Various media accounts have indicated that Deborah, an Economics student at Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto, allegedly had an argument with fellow students in a WhatsApp group and the Muslim students among them claimed that she had made blasphemous statements about the Prophet Muhammad.
The argument on WhatsApp reportedly took place during the Muslim month of Ramadan when the College was on break. When they reportedly saw Deborah at College on Thursday, May 12, all available Muslim male students allegedly surrounded her and started stoning her until she fell. They reportedly made sure she died and subsequently set her body ablaze.
In the May 13 report, Mr. Heine-Geldern said that Nigeria is facing a serious religious liberty crisis that is not only caused by terrorists but also Shariah law.
The 2021 ACN Religious Freedom report shows that Shariah law has worsened the situation in the Northern parts of Nigeria, he said, adding that 12 States in Northern Nigeria have been using Shariah laws since 1999.
“The report states that Shariah law has deepened the divisions in the country. After 20 years of Shariah law the situation in northern Nigeria has become worse, with ethnicity and religion becoming shortcuts to power, resources and privilege,” said Mr. Heine-Geldern.
He added that while Sharia law stipulates heavy penalties for blasphemy, including death, the law based on the teachings of the Koran “guarantees a form of due process, without resorting to lynching and summary execution, as happened with this most recent case in Sokoto, which is not unprecedented.”
For this reason, the ACN official said Nigeria’s government needs to step in and protect all citizens from all forms of violence.
“The Nigerian government must reflect deeply on where this violence is dragging the country, and how it can defend the rights of all its citizens,” he said.
Deborah’s murder has caused uproar in Nigeria. Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto Diocese described the stoning to death of Deborah as a criminal act and said the law must take its cause.
On May 14, a section of Muslim youth “led by some adults in the background” took to the streets to protest the reported arrest of two students in connection with Deborah’s killing, the head of the Directorate of Social Communication in the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto said in a statement.