Violence erupted in some parts of Sokoto metropolis on Saturday when some Muslim youths trooped to the streets to demand the release of the two suspects arrested in connection with the killing and setting ablaze of a 200-level female student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Deborah Samuel, over alleged blasphemy.
Following the violence, the Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, imposed a 24-hour curfew on the metropolis to restore order in the city.
Deborah was on Thursday stoned to death and burnt by her colleagues for making a WhatsApp post on a group platform that allegedly blasphemed Prophet Muhammed (SAW). In the post, the deceased reportedly advised against posting religious materials on a WhatsApp group meant for assignments.
Saturday’s protest, however, led to the vandalism of properties and looting of shops in some parts of the metropolis, with many residents running helter-skelter for safety. The protesters also made an attempt to attack the palace of the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar, who is the spiritual leader of Muslims in Nigeria and had condemned Deborah’s killing, which many described as barbaric.
The protesting youths, shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great), while bearing placards with different inscriptions, started their demonstration peacefully at the Zabira Mall roundabout and marched through Gao-Nama on Maiduguri Road within the metropolis.
However, despite a combined team of security operatives, including soldiers from the 8 Division, police and personnel of the Department of State Services and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, monitoring the protests to avert its takeover by hoodlums, there were reports of attacks on some public buildings, including an ECWA Church at Aliyu Jodi and a section of the Catholic Clinic, opposite Vision FM.
At the St Backita Catholic Secretariat in the Aliyu Jodi area of Sokoto, which houses the office of the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Kukah, the protesting youths burnt the security post and a vehicle on the premises. Kukah later announced in a statement that he was safe and unhurt and that his house was not burnt as rumoured.
He also announced the suspension of Masses across the diocese until the curfew imposed by the state government is lifted.
The statement signed by the Director, Directorate of Social Communications, Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Rev Fr Christopher Omotosho, noted, “ During the protest, groups of youths led by some adults in the background attacked the Holy Family Catholic Cathedral at Bello Way, destroying church glass windows, those of the Bishop Lawton Secretariat and vandalized a community bus parked within the premises. St Kevin’s Catholic Church, Gidan Dere, Eastern Bypass was also attacked and partly burnt.”
Eyewitnesses told Sunday PUNCHthat the irate youths stormed the church wielding machetes, stones and sticks. They started throwing stones into the church compound before overpowering the security men at the gate and gaining entrance into the premises. The extent of the damage was unclear as of press time.
One of the eyewitnesses said, “The protesters came en masse. I was across the building opposite the Zenith Bank in Minanata when they began to throw stones into the church. Some of them were attacking traders around the area and burning their wares. They were outraged.
“One of the youth said in Hausa and a very harsh tone that the church wrote an article on its website about Deborah’s murder and called the killers ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’. I called the police as I tried to escape and they told me to leave the place immediately to avoid unforeseen circumstances, so I had to run away.”
The article referenced by one of the protesters was perhaps the statement issued by the Kukah to condemn the killing and ask Christians to pray for the repose of her soul.
Confirming the attack on the secretariat, a senior official of the church, Mr Matthew Otalike, said the protesters gained entry into the building and burnt down a vehicle. He added that they also invaded Kukah’s residence in the building but that the swift arrival of security agents prevented them from torching the residence.
Meanwhile, the youth also made attempts to attack the palace of the Sultan, but were repelled by security agents, led by the state Commissioner of Police, Kamalden Okunlola. When one of our correspondents visited the palace, broken bottles, glasses and sticks littered the floor. Some of the protesters also used the opportunity to attack traders in the market, looting and setting ablaze some of their wares.
A trader, who gave her name simply as Onyedikachi, said, “They attacked my sister’s shop where she sold foodstuff at the Sokoto Main Market. When I read that some people planned to protest on Saturday, I went there to warn her to close the shop. She was packing her goods when they came in from the back and we all ran away. We were told that they later set some shops ablaze and chased other traders away. In the process, some hoodlums looted shops unrestrained.”
Onyedikachi said she and her sister had fled the state before the curfew was imposed and were on their way to Jos, Plateau State, to join a bus to their state in the South-East.
Another eyewitness said, “Sokoto metropolis is boiling as I speak to you. The police are not doing enough. Even the curfew imposed by the governor didn’t change anything. I advise Christians in Sokoto to run away for their lives in case the violence escalates.”
It was also reported that the protesters laid siege to the St Mary Catholic Church, Sokoto, but were repelled by security operatives.
A resident, who gave his name simply as ThankGod, in a chat with one of our correspondents, said, “Sokoto metropolis was thrown into chaos by those young protesters asking for the release of the two persons arrested for Deborah’s killing. Shops have been burnt and properties have been vandalised. The smell of teargas was in the air for some time.”
Charles Dike, a resident of nearby Kaduna State, said he went to visit his uncle in Sokoto when he was held back by the protest. “They (security operatives) were shooting and some people were injured. I could not even see my uncle. The situation was almost getting out of hand, which was why the state government imposed a curfew and the Nigerian Army had to step in,” he added.
Attempts to attack the Catholic Church on Ahmadu Bello Way were also repelled by a team of security personnel, who fired teargas to disperse the irate youth.
Also attacked by the protesting youths were some shops along Emir Yahya and Sahara roads, where some hoodlums took advantage of the situation to loot shops. There was also a report of an attack on some business centres and vehicles parked at the Hajia Halima area of the town. A video released by the victims of the attack in the area showed several vehicles attacked with most of their windows and windscreens smashed.
Tambuwal imposes curfew
Meanwhile, Tambuwal said in a statement on Saturday, “Following the sad incident that happened at the Shehu Shagari College of Education on Thursday and sequel to the developments within the (Sokoto) metropolis this morning till afternoon, by the powers conferred on me by Section 176(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; and Section 1 and 4 of the Public Order Act; and Section 15 of the Sokoto State Peace Preservation Law, I hereby declare, with immediate effect, a curfew within the metropolis of Sokoto township for the next 24 hours.
“I appeal to the good people of Sokoto State to kindly continue to observe law and order and calm down (on the) restiveness currently pervading the metropolis. Everyone should, please, in the interest of peace go back home and observe this measure with a view to re-establishing peace, law and order in the state.
“It is not in the interest of anyone for us to have a breakdown of law and order. I, therefore, appeal for restraint; and for people to observe and respect the rule of law.”
Meanwhile, the state Commissioner of Police, Okunlola, has appealed to residents of the state to maintain peace among themselves. While addressing newsmen at the palace of the Sultan, the police boss gave an assurance that the security agencies would enforce the curfew as declared by the governor.
Unconfirmed reports said some of the protesters were injured, while one of them reportedly died, a report denied by the security agencies.
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