By Chido Onumah
Two weeks ago, while the world faced the frightening prospect of a Trump presidency in the US, an equally tragic event took place thousands of kilometres away in Nigeria. Except that in the case of Nigeria, the people did not elect—pardon the pun—to foist on themselves the cataclysm that may yet consume the nation. Both events—the emergence of Trump as president-elect and the “not guilty” verdict pronounced by the judiciary, and by extension the Nigerian state, on some vermin in human skin posing as God’s arbiters, bear uncanny similarities.
I don’t know if it is our proclivity for the gory and the absurd or the excitement of the US presidential election; but whatever the reason, that bizarre incident in Nigeria went unnoticed. Few people—certainly, not the mainstream media, the tribe of Internet trolls, our effete civil society or women’s organisations—raised their voice or queried that infernal judgement.
Now that the US election is over, perhaps Americans can return, in the words of the good old Dr. Damages of SaharaReporters fame, to those things that they care about most: the ability of Kim Kardashian and her clan to hold down the Internet. And the rest of us lesser mortals can go back to worrying about those things that are important to us. And in the case of Nigeria, how to make meaning of a nation that has lost its soul. But before I return to Nigeria, a slight digression on the election of Donald J. Trump as the next president of the US.
Mr. Trump seems to be on a charm offensive, seducing everybody who cares to watch that, not minding his destructive campaign rhetoric, he has the capacity for good. There are those—including our beloved Oprah—who are having a change of heart about Trump and are calling on the pessimists to give him a chance; that we should hold out hope that the self-confessed p---y-grabbing money man may turn out to be a better president than he is a businessman and entertainer.
Some have argued that candidate Trump had to maintain a bellicose persona and deploy demagoguery in order for his campaign to gain traction and for him to stand a chance against the entrenched and well-oiled political machine that was the Clinton campaign. Of course, what was frightening wasn’t so much what Trump said or did—as dangerous as they were—but the fact that half of American voters actually believed in him enough to give him the Electoral College vote.
There is another side of the Trump victory that observers seem to have ignored: the people. What happened two weeks ago in the US? In one sentence, the people happened! Whether they are right or wrong, only time will tell. Trump may indeed turn out to be a “good president”, but it does not vitiate the fact that he and his campaign stood for something. His xenophobic, misogynistic and divisive messages resonated with some voters, including religious bigots. It is not likely that those who supported his campaign messages will allow him to do otherwise or not take advantage of his victory. America is trying to heal post Trump’s victory. We can only wish them well in this healing process. The first step, we know, in the healing process, is to accept there is a problem; and in Trump, America has a big problem!
Back to Nigeria. Here are the facts of the matter for those not familiar with the case. On June 2, 2016, Bridget Agbahime, a 74-year-old Nigerian trader was savagely attacked and murdered at Kofar Wambai Market in Kano State, northern Nigeria, by a group of bloodthirsty fiends, ever desirous of propitiating heaven. Her offence? Blasphemy! That age-old alibi that has allowed religious zealots to perpetrate evil. She was reported to have prevented a fellow trader from performing ablution—the act of washing oneself in preparation for formal prayers in Islam—in front of her shop.
Governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Ganduje, described the murder of Agbahime as “unjustifiable” and promised justice in line with the laws of the country. The Police arrested two key suspects, Dauda Ahmed and Zubairu Abdullahi. Solomon Arase, the Inspector General of Police, deployed the Homicide Section of the Police to ensure proper investigation which led to the arrest of three more suspects, Abdulmumeen Mustafa, Abdullahi Abubakar and Musa Abdullahi. The suspects were charged at the Kano Magistrate court on a four-count of allegedly “inciting disturbance, culpable homicide, joint act and mischief”.
That murder took place in June. Fast forward to November, five months later, and the accused are free men, ready to prowl the streets of Kano for their next victim, thanks to Nigeria’s perverted justice system. On November 4, 2016, the chief magistrate, Muhammad Jibrin, acting on the advice of the Attorney General of Kano State, discharged the case and directed the release of the suspects on ground that, “Police investigation regarding the murder has not in any way implicated the accused and that prosecutors have failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused have indeed carried out the crime of killing Bridget.”
In what looked like a state sanction of the execution of Bridget Agbahime, the Kano State government went a step further, affirming that, “There is no case to answer as all the suspects are innocent.” So who killed Bridget Agbahime? It certainly wasn’t Donald Trump. For me, it is not so much the crime, as gruesome as it was. The real tragedy here is what appears to be the connivance of Kano State and its institutions, and by extension the Nigerian state, to uphold this death sentence passed on Bridget Agbahime.
The murder of Bridget Agbahime challenges all of us. It is beyond comprehension that a Nigerian would be so savagely beaten to death on allegation of blasphemy. It certainly is not too late to get justice for Agbahime and others who have suffered similar fate, to restore hope that ours is or could be a nation of law and order, of respect for human life and dignity of persons. By not bringing the killers of Agbahime to book, the Nigerian state is inadvertently telling us that us that ours is a lawless state; that Nigeria is Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia, where warlords rule and deranged zealots exert “justice” based on their demented vision of religious codes.
Agbahime’s murder wasn’t the first time and probably won’t be the last time that a citizen of Nigeria would be killed in the name of religion unless we reclaim Nigeria from the hands of these barbaric horde and their fellow travellers. By ignoring these telltale signs, we are destroying the very thin fabric that holds us together as a people. And there are many for whom this nation died a long time ago.
The words of Pastor Mike Agbahime who witnessed the savage attack on his wife are instructive. In a November 13, 2016, interview with Punch newspaper he noted: “The saying, ‘One Nigeria’ is just mere balderdash. I say this because the leaders’ mistake is a ‘leading’ mistake. To buttress it, if our leaders cannot keep the oaths of their offices and cannot respect the sanctity of life and our constitution, there is no need to talk about oneness in Nigeria. I also say this because even if the constitution condemns killing in one part of the country and declares other people who killed in other state innocent, I wonder what kind of constitution that is.”
Let’s for once assume this murder was not done in the name of religion. It doesn’t make it any less heinous and it deserves no place in a modern democratic society. Dauda Ahmed and Zubairu Abdullahi and their cohort should be re-arrested and made to pay for their crime.
(Onumah can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter @conumah)