By Wole Olaoye
That phrase was made popular by survivors of the Holocaust in which six million European Jews were systematically murdered in pogroms, mass shootings and gas chambers during World War II by Hitler’s forces. The phrase is thought to have been borrowed from a 1927 poem by Yitzhak Lamdan, “Never again shall Masada fall!”.
It has since become the catchphrase of groups campaigning against social, political or religious extremism in any form. Politicians have also found it useful in couching their messages and capturing the imagination of the electorate. Whether the issue is about abortion rights, promotion of gun control following a mass shooting, or measures to fight terrorism, “Never again” comes in handy as a rousing battlecry.
Like the rest of the world, we have borrowed the phrase many times over. Twenty years ago, when one reporter, Isioma Daniel, in a Thisday newspaper article about the impending hosting of the Miss World Beauty Pageant in Nigeria, used some words adjudged blasphemous of the Prophet of Islam, about 200 people totally unconnected with the writeup were murdered in the killing frenzy that followed in Kaduna.
As far as some religious zealots were concerned, it was their duty and right to play accuser, judge, jury and executioner in a multi-religious country governed by laws that guarantee a cocktail of rights (including right to fair hearing).
We don’t have a shortage of mind-bending tragedies which we pray are never repeated in our lifetime. When Boko Haram first started its campaign of terror by bombing churches and mosques and taking hostages, we said, “Never again”.
Over time, hostage taking has become so ‘liberalised’ that it is now an industry, complete with its own unique franchising and branding,
We borrowed the phrase, “Never again” in our dedicated efforts to douse the fire of anger and social dislocation generated by the strife. Sadly, however, such killings have been happening again and again, haven’t they?
Among other such cases, one painfully remembers the 2007 incident in which pupils of a secondary school in the Northeast beat a teacher to death after accusing her of desecrating the Holy Qur’an.
If anyone thought thunder does not strike the same spot twice, such a person should come to Nigeria where our “Never again” is fast becoming “never say never”.
The recent killing and incineration of Deborah Samuel, a 200-level student at the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, has followed a familiar pattern. According to reports, the lady posted a voice note to a WhatsApp platform used by fellow course mates criticising a Muslim colleague for posting religious messages instead of only messages related to their studies. Some of her mates felt that her audio message contained blasphemous comments on the Prophet of Islam. And they pronounced a sentence of death on her.
According to reports, the school’s security unit and men of the Nigeria police tried to shield the victim from the rampaging mob which was clamouring for her blood, but they were overwhelmed by the students.
Eventually, the lady was clubbed, stoned and set on fire. “Two students have been arrested in connection with the crime committed”, said police spokesman ASP S. Abubakar; “The school has been closed down…” He said the police were on the trail of other participants in the lynching.
The blood-cuddling videos of the horror went viral within hours and, as usual, the killing has brought out the best and the worst in some of the commentators. But I insist that this tragedy does not call for demonisation of any group or religion. Generalisations defy logic and are usually counter-productive.
It is significant that the Sultanate Council immediately issued a statement to distance itself from such an extra-judicial execution. The statement issued by its secretary, Sa’idu Mohammadu Maccido, reads: “The Sultanate Council has learnt with dismay the unfortunate happening at the Shehu Shagari College of Education, SSCOE Sokoto that led to the loss of life of a female student of the institution.
“The Sultanate Council condemns the incident in its totality and has urged the security agencies to bring the perpetrators of the unjustifiable incident to justice.
“The Sultanate Council has urged all to remain calm and ensure peaceful co-existence among all people of the state and nation.”
Bishop Hassan Matthew Kukah also condemned the killing and called for restraintChristians for restraint:
“We condemn this incident in the strongest terms and call on the authorities to investigate this tragedy and ensure that all the culprits are brought to book. The only obligation that is owed her immediate family, her fellow students and the school authorities is the assurance that those who are guilty of this inhuman act, no matter their motivation, are punished according to our extant laws of the land… This matter must be treated as a criminal act and the law must take its cause.”
He added: “Meanwhile, I wish to call on all Christians in Sokoto and around to remain calm and to please pray for the repose of the soul of Ms Deborah. It is the first obligation that we owe her. May God grant her eternal rest and console her immediate family.”
Those of us interested in national cohesion know that a country cannot be built on discriminatory laws for different parts of the country. If, indeed, we do have one country, then the same set of laws ought to apply all over the land and the same consequences should attend similar crimes. Truth be told, the reason why aggrieved extremists continue to resort to kangaroo justice is because they know they will get away with it. Impunity has replaced legality.
These extremists know that as far as taking responsibility for one’s action is concerned, the system is comatose. All that an extremist has to do when he runs foul of the law is to invoke his religious affiliation and he’s assured of blind following. But, as I always say, we must never tar everyone with the same grimy brush.
Although some Islamic extremists have been labouring to justify the killing, their argument falls flat in the face of the outrage expressed by fellow Muslims of moderate persuasion.
Social activist Aisha Yesufu was inconsolable as she called for justice. She wrote, ”Innalillahi wa inna ilayhi rajiun, What manner of barbarism just happened in Sokoto? Who the hell are you to take someone’s life? The Prophet (SAW) went to visit a man that usually insult and pour debris on him when the man was ill (sic). Nigeria keeps producing serial killers! Oghenna!
”Nigeria just breaks you daily. A family just lost a daughter because heinous acts are unpunished and more people continue to practice them.
”The despicable beings are being killed by terrorists. The mindless and depraved cowards did not go and fight the terrorists killing and maiming. Kai!
”Has there ever been anyone prosecuted for these atrocious killings? … We cannot keep producing serial killers who are also begetting new sets of serial killers.”
The killing has thrown up a few pertinent questions: Is Nigeria a constitutional democracy or a theocracy? Can religious extremists pronounce death sentence on other citizens without the due process of law? Should radical preachers who provide scriptural justification for homicide continue to walk free to spread intolerance? Isn’t it presumptuous of man to think he can fight for God?
Alhaji Bello Shagari puts it more succinctly: “Any mob action anywhere killing anyone for any reason is wrong, barbaric and Un-Islamic. The sooner our ulama wakes up to educate people on sensitive issues like these the better.”
A cleric at the UK-based organisation, TrueIslam, says killing for blasphemy is unIslamic: “Islam condemns blasphemy but there’s not a single verse in the Holy Quran that teaches Muslims to punish someone just because he insulted the Prophet of Islam, Muhammed (PBOH)….
“So, if Islam does not allow Muslims to punish anyone who commits blasphemy against Islam or the Prophet of Islam, why is it that so many Muslims believe that blasphemy is punishable by death? BECAUSE SOME SO-CALLED MUSLIM SCHOLARS EXPLOIT THE ISSUE OF BLASPHEMY TO CONTROL THE MASSES WHO MAY NOT HAVE ADEQUATE KNOWLEDGE OF ISLAM.”
May the soul of Deborah Samuel and the souls of all other victims of mob lynching through the mercy of God rest in perfect peace as we pray for the Unmade Maker to console their families and forgive their killers.
Can we ever say, “Never again!”?
I commend the words of St Francis Assisi to the nation in this moment of despair:
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon….
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