What is life worth in Nigeria?

When their Lordships bicker, By Kazeem Akintunde
Kazeem Akintunde

By KAZEEM AKINTUNDE

‘On that account, We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people; and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our messengers with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land’- Quran 5 verse 32.

I am still traumatized by the beating, stoning, and eventual burning to death of Deborah Samuel, a 200-level student at the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Wamako, Sokoto State. The video of the event posted on social media few hours after the perpetrators of the dastardly act committed the crime left me sad and wondering what life is worth in Nigeria. Nobody deserves to die the way she did. What was her offence?

Deborah was said to have recorded a voice note to call the attention of her colleagues to the kind of information posted on their class’ WhatsApp platform. The 200-level Home-Economics student had complained bitterly over the influx of religious broadcast messages shared on her department’s WhatsApp page.

Indeed, the failure of government to live up to this expectation is largely believed to have exacerbated the increasing contempt for life, the result of which is the gory reports about killings every time.

In a voice note, the deceased reminded her course mates that the group was created solely for academic purposes, such as sharing important information regarding tests, assignments, deadlines, examinations and the like.

‘Holy ghost fire, nothing would happen to me. Is it by force you guys keep sending these religious messages in our group? Our group wasn’t created for that, but rather as a notice for when there’s a test, assignment, examinations, etc. Not this nonsense or some rubbish prophet posts” voiced Miss Deborah on her department’s WhatsApp group.

That was the message that she paid the supreme sacrifice for. Agreed that she went far in her anger by describing Prophet Muhammad, SAW as a rubbish prophet, was that enough for fellow human beings to pronounce her guilty and immediately condemn her to death? What happened to the above-quoted Qur’anic verse that speaks about respect for fellow human life and that it should not be taken at will? Why was she not reported and handed over to law enforcement agencies in the land? Many questions begging for answers but sadly, the dastardly deed has been done.

In a bid to prevent a re-occurrence and ensure that those who took her life like that of a chicken do not go scot-free, arrests were made by the police but 24 hours later, the whole of Sokoto was up in flames. Rioters bent on protesting the arrest of their fellow colleagues went on rampage to protest their arrest, and the police, in a bid to ensure the maintenance of law and order, fired tear gas and live bullets to disperse the protesters. Many were injured and they took their anger to shops owned by Igbo traders in the state to vandalize and loot property. Governor Aminu Tambuwal has now declared a 24-hour curfew in the state.

The murder of Deborah Samuel has once again, brought to the fore, the desire by many Nigerians to take the law into their hands at any given opportunity. Few weeks ago, an about-to-wed couple, Gloria Mattew and Linus Audu, were also murdered in cold blood by unknown gunmen that seem to have completely taken over the security architecture in the south east. Gloria and Audu, both of the Nigerian Army, were said to be on their way to fulfil the traditional rites of their wedding when they were attacked in Imo State. The duo were attacked by four armed personnel at an area not far from Banana Junction in Orlu, Imo State. Gloria, it was learnt was raped by the hoodlums in front of her husband-to-be, before she was slaughtered like a goat while the husband was given the same treatment. Their offence was that they were members of the Nigerian Army and were at the wrong place at the wrong time. The sadist that killed the couple also went ahead to record it and post on the social media.

A few years ago in Wukari, Taraba State, a minor disagreement at a telephone kiosk owned by a Muslim and his Christian customer led to the death of over 100 people and destruction of property worth several billions of naira. Residents, who were hitherto brothers and sisters, took up arms against one another, setting Churches and Mosques ablaze, and destroying homes and shops in a conflict not directly linked to any extremist sect, but to a deadly animosity between Christians and Muslims.

“We lost so many members in my Church that we were going for burials every day”, said Dante Angyu, Chairman, Jukun Development Association of Nigeria, Wukari Branch. “At a point, the burials were so many that some of us who are elders had to conduct them because our pastors were seriously overworked”.

It was not only the Christians who had corpses to bury. The Muslims also had their fair share. Umar Sarki, Auditor, Muslim Council of Nigeria, Wukari, and Deputy Chief Imam of Izala Central Mosque, said over 30 Moslems were killed.

“Others who were killed after the crisis were people who were caught trying to escape to safety. The killings took place around the Yam Market and those people were attacked three days after the crisis. We reported the matter to the state government,” he said.

Communal and ethno-religious conflicts involving Jukun, the majority population there, and Tiv and Fulani, have torn the town apart and have caused the killing of hundreds in the past.

