Nigeria: Outbreak of Anti-Christian Violence in Sokoto

May 21, 2022
Cathedral of the Holy Family of Sokoto

A mob of young Muslims have attacked a Catholic cathedral and church in Nigeria amid protests demanding the release of two suspects in the murder of a Christian student accused of making blasphemous statements against Islam.

The case began with an excruciating scene, filmed and posted on social media by the criminals themselves: on May 12, 2022, a young woman in her twenties, Deborah Samuel, a student at Shehu Shaqari College of Education, in Sokoto – capital of the Nigerian state of the same name – was accused by fellow students of blasphemy against Muhammad.

The student in her second year of home economics was first sheltered by the teaching staff, but her executioners end up seizing her by force. They stoned her and then burned her with the building. A shared video shows the dead student, covered in blood in her pink dress, surrounded by the large rocks that killed her.

The murderers shared a video of their bloody deed, in which they are seen stoning the woman to death and burning her body. According to eyewitnesses, they were shouting “Allahu Akbar” while filming. It should be recalled on this occasion that Sharia, Muslim law, has been established in 12 states of northern Nigeria, including Sokoto State, alongside state justice.

The disapproval of this abominable act was almost unanimous in the country. Sokoto State Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal ordered the immediate closure of the school and an investigation into the incident by the Ministry of Higher Education and security agencies.

He gave assurances that the government would take appropriate action after an investigation. The police, thanks to the images in the video, were quickly able to arrest two suspects, while ensuring that they were actively searching for the others. The arrest caused a real riot. A crowd took to the streets to demand the release of the two men suspected of this barbarity.

Some have been content to visit the palace of Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto and Nigeria's highest Islamic figure. He condemned the murder and called for the culprits to be brought to justice. Separately, the crowd also demanded that the police end the hunt for those identified as having taken part in the murder.

Forced to retreat to the city center, young Muslims then attacked the cathedral of the diocese of Sokoto dedicated to the Holy Family, breaking the stained glass windows and those of the bishop's secretariat. They then attacked the Catholic Church of St. Kevin, which was partially burned. The windows of the new hospital complex under construction were also smashed.

The Sokoto state government declared a 24-hour curfew the same day to help curb ongoing protests by young Muslims in the state capital.

The bishop of the diocese, Msgr. Matthew Hassan Kukah, said: “We condemn this incident in the strongest terms and call on the authorities to investigate this tragedy and ensure that all culprits are brought to justice.”

“The only obligation owed to her immediate family, classmates, and school authorities is the assurance that the perpetrators of this inhumane act, regardless of their motivation, are punished in accordance with the existing laws of our country.”

Sokoto is a predominantly Muslim city of over 600,000 people located in the far northwest of Nigeria. The country's Christian leaders have regularly accused President Muhammadu Buhari, who has ruled the country since 2015, of failing to address the violence.