Nigeria is currently a gripping confluence of contradictions. Every now and then, in one corner of the country or another, confusion springs up sprinkling its fair share of chaos along the way.
In May 2022, on flimsy excuses of blasphemy, 22-year-old Deborah Samuel was lynched by a crowd baying for blood in Sokoto State. By the time the smoke cleared enough for anyone to see, the student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education Sokoto had been killed in the most agonizing manner possible.
While her devastated family was forced to collect her bones and ashes and attempt anything resembling a burial decked with dignity, Nigerians wondered aloud what their country was becoming in the face of so much lawlessness laced with lethal religiousity.
Of course, there were immediate and harsh calls for the prosecution of the killers of Deborah. But more than one year later, they have remained just that—calls that no one has responded to, calls that have gone largely unheeded.
The grating failure to prosecute the perpetrators of one of Nigeria’s most recent public crimes continues to claim victims. For one Nigerian woman, Deborah Samuel’s victimhood has become a shared one.
Since May 2022, Rhoda Jatau has been in detention. Her crime? A WhatsApp video condemning mob action on Deborah Samuel. No sooner had the video shared among her coworkers circulated than the victim also became the perpetrator.
The healthcare administrator with the Warji local government in Bauchi, northeastern Nigeria was arrested a few days after forwarding the video condemning the burning to death of Deborah Yakubu, a university student in Sokoto, another state.
Prosecutors allege that by sharing the video, Jatau committed multiple offences of inciting disturbance, contempt for religious creed, and cyberstalking.
How ironic! More than a year after the gruesome killing, while the chief perpetrators are at large, presumably enjoying events from the precincts of Niger Republic and no doubt enjoying some self-satisfaction having defended the honour of their religion, a woman who has dared to speak up remains incarcerated.
Nigeria remains one of those odiously unique country where justice remains selective, defining its parameters of selection alongside religious and ethnic lines.
The danger in letting crimes go unpunished is that the perpetrators soon mark more victims and with time, the victims themselves are marked and perpetrators and their persecution takes wings.
The gruesome killing of Deborah Samuel invariably set off a chain reaction. Since then, there have been other instances of people being targeted by mobs because of unproven allegations of blasphemy.
The danger is great if people are allowed to take the law into their hands and apply it indiscriminately, the society faces the danger of disintegrating bit by bit.
A society which lacks basic freedom is a society that is leaking the rights of its most vulnerable members. Such a society faces real danger.
It is an open secret that in Nigeria, many of those awaiting trial have been unjustly accused and incarcerated. They fill up Nigeria’s overburdened correctional facilities and generally smear a system desperately in need of a facelift.
In public conversations, Nigeria must ask itself pertinent questions that border on national unity and cohesion as well as national interest.
It is only a country where everyone can feel safe and secure that can boast of being a developed country.