Just when you think it’s never going to get any worse in Nigeria, suddenly it does. Aside from being a fan of the tacky political arena, good news is a scarce commodity here. Cunning politicians are out there on the field trying to outsmart each other in gaining legitimacy for their privileged status. There are no losers in the game. When a contender’s party fails, they ponder how to survive with their stash for a while, then quickly move on to the winning team. All crime records will be erased as we move on. There is no accountability for those in public office; no consequences for the violation of good morals or even the law.
Our social friendships are as fluid as our political allegiances. In Naijaspeak, people blocked their destiny helpers for problems they could have solved as adults. The phenomenon of blocking those we disagree with shows how fortunate we are not to have legalized guns.
Nothing unites and separates Nigerians like football and religion. When favorite teams play, fans stand by them with the loyalty of a camel’s hump. There is no disagreement between opposing fans, just as there is no agreement between the two alien religions whose allegiance feeds people’s livelihoods. While football has yet to stir up national unrest, religion is not so fortunate. So many times it has brought us to the brink of national disintegration.
In Islam it is said that the Ummah, the body of believers, is one. Even this unity breaks down geographical borders in Nigeria. Last week those rifts were widened when news emerged of the lynching of a young girl, Deborah Samuel, for alleged blasphemy. Ms. Samuel’s first hatred was reportedly against those who turn an academic forum into a medium of evangelization.
Anyone subscribed to a Nigerian social media group knows how difficult it is to get people to play by the rules. We are religiously motivated to attract converts. Listening to preachers, one might think that humanity need only sit down and consume religious texts to survive. State failure is the fertilizer that allows religious fundamentalism to grow.
People have lost confidence in the political leadership’s ability to lead us into an earthly Eldorado; hence we are fixated on the hereafter. No profanity towards venerated icons should be condoned, so we are walking proselytes, waiting to unleash our religious zeal. Everyone walks on eggshells.
As a nation we are to be governed by law and not by sentiment or rabid interpretations of texts handed to us by those who know more than we do. Listening to some preachers convinces one that they have no depth. Ironically, they are the ones with great following and reverence. This is what breeds recourse to jungle justice, whether for alleged blasphemy or in retaliation for other social crimes.
People have lost faith in the law’s ability to resolve even worldly differences. Why? Because Nigeria grants state pardons to criminals for political reasons. This is an atmosphere for strengthening the rule of law; it is the drive to resort to self-help or divine help.
Had the students at the College of Education in Sokoto had faith in their dean, their provost, or any authority in between, this national tragedy would have been averted and blasphemy would still have been punished. If past problems had been resolved through legal channels, this tragedy could have been averted. By involving outsiders in a disagreement over a group chat, the perpetrators of this heinous act make themselves as complicit as whoever allegedly offended first.
We would never change this norm as long as a large part of society lives by looking to the skies for help to make their daily living. People on this plane of existence become real tools in the hands of others with dubious intentions.
Scholars have pushed the boundaries of Islamic knowledge of blasphemy. The explanation is that no Muslim has the sole or group right to take the law into his own hands, even when it comes to blasphemy. Numerous examples have been cited from the Qur’an and Hadith showing that the Prophet of Islam did not allow jungle justice for those who insulted, abused and threatened to attack him. This seems to be the basic norm of Islamic jurisprudence.
The Qur’anic injunction, often attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), is: “Whoever kills one person… it shall be as if he had killed all mankind.” Insistence on the death penalty for blasphemy. Distinguished clerics have agreed that it is not in the hands of a Muslim to resort to jungle justice alone or as a group.
Nigeria remains a secular state; not theocratic. Where believers know that the state and all authority come from above, resorting to self-help is as criminal as disregarding the slow wheels of justice.
However, in order to develop and maintain secularity, the state must act in ways that restore confidence in the supremacy of law and legality. Executing a perpetrator in cold blood is inexcusable. Burning down religious houses which the Prophet (SAW) protected even in his many battles against infidels does not advance the cause of Islam. The preservation of religion is more than the sum of all its adherents. Killing innocent people who did not participate in the original blasphemy is illegal and should be punished. The fabric of a nation cannot be strengthened with jungle justice, nor can peace be enthroned when we are all walking on eggshells because some are sensitive to the behavior of others.
The state and its actors should not shy away from condemning illegality where it occurs out of political expediency. The usual clichés for peaceful coexistence only become more important if the state acts quickly and takes decisive action against criminals.
Behind these problems are other fundamental problems such as uncontrolled population explosion, mass unemployment and illiteracy. These unresolved issues strain executive resources. Crime must not be excused with power. Until confidence in the legal process is restored, people would always turn to self-help.
It must be strengthened that state law takes precedence over all laws. That is the true definition of secularity. Where religious laws conflict with state law, the legislature and courts must make the final decision. People should know that their actions have consequences.
Whether Nigeria stays united or breaks, there would be constant interaction between its components. It’s too late to divide on the basis of religion.
The federal government and the governments of the Sokoto states are committed to restoring the lost peace and coexistence. She must assist those who lost lives, houses and/or businesses in this battle. It must be emphasized that we cannot have a dual justice system where it is okay for some to live as they please while others live by the law. The challenges are real, but Nigeria can still be saved.