Author Rev. Canice | 
Text sent as a multi-faith letter to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in June 2022

Blasphemy law is one of the most threatening tools against human life and dignity across the globe. It has been continuously used to destroy lives and perpetuate dehumanizing acts against peoples and communities.  

Blasphemy laws pose a major problem across Africa, with many African countries imposing grave sentences for blasphemy and defamation of religion, and similar offenses not immediately defined in public documents. This is so even though there are explicit provisions for the free practice of religion (Article 8) and the rights to expression (Article 9) within the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, and the many Muslims, Christians, and African Traditional Religion adherents are a perfect example of the threat posed by blasphemy law on the continent. The application of blasphemy law thrives irrespective of the fact that Section 38 of the Constitution entitles every Nigerian to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. Section 39 gives every Nigerian the right to freedom of expression. The following incidents speak to the horror of the blasphemy law.

  • 1982: Some Muslims prevented expanding the Anglican Church building, which existed before a nearby mosque was built.
  • 1991: Muslims stopped Reinhard Bonnke’s crusade in Kano, and many people died from the ensuing riot. 
  • 1995: Gideon Akaluka, a young Igbo trader, was beheaded in Kano for alleged blasphemy. Interestingly, the killers were not held accountable.
  • 1999: In the village of Randali in Kebbi State, a Muslim mob beheaded one Abdullabi Umaru. The mob accused him of blasphemy against Prophet Mohammed 
  • 2002:  Isioma Daniel’s article in ThisDay newspaper about the 2002 Miss World contest to be hosted by Nigeria was seen as an insult to Prophet Mohammed. The violence that followed took more than 250 lives. The beauty contest was eventually moved from Abuja to London.
  • 2005: The publication of a cartoon considered insulting to Prophet Mohammed led to riots and violence in Nigeria and claimed dozens of lives 
  • 2006: In Bauchi, Florence Chukwu, a Christian teacher, confiscated a copy of the Quran from a pupil reading it during an English lesson. The incident provoked rioting by Muslims, which led to the death of more than 20 Christians and the destruction of two churches.
  • 2007: A Muslim mob rioted at Tudun Wada in Kano State, killing nine Christians, burning several churches, and destroying the homes and businesses of some non-Muslims. The Muslims complained that Christian students had drawn a picture of the Prophet Mohammed. However, the Christians reported that the violence erupted after preventing one of their own from converting to Islam.
  • 2008: A Muslim mob besieged a police station and set it on fire in the city of Yano in Bauchi State. A Christian woman who had spurned the marriage proposal of a Muslim man took refuge in the police station. She was also accused of desecrating the Quran. In the ensuing snafus, Muslims set five churches alight, while Christian shops were torched and the homes of police officers attacked.
  • 2016: A 42-year-old mother of seven, Mrs. Eunice Elisha, was murdered for allegedly engaging in evangelism around the Gbazango-West area of Kubwa, a satellite town of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja.
  • August 10, 2020: A Kano State Shariah Court pronounced the sentencing of two perceived blasphemers. Yahaya Sharif, aged 22 years, was sentenced to death by hanging for the offense of blasphemy against the Prophet in his song, which was circulated on WhatsApp in March 2020. His family home was also burnt. The other person, Omar Farouq, aged 13 years, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for blasphemy.
  • May 12, 2022: We witnessed the gruesome killing of Miss Deborah Yakubu by some depraved human beings and religious fanatics at the College of Education, Sokoto State.
  • May 2022: Hashtag #FindNaomiGoni followed Naomi Goni’s social media response after the killing of Deborah on May 12. Some Muslim men were searching for Naomi, who was accused of blasphemy. 

How many lives will be wasted in Africa, particularly Nigeria, before repealing this inhuman law?