By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
ABUJA (Worthy News) – A Nigerian Christian student was stoned to death and set on fire in northwest Nigeria by Muslims who accused her of “blasphemous” statements against Islam, Christians confirmed over the weekend.
The killing of Deborah Samuel happened in Sokoto State, where Islamic “Sharia” law is in force alongside ordinary legislation as in other states in Nigeria’s conservative Muslim north.
Two suspects were detained following Thursday’s murder, police said, but more details were not immediately available. The Sokoto-based Shehu Shagari school where she had been a Level 200 Home Economics student was immediately closed, authorities said.
Samuel, whose last name was also identified as Yakubu, had reportedly been accused of “blaspheming” Islam’s Prophet Mohammed on the social media platform WhatsApp.
Talking with a WhatsApp group, she expressed frustration at the discrimination experienced by Christian students, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
There were also unconfirmed reports that she had rejected the advances of a Muslim student, who later made the blasphemy allegation.
Video footage circulating on social media showed an unconscious and bloodied Samuel being stoned, beaten, and then immolated in a pile of tires.
The predominantly male mob, which reportedly included dozens of fellow students, was heard chanting “Allahu Akbar” (“Allah is greater”) while stoning her and fueling the flames.
In one of the videos, a young man brandishing a box of matches claimed responsibility for her murder, which he called reasonable and justified.
The college authorities had hidden the student in the campus security room, mounting threats to her life said advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). “However, her killers had dragged her out and burnt the building after killing her,” CSW told Worthy News.
The Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, the highest spiritual authority of Nigerian Muslims, and the influential Catholic Church urged calm after the killing.
“The Sultanate Council has condemned the incident… and urged the security agencies to bring the perpetrators of this unjustifiable incident to justice,” Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar sin published remarks.
The sultan, who also heads the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) for Interfaith Harmony, urged “all to remain calm and ensure peaceful co-existence” in Nigeria.
Catholic Bishop Kukah also condemned the killing, expressing a “deep shock” over the young woman’s killing. “We call on the authorities to investigate this tragedy and ensure that all the culprits are brought to justice,” he added.
She leaves behind friends and family in mourning, including fellow evangelical Christians.
Samuel was a member of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) denomination in the Tugan Magajia of Rijau Local Government Area in her home state of Niger, CSW said.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas, told Worthy News that his group condemns “this horrific murder and extends deepest condolences to the family and friends.”
He added that CSW had urged state and federal authorities “to prosecute the murderers” to “the fullest extent of the law.” Nigeria’s leadership should also “end the impunity currently enjoyed by those who weaponize religion and use it to justify taking innocent lives,” he said.
“Nigeria must urgently address the anomaly whereby the penal code punishes blasphemy with a prison term, while Shari’a courts in northern Nigeria inflict excessive sentences,” Thomas stressed. “The repeal of the blasphemy provision is essential. Not only is it incompatible with the country’s national and international obligations; it is also a driver of the kind of religious extremism that led to the gruesome murder of this promising young woman.”
The student’s murder resembled that of 30-year-old teacher Christianah Oluwatoyin Oluwasesin, who was lynched in Gombe state in March 2007, recalled CSW. “The teacher and mother of two was stoned, stripped, beaten, stabbed to death, and burned beyond recognition at Gandu Government Day Secondary School. [She was killed] by a mob consisting of students, townsfolk, and local thugs after being falsely accused of blasphemy by a student whom she caught cheating during an exam,” the group said.
However, “Sixteen suspects arrested in connection with her murder were eventually released without charge,” CSW added in a statement.
Similarly, in June 2016, Bridget Agbahime, 74, a market trader and the wife of a retired Deeper Life Church leader, was battered to death by a mob in Kofar Wambai market in the Kano state capital. She was murdered “following a false accusation of blasphemy,” according to CSW investigators.
Five men detained over her murder, including the one whose falsehood allegedly incited her murder, were reportedly released five months after being arrested.
In other disturbing news, kidnapped Catholic priest Joseph Aketeh Bako, 38, has died, CSW added. He was abducted by suspected Muslim armed assailants on March 8 from his residence at St John’s Catholic Church Kudenda in the Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna state.
He died in captivity between April 18 and April 20, Catholic and CSW sources said. The Chancellor of the Catholic Archdiocese of Kaduna said the priest was ill before being kidnapped. “His abductors had refused to allow him to carry his medications with him. His body is yet to be found,” CSW explained.
Critics suggest Islamic law contributes to an atmosphere toward Christians and those questioning Islam. Blasphemy, especially against Islam’s prophet, is punishable by death under Sharia law, introduced in 2000 in 12 northern Nigerian states.
Islamic courts, which operate parallel with the state judicial system, have already handed down death sentences for adultery, blasphemy, and homosexuality.
Two Muslims were sentenced to death in 2015 and 2020 by Islamic courts for blasphemy against Prophet Muhammed, though no court-ordered executions were reported.
Blasphemy-related violence also impacted Christian men. In May 2016, violence erupted in Pandogari Town of Niger State after Emmanuel Methodus, a Christian trader, was accused of a blasphemous posting on his Facebook website.
He was murdered, and his body burned, Christians said.
In an ensuing act of collective punishment, three other people were killed, 25 Christian-owned shops were looted, and four churches were destroyed with several Christian homes, CSW said.
Later, in Zamfara State in August 2016, eight people were reportedly burned to death. Additionally, a church elder’s home and the buildings and vicarages of the ECWA, Anglican, Voice of Jesus, and Living Faith churches were robbed and vandalized, Christians recalled.
The violence reportedly erupted after a mob learned that a new convert to Christianity had been beaten and left for dead after being accused of blasphemy.
In April 2021, and despite appearing to suffer from a mental disorder, a Muslim water seller named Talle Mai Ruwa was dragged from a police station in Sade village in Bauchi State, CSW reported.
Angry youths beat him to death and set him alight using petrol and a disused car tire after being accused of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed.
Additionally, thousands of Christians have been killed in Nigeria in recent years due to broader attacks by Islamic militants and armed groups sharing their philosophy or tactics, rights investigators say.
The African nation of 212 million ranks 7th on the advocacy group Open Doors’ annual World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians are said to face the most persecution for their faith.
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