Nigerian Christians Protest Deborah Samuel’s Death: Blasphemy Killing of Student and Islamist Group’s Execution Video Are the Latest Examples of Sectarian Tensions and Persecution of Christians in Africa’s Largest Nation

Image: Courtesy of Gideon Para-Mallam
Nigerian Christians protest the death of Deborah Samuel, a Sokoto university student killed by a mob after being accused of blasphemy.

Thousands of churches across Nigeria demanded an end to sectarian killings on Sunday, horrified by the mob assault on a female university student accused of blasphemy. But fearful of more violence, their approach differed significantly—by geography.

“The overwhelming majority of our churches in the south participated, many going to the streets in peaceful protest,” said Testimony Onifade, senior special assistant to the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). “Gathering together, we condemned this gruesome act and demanded the government identify, arrest, and prosecute the culprits.”

But in the north, where Muslims represent the majority of Nigerians, John Hayab described 20 minutes set aside to pray for divine intervention. The president of CAN’s Kaduna state chapter lauded the “solemn” ceremony observed by all northern denominations, amid a ban on protests by local authorities as some Muslims had threatened counterdemonstrations.

Instead, a select group of 120 Christian leaders gathered in a Kaduna city church, guarded by police and security agencies.

There was good reason for caution.

Two weeks ago, in Nigeria’s northwestern-most state of Sokoto, Deborah Samuel was beaten to death and set on fire by fellow students at Shehu Shagari College of Education. Officials and police intervened in vain.

Two students were arrested. Protesting for their release, Muslim supporters proceeded to destroy an additional 11 buildings, descended on Christian shops in the city, and besieged the palace of the sultan of Sokoto who had condemned the May 12 murder.

According to her friend Rakia, Samuel’s last words were, “What do you hope to achieve with this?”

After a colleague shared Islamic material on an exam-prep social media group, Samuel posted an audio recording asking him to remove it. Friends who overheard some Muslim students deeming her response to be blasphemous urged her to retract the statement.

Instead, she responded, “Holy Ghost fire. Nothing will happen to me.”

Gideon Para-Mallam, the former Jos-based Africa ambassador for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, joined demonstrations in the middle-belt Plateau state.

He called for peace and restraint. But also, for an explanation.

“How is it that our young people behaved in this way?” he asked. “All those dreams and hopes for the future, destroyed in a few moments of profound evil.”

Nigerian Christians circulated the video response of a radical imam with a picture of the slain former leader of Boko Haram in the background.

“Anyone who insults the prophet of God, kill him,” the imam said. “Don’t waste time telling the authorities, just kill him.”

It has been a bloody year.

Open Doors, which ranks Nigeria No. 7 on its World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is hardest to be a Christian, tallied 896 civilians killed by Islamic extremists in the first three months of 2022.

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Source: Christianity Today