MEDIA Rights Agenda (MRA) today condemned the growing trend of clerics and other religious leaders in Nigeria inciting their followers to violence and murder against persons accused of blasphemy or insulting their religions and called on the federal and respective state governments to take decisive action to arrest the situation.
The organisation said the current situation where the federal government and many state governments are turning a blind eye in the face of incessant calls by so-called religious leaders on their followers to kill other citizens who are alleged to have insulted any religion or religious figure or accused of blasphemy is unacceptable and unjustifiable as incitement to violence or murder is an offence under Nigerian laws.
In a statement in Lagos, MRA’s Programme Director, Ayode Longe, said: “Nobody has the power or right to call for the killing of another person for any reason whatsoever or under any circumstance when the person has not been charged and tried before a court of competent jurisdiction, convicted and sentenced to death for an offence that carries the death penalty. Anybody who calls for the killing of another person is a criminal in the eyes of the law and should be arrested and prosecuted accordingly. We fail to understand why the government continues to encourage and enable such lawlessness by ignoring the criminal conduct of such individuals parading themselves as religious leaders.”
Longe stressed that “the government has a duty to protect the lives of all citizens, including those who are accused of offences. The government therefore has an obligation to check the conduct of those who have arrogated to themselves the roles of complainant, prosecutor, judge and jury, and are quick to condemn others to death for utterances that they disagree with or even find offensive, in violation of the Constitution and the laws of the land.”
According to him, although blasphemy is an offence in some parts of Nigeria, it is not within the authority of anybody to take another person’s life or incite others to do so without the due process of the Law as any person who is alleged to have committed an offence is entitled under the Nigerian Constitution and international human rights law to a fair trial before any punishment can be imposed on such a person.
He said by condoning the barbaric conduct of those who seek to subvert and circumvent this sacred principle of justice, the government is complicit in portraying Nigeria before the world as a country where jungle justice is a culture and persons can be killed with impunity for alleged offences without the due process of law and without being given an opportunity to defend themselves.
MRA called on the federal government and the government of Sokoto State not to overlook the latest of such incidents in the state where an Islamic cleric, Sheikh Bello Yabo, while delivering a sermon in Hausa in a mosque in Sokoto reportedly ordered the murder of a young man, Isma’il Isah, who was arrested in Sokoto on allegations on blasphemy against Prophet Mohammed.
In his sermon, a video of which are currently in circulation, Yabo is heard ordering the killing of Isma’il whenever he is released from custody. Isma’il reportedly made comments, which were considered blasphemous, on facebook in frustration over his failure to secure an appointment with a local government in the state and was arrested as a result.
MRA called on the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), as the chief law officer of the country, to intervene and ensure that no harm befalls Isma’il and that the rule of law prevails in the handling the matter as it is his duty to do so.
It also called on the Sokoto State government to ensure that no harm befalls Isma’il as a result of citizens taking the law into their own hands.