Most clashes are fuelled, if not instigated, by religious affiliations. In cases narrated by survivors of past attacks, relatives have turned against relatives and friends have attacked friends who profess different faiths.

Unlike previous clashes between Jukun and Tiv, or Tiv against Fulani, both sides in the clash this time around, were mostly Jukun, separated only by religion.

The scare from the 2002 Miss World riot in Kaduna is still visibly felt by many who lost loved ones in the ugly specter that took the state by storm that year. Nigeria had earlier been chosen to host the Miss World contest in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. Only three years before, Nigeria had returned to democracy and one of her own, Agbani Darego, had made her proud by becoming the Miss World. Indeed, Agbani’s wit and charm had put Africa in the spotlight. As such, it was an honour to play host to the beauty pageant that had produced Agbani. Ninety contestants arrived the country to see for themselves, the glory of Nigeria and the event was scheduled for 7th December.

To celebrate this achievement, Isioma Daniel, a columnist in ThisDay newspaper, suggested that Prophet Mohammed would approve of the contest and went ahead, albeit ignorantly, to suggest that Prophet Mohammed, SAW, might even marry one of them. It was that aspect of the article that infuriated the youths in Kaduna. Heading to the newspaper office in town to raze down the building, they set to fire churches and attacked bystanders thought to be Christians while chanting “Down with beauty” and “Miss World is sin” for three days. In the end, the Red Cross said over 500 persons were injured and over 100 died. Due to the turn of events, Miss World organisers had to move the grand finale to London, England. A fatwa – a ruling on a point of Islamic law given by a recognized authority, was placed on Miss Daniel and she had to be secretly moved out of the country.

Despite the fact that killing for God has been a recurring decimal in Nigeria, the question to ask is why does the problem persist?  The answer to that is to ask for the number of Nigerians that have been prosecuted for similar past crimes. Many believe and rightly so, that nothing will happen to them as there has been no repercussions for their actions with the twisted logic that they are obeying God’s directive coupled with the extreme use of freedom of religion, association and expression.

Politicians, wanting to be politically correct, also shy away from condemning the act and it continues to flourish. Also, religious leaders are not helping matters. While a few have justified the murder of the lady for speaking ill of the Islamic faith’s revered Prophet, many others have also come out to condemn her brutal killing.

What most of the ignorant mob who perpetrate these dastardly acts do not know is that there is no part of the Islamic Holy Scripture, the Qur’an, that condones the killing of anyone for the matter for unjust cause determined by competent authority on Islamic Law.

Sheikh Hani Al-jubayr, judge at the Jeddah Supreme Court, writes: “The prescribed punishments in Islamic Law are only to be issued by the judge, since due process and proper procedures of evidence must be observed. They must thereafter only be carried out by properly empowered government officials. Otherwise, things will deteriorate into public violence that may bring about dire consequences.”

Former Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA Abubakar Mahmoud, said recently that “The right to life is fundamental and inalienable to the human person, yet it seems we have lost the value of life in Nigeria today; it appears human life no longer has meaning. On a daily basis, we are regaled with bizarre statistics or the number of persons who have lost their lives in questionable circumstances. In addition to the factors listed above (insurgency, militancy, extrajudicial killings), the lives of Nigerians are wasted on account of ethnic, communal, and religious conflicts and the government seems helpless or incapable to deal with the situation to the satisfaction of all Nigerians. This development is unacceptable.

Government must ensure that the life of any Nigerian matters. The time to change the horrific perception about Nigeria and Nigerians is now and the one way to do this is by starting to place a premium on life.

“The Nigerian constitution provides that the security and protection of lives and property shall be the primary duty of government. The NBA, therefore, calls on the Federal Government of Nigeria to fulfill this fundamental responsibility by guaranteeing adequate security of lives and property of all Nigerians.”

It is trite to reiterate for emphasis that the primary function of government is to protect life and property of its citizens. What is therefore disturbing is the attitude of government when it comes to rising up to this challenge of protecting life. Indeed, the failure of government to live up to this expectation is largely believed to have exacerbated the increasing contempt for life, the result of which is the gory reports about killings every time.

This is one change that must start with the government. Government must ensure that the life of any Nigerian matters. The time to change the horrific perception about Nigeria and Nigerians is now and the one way to do this is by starting to place a premium on life. Government can do that now by ensuring that Miss Deborah Samuel gets justice for her brutal murder. May the great architect of the Universe repose her soul and give strength to the family she left behind.

See you next week.