I remember that Saturday morning, some fifteen years ago, vividly. It was an unusually hot day and I was seated in the nursing school classroom by 7:00am, reading my book and minding my business as usual when my friend called to tell me that the test planned for the following week had been cancelled.
‘Why?’ I asked, sighing with relief.
‘Didn’t you hear? The university has been closed. A fight broke out yesterday night during the English Department Night show when members of the Muslim Students Society Nigeria (MSSN) raided the venue.
‘Are you joking?’
‘Seriously! They started throwing stones at the students who were on stage performing and all hell broke loose. People went wild and school property was destroyed. The mayhem continued till around 2am when security was able to get things under control. An emergency meeting was called and the decision to shut down the school for a month was taken’.
I sat down for a while, digesting the news. In my mind’s eye, I tried to imagine how the scenario had played out. I already had a faint idea of who the performers might be and how beautifully the hall would have been decorated. The lights, music and food. A full party raging on. Students dancing in a crowded hall. A typical on-campus party. As for those who had started the violence, I did not have to strain my mind. I knew their faces, one by one. These students who made it their sole mission to preach to everyone on campus, never spearing anyone a kind word. Their tone was harsh, their minds hardened, and their face devoid of any kindness.
The students were eventually found and suspended but their type only flourished.
Last week’s Sokoto killing reminded me of those men. I read in the media as people took sides condemning either Deborah or her killers depending on their religion, tribe and bigotry. Suddenly everyone turned to an expert on Shariah law and discussions on how to break up the country re-surfaced. One tweet even said ‘Nigeria without southern Nigerian is merely Afghanistan’. Chai!
My problem with all the articles or opinions on the unfortunate tragedy that occurred is that everyone feels a need to pick a side. You are either pro-Deborah or against Deborah. Nobody has critically analysed the situation enough to discern the possibility that both are wrong. The typical Nigerian way of thinking is binary; that is, something must be either black or white. For or against. North or South. Christian or Muslim. Right or wrong. Our critical thinking skills are so under-developed they might as well be non-existent. All we do is jump on the bandwagon and condemn—for or against.
My take is, both sides were wrong. And as we know, two wrongs will never make a right. But firstly, let us examine the facts.
What Deborah did was wrong. Plain and simple. There is no universe in which freedom of speech is distorted to mean instigating or offending the faith of a group of people. How can you be in Sokoto and then be talking like that? Even after she was repeatedly warned? A popular proverb says ‘Do in Rome as the Romans do’. That is why, till date, when people travel to Dubai, they dress modestly. Despite all its modernity and liberalism, people still respect the Islamic culture of the Emirates. That is why, till date, when you see a Caucasian woman on an international media channel like CNN reporting from Saudi Arabia, she will usually have a head covering. It is not because they cannot be stubborn and insist on dressing the way they want to —after all, she may not be Muslim and therefore is not entitled to— it is because they RESPECT the country and its religious culture.
I think we as a people, are confused about this freedom of speech issue. Like the late Idi Amin said: “There is freedom of speech, but I cannot guarantee freedom after speech”. We need to borrow ourselves sense.
So, fact number 1: Deborah’s utterances were absolutely wrong.
But does Deborah’s being wrong make the men who killed her right? No! There is also no universe in which ordinary citizens are allowed to take the law into their own hands. The right thing to be done is to have reported her. But to whom? To the sharia court, perhaps. Would the law enforcement agency have ensured that Deborah was punished accordingly? We don’t know for sure. What we know for sure is that, jungle justice is wrong: legally, morally and religiously. There is no religion in the world that justifies extra-judicial killing. But we all know that. And yet, people have the audacity to say what those students did was right. If they are right, then it stands to reason that all those “Ole’s” that are burnt using tyres in Lagos are right. It means that #ALUU4 are also right. It means all those adults who torture children tortured for being “witches” are also right. And so on and so forth.
So, fact number 2: The boys who killed Deborah were also wrong.
As a consequence of the unfortunate incident, and as is totally expected given previous incidences, violence in the state escalated rapidly leading to a 24-hour curfew. Markets, businesses and industries were shut for almost three days. Subsistence earners and members of the lower socioeconomic class were therefore deprived of their daily income. Imagine the suffering? Imagine the setback? Something that could have been prevented if both parties had demonstrated respect, common sense and empathy.
In all this, the greatest wrong, however, is that demonstrated by our government. Our so-called security in all areas of government is pitiful. This incident could have been prevented at all levels. Deborah’s utterances should have been checked immediately and she should have been called to order by campus security. The students’ action could have been mitigated in a serious school with decent security. The violent aftermath of burning shops is something that should have been anticipated. It happens every time and everywhere. In South Africa at the height of the Xenophobic attacks and even in America, after a white policeman knelt on a black man’s neck for nine minutes. Do we remember Charlie Hebdo attack in France and the worldwide reprisal attacks that ensued? Exactly my point.
So, fact number 3: Government was also wrong.
It is my wish that, as a consequence of this tragedy, the boys who carried out this act should face the full wrath of the law. This way, the incident will serve as a deterrent to everyone involved: Religious and tribal bigots who think they can blaspheme and insult others in the name of free speech as well as trigger happy overzealous murderers disguised as human beings.
Again, let us borrow ourselves sense. This type of tragedy benefits no one. Not Deborah who has since being buried; Not the boys who have been arrested and will most likely have destroyed the rest of their lives, and certainly not the system/state/Country who suffered financial, diplomatic and economic loss.
Newton’s third law of motion states that: ‘For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction’. Therefore, we should learn to reciprocate wrong with right.
Two wrongs will never make a right.