‘Blasphemy’: Two suspects on trial for Deborah Samuel’s murder set free
Court says the prosecution failed to appear in court when the case came up for hearing
Sokoto Commissioner for Justice speaks
Police: ‘Her real killers are at large’
One year after murder, the college fails to investigate students suspected to have instigated ‘blasphemy’ allegation
The authorities have trivialized the sanctity of human life by failure to ensure justice for Deborah
Christians denied worship centre on college’s campus
By Daniel Adaji
The mid-morning sun of Sokoto scorched the body as students, lecturers, visitors walked through the gigantic gate of 53-year-old Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto in Wammako Local Government of the North-West State. The tertiary institution, established in 1970 to train teachers to cater for the needs of primary and secondary schools in the region, is now near oblivious of the bloody and inhuman murder of Deborah Samuel on May 12, 2022, for allegedly making a blasphemous statement. The bloodshed carried out by a mob, among them students of the college, in the presence of security operatives, authorities of the institution, announced the college of education to the world – for the barbaric act.
One year after, the death of the 25-year-old 200 Level student of Home Economics has been swept under the carpet. Sokoto State Government, the Federal Government and the Nigeria Police Force, who promised to ensure justice was done, have not held anyone accountable for the murder rather, the suspected killers were secretly released. This year, Deborah would have earned the Nigerian Certificate of Education (NCE) which would have qualified her for a job as a trained teacher in any primary and junior secondary school in Nigeria. That dreamed was torched and burnt to ashes by misguided religious zealots. Deborah’s remains were taken to and buried in Niger States; her traumatized parents relocated to Port Harcourt in Rivers State.
This year, Deborah would have earned the Nigerian Certificate of Education (NCE)
After the extra-judicial killing, two suspects were arrested by the police in connection with it. Incidentally, violent protests erupted in Sokoto, leading to destruction of churches and physical attacks on Christians. In the violence, the Holy Family Cathedral on Ahmadu Bello Way, St Kelvin Catholic Church, Gidan Dere, and an Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) church in Sokoto were damaged by the mob. Also, shops suspected to belong to Christians were looted and vandalized. The protesters engaged in violent act, as a way of demanding the unconditional release of the two suspects. Sokoto State government has failed to compensate churches and christian organizations whose assets were damaged by the misguided hoodlums, according to Father Nuhu Iliya, Sokoto State Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria.
Deborah’s assailants never called to question
A private security personnel in the college who gave his name as Nasiru Adamu told The Insight recently that though the authorities of Shehu Shagari College of Education claimed some hoodlums were hired to carry out the dastardly act, the truth was that students of the college were actively involved in Deborah’s murder.
Have the killers of Deborah Samuel Yakubu been arrested yet?
Did they vanish into thin air? pic.twitter.com/iPDJQWuJMx
— Newton (@NewtonIkire) July 27, 2022
The man who claimed to have witnessed the dastardly incident, said, “I can still recall vividly when she was murdered. Her schoolmates who disguised as mobs stoned her to death in a cruel manner. That would be the first time I would witness a human being being stoned to death.
It was so cruel and an eyesore that I couldn’t believe this could happen in Sokoto, a state often adjudged as one of the most peaceful states in the country.
Her schoolmates who disguised as mobs stoned her to death in a cruel manner
“She was killed in the presence of security agents who apparently came to rescue her, but were unable to save her life, though she begged her killers for mercy. They began to stone her, hit her with rods and sticks and she died. After she finally gave up the ghost, the mob jubilated that they had killed her,” Adamu narrated in an emotion-laden voice.
Though there was outrage, locally and internationally, over the killing, an investigation by The Insight revealed that the school authorities did little or nothing to investigate and ensure redress over the gruesome murder. After Deborah was killed, the school authorities, headed by Mr Wadata Hakimi, its provost, shut the institution indefinitely.
In the announcement, no specific reference was made to Deborah’s murder. The college simply said, “Following today’s early morning students rampage in the college, the college management has resolved to close down the college indefinitely; all students are hereby directed to vacate the college campus immediately (12 May, 2022).”
The use of the word ‘rampage’ to describe tragic killing of one of its female students, without even mentioning the name of Deborah Samuel and condemning the act, demonstrated the attitude of the college’s authorities to the extra-judicial killing.This publication learnt that such disposition was in line with the attitude of the authorities towards Christians on that campus.
At the Shehu Shagari College of Education, in spite of the sizeable Christian population, no provision has been made for them to worship on campus. Christian students who wanted to engage in Sunday worship service or other Christian weekly activities would have to trek for about 20 minutes to the Police Training School (PTS), a federal government institution, in that environment, to do so. Muslim students on the campus have mosques where they conveniently pray daily. The situation is different at the Uthman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto (UDUS), where Christian students are allowed to worship on campus. Though the university has not built a chapel for them, Christian students are allocated lecture halls where they engage in Christian activities.
