I I vividly remember that Saturday morning about fifteen years ago. It was an unusually hot day and I was sitting in the nursing school classroom at 7:00 am reading my book and going about my business as usual when my friend called to say that the test scheduled for the following week had been cancelled .
‘Why?’ I asked, sighing with relief.
“Did not you hear? The university was closed. A brawl broke out during the English Department Night Show last night when members of the Muslim Students Society Nigeria (MSSN) raided the venue.
‘Are you kidding?’
‘Seriously! They started throwing rocks at the students who were performing on stage and all hell broke loose. People rioted and school property was destroyed. The chaos lasted until around 2am when security forces were able to get things under control. An emergency meeting was called and the decision was made to close the school for a month.
I sat for a while and digested the news. In my mind’s eye I tried to imagine how the scenario had played out. I already had a rough idea of who the performers might be and how beautifully decorated the hall would have been. light, music and food. A full party rages on. Students dance in a crowded hall. A typical campus party. As for those who started the violence, I didn’t have to make any effort. I knew their faces, one after the other. These students who have made it their only mission to preach to everyone on campus without saying a kind word to anyone. Her tone was harsh, her mind hardened, and her face bereft of kindness.
The students were eventually found and suspended, but their type only blossomed.
The murder of Sokoto last week reminded me of those men. I have read in the media that depending on their religion, tribe and bigotry, people either condemned Deborah or her killers. Suddenly everyone turned to a Sharia expert, and discussions about how to dissolve the country resurfaced. One tweet even said, “Nigeria without southern Nigerians is just Afghanistan.” bye!
My problem with all the articles or opinions about the unfortunate tragedy that has happened is that everyone feels the need to choose sides. You are either for Deborah or against Deborah. No one has analyzed the situation critically enough to recognize the possibility that both are wrong. The typical Nigerian mindset is binary; that is, something must be either black or white. For or against. north or south. Christian or Muslim. Right or wrong. Our critical thinking skills are so underdeveloped they might as well not be there. All we do is jump on the bandwagon and judge – for or against.
My opinion is that both sides were wrong. And as we know, two mistakes never become one mistake. But first, let’s examine the facts.
What Deborah did was wrong. Plain and simple. There is no universe in which freedom of expression is distorted to mean inciting or insulting the beliefs of a group of people. How can you be in Sokoto and then talk like that? Even after being repeatedly warned? A popular saying goes: “In Rome do as the Romans do”. For this reason, to this day, people dress modestly when traveling to Dubai. Despite all modernity and liberality, the Islamic culture of the Emirates is still respected. Therefore, to this day, if you see a Caucasian woman reporting from Saudi Arabia on an international media channel like CNN, she is usually wearing a hat. It’s not because they can’t be stubborn and insist on dressing how they want – after all, she may not be Muslim and therefore not entitled to it – but because they RESPECT the country and its religious culture.
I think we as a people are confused about this issue of free speech. As the late Idi Amin said, “There is freedom of speech, but I cannot guarantee freedom after speech”. We have to borrow meaning.
So fact number 1: Deborah’s statements were dead wrong.
But does Deborah’s wrong make the men who killed her right? No! There is also no universe in which ordinary citizens can take the law into their own hands. The right thing is to show them. But to whom? Maybe to the Sharia court. Would law enforcement have ensured that Deborah was punished accordingly? We don’t know exactly. What we do know for sure is that jungle justice is wrong: legally, morally, and religiously. There is no religion in the world that justifies extrajudicial killings. But we all know that. And yet people have the audacity to say that what these students did was right. If they’re right, then it stands to reason that all the “oles” who get burned with tires in Lagos are right. #ALUU4 is also right about that. It means that all those adults who torture children who are being tortured for being “witches” are right too. And so on.
So, fact number 2: The guys who killed Deborah were wrong too.
As a result of the unfortunate incident, and as might be expected given previous incidents, violence in the state quickly escalated, leading to a 24-hour curfew. Markets, shops and industries were closed for almost three days. As a result, self-sufficient people and members of the lower socio-economic class were deprived of their daily income. Can you imagine the suffering? Imagine the setback? Something that could have been avoided if both sides had shown respect, common sense and empathy.
However, the greatest injustice in all of this is being demonstrated by our government. Our so-called security in all areas of government is pathetic. This incident could have been prevented at all levels. Deborah’s comments should have been immediately investigated and called to order by campus security. The action of the students could have been mitigated in a reputable school with decent safety. The violent aftermath of burning businesses should have been expected. It happens anytime, anywhere. In South Africa at the height of xenophobic attacks and even in America after a white police officer knelt on a black man’s neck for nine minutes. Do we remember the attack on Charlie Hebdo in France and the worldwide retaliatory attacks that followed? Exactly my point of view.
So, fact number 3: The government was wrong, too.
It is my wish that the boys who committed this act face the full wrath of the law as a result of this tragedy. In this way, the incident serves as a deterrent for everyone involved: religious and tribal fanatics who believe they can gossip and insults in the name of free speech, as well as happy overzealous killers disguising themselves as humans.
Let’s borrow meaning again. This kind of tragedy benefits nobody. Not Deborah, who has since been buried; Not the boys who were arrested and most likely destroyed the rest of their lives, and certainly not the system/state/country that suffered financial, diplomatic and economic losses.
Newton’s third law of motion states: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Therefore, we should learn to respond to the wrong with the right.
Two mistakes never make one mistake.