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Northern Christian Voices Fail to Denounce Rhoda Jailing

Women’s’ Group Calls for Protests at Offices of Christian Association of Nigeria

By Achadu Gabriel

(Kaduna) Fresh facts have emerged that challenge the stance of leaders of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Northern States branch in particular, on the vexed issues surrounding the incarceration of their member, Mrs. Rhoda Ya’u Jatau, over alleged blasphemy.

Christian women in northern Nigeria are  planning to protest over the Jatau’s continued incarceration.

In a widely circulated mobilization statement in social media, the women expressed serious worry on the fate of Mrs. Jatau, saying history may repeat itself if nothing is done to released her from being tried in Sharia Court, [a tribunal reserved for Muslims and controlled by Muslim jurists].

“Dear Women of Inter-Cluster Coordination Group In Nigeria (ICCGIN)! We were pained at Deborah’s killing. It is about to happen again. Are we going to just lament and do nothing?

“What is Rhoda’s crime? She spoke up against Deborah’s killing. They held her in custody since last year May and now she was tried in a sharia court.

“Why? Why should a Christian be tried in the sharia court? And none of our leaders are saying anything. Does it mean that any Christian can be lynched at any time for no just cause? This is unacceptable. We have to do something about it.

“We should stand up for our sister in faith. We can do the following:
*Share the above in all Christian and civil society groups you belong to. Trend on all your social media platforms: #FreeRhodaJatauNOW

*Protest at Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) offices so that they (Christian Leaders) stand up to their responsibilities’, the ICCGIN women stated.

Christian Association of Nigeria gropes for consensus on how to protest

Credible insider Christian sources made the revelation to our correspondent and in confidence in a chat expressed lamentation over the development, saying “That’s why I only speak alone”, the source stated.

Jatau, a mother of five, has been held in detention since May 10, 2022 for reportedly sharing a message among her Co-workers criticizing the mob that attacked and killed college senior Deborah Emmanuel in Sokoto for the claimed crime of blasphemy based on posting her opinion on a WhatsApp channel. Her killers were not prosecuted and are free to kill again.

One influential Christian leader contacted was invited to speak on behalf of CAN in Northern Nigeria on the continued incarceration and said the following on background:

“The pattern of Mrs. Rhoda trial and constant adjournment to keep her long in prison has exposed how Nigeria courts are used by those who flaunt their connection with the powers that be to victimize fellow citizens whose rights are being abused by others instead of protecting them with dignity.

“Mrs Rhoda is just one of many who are suffering this neglect and the country is silence about them.

“Nigeria Christians and every citizens must be protected by the law and should not be treated this way.
“The inhuman treatment many Nigerians are getting from institutions of Government is the reason why many are not patriotic.

“CAN Kaduna State wishes to appeal to the Governor of Bauchi State and the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria through the office of the Attorney General to correct this wrong to give the country hope for a united Nigeria”, the source said.

Mrs. Jatau was arrested few after forwarding a video condemning the burning to death of Deborah Yakubu, a teachers’ college student in Sokoto, northwest Nigeria.

Profound Outrage over Mistreatment of Jatau

Rhoda Jatau Adamu, left sits in court behind her husband, Ya’u Adamu on Oct.16. credit: Masara Kim. 
Rhoda Jatau Adamu, left sits in court behind her husband, Ya’u Adamu on Oct.16. credit: Masara Kim. 

 “Mrs. Jatau has been in detention since May 2022 when she shared a WhatsApp video condemning mob action on another woman, according to an Al Jazeera feature on Nov. 30, 2023
“For sharing a message among her co-workers that criticized a mob action last May, Rhoda Ya’u Jatau has spent the last year in police detention on charges of blasphemy towards Islam.

“The healthcare administrator with the Warji local government in Bauchi, northeastern Nigeria was arrested a few days after forwarding the video condemning the burning to death of Deborah Yakubu, a university student in Sokoto, another state, over alleged blasphemy [as per Al Jazeera].

“Prosecutors allege that by sharing the video, Jatau, then 45, committed multiple offences of inciting disturbance, contempt” for religious creed, and cyberstalking. Last Monday, a Bauchi state high court rejected her “no-case submission”. Kola Alapinni, lead counsel at Abuja-based nonprofit Foundation for Religious Freedom who is familiar with the case, told Al Jazeera that the defense team is expected to make a case when the court sits again in December,” according to Al Jazeera.

