A Muslim cleric in northern Nigeria reportedly defended the murder of a Christian woman over false accusations that she committed blasphemy, which is punishable by death under Islamic law.
Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu was fatally beaten and burned on May 12. She was accused of sending blasphemous messages to a group chat after refusing to date a Muslim boy.
A purported video of her killing showed an angry mob vandalizing cars and other targets while shouting "Allah akbar" as Yakubu's apparent body is burned underneath a pile of objects.
In response to Yakubu's murder, Bello Yabo, an Islamic cleric in the Nigerian state of Sokoto, is alleged to have called on Muslims to kill anyone who "insults the prophet," according to global persecution watchdog International Christian Concern (ICC).
ICC's report didn't name the cleric, however, an ICC spokesperson told CP that the group's field staff stated that Yabo is the cleric who made the comments.
ICC's translation of Yabo's comments quotes him as saying:
“A young person in Sokoto insulted Allah’s prophet yesterday. In Sokoto we kill such. We don’t tolerate such idiocy in Sokoto. This is not Kano, which is a commercial center, where someone called the prophet names, including being an adulterer. They have been dragging about it.
“Here we kill. When you touch the prophet we become mad people. No talk of a person being out of his mind. Kill him!
“Anyone who touches the prophet, no punishment. Just kill! Even if the person repents or recants, forgiveness is God’s business. We must kill such. Out of his mind, but buys a device, data, opens social media and insults the prophet? Kill him! Don’t report as a grievance to any authority. Kill him! Even if he is an Islamic teacher, much less a useless rascal.
“Like Shehu Usman Dan Fodio, we are Mujahedeen (holy warriors) and Jihadists.
"Allah curse whoever touches the prophet. Those of you who displayed your wrath, Allah bless you. Kill and disperse!”
Yakubu was a student at Shehu Shagari College of Education and a member of the Evangelical Church Winning All denomination. She was accused of sending a message to a school WhatsApp group that her classmates interpreted as blasphemous.
"Deborah Emmanuel was complaining in a class WhatsApp group chat, kicking against how they discriminate against Christians in the school in areas of assignments and test in favor of the Muslims," a local pastor told Morning Star News. "This is what they used as a yardstick to say she insulted Muhammad. She didn't insult prophet Muhammad, but it was discovered that she turned down a Muslim proposal to date her. That led to him accusing her of insulting prophet Muhammad."
Yakubu's father, Emmanuel Garba, told local media outlets his daughter's violent death was "an act of God."
Garba said the family is looking for answers after the tragedy.
"We can't say or do anything, except to take it easy as an act of God. We have left all to God, we have decided to take it like that," Garba was quoted as saying in an interview with the Nigerian newspaper Daily Post.
He also said he paid the equivalent of nearly $300 to transport his daughter's corpse back home to the Tungan Magajiya in Rijau local government area of the Niger State so he could bury his daughter.
Her mother, Alheri Emmanuel, told reporters none of the family's seven surviving children would attend school again to prevent further tragedy.
"What has happened to me is my cross, and I will surely carry it, but none of my seven surviving children will go to school again," she was quoted as telling Vanguard newspaper.
Police arrested two Muslim men in Yakubu's death, which sparked riots in Nigeria's Sokoto state, where a mob of Muslims have vandalized three church buildings and damaged and looted Christian-owned shops.
Holy Family Catholic Cathedral, St. Kevin's Catholic Church and an Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) building were attacked on May 14, according to ICC.
"Hundreds of Muslims here in Sokoto this morning converged at various points in the city to protest the arrest of two Muslims who were involved in the killing of Deborah," area resident Angela Anthony was quoted as telling Morning Star News. "In spite of efforts by the police and other security agencies to prevent them from becoming violent in their protest, these Muslims still succeeded in attacking and destroying."
The Rev. Christopher Omotosho, the spokesman for Sokoto Diocese, said the protestors also shattered the windows of the diocese's Bishop Lawton Secretariat and vandalized a bus parked on the premises. Additionally, vandals attacked the diocese's Bakhita Centre and set a bus on fire.
Residents of Sokoto told Morning Star News that they're asking for prayer even as church leaders of the ECWA and the Christian Association of Nigeria are demanding justice from the government.
Reverend Joseph Daramola, a leader in the Christian Association of Nigeria, responded to the violence in a statement last Friday.
"It is the failure of the security agencies and the government to rise to such criminalities in the past that gave birth to terrorists and bandits," he said. "As long as the state fails to bring these beasts and criminals amidst us to book, so also the society will continue to be their killing fields."
Islamic militants, including radical Fulani herdsmen and the terror groups Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province, routinely target Nigeria's Christians for kidnapping and even murder.
In 2021, ICC designated Nigeria as one of the world's "Persecutors of the Year," calling the African country "one of the deadliest places on Earth for Christians."
Anywhere from 50,000 to 70,000 Christians have been killed in Nigeria since 2000, according to the ICC report.
Open Doors USA, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, reported that at least 4,650 Christians were killed between Oct. 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021, an increase from 3,530 the previous year. Additionally, more than 2,500 Christians were kidnapped, up from 990 just one year earlier.