The President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Olumide Akpata, has said the association may apply for a fiat to take over the prosecution of suspects arrested in connection with the lynching of a 200-level Home Economics student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto State, Deborah Yakubu, by a mob who accused her of blaspheming Prophet Muhammad.
The mob stoned the victim to death and subsequently set her corpse ablaze while a video recording of the act was made.
The killing generated nationwide outrage and condemnation, with many calling for justice.
The police had on Monday taken two suspects – Bilyaminu Aliyu and Aminu Hukunci – before a Sokoto State Magistrates’ Court where they were reportedly arraigned on charges bordering on ‘public disturbance.’
But the NBA, in a statement by Akpata, said it was worried by “yet-to-be confirmed reports reaching us that the suspects have been charged with mere breach of public peace in an episode that cut short Deborah’s life in her prime.”
The NBA President said, “The NBA is strongly opposed to a banalisation of the situation, and if these reports are true, then we call on the Sokoto State Government to immediately rethink its prosecution strategy and file charges that truly reflect the gravity of the situation.”
During a telephone interview on Thursday, Akpata told Saturday PUNCH that beyond the statement, the NBA might apply for a fiat to take over the prosecution if the right thing was not done.
He said the NBA’s initial statement was to let the police know that the body was watching and expected the police to do more.
“We know that in a mob action like this, investigation may take time, but our statement was to let the police know that we are watching.
“We will let our colleagues in the Sokoto State Ministry of Justice do their work. We may apply for fiat to take over the case,” Akpata said.
NHRC, CAN demand inclusion of murder in charges
Also, Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission, Tony Ojukwu, demanded that the charges must be amended to include murder.
In an interview with Saturday PUNCH on Friday, Ojukwu said, “I would make the same recommendation like the NBA, that our laws require that charges be preferred against anyone who commits a heinous crime like murder as happened in the case of Deborah.
“The Governing Council of NHRC has already called for the prosecution of those involved in the murder. Accordingly, I am in support of the call that the charges should reflect the offence of murder and nothing less in the circumstances. This is necessary to forestall citizens taking the law into their hands in the future.”
Also, the Vice President of the Christian Association of Nigeria in the 19 Northern States and Abuja, Rev. Joseph John Hayab, said, “The charges against the killers of Deborah in the first place were a display of insensitivity and the disrespect that northern Christians have been receiving from some of our neighbours and those in authority.
“The killers even boasted when they were executing their evil act against the young girl. The protest the second day after the killing for government to release those arrested for committing murder further shows how we are no longer being governed by Nigeria’s constitution but by some regional and religious sentiments.
*We appreciate the call by NBA demanding an amendment to the charges. We should call every crime by its name if we truly want to see justice dispensed.
“What CAN in northern Nigeria will want the Government of Sokoto State and all those abusing our constitution to know is that many Nigerians, especially Christians from northern Nigeria, are watching the drama, the pretences, and manipulation of issues and events which we all know will never last forever. We are worried because those who should protect us act one way in the morning and come to us in the evening shouting we are one Nigeria.”
Also reacting, the media aide to the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Bayo Oladeji, “If they said it is a breach of peace, let’s see how far they can go with it. The case is still at the magistrates’ court, which is not the right court to take it to but for preliminary investigation.
“This is just an initial arrangement; if the DPP (Directorate of Public Prosecutions) advises them and says that they (the suspects) just caused public disturbance instead of murder, then we will know what to do. Until the DPP advice is out we can’t say anything for now.”
Similarly, the National Coordinator of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, Emmanuel Onwubiko, faulted the “breach of public peace” charges filed by the police against the arrested suspects, saying it was a plot by the Sokoto State government to free the killers.
Onwubiko said, “The issue is that the Sokoto State government is in a conspiratorial plot to free those killers. The governor should be held responsible if those killers were not brought to justice and slammed with very appropriate charges of murder. Anything less than murder is political gimmickry.
“It is quite unfortunate that you have a governor who is junketing all over the country saying ‘elect me as the President next year,’ and he isn’t unable to restore normalcy, bring about an end to insecurity, and he has a case on his doorstep where a bunch of rascals and street urchins mowed down a human being because she is a Christian. They killed her because they said she committed blasphemy. The Sokoto State government is coming up with a very unacceptable charge; it is unfortunate.”
Efforts to get the reaction of the Sokoto State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Suleiman Usman (SAN), were unsuccessful as he neither picked calls nor responded to a text message.
It was the same situation with the Commissioner for Police in Sokoto State, Kamalden Okunlola, as well as the spokesman for the Sokoto State Police Command, ASP Sanusi Abubakar.
But a top officer from the legal department of the Sokoto State Police Command said the charges might likely be amended.
He said the two suspects arrested and arraigned in court were not the prime suspects in the case but classmates of the deceased.
The police had on Tuesday declared wanted suspects captured in the viral video at the crime scene taking responsibility for Deborah’s killing.
Police spokesman, Abubakar, said in a statement that, “The Sokoto State Command under the able leadership of the Commissioner of Police, CP Kamaldeen Okunlola, has declared the suspects spotted on the viral video wanted.
“The command is using this medium to reiterate its commitment towards apprehending the suspects. The command has already deployed all its intelligence and on the lookout for the suspects.”
The officer, who spoke with Saturday PUNCH on Friday, said, “The arrested guys are not the prime suspect in the murder of Deborah but just her classmates. I believe those declared wanted, the moment they are caught, they will be charged with murder.
“So, people should not heat up the polity beyond this level; police are doing their best to maintain law and order and citizens should give them their support.”
Reacting, CAN chairman in Sokoto State, Father Nuhu Iliya, said, ‘If a crime is committed and the suspects run to Australia, I believe they can be traced and arrested to face charges on whatever crime such person committed.
“So, if they say those arrested are not the prime suspects, we urge them to arrest the prime suspect to face the law.”