By Deborah Castellano Lubov/
Cardinal John Onaiyekan has expressed “outrage” for the gruesome murder of a Christian student in Nigeria, and has decried the rampant violence and extremism in the country against Christians, and also against Muslims.
In an interview with Vatican News, the Archbishop Emeritus of Abuja lamented the state of insecurity in the African country, attributing much of the unrest to bad governance and to fanatics, who give a bad name to the rest of nation’s pacific Muslim population.
In Northwestern Nigeria’s Sokoto State, a Christian student, Deborah Yakubu, was stoned to death and set on fire after Muslim students accused her of alleged blasphemy. Subsequently, as protests persisted demanding the release of two suspects in the student’s murder, a mob attacked the Holy Family Catholic cathedral in the Sokoto state.
Aid to the Church in Need decried the student’s murder and called the levels of extremism and violence in Nigeria as “absolutely appalling.” They noted that “hardly a week goes by without news of kidnappings and dozens of deaths,” but that “this barbaric act leaves us speechless.”
Frequently, Nigerians, including clergy, are abducted and killed. “The increase in kidnappings, murders and general violence against civilians, including members of the Catholic clergy in many parts of Nigeria, is a scourge that is yet to be properly addressed by the local authorities,” ACN reported.
In this interview, Cardinal Onaiyekan reflects on the tragedy, its roots, what can be done, and what is often misunderstood. He also looks ahead to Pope Francis’ 2-7 July visit to the African nations of Congo and South Sudan…..
Nigeria as a whole, horrified – also to think perpetrators were preparing to be school teachers
Q: Cardinal Onaiyekan, a Christian college student was accused of blasphemy by Muslim classmates and was subsequently stoned and burned alive. What is your reaction and appeal following this tragedy?
My reaction, which is the reaction of, I would say, 90% of Nigerians, is horror and outrage because that action by any stretch [of the imagination] is completely reprehensible. In the first place, the lady is a Christian. So according to what they kept telling us, the Sharia law does not affect Christians. So the Christians should not be judged on the basis of any Sharia law. Secondly, even if she were a Muslim, in Nigeria, the form of Sharia law that they are practicing here has carefully eliminated provisions involving capital punishment. Thirdly, as most of the Muslim leaders have told us, the aim is to inflict the maximum penalty [for the perpetrators]. On the basis of blasphemy, it should never be left to mob action, but to a properly constituted court of law in which a competent judge will determine whether indeed this is a case of blasphemy.
Obviously, this has created a lot of anger and an annoyance, and it has made our efforts at religious dialogue with Muslims more difficult than it should be. I don’t want us to forget that there is a silver lining in this whole dark cloud, namely the fact that the vast majority of Muslim leaders have condemned the action. We should not see this as something that has been done by Nigerian Muslims against Nigerian Christians.
[The fact that] that it is the work of a group of fanatics that are in the College of Education makes it even all the more worrisome because these students are preparing, to be assigned to go and teach children in secondary school primary schools in the villages of many of our states. If these students have this kind of ideas, only God knows what they are going to be teaching the children in class, if they ever end up teaching in the classrooms.