Nigerian women and religious extremism: Deborah Yakubu, murdered; Rhoda Jatau, imprisoned, By Franklyne Ogbunwezeh

Nigerian women and religious extremism: Deborah Yakubu, murdered; Rhoda Jatau, imprisoned, By Franklyne Ogbunwezeh

Deborah Samuel
The late Deborah Yakubu.

The failure of the Nigerian state to live up to its statutory responsibilities of protecting the lives and property of its citizens; its failure to punish atrocities and dastardly crimes committed in the name of defending religion, its failure to build a just, free, fair, and equitable nation, where no person is discriminated against on the basis of religion, tribe, tongue, creed, or sexual orientation, is at the epicentre of this ecosystem of impunity that has supported the physical and judicial lynching of Christians in Nigeria since 1994.

On the morning of 12 May, 2022, Deborah Yakubu, a young Christian student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, was surrounded by a braying mob of Islamic fanatics and lynched before rolling cameras on the allegation that she had blasphemed against Islam. Her killers filmed themselves in the act, and circulated this across various social media platforms – a spectacle that would continue to traumatise anyone who watches the gory video.

Eight days later, on 20 May, 2022, the Nigerian authorities, in Bauchi, arrested another Christian woman, Rhoda Jatau, on another allegation of blasphemy. She was alleged to have shared a message in her work WhatsApp group, condemning the murder of Deborah.

The message denouncing Yakubu’s murder, which Jatau shared, was a reaction of conscience to the trauma of watching a fellow human being lynched before rolling cameras. No one in their right conscience would be unmoved in the face of such jolting inhumanity.

That, for the Nigerian authorities in the Sharia state of Bauchi, constitutes blasphemy. Not the public murder of a human being.

This, and many other actions and omissions of the Nigerian state, nourish and sustain the suspicion in various quarters that the Nigerian state, dominated by Muslims at the federal level and across the 12 Northern states, which introduced Sharia in 1999, does not only harbour an agenda to Islamise Nigeria but it is now active in the business of Christian persecution.


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The fact that two Christian women sharing messages in WhatsApp groups, in the northern part of Nigeria must pay for this – one with her life, the other with her freedom – is thanks to an Islamic militant theocracy that is about to run over the whole of Nigeria.

Deborah Yakubu was murdered by an Islamic mob. The failure of the state to protect this innocent young woman from her murderers could be excused on a variety of grounds. But nothing can excuse the failure of the state to secure justice for Deborah.

Two of her assailants, Bilyaminu Aliyu and Aminu Hukunchi, were arrested on 16 May, 2022 and arraigned before the courts. The Nigerian Police in Sokoto, which was the prosecuting authority, never cared to show up in court during several sittings, prompting the trial court to dismiss the case and set the murderers free.

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The Nigerian state allowed the murderers of Deborah Yakubu to get away by not even entering an appearance to prosecute them. That no one was held to account for the murder or that there was no diligent prosecution of the murderers, makes mockery of justice. It can only be interpreted as the Nigerian state’s sanctioning of Deborah Yakubu’s murder.

That was not the first time Nigeria had failed its Christian citizens killed by Islamic fanatics.

In December 1994, an Islamic mob murdered and beheaded an Igbo Christian named Gideon Akaluka in Kano. The muderers paraded the streets of the city with his head on a pike. Akalaluka had been arrested after some Muslims accused his wife of using pages of the Koran as toilet paper for their baby. His lawyer later claimed that he had evidence indicating that the woman alleged to be Akaluka’s wife was not his wife, and that Akaluka was not even around when the alleged blasphemy was committed. The Police officers who arrested Akaluka assured him that his detention would be for his own safety. However, contrary to their assurances, a Muslim mob prised him from Police custody without resistance, and then lynched, beheaded, and paraded the streets with his head on a pike.

Akaluka was neither tried nor given his day in court to face his accusers before a jury. He was denied that opportunity by a mob that constituted itself into the accuser, judge, jury, and executioner, in a country that is supposed to be governed by laws.

Even though a popular Nigerian, who rose to become the governor of the Nigerian Central Bank, as well as an Emir in one of the northern Nigerian states, was rumored to be the mastermind of that murder, no one was called to account for that crime. Not even the Police commissioner under whose watch the crime was committed.

That failure to hold anyone accountable paved the way for a host of other impunities and lynchings of Christians that have continued till today. One of the most brazen examples of this happened between June and December 2016 in Kano State, Nigeria.

