The Gruesome Murder Of Oluwatoyin Olusesan
By Reuben Abati
I grieve for Ms Oluwatoyin Olusesan who resided in Gombe, Adamawa. She is our compatriot and the latest victim of the politics of religion as a purveyor of hate. Her story is sad, it is most disturbing, it is an unfortunate reflection of the divisive character of religion in our land, and the depth of the rot that surrounds us. It is better to quote the report of the circumstances leading to her murder in extenso.
The following is taken from the pages of The Punch newspaper of Thursday, March 22, 2007: “Muslim pupils at a secondary school in Gandu, Gombe state, beat a teacher to death after accusing her of desecrating the Koran. According to agency reports, the teacher, Oluwatoyin Olusesan, a Christian, was invigilating an Islamic Religious Knowledge exam at the Government Day Secondary School, Gandu when the incident occurred. The students attacked her outside the school compound after the exam and killed her. They also burnt some of the school blocks in the process.
The Vice Principal, Hajiya Hadiza Gombe said the teacher, who was employed on contract was assigned to invigilate the SS1 pupils who were writing their Islamic Religious Knowledge exams. She added that the teacher suspected that a foul play was about to take place when one of the students wanted to come in with his books to the exam hall. Gombe said when the teacher collected the books and threw them outside, unknown to her, there was a copy of the Holy Quoran among the books. The principal said before they knew what was happening, the students had started chanting Allahu Akbar (God is Great). All efforts to control the rampaging students proved abortive even when the school principal, Mohammed Sadiq, tried to protect the teacher in his office. The principal was also terribly beaten and injured while they set the teacher’s car, three classes, the school’s clinic, administrative block and library on fire…”
I think that the least that can be done is to close down this school permanently and throw away the keys. The students behind this act of savagery should be identified, and made to face the full wrath of the law: these are not students, they are something else, something unnamable, and the society that has produced this level of criminality at the level of a secondary school is truly an unfortunate society. That this is the character of young persons in certain parts of the country is lamentable. These are children who are in their teens, and probably as young as 11; we have every cause to worry about the future. Ms Olusesan was doing her duty as a teacher. Examination malpractice is the bane of the education sector in Nigeria. She had no intention whatsoever to desecrate any religion, she merely wanted to protect the integrity of the examination that she had been asked to invigilate. She wanted to stop one of the pupils from cheating. But her own pupils, over whom she stands in principle in loco parentis turned against her and the school system and wreaked havoc.
There was no one prompting them, no mallam or imam in the background giving them any instructions, they acted out of their own volition as products of a peculiar socialization process in Nigeria, within the framework of which anyone who speaks a different tongue or belongs to another faith, is seen as an outsider, as an enemy to be exterminated at the slightest provocation. What was played out in that incident in Gombe is the terrible story of Nigeria. Coming a few days after a group of mad men, the supporters of Alhaji Hashidu Abubakar stormed an open court in session and inflicted injuries on the Chief Magistrate, just because they did not want the Magistrate to remand their leader in prison custody, this episode confirms the suspicion that Gombe state has effectively become a theatre of anarchy. It is a shame that there is a government in place there. And if we may add, this is yet another proof that we are not yet a nation.
Ms Olusesan is a contract staff: this is something that happens in many Northern states: on account of an indigenization drive which is really an act of temporocentrism, and discrimination, workers from other parts of the country who seek employment in the Northern states, as civil servants, are recruited as contract staff. They are regarded as outsiders and yet the Nigerian Constitution forbids any form of discrimination against all citizens, in every part of Nigeria. This is a problem with the Nigerian state: the fact that depending on the circumstances a citizen with bona fide rights under the Constitution could become a non-citizen, as in the ethnic crisis in Plateau state, the inter-ethnic conflicts in Ife/Modakeke, Aguleri/Umuleri, the Tiv/Jukun conflict, and all such examples in which a combination of ethnic and sectarian violence has placed a question mark on the Nigerian arrangement. Last year, at least three states in the North decided to introduce special fees for students from other parts of Nigeria and in one particular instance, the state House of Assembly forbade non-indigenes from running private schools in the state except in collaboration with indigenes. The children of Gombe are the products of this social disorientation, this failure of leadership, they are living proof that the future is a land of many more troubles.
And yet it is ironic that religion is the catalyst for so much hate. The Qu’ran, the Holy book of Islam contains specific provisions and injunctions which underline the nature of the religion as the religion of peace and tolerance. The Qu’ran teaches for example that all human beings are equal before God (Sura 23, 12 -14). In Surah 2: 177, the Qu’ran states that the faithful should do good to fellow human beings. Doing good in this context means respecting the rights of other persons, and treating them with courtesy and dignity. The Qu’ran does not impose the religion of Islam on anybody, rather it preaches tolerance (Sura 2, 256). Moslems are further required to be benevolent to other persons particularly the needy and the handicapped. If this is what the religion teaches, where then is the source of the paradox of violence, intolerance and fundamentalism?
