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In Deborah Samuel and the College Idea, Ogbuagu Anikwe picks out four failures that predispose fanatics to violence.

Last week, the village of Tungan Magajiya in Rijau LGA of Niger State received and interred the charred remains of Deborah Samuel. She travelled over 250 kilometers to get an education, only to die a needless and senseless death. Late Deborah was a Nigerian Christian and a student. It is the fact of being a student, stoned to death in a tertiary institution, that leaves me speechless. Fellow students not only stoned her to death but also roasted her body with rubber wheels.

The biggest lesson for me is that what happened to her exemplifies all that is wrong with our educational system. People go to college to broaden their knowledge and skills, interrogate phenomena, and sharpen critical thinking skills. It is not a place where people go to have their minds closed to ideas. This includes ideas that conflict with what one brought along to the institution. Therefore, if a college cannot teach its students and make them accept that the world is made up of people with different ideas and beliefs, and that no one idea or belief is necessarily better than another, it is not worthy to be called a college. The stoning to death of a college student by fellow students for religious reasons is an indictment on the school faculty.

Late Deborah

Last Easter, a financial institution managed by a Muslim compared the resurrection of Jesus Christ to Agege bread. Christians recoiled at the idea and threatened to withdraw their business from the bank. However, the chief executive hurriedly apologized, and the matter was rested. Pray, what if Christians in the bank went out of their way to waylay and stone their MD to death? And to subsequently roast the man for his “blasphemy”?

There are four things that stand out for me as teachable moments in this sordid episode.

The first is that every religion harbors militant sectarian factions whose members itch to fight for and kill for their god. However, the majority in each religious sect subscribes to the highest teachings of the Prophets that brought their religions into being. I have read, for instance, that the Prophet of Islam never directly or indirectly commanded his followers to extra-judicially kill others. In the case of Christianity, everyone knows that Jesus Christ asked his followers to turn the other cheek if slapped on one. This is the same for other religious organisations worldwide.

Deborah Samuel and College Idea

The first is that we should reposition our tertiary institutions as the mind development centres that are supposed to be. There is a reason why they are hailed as Ivory Towers. An ivory tower is a “village” whose natives are happily shielded from the world of hate and bigotry to enjoy mental and other high-minded intellectual pursuits. A drastic solution will involve legislating religious houses out of existence in Nigeria’s public tertiary institutions.

Deborah Samuel and the college idea

Every person attending a school with preponderance of religious faculty or student body ought to be circumspect. Our world deteriorates when overzealous followers of religious groups find themselves in leadership positions. They use their platforms to misinterpret pure doctrine and, in the process, brainwash the gullible to fight for God. They never for once stop to think that they habitually acknowledge the same God not only as “the almighty” and “most powerful” but also “most compassionate” and “most merciful.”

The third is that ours is not a lawful society. If it were, the regulatory agency for Colleges of Education will investigate the remote and immediate causes of Deborah’s death. This inquiry will lead to actions that will protect students that leave their parent’s homes to go to college. It is not enough to round up and punish the perpetrators of the darstadly murder. We must look at the problem from its roots, particularly in an atmosphere where religion trumps humanity in the hands of fanatics.

The fourth is to implement better security management of those schools. This is what the Nigerian military and our police did when terrorists began invading and killing them in their barracks. They put up barricades and paid more attention to visitors. The management of tertiary institutions owe this responsibility to the students they attracted to enroll in their schools.

Rule of Mobs

It is not enough to let fanatical mobs dispense jungle justice on matters that are controversial in their religion. Sokoto State, for instance, practices Sharia legal system. This system implies that there will be scholars to pronounce fatwas (legal rulings) on points of Islamic law. Their pronouncements become a guide to all those who subscribe to the religion. I know that Christian Churches, the Catholics for example, have a similar magisterium where the Pope speaks ex-Cathedra. In this position, the Pontiff uses the encyclical letter to define a doctrine concerning faith or morals. And the Church obeys and implements. It is similar to Islamic legal authority issued as fatwa. The fatwa educates Muslim faithful about Islam, advises courts on controversial points of law, or elaborates on extant law.

If we cannot stem the outpouring of religious hate through the secular judicial system, this will be a good way to discourage religious leaders, whether pastors or imams, from preaching hate against rival religions.

Ogbuagu Bob Anikwe is the publisher of Enugu Metro.

Column: Deborah Samuel and the college idea