On 2 June, 2016, Bridget Agbahime, a 74-year-old Nigerian Christian woman was lynched at Kofar Wambai market in Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria, by an Islamic mob. She was also accused of blasphemy. She was said to have prevented a fellow trader, who is a Muslim, from performing ablution or washing himself in preparation for prayers, in front of her shop.

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The police arrested two suspects, Dauda Ahmed and Zubairu Abdullahi, in connection with the murder. The State governor, Abdullahi Ganduje promised justice. The Police later arrested three more suspects, Abdulmumeen Mustafa, Abdullahi Abubakar, and Musa Abdullahi, all of who were subsequently charged at the magistrate court in Kano for culpable homicide, among other counts.

The failure of the Nigerian state apparatus and security architecture to arrest and prosecute the men behind all these atrocities and genocidal crimes against Christians, even when some of them recorded themselves in the act, coupled with its speed in prosecuting Christians like Rhoda Jatau, has grown to create an ecosystem of impunity, which empowers Muslims to kill Nigerian Christians at will.

On 4 November, 2016, the Kano State government entered a “Nolle Prosequi” on the case. The Chief Magistrate, Muhammad Jibrin, on the advice of the Kano State Attorney General, discharged the case and ordered the release of the suspects. The state claimed that the suspects had no case to answer, leading a popular Nigerian social critic, Chido Onumah, to lament that, “the real tragedy here is what appears to be the connivance of Kano State and its institutions, and by extension, the Nigerian state, to uphold the death sentence passed on Bridget Agbahime.”

In contrast, this same Nigerian state, which failed to protect Gideon Akaluka, Bridget Agbahime, Deborah Yakubu, and a host of other Christians killed by Muslim fanatics, is in Bauchi State marshalling formidable resources to prosecute Rhoda Jatau, whose only crime was condemning the brutal murder of Deborah Yakubu.

To this end, the lives of Christians in the Northern parts of Nigeria are no longer worth the price of peanuts. They have become endangered species in that part of Nigeria, as there is no day that Christians are not harassed and terrorised, either physically or verbally, in Northern Nigeria. The environment to live, navigate their public lives and safely practice their faith is growing more toxic than ever.

In the North, Christians are lynched on the flimsiest of excuses, usually couched as accusations of blasphemy. In Central Nigeria, they are facing extinction, kidnap-for-ransom, and genocide. In the South, Christians are massacred in their houses of worship, like in Owo, Ondo State; also, they are abducted on the roads, and sacked from their villages, like in Aguamede in Enugu State.

The Middle Belt deserves a special mention. It is now a territory besieged by militants with Islamic affiliations and genocidal aspirations. The mission to wipe out the indigenous Christian inhabitants of that fertile triangle, running from Southern Kaduna through the plains of Plateau down to the River Benue basin, and usurping their land, is in full swing.

Just recently on Tuesday, 16 May, Fulani-jihadist militants are alleged to have staged a genocidal bloodbath in the Mangu area of Plateau State, massacring as many as 85 people, and setting several villages on fire.

As is usually the case, no one has ever been convicted of murdering Christians in Northern Nigeria under the guise of religion. No Fulani militant or bandit or terrorist has ever been convicted by the Nigerian state of the atrocious crimes committed on Christian villages.

All these sustain the suspicion that either the Nigerian state is complicit in these crimes, or it is now in the business of Christian persecution.

That the Nigerian version of Islamic extremism is thoroughgoing misogyny, and views non-Muslim women as objects to either be converted to Islam, killed, or used as sex slaves, is no longer news. Boko Haram even claimed as much. It was reported that it claimed that, “the wives and daughters of infidels or pagans are legitimate booty and can be sold into slavery”. Reports from escaped Chibok and Dapchi girls kidnapped by Boko Haram also attest to this.

Every human society has its share of extremists. But that Islamic extremism, which glories in destroying Christian lives, properties, and livelihoods, and desecrating the bodies and souls of Christian women, is actively tolerated by a democratic Nigerian state, supposedly governed by laws, in the 21st century, is worrying, especially for a multi-religious and a diverse country like Nigeria.

The failure of the Nigerian state apparatus and security architecture to arrest and prosecute the men behind all these atrocities and genocidal crimes against Christians, even when some of them recorded themselves in the act, coupled with its speed in prosecuting Christians like Rhoda Jatau, has grown to create an ecosystem of impunity, which empowers Muslims to kill Nigerian Christians at will. That the state in Northern Nigeria, now punishes the free speech of Christians but allows murderers of Christians to go scot-free has been decades in the works.

