Big Ocean Women Cottage leader Fatima Njoku in Jos, Nigeria was appalled by the news she was hearing: On 12 May 2022 a Christian college student, Deborah Samuel, had been stoned and burned alive by radical Islamists for “committing blasphemy.” Then, Fatima explained, “they proceeded to start burning, looting, and attacking other Christians in the state despite [a] curfew imposed.”
Deborah was a 200 level student at Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto. She had asked that the conversation in the WhatsApp group for a class be kept to topics pertinent to the class when other students posted about Islam. She was the first in her family to attend a tertiary educational institution and leaves behind her parents and seven siblings.
Fatima reached out to Big Ocean Women leadership and asked if we could hold an international prayer vigil to show solidarity with our sisters in Nigeria. She said, “It was important that BOW says something about this because they have a cottage in Nigeria, and it’s important that BOW be seen as vocal about serious issues like this, it leaves no one in doubt about their concern for the people. Speaking out internationally also sends a message to the government that people are watching and so they are careful in how they handle the situation. Most importantly, Deborah’s family needs all the encouragement they can get, what happened was horrifying and they probably will face threats, getting encouragement of brethren from all over helps them stand their grounds knowing that they have people praying for them and Speaking for them.” She also shared that Deborah’s father said he will not go to court or press any charges, he leaves everything to God.
While the radical Islamic leaders and groups publicly said that her killing was justified, the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III strongly condemned the attack, killing, and burning of Samuel and urged people to remain calm. Two suspects were arrested.
A Big Ocean Women interfaith prayer vigil was planned to be held over Zoom for Sunday, 22 May 2022 at 2:00 pm Nigeria time. Speakers and a musical number were arranged. Fatima reached out to Deborah’s family to be able to join as well. In addition to the Zoom meeting, Fatima arranged for a local speaker about emergency preparedness.
Then the Muslim Association of Nigeria put out a flyer calling for a protest on 22 May 2022 against people who insult their religion, the government for insulting and not protecting their religion, and for the arrested suspects to be freed. Because of this, Fatima asked that the prayer vigil be moved to Saturday, 21 May 2022 so that the cottage members could stay home and inside during the protests because she was concerned that the protests would include violence. Changes were quickly made and posted about on social media, but sadly the change in date led to some interested people missing the event.
There were still several people in attendance, and the program was encouraging. We were able to hear from Deborah’s parents through WhatsApp on a phone, and to connect as Big Ocean Women and friends across the globe to show solidarity and stand for religious freedom.
If you would like to view the Zoom meeting, you can watch it here: https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/jGPomnEhv5wUqLY8bG4vunfeDQxYLZvDM7UjlzZAnoM7dqJUBX24ZGkPvQj2oQ.ijoq077LGd49R88e?startTime=1653139220000
The Nigeria Cottage also had guest speakers, breakout sessions, and focus groups discussing ways to prepare for emergencies or lock downs due to armed violence in their community.
Fatima reported, “Deborah’s family was very encouraged about the vigil.” She said Deborah’s family is quite indigent and would appreciate any help that could be given, especially to help her four brothers and three sisters to be able to pursue further education. If you want to help Deborah’s family or send support to the Nigeria Cottage, you can Venmo @bigoceanwomen and add a note of where you would like your donation to go.