A solemn ceremony for Deborah Emmanuel near the family home in northeast Niger state on May 14. (Courtesy of Emmanuel family)
Nigerian Police Stand By as Christian Student Is Stoned to Death
By Douglas Burton
May 20, 2022
A so-called blasphemy murder of a Christian student in Sokoto, Nigeria, on May 12 was attended by scores of armed, uniformed policemen who did not intervene, according to eyewitnesses.
One eyewitness, who asked for anonymity to escape government retaliation, said that at least 50 uniformed policemen, including six officers of the Department of State Security, were on the scene of the stoning of 22-year-old Deborah Emmanuel, but none acted to defend her.
Emmanuel’s father, Garba Emmanuel, was in Sokoto that day but did not see his daughter being killed by the crowd, according to Dr. Bola Adewara, a veteran journalist who interviewed the father for Elifeonline.
Another eyewitness was one of three uniformed members of the Department of State Security (DSS), which is often compared to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, who attempted to help the victim escape but were pushed back by the crowd.
“The police were nearby, but they utterly failed to rescue the girl,” the official said.
Commissioner of Police Kamaldeen Okunlola disputed the figure of 50 policemen at the scene but said there were “about 15 uniformed police there” and acknowledged that many had assault rifles, in a telephone interview. Videos of the mob scene on the campus show more than 100 young men carrying sticks and shouting. Okunlola said the policemen did not fire their weapons.
Deborah Emmanuel, who was accused by fellow students of blasphemy in a WhatsApp message on May 11, was swarmed by 180 protestors calling for her death for the crime of blasphemy.
The account of all media follows the narrative of Sokoto police who said, according to the Washington Post, “the school authorities quickly deployed security personnel to protect Emmanuel, but they were overpowered by angry youths.”
A far different account has been given by eyewitnesses. The DSS source said that the school authorities were monitoring internet chatter by students who were planning to attack Emmanuel on the evening of May 11 but failed because she was not in her student hostel.
They say that she called her father for help from her classroom on May 12 at 9:00 a.m. local time and told him people were trying to kill her. Two classmates attempted to help her escape to a waiting taxi but were pursued by a mob. She was locked by college security employees in a gatehouse for her own protection with a fellow student near the entrance of Shehu Shagari College of Education.
“Finally, the man with the key to the gatehouse arrived and let Deborah and her friend out where four or five policemen met her,” according to a relative who stood 60 feet away from the locked gate of the college.
“However, the mob took her from the policemen and dragged her to the rear of the gatehouse where they beat her with sticks and then threw stones until she stopped moving,” the relative said.
“No policemen tried to stop the crowd,” he said.
Emmanuel’s family members stood with about 1,000 other observers outside the fence of the college and watched the events.
“Some police outside the fence fired tear gas grenades to scatter the crowd,” one witness said.
Inside the fence, he saw no fewer than 7 police trucks near the gatehouse. There were about 100 police inside the campus, but 50 went to the main block, while 50 were standing near the site of the killing, he said.
Human rights advocates in the United States denounced the atrocity and the complicity of the Nigerian police.
“The police must have clear orders to intervene to stop any violence, including mob lynching such as this,” Nina Shea, a religious liberty specialist at The Hudson Institute, said. “They either lack such orders or even are instructed to stand down when violent Muslims attack defenseless Christians. This incident also underscores that Islamist extremism is rapidly spreading across northern Nigeria, despite the US State Department’s refusal to acknowledge this danger,” Shea said.
According to multiple media reports, Emmanuel had gotten into a dispute with fellow students on a WhatsApp messaging channel created by the college to share topics related to courses. When asked how she passed last semester’s examination, she replied “Jesus O.”
She also used the phrase “nonsense prophets,” and some students interpreted this to be a slight on the prophet Mohammed. Two Muslim students demanded that she apologize, but she refused and replied, “Holy Ghost fire! Nothing will happen to me.”
Shortly after 9:00 a.m. Thursday two students brought some nonstudents to the college to threaten her. She called her father for help.
“Deborah was going to graduate in November with a degree in Home Economics. She was engaged to a young man and planned to marry, then start a catering business,” according to the relative who watched helplessly as she was beaten to death at the back of the gatehouse.
“Until now, even after four days, the family has received no message of apology from the college administration or from police who didn’t protect her and no offer of reimbursement for burial expenses or medical bills for her relatives who were injured,” the relative said.
“We believe the family cannot sue for damages. We decided to leave everything to God.”
Both the governor of Sokoto state and the national Muslim religious leader, the Sultan of Sokoto, quickly denounced the killing on May 12 and called for full prosecution of the criminals.
Two young men were arrested on May 14, one of which is a student and one who is not, according to the eyewitnesses.
“The horrible murder of Deborah Emmanuel over her beliefs is tragic and infuriating,” human rights activist Tina Ramirez said in a message.
“That this murder coincides with the birthday of Leah Sharibu, kidnapped by Boko Haram four years ago, is a sober reminder of how far we still have to help local leaders learn to push back against the culture of violence and impunity,” Ramirez added. “But horrendous cases such as these demonstrate the deep-seated and entrenched hatred we are up against.”
Copyright 2022 Douglas Burton
Douglas Burton is a former U.S. State Department official who was stationed in Kirkuk, Iraq. He writes news and commentary from Washington, D.C.