Nigeria, one of the most strategic countries in Africa, has for scores of years been in the crosshairs of militant Islamic jihad. Muslim terror groups, propelled by the caliphate aspirations of global jihadism, made a landfall in Nigeria. With support and financing from the Wahhabi petrodollars located in Saudi Arabia, groups like Boko Haram evolved to challenge the Nigerian state and threaten the lives of Christians in Northern Nigeria since 2009.

Since then, Islamic bandits, fixated on Christian bodies, land, and property as booty, have been operating uninhibited in those ungoverned spaces abandoned by the Nigerian state in the North, while Muslim-Fulani militants, bent on grabbing Christian land and demographically displacing them, have flooded the Middle Belt with atrocious crimes.

All these are thanks to the ecosystem of impunity mentioned earlier.

Rhoda’s imprisonment reeks of a medieval trial-by-ordeal. The court seems to be under pressure to frustrate the course of justice in this case. She is denied bail and remanded in prison custody, which is eating away at her spirit and resolve. Her life in prison is not even guaranteed, as there have been reports of attempts by Islamic mobs to waylay her on her way to court and lynch her.

Lest we forget, for one full year now, Rhoda Jatau has been on trial. For 365 days, this mother of five has been denied the comfort of her family and there is no resolution of the case in sight.

Jatau, a 46-year-old health worker in Warji local council of Bauchi State, was arrested and charged under sections 114 and 210 of the State Penal Code, and Section 24 Subsection 1b(i) of the Cybercrime Prohibition Act of 2015, with inciting public disturbance, exciting the contempt of a religious creed, and cyberstalking.

Bauchi is one of the 12 Northern Nigerian States that adopted the Islamic Sharia into their penal code in 1999.

Blasphemy, which under the Sharia in some cases, carries a death sentence on conviction, is not only a violation of international law but also the fundamental human rights provisions in the Nigerian constitution, which in Sections 38 and 39 protect the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, as well as the freedom of expression.

The court refused to grant her bail on several occasions, citing public safety concerns. But a speedy dispensation of the case is not a major concern of the Bauchi court, as the trial has been plagued by unnecessary adjournments and other irregularities, which slow it down, ensuring that Rhoda remains in prison and away from her family.

The prosecution has continued to frustrate her ability to litigate on this case; failing to provide her lawyers with the evidence against her, to enable them prepare their defence, thereby infringing on her right to a fair trial – the only fundamental human right that is absolute.

Rhoda Jatau’s imprisonment reeks of a medieval trial-by-ordeal. The court seems to be under pressure to frustrate the course of justice in this case. She is denied bail and remanded in prison custody, which is eating away at her spirit and resolve. Her life in prison is not even guaranteed, as there have been reports of attempts by Islamic mobs to waylay her on her way to court and lynch her. She lives in constant fear for her life and that of her family, which are not out of harm’s way, as they expend their meagre resources supporting her through this ordeal.

That a woman like Rhoda Jatau could be in jail and on trial over an accusation of blasphemy, in a country that prides itself as a democracy, in the 21st century, is shocking, to say the least.

Rhoda’s plight and the use of blasphemy as a reason for persecuting Christians in Nigeria is built upon the same ecosystem of impunity, which has been allowed to normalise the persecution of Christians in Nigeria, under the government of Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani muslim.

The failure of the Nigerian state to live up to its statutory responsibilities of protecting the lives and property of its citizens; its failure to punish atrocities and dastardly crimes committed in the name of defending religion, its failure to build a just, free, fair, and equitable nation, where no person is discriminated against on the basis of religion, tribe, tongue, creed, or sexual orientation, is at the epicentre of this ecosystem of impunity that has supported the physical and judicial lynching of Christians in Nigeria since 1994.

The only crimes committed by people like Deborah Yakubu and Rhoda Jatau are the burden of being born in a country where their fellow countrymen who are Muslims, view them as a game to be hunted down for their faith.

The stories of Rhoda Jatau and Deborah Yakubu are indicative of the depths of evil possible, when militant Islamofascism meets misogyny, in an ecosystem of impunity.

The Bauchi state authorities should release Rhoda Jatau from prison and drop all charges against her, as a matter of urgency. Her continued imprisonment is a stain on Nigeria’s image as a democracy.

Franklyne Ogbunwezeh is a Nigerian and a Senior Research Fellow & Director for Genocide Prevention at the Christian Solidarity International, Switzerland.


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