehension throughout Sokoto, with protests reported.

The killing of Deborah has been condemned throughout the country, with civil liberties advocates calling for the arrest and prosecution of perpetrators of the act. In apparent response, two suspects were arrested – Bilyaminu Aliyu and Aminu Hukunchi, and arraigned before a Sokoto Chief Magistrate Court on 16th May 2022. They were reported to have been charged with the offences of criminal conspiracy and inciting public disturbance. The charges against the suspects have however been criticised. The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and other civil groups have criticised the charges, describing them as flimsy. According to the NBA, the charges fail to recognise the gravity of the offence of murder that was committed. Part of its statement read thus:

We are, however, worried by yet-to-be confirmed reports reaching us that the suspects have been charged with mere breach of public peace in an episode that cut short Deborah’s life in her prime.”

The NBA and civil groups have also called on the Sokoto State government to review its prosecution strategy and arraign additional suspects for the offence, especially those caught on video.

The action of the suspects who led a mob to stone and burn Deborah to death is  despicable, reprehensible, primitive and perpetrated by ignorant, religious fundamentalists and should not be condoned in any country. Observers expect that the Sokoto State government will spread a wider security drag net to apprehend and diligently prosecute all other persons involved in the lynching and stoning to death of Deborah Yakubu.

While Nigerians ought to exercise greater sensitivity and respect for the various religions in the country, there is an important need for those who feel offended by the actions of others to respond only in line with the provisions of the law and follow due legal process for perceived infringement of their rights.