“If found guilty, Jatau, a mother of five and Christian, could be sentenced to a few years in prison, the reporter said.

“This really shows how far extremism has permeated deeply into our institutions,” said Ndi Kato, politician and executive director of Dinidari, an advocacy group for women’s rights in the Middle Belt region, to Al Jazeera.

“You will lock up a person for just forwarding a message because you don’t think that it favors what you believe in? I don’t think that has any place in our society today,” Kato said.     

“Half of Nigerians are Muslims and a slightly smaller proportion – 45 percent – of their compatriots are Christians but Nigeria is officially a secular country whose constitution allows for freedom of speech and religious association, according to Kato.

“For decades, religious tensions have found their way into many facets of life in what is also an ethnically diverse country. This is most pronounced in northern Nigeria where many states have adopted variations of the conservative Islamic law since the country’s return to democracy in 1999.

“Before and after the law, dissenting beliefs and opinions or actions deemed to be blasphemy have routinely sparked riots, mob action, or jail sentences in the region. Across the north, judgements critics of Islamic law consider harsh, including death by stoning, have been handed out repeatedly.

“This has also been the case in Bauchi, one of Nigeria’s 36 states, which is wedged between the predominantly Christian Middle Belt and the mostly Muslim northeast. The state adopted Islamic law in 2001.
“Nigeria is one of the 12 countries in the world that still criminalizes blasphemy and one of the seven where it is punishable by death, according to Alapinni.

Isa Sanusi, country director for Amnesty International in Nigeria,  has denounced  blasphemy laws and called them a tool for gross human rights violations or even for “settling personal scores”.

“Repeatedly, Nigerian authorities failed to uphold and protect human rights by making sure that people are not either killed or attacked for expressing their opinions,” Sanusi  told Al Jazeera.

“Wakili Mathew Laslimbo, the General secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Bauchi, said the minority Christian community in the state is unhappy about Jatau’s arrest.

He told Al Jazeera that the association had tried everything possible to help, including trying to meet the state Governor, to no avail.

“The arrest proves to us that the freedom of speech and religion is highly restricted, the church continues to pray for her during gatherings,”  Rev Ishaku Dano Ayuba told Al Jazeera.

“The Bauchi state government did not respond to a request for comments. Temitope Ajayi, a presidential spokesperson, told Al Jazeera that the federal government had no knowledge of the case”, it stated.

Rhoda Jatau had reportedly appeared in court in Bauchi alongside prison officials previously.

In August, the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief released a statement on the issue.

“We express concern over the criminalization of blasphemy in Nigeria contrary to international human rights law and standards and the rising episodes of violence relating to accusations of blasphemy targeting religious minorities in Nigeria,” it said.

According to Sanusi, the latest case underscores the need for justice through a fair trial of all people suspected of responsibility for mob violence to deter would-be perpetrators.

After Deborah Emmanuel’s execution in Sokoto, the arrested perpetrators were let off the hook due to the negligence of the prosecution that refused to show up at multiple court hearings. In contrast, since Jatau was arrested by the police, she has been denied bail, and her family has been in hiding for fear of violence against them.
Jatau’s ongoing ordeal, Dindari’s Kato said, is part of a pattern that signals that women in the north and Nigeria as a country are not safe.

“A person who was complaining about this injustice is the person that is going to jail,” she said. “Extremism takes out women and it is just disheartening. This means that women are not safe, and we need to speak.”

Last August, the sultan of Sokoto, considered the leader of all Muslims in Nigeria, told new recruits in the one-year mandatory national youth service program that Islamic law would not apply to non-Muslims among them.

Alapinni agrees, pointing out that Nigeria’s Court of Appeal had indeed ruled in two earlier cases that Islamic law is limited to Islamic personal law which includes succession, inheritance, and marriage.

“There is no room under the constitution for Sharia criminal law,” he said. “The sultan [of Sokoto] is right when he says the Sharia law is not supposed to affect non-Muslims. In fact, the Sharia criminal law should not have been promulgated in the first place [it] has no place in a country multicultural, diverse and multireligious like Nigeria,” he said.

Contacted for clarification, the Kaduna state police command spokesman Asp, Mansur Hassan could not respond till press time.

Christian leaders in Bauchi state, however alleged that the State Governor turned his deaf ears despite all effort to talk to him on the matter.

–Achadu Gabriel is a conflict reporter based in Kaduna.

Adapted and Reprinted with permission from TG News

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