Deborah’s classmate recalls how it all happened
In various reports quoting Deborah’s classmates, her death has been described as an aftermath of a verbal clash with some of her mates over contents shared on the class’s WhatsApp platform. She was accused of using the word ‘nonsense’ to qualify some religious materials shared by some of her Muslim classmates. The controversial contents shared on the platform have not been made public.
One report, quoting one of Deborah’s classmates elaborated the misunderstanding among the students. The classmate said, “Deborah was my course mate. I just stepped into the class when the uproar over her voice note started. It was her own course mates that started it. One of them said Deborah dared them by refusing to apologize when she was asked to. It all started with a debate on the upcoming examination on a general WhatsApp platform created for our course mates. One of the students asked her how she passed the last semester’s examination and in response, she said it was ‘Jesus o.’
“Immediately, about three other chats came in from two Muslims and one Christian, telling her to retract the statement. Two students from other departments who over heard some Muslim boys discussing the matter told Deborah’s close friends to prevail on her to retract the statement. But she replied via a voice note on the platform ‘Holy Ghost fire. Nothing will happen to me. Is it by force that you guys will always be sending this religious stuff in this group? The group wasn’t created for that but rather for notices about tests, assignments, exams, etc, not this nonsense religious posts.’
“We were made to understand that some young men were brought from outside before the outrage. I was in class when some of our course mates rushed in, saying ‘there was fire on the mountain.’
“The Muslim students led the strangers to the class to look for her. In fear, those in the class tried to help her escape and took her to the security post from where they hoped to create a way for her to run outside Already, a cab was waiting outside to drive her straight to the police station. Unfortunately, the mob overpowered everyone who tried to save her. They even threatened to kill anyone who attempted to stand in their way.”
⚠️ Graphic visuals ⚠️
Nigeria: Christian student named Deborah Samuel beaten/stoned to death by fellow Muslim students in college over ‘blasphemy’, killers shout ‘Allahu Akbar’ while burning her pic.twitter.com/cdcB3BKL0o
— 🚩🇮🇳🚩Ubr🚩🇮🇳🚩 (@Ubr13) June 22, 2022
One of the unedited video footages that has gone viral on social media showed the sequence of criminal acts that culminated in the murder of the student. The killers chased her to a pause and began to throw many dangerous objects at her.
Adamu, a private security guard in the college who witnessed how it all happened, said, “At one point, she couldn’t move again and fell down. That was when the mob overpowered her and eventually lynched her to death.”
The video that captured the moment she was murdered showed some students and passersby cheering and shouting; “Allah Akbar, Allahu Akbar!’ One person in the mob claimed: ‘I am the one who killed her; I am the one that killed her.”
College officials wondered what was blasphemous in Deborah’s voice note
Another security personnel who claimed to have witnessed the killing said the college’s officials had actually carefully studied the transcript of the conversation between Deborah and her classmates. While carrying out the analysis, the officials struggled to understand what the blasphemy was in the voice note.
The officials struggled to understand what the blasphemy was in the voice note
“When the issue came up in the morning of that fateful day, May 12, 2022, some senior officials of the school were alerted and Deborah’s voice note was played repeatedly. Some faulted her for using the word ‘Holy Ghost’ in her conversation with a Muslim faithful,” the security personnel told The Insight.
The security source said despite the efforts made by the school officials to calm down the situation, the irate students went ahead to lynch their co-student.
“But it was as if the students had that evil agenda to harm the young lady. Before we could reinforce our armed personnel, they had all let loose in the campus. The killing happened at about 11 am when more police officers, members of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps, and Department of State Security (DSS) had arrived. They fired tear gas and hid Deborah in the security post, while still waiting for a vehicle that would be brought in to rescue her from the premises. Soon, the person who was holding the key to the security room arrived. He brought her out. The mob took hold of her and lynched her to death,” the security personnel further revealed.
She made the recording on Wednesday evening and on Thursday morning, they started making arrangements to kill her
One of Deborah’s course mates told The Insight that the attack on Deborah was premeditated. She said, “We were still in the exam mood on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. She made the recording on Wednesday evening and on Thursday morning, they started making arrangements to kill her.”
Many questions remain unanswered
Based on the testimonies above, several questions needed to be asked, which should have necessitated an investigation. First, who were the students that clashed with Deborah on WhatsApp? Who, among the students, invited hoodlums from outside the campus to carry out the attack? If the school authorities carried out an investigation, what was its outcome? Why didn’t the security agents defend Deborah against the mob? What sort of weapons did the mob use? Where did they get the weapons from?
