The North  and the bonfires of blasphemy

Kenechukwu Obiezu

Kenechukwu Obiezu

On May 12 2022, blood was spattered on the conscience of Nigeria and this time around, it was  thick with ashes as from a cremation and smelled of smoke. The blood was that of 22-year-old Deborah Samuel a 200-level student of Home Economics at the Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto whose voice expressed in a voice note sent over a WhatsApp group cost her  life.

The bonfire that consumed her was one supposedly raised against blasphemy and those who basked in its glow and warmed themselves by its flames even as their activities made the blood of Nigerians to run cold convinced themselves that their religion had been blasphemed and death was the only appropriate punishment.

Ms. Deborah was first besieged by a siege of stones before a wall of fire was raised around her in a most agonizing way to die. Some of the flames were captured on camera as was the murderous glee of the perpetrators. Many Nigerians were left thoroughly shaken.

While the chorus of condemnation rose from all around the country, the criminals found support from some figures who symbolize the systemic problems that plague Nigeria as a country. From Abuja, Nigeria`s Federal Capital Territory, the Deputy Chief Imam of the National Mosque Mallam Ibrahim Maqari  all but embraced the killers, abandoning in the process all those horrified that Islam had been weaponized to  carry out an iniquitous attack on human life.

From Bauchi, Mr.  Aliyu Tilde, the Bauchi State Commissioner for Education, could barely contain his approval for those who taught Ms. Deborah a lethal lesson for lacking respect for their religion.  He even recommended psychiatric evaluation for those who would not be sufficiently provoked by her action.

One of the clearest indicia of Nigeria`s impending implosion as a country is its impregnable ability to be pregnant with jarring contradictions. For most of the last century, it has been more than obvious that the roll of the dice which forced Nigeria into the Lugardian labyrinth of 1914 was as dubious as it was deadly. Lumping together inveterately different regions as one country in spite of the endless fault lines and sea of red flags was always going to see a sea of red mist descend at some point.

That sea of red mist made an apocalyptic descent on July 6,1967 and held on till July 15,1970, taking as long as the blood of innocent Nigerians continued to sustain its scarlet coloration. Since then, the task of living together as Nigerians in one country has been a mightily onerous one. As every day continues to dredge up, there are irreconcilable differences in the Nigerian project that are preventing meaningful progress.

On the body of Nigeria, the North has remained like one giant ringworm that continues to defy every medication on its irrepressible march around the entire body.The terrorism which now convulses Nigeria from within, painting  a sorry picture of the country on the canvass of the international community was seeded, watered and nurtured in the North. Today,the fruits as from a bitter kola tree are plenty but exceedingly bitter.

The devastation gradually eating up Northern Nigeria is spreading fast to other regions of Nigeria. The North would seem to be the sick part of Nigeria.If it cannot be cured, it  must be excised from the rest of Nigeria.

That the biggest part of Nigeria is bogged down by all manner of challenges has been indescribably inimical to the Nigerian project. The systemic inequality in the North has helped to foster a cesspool of Nigerians in the North  who are hopelessly disadvantaged, thus disgruntled, and exceedingly  dangerous.

No country can move forward when its largest part continues to straggle. A lot of the bitterness fueling the agitation in the Southeast springs from the misgivings many there have about the problems plaguing the North and how those problems are clogging Nigeria`s wheel of progress.

On 6th December 2021, a busload of passengers was set alight by bandits in Sokoto State. Nigerians were collectively horrified. In many parts of the North, terrorists operate fully, freely and forcefully. Bandits take over entire communities, slaughter as many as they want, rape as many as they wish, and impose crippling tax regimes on impoverished villagers.

So, it would appear that the killers of Ms. Deborah and those who support them have their work cut out. All those who in the North find their voices only when religion is to be weaponized have a lot of good they can do instead. Majority of Nigerias out-of-school-children are from the North. Majority of Nigerias 91 million poor are from the North. What little remains in the North is what little terrorism in its most gruesome form has left out.

So, the likes of Mallam Ibrahim Maqari and Mr.  Aliyu Tilde should   also   add  their voices in asking that the systemic inequality in the North should  be stamped out  so that people can break free from cycles of intergenerational poverty and mental slavery.

A similarly murderous mob was recently reported to have gone in search of another young woman who  allegedly blasphemed religion in Bauchi State. No doubt, they were encouraged by Mr. Aliyu Tilde`s words..

While no one should insult religion, there is no doubt that the North has more urgent problems than blasphemy. It is staggering folly for a man whose house is on fire to chase after rats. Because God is life, every religion that is valid upholds the sanctity of human life above all else. This is no doubt the case with Islam.

It is why those who love Islam must urgently do something about the religious fanatics within their ranks who weaponize Islam at every opportunity. These fanatics, whose actions are more criminal than religious, are giving Islam a bad name.

In a world iniquitously rife with Islamophobia, to respond with violence whenever Islam is slighted is to arm those who spread hatred by stereotyping religion. It is  also not enough for any religion to claim that it is a religion of peace, its adherents must go ahead to show that it is religion of peace.

The North must do something about its many problems. The monstrous energy deployed for murderous purposes by those who killed Ms. Deborah and the subsequent protests that followed can be put to better use.

But for that to happen, people like Mallam Maqari and Mr. Tilde must do more than stoking the fires that are already threatening to rage out of control.

Kene Obiezu,

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