27th June, 2016
On 2 June, Muslims in Kano state, northern Nigeria, killed a pastor’s wife on a false charge of blasphemy.
Bridget Agbahime (74), a kitchen utensil vendor at Kano city’s Kofar Wambai Market, asked Alhaji Dauda, a Muslim performing ritual Islamic cleansing, to move his ritual away from her shop front. She had experienced the same problem with him on previous occasions. She politely asked him to move away as she still had customers at 4.30pm, towards the end of the working day. Dauda became upset but left after a crowd began to gather.
Bridget and her husband, pastor Mike Agbahime of Deeper Life Bible Church in Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria, were meeting with the market landlord about the persistent problem when Dauda returned with a Muslim mob chanting that she must die for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad. The landlord pleaded for them to return later to talk about it, but they began stoning him, and he fled.
Pastor Agbahime and others tried in vain to rescue Bridget, but the mob overwhelmed them, accusing Bridget of blasphemy and shouting “Allahu Akbar“. Bridget knelt and began to pray before she was beaten and clubbed to death. Police intervention saved the pastor from being killed. (He is pictured, left, in a screen shot; no image of Bridget is available.)
An anonymous source told World Watch Monitor, “All this woman did was ask a young man, who decided to do his ablutions in front of Bridget’s shop, to move away. He began to scream that she had blasphemed against the prophet. This is all the crowd needed to hear to carry out this act.”
A fellow market trader told the Sahara Reporters news website, “I knew her as a woman that respects people and I doubt if she could have made any statement capable of blasphemy.”
A person identified as Odechukwu, from Bridget’s local area in her native Imo state in southern Nigeria, posted on Hope for Nigeria, a Facebook community page, “She did not blaspheme their prophet or have any argument with them as is being reported.”
On 4 June, Rev Joseph Hayab, spokesman for the Northern Nigeria chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), issued a statement from Kaduna asserting that the suspect deliberately baited Bridget: “We got it on good authority that the slain woman never blasphemed the prophet Muhammad; that the mastermind of the killing was fond of always provoking the deceased and so, on that fateful day, we learned, the said man was doing ablution in front of the woman’s shop and was cautioned – that was all. The man raised the alarm that she blasphemed prophet Muhammad. The man deliberately provoked the woman in question just to carry out that gruesome and barbaric act. All those that perpetuated the killing of the innocent woman must be fished out and brought to book.”
On 4 June, Kano Governor Abdullahi Ganduje said that Dauda had been arrested. The next day, Nigeria’s national police chief Solomon Arase said that two suspects had been arrested. He promised swift justice and called on community leaders to help in “dousing the tensions“.
The murder was the second after a blasphemy accusation within a week in Nigeria. On 30 May, Methodus Chimaije Emmanuel (24) was attacked and killed by a mob in Niger state after allegedly posting a blasphemous statement about the Prophet Muhammad on social media. Three others, including a police officer, died as a result of violence that followed the killing. A church and a house were burnt down and 25 shops were looted.
Sharia law in Kano
Bridget Agbahime’s murder comes nearly five months after nine Muslims in Kano state were sentenced to death for blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad; their sentencing is said to have emboldened Islamist vigilantes. Kano state adopted Sharia law in 2000, and is one of twelve northern states of Nigeria where sharia is in force in whole or in part.
Nigeria’s National Assembly is considering expanding the jurisdiction of sharia courts of appeal – the constitution limits them to family law cases, but the proposed changes would permit them to address criminal cases from lower sharia courts. Christians fear the move could lead to Islamising Nigeria.
Kano’s Governor, a Muslim, condemned the murder in a statement made after meeting Islamic scholars, CAN executives, leaders of different ethnic groups and Pastor Agbahime on 4 June.
State CAN Chairman Bishop Ransome Bello said the chapter was satisfied with resolutions adopted at the meeting, but Rev Joseph Hayab of the northern chapter reportedly said police were not doing enough to protect Christians and warned of a “looming religious crisis“.
President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the murder through a statement made by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, describing it as “sad and regrettable” and praying that God would give Pastor Agbahime and other relatives the fortitude to bear the loss. He said justice would be done and urged people not to take the law into their hands.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, who is a Christian, condemned the “grievous act of lawlessness and impunity.” Sheikh Abdulwahab Abdalla of the state Council of Ulamas also condemned the murder.
The murders of Bridget Agbahime and Methodus Chimaije Emmanuel were condemned by the Jama’atu Nasril Islam, Nigeria’s largest Islamic coalition, which is led by the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar. It stated, “These ugly incidences utterly stand condemned and are regarded as criminal and un-Islamic, perpetrated by miscreants and criminals.”
Christian Association of Nigeria Response
The Plateau state branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria issued a “Reaction to the killing of Mrs Bridget Agbaheme in Kano”, from which the following is an extract:
“It is very sad and a cause of great concern the murder of Mrs Bridget Agbaheme under the disguise of blasphemy in name of Islam. This is a criminal act seeking “protection” under the cover of the Islamic religion and the government of the Federal republic of Nigeria and Kano State must never allow. This has grave consequences to our co-existence and freedom of religion.
“More worrisome is the fact that the barbaric killing occurred just a few days to the time of the commencement of the Ramadan fast, a period when all Muslim faithful should be preparing their hearts to enter a solemn and holy month. How could such criminal murder be tolerated in the Muslim community?
“This dastardly act will bring a setback to the efforts of our President in seeking to promote peaceful co-existence in the country. This brutal murder can only frustrate the good will of President Muhammadu Buhari in his efforts to restore peace in the North.
“The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides and allows for the freedom of religion and worship, association, trade and commerce and settlement for all citizens who seek to earn a living in any part of the country. CAN Plateau State condemns this act and its continuous practice in Nigeria by whoever or whatever group.
“CAN Plateau condoles the family, husband, children and the entire Igbo community in Kano. May we all strive to work for the peace of Nigeria and be seen as doing such with all honesty and sincerity of purpose.”
(Christian Association of Nigeria, Morning Star News, World Watch Monitor)