When The Insight visited the campus recently, it learnt that the school authorities did not carry out any form of investigation. A student said, “What the school authorities did was to fine all students of the institution. The institution was closed on May 12, 2022 and re-opened in August, 2022, a period of three months. At the re-opening, each student was made to pay a penalty fee of N1,000, with a warning that the college would not tolerate any form of violence on campus any further.”
One of Deborah’s course mates, referred to simply as Sandra, who recently quit the college, said the young lady’s death came as a shock. She told The Insight that about a year into the murder, she was yet to understand why the mob acted in such a bloody manner over a verbal clash on WhatsApp.
“My life has become insecure since her untimely death because I can’t imagine that what looks like a peer play would turn into taking human life. God is the only witness to emotional trauma that I have suffered.”
Sandrah told The Insight that many Christian students had abandoned their studies after the killing. “I can count some students who left the college after the incident. They can’t bear the trauma that followed.”
The Insight contacted the college’s Public Relations Officer, Ali Baba, for an official position on Deborah’s death. He declined to comment, and rather referred our reporter to speak with the state government on any issue related to the murder.
Why two initial suspects were set free by Magistrate Court
Despite the fact that a viral footage showed faces of persons who participated in killing Deborah, the police in Sokoto are yet to arrest or identify the persons with those faces. A senior police officer from Sokoto command said the circumstances that led to Deborah’s death were unconventional and could make it impossible to get justice.
Two suspects: Bilyaminu Aliyu and Aminu Hukunci, who were charged with Criminal Conspiracy and Inciting Public Disturbance by the Sokoto State Government were discharged and acquitted at the Magistrate Court II in Sokoto, after a league of Muslim lawyers, as many as 34, rose to their defense.
In a five-page court judgement, delivered on January 30, 2023 in the Chief Magistrate Court I Gutwa, Sokoto, obtained exclusively by this publication, Chief Magistrate Shuaibu Ahmad, Esq set the suspects free due to the absence of the police prosecution during series of hearings.
The court judgement said, “On the 20/10/2022 this case started denovo due to the transfer and change of the former Chief Magistrate Fatima Hassan. And when the F.I.R was re-read and re-explained to each of the defendants. Each of the defendants denied the contents of the F.I.R as untrue. The prosecution then told and informed this court that the investigations into the case has been completed and they are ready for the hearing of the case. The case was adjourned to 3/11/2022 for hearing.
“On the 3/11/2022 the case came up for hearing. The defendants were present and the prosecution were also present. The prosecution applied for the case to be adjourned to another date because they were not able to serve their witnesses in this case. Without any objection from the Defense Counsel the matter was adjourned to 10/11/2022 for hearing. On the 28/11/2022 the case came up for hearing. The defendants were present in the court. But due to the absence of the prosecution, the case was adjourned to 8/12/2022 for hearing.
“On the 8/12/2022, the prosecution were also not in court for the hearing of this case. So the case was adjourned to 29/12/2022 for hearing. On the 29/12/2022 the defendants were present in court. But due to the absence of the prosecution the case could not go on. Learned Counsel to the defendants Mr. M.B Abdallah, Esq applied for the case to be struck out under S.350(1) of ACJL of Sokoto State 2019 due to the absence of the prosecution. But the court refused the application and adjourned this case to today 30/1/2023 for hearing at the instance of the prosecution. Today, 30/1/2023, the defendants and their counsel are present in court. But the prosecution is absent, he is absent without any genuine reason. Due to the absence of the prosecution, Learned Counsel to the defendants applied that this case be struck out.
“From the conduct of the prosecution in this case, it seems to be very clear to this court that the prosecutions have no any evidence against the defendants. And any/or are no longer interested in seriously prosecuting this case…
“In the light of the above, it would be unjust to further adjourn this case at the instance of the prosecution when they have been given several adjournments to call their witnesses but could not call any. In the interest of justice and in accordance with the law, I hereby grant the application of the Learned Counsel to defendants to strike out this case for lack of evidence and lack of diligent prosecution.”
The charges against the suspects, criminal conspiracy and inciting public disturbance, should carry a maximum two-year jail term upon conviction. At the initial hearing where the charges were read out, the prosecuting police officer, Inspector Khalil Musa, had told the court that the case was still under investigation and that more charges might be brought to the court when the investigation was over. That did not happen.
The command’s police public relations officer, ASP Sanusi Abubakar, told this publication that the command was still on the trail of some of the faces found on the viral videos stoning, flogging, and eventually killing Deborah. He said they had been declared wanted, but that as at the time of this report, the police had not made a headway in the arrest.
“You know, we had initially arrested two suspects and subsequently forwarded their files to the state Public Prosecution Department in the Ministry of Justice. They have been arraigned in court. The Command had also declared the suspects spotted on the viral video wanted and we have been using various mediums to reiterate our commitment towards apprehending the suspects.” Abubakar also said the command had already deployed all its intelligence and was on the lookout for the suspects.
