By Obi Nwankanma
Three weeks ago, Deborah Yakubu, a young Christian woman was lynched in Sokoto. First, they stoned her to death. Then they set her on fire. It was a horrifying death for a young woman who was by all account a gentle and harmless person, whose only sin was that she spoke up demanding that her classmates leave religious chatter well alone and concentrate on their class project.
She was a student at the Shehu Shagari College of Education. Her views were quickly determined to be “blasphemy” by the religious Nazi among her classmates who in due course, seized her and put her to death in the name of the prophet of Islam. Deborah’s death ignited worldwide outrage.
The Sultan of Sokoto came out to condemn it in very strong terms, and at great personal risk, it was said, because the rabid among the Muslims were said to have threatened to teach him a lesson too for condemning her killers. Just as they threatened the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Mathew Hassan Kukah, who also spoke out loudly in protest.
The following day, a Saturday, a crowd of militants set upon the shops and homes of Christians in Sokoto, mostly Igbo unsurprisingly, burnt many, looted many, and injured many. They were protesting the arrest of the alleged killers of Deborah by Law enforcement agencies. It took swift response by Governor Tambuwal who quickly declared a curfew in Sokoto to calm the streets.
The president of Nigeria, sent a tepid message urging for a full investigation into who was wrong or right in the killing. Who was wrong or right? Poor Deborah is dead. Nothing could be more wrong than that her killers took her life. Even if she had spoken ill about Islam and the prophet, she did not deserve for her life to be taken.
Nigeria is a secular society and there is no blasphemy law. It is just no longer a surprise to most rational Nigerians what comes out of Aso Rock since Muhamadu Buhari has occupied it. Nigeria no longer makes sense. Life has become cheap and meaningless.
But what must happen very quickly is that the killers of Deborah are not just arrested, but that they are given a public trial according to the rules of law, and that they are publicly hanged following a death sentence, which is still the punishment for murder in the Nigerian laws. It has long been the case that these killers of Nigerian Christians in the North, have been allowed to go scot-free.
The case of Deborah must be different, because if examples are not publicly made of these violent perpetrators, Nigeria will continue to breed terrorists and antinomes that could make individuals assume that they can engage in high impunity and get away with it.
The same case must be made against the killers of Harira Jubril, an Hausa Woman, and her three lovely children in Orumba, Anambra State. This is beyond words and beyond unconscionable. What did a poor pregnant woman do to her killers? What did three innocent children do to deserve that kind of violent death?
I am not really sure about the provenance of this story because it is very strange. It is incumbent on the government of Anambra State to pursue the killers of this woman and her children to the ends of the earth, unmask them, give them their day in court with a public hearing and hang them publicly for this atrocity.
If any Igbo has a hand in this killing, may the curses which the Igbo pour on such abomination follow them to the end. I did say I found this very strange. This killing of a woman and her children is unlike anything the Igbo would ever do. Igbo spiritual life is built on a very sacred regard for life, which is why, central to the Igbo belief system is that principle “Ndubuisi.” Life is at the very top of all considerations.
To take life among the Igbo, even accidentally, carries very severe consequences. Life is so sacred to the Igbo that, they do not allow a female animal even to give birth to new life while it is tethered to a rope. There is a saying about this among the Igbo.
Strange things may happen with the Igbo these days, but no Igbo born of an Igbo man or woman would kill a woman, especially one that is pregnant with life. Moreso, the Igbo have a deep spiritual law that equates the life of children with the life of spirits who may be visiting the earth. But above all is this idea of killing a woman – symbol of the earth.
It is never done with the Igbo. It is the kind of “Nso Ala” that wipes out lineages and communities. The death of a woman in Igbo land is taken far more seriously than the death of a man. Indeed, a woman, to the Igbo, is the human embodiment of the goddess of the earth. The land, and everything on it molts when the goddess strikes.
This is Igbo belief. Even those who have become Christians know this instinctively. So, it is odd to me that an Igbo person would kill a pregnant woman with her children knowing the catastrophic implications; the fact that it is a high blood debt owed to the goddess of the earth – what the Igbo call “Oke Aru/Alu” -of which any participant in that kind of abomination is cursed in this life and in other incarnations, and his family is cursed with him, and if his kinsmen do nothing about it, they too and their lineages do not escape its extreme consequences. Achebe sketches this cultural principle very briefly in Things Fall Apart, by which the young Ikemefuna’s fate was sealed. The Igbo know this.
Even mad people of the Igbo know this and are rightly wary of the curse and the anger of Ala. So, why would any Igbo participate in the killing of a pregnant woman and her children? In the same way, the Igbo do not kill by beheading. It is a strange and unusual development. That is why I personally doubt that these killings are done by Igbo people in Igbo land. There is something more going on.
These patterns of killings may just be carried out by individuals who have no understanding of Igbo cultural psychology, and are therefore operating outside of its cultural remits. Stranger still is that the IPOB, who have been accused of conducting these killings have very repeatedly denied and openly denounced it.
What would they gain by turning their supporters against them?This, I suspect, is what these killings are clearly aimed at achieving: to build a groundswell of cases against the activities of the IPOB in the South East. IPOB did not need to violently enforce compliance because the majority of people in the South East without question complied with IPOB’s directive to stay at home.
How has the most peaceful act of protest, to stay at home, been turned into the most violent episode in the South East? Who has the capacity to do this? This is the question which no one wants to honestly ask. Not even journalists. Very many in the South East already believe that what is happening in the East is part of a Black Ops activity by the Nigerian military and the National Intelligence Services, first to criminalize the IPOB, and then to drive a wedge between it and its supporters.
It is easy to track the moment when this crisis became full blown in the East, and why it is confined to that Orlu-Ihiala-Orumba axis, at the moment. From the moment when the Federal Prison in Owerri was broken, and the felons released, a wave of criminal activities became the norm in specific parts of the South East.
The question is: who broke the Federal Prisons in Owerri? Why was that break staged? Who are the current handlers of the felons that escaped? Who is supplying them? And what is the reason? How is it possible that these killers are unseen and unknown? Which institution in the South East has the facility to hide, waste, handle, and direct these felons?
The answer is as unnerving as it is true! But it does not matter at this stage: Justice must be done for Harira Jubril and her children. Any Igbo who had a hand in their death must be found, tried, and punished according to the criminal codes of Nigeria regarding murder.
Governor Soludo, whose state, Anambra, is the current flashpoint of these activities must lead the way, and organize a very effective, well-resourced Homeland Guard. Equip them with drones and Helicopters for 24/7 Aerial surveillance, build an Emergency Control Center in Awka with capacity for real-time tracking of urban and rural nodes of action, using GPS and other modern facilities that can deploy and cover Anambra against these criminals.
This should form the basis of a joint regional in-land and aerial patrol. Do not just create another how-for-do “vigilante” organization. Recruit young men and women with university or other higher education qualifications. Raise tax. Pay them well. Train them tactically. There are Igbo with such training across the world who can be invited to design and train this highly modern tactical group.
The governors of the South East must Select, train, and deploy these highly resourceful young men and women in modern crime detection and control systems, so that they can anticipate these criminals before they carry out these brutal acts in the South East of Nigeria, and prevent the possible subversion of the East. It is not rocket science. It is thinking out of the box.