Blasphemy is an offence under Sharia (Islamic law) which operates in most northern states, including Sokoto.
Yesterday, two students, Bilyaminu Aliyu and Aminu Hukunchi, were arraigned before a Chief Magistrate Court in Sokoto, over the killing of Deborah Samuel. Samuel was a second-year student at the Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto, northwestern Nigeria. She was accused of blasphemy and later killed by other students on 12 May 2022.
According to Reuters, the students were charged with conspiracy and inciting public disturbance—both of which they pleaded not guilty to. The charges carry a minimum two-year jail term upon conviction. The prosecuting police officer, Inspector Khalil Musa, told the court that the case was still under investigation and that more charges may be brought to the court when the investigation is over.
The BBC has reported that 34 lawyers were in court to defend the accused students. The lead counsel, Mansur Ibrahim, applied for bail on liberal terms for the accused but the bail was denied, and the court was adjourned to Wednesday, 18 May, for a second hearing.
Nigeria has a significant Muslim population in its northern region. While Nigeria’s constitution provides freedom of expression, thinking, and conscience, the country’s criminal law makes it an offense to insult religion. Blasphemy is an offence under Sharia (Islamic law) which operates in most northern states, including Sokoto.
Before authorities get involved, blasphemy accusations frequently lead to mob violence. In 2002, 250 people died when the offices of ThisDay newspaper in the city of Kaduna were burned down after it published an article deemed to have been blasphemous. In Samuel’s case, according to the UK Guardian, fellow students hunted down and killed her after she sent a WhatsApp voice note to her classmates that some of them deemed to be insulting to Islam. Her death caused an uproar on social media and led to a demonstration on 14 May.
Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, has ‘strongly condemned’ the murder of Samuel. ‘No person has the right to take the law in his or her own hands in this country. Violence has and never will solve any problem,’ he said in a statement last week Friday⎈
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