A retired Commissioner of Police in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and lawyer, Lawrence Alobi, told The Insight that the police should take several steps, if they wanted to apprehend the fugitive killers.
He said, “If anyone is declared wanted, the first step would be for the police to put information about him out for the public to view. That would include his photograph, facial features, and what the police knew about the suspect. The details would be published at various locations, airports, motor parks, diverse locations where people would see it. They are published in newspapers, and on the website of the police. If it is well publicized, it will make it possible for many Nigerians who may run into him to quickly report to the police.
“If the suspects are believed to have escaped to another country, like Niger Republic, as claimed, the Police were expected to send his information to the Nigeriene police or their Interpol, who would be on the look out for the suspects. If a criminal crosses the Nigerian border to another country, he becomes a criminal of international status. Interpol will be enlisted to the process of capturing him.”
However, The Insight noticed that in the last one year, the police did not advertise the photographs of the two main suspects on the pages of newspapers to enable those who see them to alert security agencies. The Insight conducted a search on Interpol Red Notice and found no record of the said persons or any other person in connection with the murder case on the international wanted criminals list.
‘Late Deborah’s Case Beyond Authorities’
This publication reached out to state government officials to speak on the development. The State’s Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Suleiman Usman, said after the murder of Deborah and the violence that erupted in the state, a 12-man committee was set up by the State government to investigate the crisis.
The Attorney-General stated that the committee submitted its report and recommended that the college be re-opened.
He said, the two initial suspects were arraigned in court, but they were set free, adding that the police claimed to have declared wanted two other suspects, caught on video killing Deborah, saying “We, at the Ministry of Justice, are waiting to prosecute any suspects presented by the police after investigation. Those who were caught in the act have been declared wanted by the police.
“But, there is an issue here because most crimes committed in Sokoto are carried out by those who come from other states or neighbouring countries, like Niger Republic. And that seems to be the case of Deborah’s death. You hardly see people of Sokoto origin being involved in this kind of criminal act, because they have families that can easily be traced,” Usman said.
Like Deborah, Like Others
Despite referring to Nigeria as a secular nation, extrajudicial killings by non-state actors on account of committing blasphemous acts are not uncommon. Like in Deborah’s case, the country has witnessed cases of public unrest ignited by religious sensation with suspects arrested in connection with the killings were later released without charge.
In December 1994, a mob killed a young Igbo trader called Gideon Akaluka and paraded his decapitated head around the city of Kano, after his wife was accused of having used pages of the Holy Qur’an as toilet paper for her baby. In 2002, Isioma Daniel, a journalist with ThisDay newspaper, was lucky to be alive after she was accused of writing a blasphemous cartoon that joked about Prophet Muhammad ahead of Miss World competition scheduled to be held in Nigeria.
In 2007, one Christiana Oluwatoyin Oluwasesin, a schoolteacher in Gombe state, was beaten and stabbed to death after a student accused her of tearing a copy of the Qur’an. In 2021, a water vendor was dragged from a police custody in Bauchi state, where he was being held, and beaten to death by a mob, for allegedly insulting Prophet Muhammad. In 2015, an Islamic court in Kano sentenced nine people to death after finding them guilty of blasphemy for apparently uttering the words “Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse, founder of the Tijaniyya was bigger than Prophet Muhammad.”
In 2020, a Kano Islamic court sentenced a ‘gospel’ musician Yahya Sharif-Aminu to death by hanging for blasphemy. In 2022, Mubarak Bala, 37-year-old president of the Nigerian Humanist Association, was sentenced to 24 years in prison after pleading guilty to eighteen charges of “blaspheming Islam.”
A report by the Abuja-based Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) estimates about 11,300 Nigerian lives have been wasted in an extra-judicial killing between 2011 and 2021. Most of the killings, according to findings, were accounted to be carried out unlawfully by state non-actors that go largely unpunished, like in the case of Deborah’s death.
Dauda Abutu, a sociologist, told this medium that the Nigerian authorities needed to investigate the killing of Deborah and let the outcome known for the purpose of the country’s criminal justice system reform. He described the murder as an act of impunity bloated on citizens’ freedom of expression and right to life.
“It was an incident that was supposed to have galvanized the country into an iron resolve to protect freedom of expression, choice to life and end impunity.” Abutu said. “It is a development that has trivialized the sanctity of human life, exposed the weakness in the security architecture and significantly threatened the unity of Nigeria as a nation.
Abutu noted that the best posthumous gift to the late Deborah was for security agencies to ensure that her perpetrators, “wherever or whoever they may be, are made to face the full wrath of the law.”