Blasphemy: CAN, Plateau, Benue churches insist on Sunday protest

The Christian Association of Nigeria says it will go ahead with its nationwide protests against the lynching of Deborah Yakubu, a 200-level student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, who was stoned to death and burnt for allegedly blaspheming Prophet Muhammad.

This is despite a ban on religious protests by Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai; an appeal by Nasarawa State Governor, Abdullahi Sule, and moves by some northern governors for CAN to shelve its planned protests.

Also CAN chapters in Plateau and  Benue states, which are the umbrella bodies for churches in the two states, said they would organise protests against Deborah’s killing.

The spokesman for the CAN President, Rev. Bayo Oladeji, said the protests would hold on Sunday nationwide. Oladeji, however, said the protests would take place in front of CAN secretariats in various states or major churches, adding that there would be no procession.

Responding to a question, the cleric said, “Of course, the nationwide protests will continue. We are not going to take to the streets so nobody should stop us from gathering in front of our premises. We will be by CAN secretariats and lift up our placards.

“In cities where there are no CAN secretariats, we will use big churches to stage protests. We know too well that if we take to the streets, they will use thugs to hijack it. So, we will gather in front of our churches. We are not going to take to the streets.”

Also in a chat with The PUNCH, the Force Public Relations Officer, Mr Muyiwa Adejobi, said CAN had not informed the police of any demonstration. He, however, said the Christian body had the constitutional right to protest.

Adejobi said even though CAN had said it would not be a street protest, there was a need for the Christian body to ensure that the demonstration was conducted in a responsible manner such that it would not lead to a breakdown of law and order.

He added, “We heard of the planned protests in the news and of course, everyone has a right to protest in a lawful manner but it must be done in such a manner that it must be done in a calm and mature manner so that it doesn’t worsen issues.”

Plateau govt bars protest

But the Plateau State Government said it would not allow any protest in the state in connection with Deborah.

The Commissioner for Information and Communications, Dan Manjang, made the government’s position known in an interview with The PUNCH in Jos on Tuesday.

While condemning the manner the student lost her life as unjustifiable, he warned CAN in the state against joining such protests as doing so would contravene an existing law in the state.

The commissioner said, “We won’t allow the protest. There is a law banning public protests in the state and as a government, we won’t welcome any form of protest.

“We are working with security agents to ensure it does not happen. This is important so that miscreants won’t take the opportunity and hijack the protest to cause confusion in Plateau. So, if they (CAN) trespass against the provision of the law, the law will take its course

Plateau CAN insists on protest

The Plateau State chapter of CAN insisted that it would go ahead with the planned protest despite the ban by the state government.

The state Chairman of CAN, Rev. Polycarp Lubo, in Jos on Tuesday said that the protest would hold on Sunday at 3 pm.

Lubo said, “We have concluded plans to hold the protest in the state as directed by CAN national body. We have mobilised our members to come to our secretariat in Jos by 3 pm on Sunday when it will take place”

When reminded about the state government’s warning against holding public procession because of the existing law, the CAN chairman denied knowledge about any law banning protest in the state saying, “I’m not aware of any such law.”

The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Ubah Ogaba,  was not readily available for comment on the matter as several calls put across to his mobile phone were not answered.

Benue CAN to join protest

The Benue State chapter of CAN also said that the Christians in the state would join the nationwide protests called by the national leadership of the association.

Chairman of CAN in the state, Rev Akpen Leva, who spoke to our correspondent on the phone, said that the protest would be within the secretariat.

“Yes, we are going to protest on Sunday but it is going to be a peaceful protest, we are not going to march on the street. You know the situation in the country and we don’t want to cause any crisis.

“We are going to register our voice against jungle justice and unnecessary killings in the nation. Even the directive from the national secretariat is that we should do the protest within the secretariat,” Rev Leva said.

Efforts to get the Benue State Command spokesman, Catherine Anene, did not succeed as she did not pick up calls to her phone.

Borno police bar protests

However, the Borno State Police Command said on Tuesday that it would not permit any protest of any kind.

The Commissioner of Police, Abdu Umar, told the publication: “We have banned all forms of gathering in Borno State. We shall not allow protests of any kind to hold in Borno because criminal elements may hijack it and turn it into something else.

“The police will not grant permission to anybody or group to hold any rally and if we catch anybody or group flaunting our order, the law will take its course.

The CAN Chairman in Borno State, Mohammed Naga, refused to react to the police’s directive, saying, “I cannot grant an interview on the phone. But the police made a proclamation and it is all over the news so I cannot say anything please.”

Niger police react

Also, the Niger State Police Command has stated that the state chapter of CAN has yet to inform the command about any peaceful protest as instructed by the national leadership of the association.

This was stated by the Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Abiodun Wasiu, on Tuesday.

He added that it was not in his position to say if CAN would be granted permission to hold the peaceful protest while acknowledging that it was every citizen’s right to hold a peaceful protest.

