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14 Christians killed every day in Nigeria: Charity raises alarm as mob murder of Christian student leads to no arrests

by Heather Preston
Deborah Samuel thumb.png - Banner image

It's been one year since a Christian student was stoned to death and set on fire by her fellow pupils in Nigeria after she expressed thanks to Jesus Christ in a WhatsApp message and to date no one has been charged with her murder.

Deborah Samuel was attacked and killed for alleged 'blasphemy' by Muslim students at her university in the north-western state of Sokoto in May 2022.

She had posted a voice message on a WhatsApp group chat for students at Sokoto’s Chehu Shagari College of Education that offended fellow students, after which she received a number of death threats. A mob then stoned her to death and set her body on fire before she could be taken to safety.

Caroline Duffield of OpenDoors is a writer on Nigeria and was in the country at the time of the event. She said: "She went into a Whatsapp group and was asked how she had done so well in her exams. And she gave thanks to Jesus. And later she impatiently referred to people talking too much about religion and broadcasting prayers very loudly in the WhatsApp group. So all of this provoked irritation from her classmates.

"There was panic inside her dormitory. And within an hour there was a crowd of classmates, young men from the college, a screaming mob and initially her classmates tried to put her into a safe room and the security did try to protect her but the mob grew so big that the security was overwhelmed. She was dragged out into the college grounds and suffered a very prolonged horrific death. I've seen the videos it's it was appalling what happened to her in a public place, in a place where she should have been safe."

One year on, police have made no arrests for her murder, despite it occurring in plain sight and being recorded on mobile phones. Duffield argues that charges could be made against her perpetrators.

"Social media this time last year in Nigeria was awash with videos. The faces are very visible in those videos in the WhatsApp group. The students sent death threats to her and all of the phone numbers in that Whatsapp group would be registered by the NIN system in Nigeria.

"The authorities without a doubt know exactly who they are dealing with."

Two suspects were arrested shortly after the attack. However, they were charged with "criminal conspiracy and inciting of public disturbance" and not murder and released without detainment.

Nigerian authorities have faced criticism for not holding anyone to account for Deborah’s murder. Speaking on Twitter at the weekend, Prince Olumuyiwa Adejobi, a spokesperson for the police in Abuja, claimed that some of the perpetrators were currently incarcerated and facing trial. However, no names or evidence have been produced to back this up, leaving many sceptical.

Persecution charity OpenDoors says the lack of prosecution "illustrates the impunity that has become endemic in Nigeria, especially when the victims are Christians in northern parts of the country." According to the charity’s research, more than 5,000 Christians died for their faith in Nigeria in 2022.

In the last 10 years Duffield reports there has been a surge in Islamist violence in radical Islamist groups in Nigeria whilst the country's "security situation has dramatically deteriorated."

False accusations of blasphemy have been used to attack Christians in northern Nigeria where states have adopted penal codes, based on strict Islamic ‘Sharia’ legal code. Christians in the north also face the threat of harassment, discrimination and kidnapping for their beliefs.

Duffield says death at the hands of Islamist groups "is absolutely becoming an everyday occurrence and horrific reality" in Nigeria. "There's certainly a climate of deep fear and a willingness of the authorities to turn a blind eye in a case where someone's been accused of blasphemy."

"It is the most deadly place for Christians in the world, with around 14 Christians dying every day for their faith," she added.

OpenDoors is encouraging people across the UK to highlight the plight of Christians in Nigeria by contacting their local MP.

In 2023 Nigeria is due to have its human rights record reviewed by the United Nations. OpenDoors suggests this gives people a unique opportunity to highlight the violence Christians experience there.

As part of its Justice for #14EveryDay campaign, supporters are being urged to send an OpenDoors infographic to members of parliament that explains the violations of human rights that Christians in Nigeria experience together with three key recommendations to be submitted to the UN Universal Periodic Review.


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