Two students were on Monday charged in court with conspiracy and inciting public disturbance after a college student was beaten and burned by fellow students who accused her of blasphemy in the northwestern state of Sokoto last week.
The death of Deborah Samuel, a second year college student, has raised questions about the place of Islamic sharia law in a secular democracy like Nigeria, which is divided between the largely Muslim north and mostly Christian south.
The charges against Bilyaminu Aliyu and Aminu Hukunchi, fellow students, carries a minimum two-year jail term upon conviction, their lead lawyer Mansur Said told Reuters. The accused entered a plea of not guilty.
The choice of the charges will likely anger those who had hoped authorities would take a harder line against what they see as religious intolerance to avoid similar incidences in future.
The two men were denied bail by the magistrates court and will return for a second hearing on Wednesday.
Nigeria’s largest grouping of Christian churches has called for demonstrations against Samuel’s death at church premises across the country on Sunday.
Samuel was accused by other students of posting blasphemous statements about the Prophet Mohammad in a WhatsApp group.
Mboma has not yet commented on his social media accounts on the circulating video, although he posted a new photo on his Instagram account about an hour after the spread of the video.
A few weeks earlier, he posted a greeting to the Muslim community on social media on the occasion of the month of Ramadan.
Born in 1970, Mboma is the former all-time top goal-scorer for the Cameroonian national team.
During his career, he played for Châteauroux, Paris Saint-Germain, Metz, Gamba Osaka, Cagliari, Parma, Sunderland (where he scored once against Tottenham Hotspur), Al-Ittihad, Tokyo Verdy and Vissel Kobe before retiring on 16 May 2005.
He played in the 1998 and 2002 World Cups, and also led Cameroon to the gold medal at the 2000 Olympics and victories at the 2000 and 2002 African Nations Cups.
He was named African Footballer of the Year for his efforts in 2000.
Several football players have taken shahada recently. Last March, Arsenal midfielder Thomas Partey announced his conversion to Islam.
A few days earlier, Dutch football star Clarence Seedorf embraced Islam, announcing the decision on Instagram.
Nigerian atheist activist Mubarak Bala, detained in April 2020, was sentenced Tuesday to 24 years after pleading guilty to 18 charges in a blasphemy case.
The 37-year-old was accused of writing Facebook posts criticising Islam and its prophet, which the court said were capable of breaching public peace in Nigeria’s conservative Muslim north where sharia law is enforced alongside common law.
“The court hereby sentences Muhammad Mubarak Bala to 24 years… This will take into consideration the time he served awaiting trial,” Kano-based judge Faruk Lawan said.
A team of Sharia law enforcers known as the Hisbah Corps patrols the streets of Kano in October 2013.
His lawyer James Ibor objected to the guilty plea and asked the judge if he could talk to his client, a request that was accepted.
“I wanted to be sure he was under no influence or intimidation,” Ibor said, and that his client understood “the implication of his plea.”
But when the court resumed, Bala again pled guilty. I am “pleading for mercy and leniency.” Bala said.
“The intention of the posts was not to cause violence but I have realised they are capable of causing violence. I will take care in the future” he stressed but to no avail.
The judge asked the defendant if he was pressured to plead guilty or promised anything if he did so, to which Bala said no. The plea cannot be changed but Ibor said he could decide to appeal the length of the sentence.
Power and influence
As president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, Bala was an advocate for freedom of religion and against Islamic extremists in the country.
From a religious family and environment himself, people close to him say he fully knew the risks he was taking, opposing northern clerics who yield significant power and influence.
In 2014, Bala was forcibly admitted by his own family to a psychiatric ward for 18 days because he said he did not believe in God.
Despite that experience, Bala redoubled his activism in the years that followed, using social media to share his views until he was arrested and detained.
Born to a prominent Muslim family in Kano and an engineer by profession, Bala claims he rejected Islam and embraced atheism following exposure to a video of the beheading of a Christian woman in 2013 “by boys about my age and speaking my language.”
The immediate cause of his arrest was his Facebook post calling the Prophet Mohammed a terrorist which prompted a group of lawyers in private practice to complain to the police, according to the Council on Foreign relations.