Sokoto State has hardly been in the news in terms of violent actions against non-Muslims. That pedigree perhaps lured the system from notice a burning itch for the kind of jungle justice administered on Deborah Samuel by the category of those who carried out that action. Might Deborah Samuel be a Sokoto about turn in the making?
Very, very unfortunately, a phenomenon that many thought that recent messy communal experiences, particularly banditry in Northwest of Nigeria, have pushed out of folk consciousness came back with greater horror this week. Words such as gruesome, chilling and bestial have been used to capture the demise of Deborah Samuel, the student of Home Economics at the Sokoto based Shehu Shagari College of Education killed and burnt by some of her fellow students on May 12th, 2022.
Her death will disturb anyone who thinks about the implications of any set of people combining in themselves the role of accusers, prosecutors, judge and executioners. That is really what is mind boggling in this, considering the multi-religious nature of the polity. If every religious group were to feel justified in administering justice the way they interpret provocations, then the whole place would have become unlivable since.
In other words, Deborah Samuel has, by the manner of her death, brought to the fore again, the question of citizenship and the state in Nigeria. Most importantly, she has raised the question of the context in which this resort to jungle justice has been taking place.
Of course, she equally raises the question of how it happened that no one was vigilant enough to sense danger and pluck her away before the worst happened. In most modern societies, either a layer of authority in the College or the Police or the secret service will sense danger and pre-empt the killing.
If not the quick reaction of the Sultan of Sokoto, whose intervention must have calmed nerves to a great extent and aborted possible reprisals, who can rule out frightening dimensions at a time of deep division, suspicion and anger?
There is simply something paradoxical about the killing and the justification on which it has been based. Sokoto State is where the governor has no less than two non-indigenes or so in his cabinet. In a country where ethno-regional and religious suspicion has been such a big factor in day – day life, that is a significant gesture to national unity.
Gov Aminu Tambuwal and his twosome or so advisers might not have been successfully loud as, say, Alhaji Sule Lamido who made a similar gesture to national oneness with his own non-indigene SA between 2007 and 2012, that does not mean that Tambuwal’s move is not noted by those observing such moves. And then from nowhere, the symbolism of that is rubbished by one moment of distanciation in the killing of a female student operating at her own level in a WhatsApp platform running less than 1000 subscribers.
Nigeria is a highly integrated country. The suspicions may be there and are acted out here and there but, especially at the level of the economy, the ordinary Nigerians interact very well across ethno-religious and cultural boundaries. Most of such identity groups in Nigeria treat the non-native very well. We cannot use one state to prove this claim but the degree of warmth observed between host/settler communities in the remotest parts of many states in Nigeria would buttress this.
State response to the entire mess will be a significant pointer.