On 12 May, a Christian student in Nigeria was murdered by her Muslim classmates for ‘blasphemy’, following a message in a WhatsApp group.
Deborah Samuel Yakubu was delighted that she’d passed her exams at Shehu Shagari College of Education in Wamako, Sokoto State in north west Nigeria. She posted a voice message in a group WhatsApp – according to Open Doors’ local sources, she said, “Jesus Christ is the greatest. He helped me pass my exams.” For this message, she was murdered.
Deborah – a member of the Fellowship of Christian Students, a sister organisation to the Nigeria Fellowship of Evangelical Students – was part of a WhatsApp group created to discuss academic things relating to her Home Economics course and other courses. Some Muslim students in the group shared posts related to Islam, and Deborah was responding with her own message about Jesus. It hasn’t been possible to confirm the exact wording Deborah used, as other students have refused to repeat the ‘blasphemy’ to the media. It has been suggested that she also questioned the messages others had sent, saying the thread was for academic questions about school, not ‘nonsense’ about Islam.
"We condemn in the strongest terms possible this vicious act and call on authorities to take swift action" Jo Newhouse, Open Doors
Muslim students took offence and threatened Deborah. College staff tried to evacuate her, but a group of angry men pulled her away and began attacking her. She was stoned to death, and then her body was burned. Footage is circulating in which a man faces the camera and says that he has killed and burned the young woman.
“This is another tragic day for northern Nigeria’s Christians,” says Jo Newhouse, spokesperson for Open Doors’ work in sub-Saharan Africa. “We join Deborah’s family and the wider Christian community in mourning her death. We condemn in the strongest terms possible this vicious act and call on authorities to take swift action to identify the perpetrators and bring them to book.”
Two people have been arrested in connection with the murder, police have confirmed, and protests in Muslim-majority Sokoto have flared up in response. On Saturday 14 May, these protests turned violent. Rioters, armed with machetes, knives and sticks, and chanting Islamic prayers, demanded the release of the two suspects police arrested. Shops have been looted and burned, and there have been reports of churches being attacked and vandalised. Some of the protestors have besieged the palace of the Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto and the highest spiritual figure among Muslims in Nigeria.
The Sultan is among the religious leaders – both Christian and Muslim – who have condemned the murder. He published a press release saying he ‘condemned the incident in its totality and has urged the security agencies to bring perpetrators of the unjustifiable incident to justice’. Sokoto’s Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, meanwhile, has stated that, “The only obligation that is owed late Deborah’s immediate family, her fellow students and the school authorities is the assurance that those who are guilty of the inhuman act, no matter their motivation, are punished according to the extant laws of the land.”
The government announced a 24-hour curfew, which many disregarded. Sokoto Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal urged the protesters: “Please, in the interest of peace, go back home.”
Meanwhile, Deborah’s parents (pictured above) have laid her to rest in the village of Tunga Magajiya, about 160 miles south of Sokoto, where Deborah is originally from.
Every £24 could train a church leader to better disciple their church community
Every £35 could help empower a West African church to give persecuted believers emergency shelter and food
Every £45 could help equip a church member to provide trauma care to believers in their community
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.