The Holy Bible also contains provisions and injunctions that are similar to those found in the Qu’ran. The Christian religion teaches the virtues of tolerance, perseverance, understanding, respect for one’s neighbour, humility and faith. In Galatians 3: 28, Christians are advised that “there is no longer any difference between Jew and Greek, or between slave and freeman, or between man and woman: but all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” This injunction is based on a conception of Christianity as a religion of love and peace. In John 15: 12- 13, it is written: “My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you. The greatest love a person can have for his friends is to give his life to them.” Every Christian is required to live a Christ-like life, to follow in the footsteps of the Lord. If every man was created in God’s image, then the highest demonstration of faith is to seek that communion with God by obeying His commandments. And so it is written in II Timothy 2: 19: “Whoever says that he belongs to the Lord must turn away from doing wrong things.” Even in the face of extreme provocation, Christians are required to show restraint. “However if you suffer because you are a Christian, don’t be ashamed of it, but thank God that you bear Christ’s name” (I Peter 4: 16).
The same refrain about brotherhood and the promotion of peace and love underscores traditional African religion, which is perhaps the most misunderstood of the three main religions. Traditional African religion is directly linked to the African world-view and philosophy which is based like Islam and Christianity on a conception of a Supreme Being, a transcendental force which oversees the affairs of men. That supernatural essence is worshipped, mollified and propitiated in order to ensure peace and stability on earth. This view of religion is also, as can be seen functional; the ultimate goal of the rituals and festivals that are organized to propitiate the Supreme being and other animistic forces is not to promote sectarian preferences, but to ensure a communal balance that would benefit all men.
Traditional religion is inspired by a vision of progress, and optimism, the thinking that there is no problem that cannot be solved, no ailment that is without a solution, very much in the same sense in which the idea of salvation is at the core of Christianity. The Ifa corpus, to cite a specific example is replete with accounts of sacrifice, human trials and triumphs. It is true that the average Nigerian’s fascination with religion has helped to create communities of affection and identity, and provided many with a sense of meaning in a difficult environment. But for the most part, religion has proven to be a threat to the very survival of the Nigerian state, a constant source of friction, division and violence, with the adherents of the religions behaving in the public arena in a manner that contradicts the doctrines of their various faiths.
The crisis did not begin today; the children of Gombe are the great grandchildren of this phenomenon. The conversion of religion into a vehicle for violence takes at least there main forms in the Nigerian context: an intra-religion form, an inter-religion form and the mixture of religion and state politics, but it is the second category that has been most felt.
There was for example a religious dimension to the Nigerian civil war of 1967 -70, with the killing of Igbos who are mainly Christians in the Moslem North, and the declaration of secession by Igbos under the umbrella of the Republic of Biafra, in 1980, there was yet another clash between Moslems and Christians in Kano, again in Maiduguri in 1981, in Gombe in 1983, in Yola in 1984, Kafanchan in 1985, Univesrity of Ibadan in 1986, Kaduna in 1987, Kano and Bauchi in 1991, Zango Kataf and Bauchi in 1992, Funtua in 1992, Kano in 1994, Kaduna in 2000, Jos in 2001, Abuja in 2002, Numan, Adamawa in 2003, Maiduguri, Kano, Bauchi, and Onitsha in 2006. Common to all these instances of Christian-Moslem is needless rivalry, a clear advertisement of religious intolerance and complete disregard for human rights, and a total abandonment of all the original teachings of the religions about love and peace.
In 1994, a Moslem sect engaged a group of Egungun worshippers in a bloody fight on the streets of Lagos. In 1998, Moslem youths attacked the Moremi shrine in Offa, Kwara state; in Bariga, Lagos, fanatical Moslem youths stopped a masquerade from passing through Ayoka street where a mosque is located. In 2001, an Oro cult festival in Sagamu was defied by the Moslem Hausa-Fulani residents, resulting in a temporary spread of anomie. In September 2005, the sleepy town of Iwo, Osun state became a theatre of war when a group of Moslems called Tahun took on the community’s masquerade cult in open combat.
Often the reasons for the orgy of religious violence may seem rather strange and implausible: in 1986, the University of Ibadan community was divided between Moslem and Christian academics over the location of a cross in front of the Chapel of Resurrection. In 2002, Moslems opposed plans to host the Miss World Beauty pageant in Nigeria and a certain reference to the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in an article in ThisDay newspaper written by a young reporter Isioma Daniel. There was also the famous Gideon Akaluka case. Akaluka was murdered, like Ms Olusesan because he was said to have desecrated the Holy Quran; in Lagos, Idi Araba, a Lagos suburb exploded because a Yoruba man allegedly urinated close to a Fulani mosque.
In 2000, disagreements over the introduction of the Sharia as a criminal orthodoxy also resulted in killings, and in 2006, a controversy in Europe involving the publication of certain cartoons about the Prophet (SAW) in a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten led to an orgy of killings in parts of Nigeria. The same year, students of two Higher Institutions: Obafemi Awolowo University and the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro staged a religious drama of their own which resulted in the disruption of public peace. In the former, a group of Moslem students attacked other students who were said to have been watching a pornographic film, what followed was an open fight in which dangerous weapons were freely employed. In Ilaro, Christian students attacked female students wearing the Moslem hijab; Moslem students quickly formed themselves into an army and organized reprisal attacks.
Where are we going then as a nation, if the youths are already lost and the future is so imperilled? May the soul of Ms Olusesan find peace