“As much as it is every citizen’s right to hold a peaceful protest, it’s not in my place to say if CAN will be granted permission to hold one in the state,” Wasiu said.

He added that it was necessary for anyone who wanted to have a peaceful protest to liaise with security agencies for logistics and protection to avoid the protest being taken over by miscreants in society.

The Niger State Government had earlier called on security agencies to deal with anyone who tried to incite trouble in the state while appealing to Christians in the state to remain calm.

This was contained in a statement signed by the Press Secretary to the Niger State Governor, Mary Berje.

At the time of filing this report, the secretary of the state chapter of CAN, Mr Opawale,  neither picked nor returned calls put through to him

El-Rufai talks tough

The Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufai,  on Tuesday, warned troublemakers to steer clear of the state, adding that anyone who attempted to undermine the security of the state would be dealt with regardless of status.

The state government bans any form of protest

The state government through its Commissioner of Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, announced a ban on any form of religious protests in the state with immediate effect.

El-Rufai had directed security operatives to ensure strict enforcement of the ban.

The governor was quoted by the state Commissioner of Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, in a statement in Kaduna on Tuesday to have conveyed his appreciation to the good people of the state.

According to the statement, “Governor Nasir El-Rufa’i has conveyed his appreciation to religious, traditional and community leaders, as well as security agencies in Kaduna State for their sincere and spirited pursuit of peace interventions.

“The governor gave his commendation in a statement on Tuesday, after a review of the security situation in light of recent tensions over developments in another Northern Nigerian state.

“The governor noted with satisfaction the dedication of these critical stakeholders to the cause of peace and security in the state.”

It added that the state government appealed to parents to admonish their children and wards on the need for proper conduct and to avoid actions that could be seized upon by mischief makers to create tension.

The statement further read, “The government appeals to the citizenry, in the interest of security and peace, to uphold respect for the religious and cultural affiliations of all, and eschew denigration in all its forms.

“Furthermore, the government reiterates that recourse to the law remains the only acceptable means of redress, and never self-help.

“The government of Kaduna State and security agencies will continue to monitor the situation closely, and work towards curbing the activities of recalcitrant forces attempting to cause a breakdown of law and order in the state. Security agencies will not hesitate to take action on anyone, regardless of status, playing a role in attempts to cause unrest.”

Govt hasn’t contacted us – Deborah’s father

In a related development, Deborah’s father, Garba Emmanuel, in an interview on Tuesday, described how he got the news of the killing of his daughter.

He stated, “I was in Tungan Magajiya (my hometown) when my brother that she lived with called me at 2 pm from Sokoto asking me to come over and that something had happened.

“You know our people will not want to give you bad news on the phone. So I went over and was given the bad news of how she was killed after which I had to return to the village.

“I was totally broken. Deborah was a good and caring daughter. I had to sell half of my house to send her to school and along the line,  God allowed His will to be done.

When asked whether any government delegation visited or reached out to the family, Emmanuel said, “No government official has called any of us nor have we been visited by any delegation.”

The father of the murdered girl also confirmed that the General Overseer of Omega Power Ministries, Chibuzor Chinyere, who offered “automatic scholarships” to the seven siblings of Deborah, had contacted the family.

He stated, “He has contacted us on his intentions to relocate, take over the academics and welfare of our children but we are still consulting. You know that is not an offer we can take just like that. We are very grateful for his offer but we are still grieving and this is not an appropriate time to rush into taking such decisions.”

NBA faults Sokoto govt

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Bar Association has faulted the Sokoto State Government led by Governor Aminu Tambuwal for failing to charge Deborah’s alleged killers with murder. Rather, the state government arraigned two defendants on incitement and breach of peace.

The NBA President, Olumide Akpata, said in a statement that the body was saddened by Deborah’s murder and called on the state government not to trivialise the case by filing light charges.

The statement read in part, “With particular reference to the murder of Miss Deborah Yakubu and related developments in Sokoto, we note that some arrests have been made by the Nigeria Police and that the suspects are now being prosecuted.

“We are, however, worried by yet-to-be-confirmed reports reaching us that the suspects have been charged with a mere breach of public peace in an episode that cut short Deborah’s life in her prime.

“The NBA is strongly opposed to a banalisation of the situation and if these reports are true, then we call on the Sokoto State Government to immediately rethink its prosecution strategy and file charges that truly reflect the gravity of the situation.”

Also in a statement, a human rights lawyer, Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN), argued that the light charges filed against the suspected killers were evidence that Governor Tambuwal approved of the actions of the mob.

Adgboruwa stated, “The government of Sokoto State has by these charges shown itself complicit in this whole drama and it is most unfortunate, for a state that is headed by a lawyer, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives and who is aspiring to rule Nigeria as its President.”

The association also said it had cancelled its conference in Sokoto because it could not guarantee its members’ safety.