Anti-Christian hatred has claimed another victim in Nigeria. In Sokoto State, located in northwest Nigeria, a young Christian student named Deborah Samuel Yakubu was stoned to death on Thursday, May 12th, for blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed.
According to several accounts, Deborah Samuel Yakubu recorded a voice note on her class’s WhatsApp group requesting that the medium be used only for class-related exchanges, not for discussing religious issues. Her request was reportedly deemed blasphemous to the Prophet Muhammad by some of her classmates. They stoned the girl to death and then burned her body. The scene was filmed. It shows the unprecedented violence to which Deborah was subjected, in the midst of a frenzied group. The video circulated on social networks throughout the day of her death.
According to the police, two suspects were arrested, while the school authorities announced the immediate closure of the school and sent the students home.
The Bishop of Sokoto, Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah, condemned the “inhumane act” and called for the perpetrators to be punished according to the laws of the land. As the cohabitation between Christian and Muslim communities is rather peaceful in Sokoto State, Bishop Kukah has publicly said that this criminal act “has nothing to do with religion,” which seems difficult to imagine. He called on all Christians in Sokoto to remain calm and to pray for the repose of Deborah’s soul. The Sultan of Sokoto Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar also expressed his deep dismay at the news of the young woman’s murder, calling for justice to be done and for Muslim people to remain calm.
Following the murder, violent demonstrations by Muslim youths broke out in the state capital. The demonstrations erupted to protest the arrest of Deborah Yakubu’s killers. Several iconic places of the Catholic community were attacked. According to the Sokoto diocese:
During the protest, groups of youths led by some adults in the background attacked the Holy Family Catholic Cathedral at Bello Way, destroying church glass windows, those of the Bishop Lawton Secretariat and vandalized a community bus parked within the premises.
St. Kevin’s Catholic Church, Gidan Dere, Eastern By-pass, was also attacked and partly burnt; windows of the new hospital complex under construction, in the same premises, were shattered.
They were promptly dispersed by a team of mobile policemen before they could do further damage.
A punitive expedition was carried out against the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, resulting in the destruction of stained glass windows and the intervention of the police. Saint Kevin’s Catholic Church was also targeted and burned, while shops were vandalised, bringing economic activity to a halt in several parts of the city.
In view of the scale of the unrest, Bishop Kukah has asked Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal to impose a 24-hour curfew.
In Sokoto State, as in eleven other northern states, Sharia law is applied alongside ordinary law. Islamic law punishes those guilty of blasphemy with death penalty. Last June, the Nigerian bishops presented a memorandum to the Senate Committee on Constitutional Reform, calling for an “end to the status of Islam in the constitution,” which contradicts the secular nature of the state as enshrined in the constitution. The episcopate had stressed that the creation of Sharia courts, as well as references to Islamic law in the constitution, are causing serious inequalities in the judicial system—and tragedies like young Yakubu’s death.
Hélène de Lauzun studied at the École Normale Supérieure de Paris. She taught French literature and civilization at Harvard and received a Ph.D. in History from the Sorbonne. She is the author of Histoire de l’Autriche (Perrin, 2021).