It is a reflection of the decay in our educational institutions and the failure of leadership that eight students of Abud-Gusau Polytechnic were killed by some religious bigots in Zamfara State. They were not murdered by Boko Haram insurgents who have ravaged the northern part of the country. Of course, the insurgents are opposed to education, even though they are prosecuting their iniquitous war through the products of education. If the murderers were the Boko Haramís insurgents, we would have thought that the killings were part of the expression of their misguided hatred for education. After all, we have not forgotten so soon that the fact that they mowed down over 40 school children in their dormitory at Damaturu is an unobliterable part of their grisly record of crimes against humanity. It is alarming that the killings in Zamfara occurred in a polytechnic that is supposed to be a hallowed institution of learning. If this were a secondary school, one may be justified in hoping that the murderers were children who could still be weaned off their religious fanaticism by age.
As in most cases of religious violence in the north, what triggered these mindless killings was a perceived blasphemy. A student allegedly insulted Prophet Muhammed. Some Muslim students who felt that their prophet had been insulted were enraged and they strove to kill the offender. Their search for him led to their burning vehicles, houses and the eventual killing of the eight students.
The insult that provoked this carnage is up till now a secret known only to the Muslim students. True, no one has the right to disparage another personís religion. But one would have expected that as students of a tertiary institution of learning, there is a robust allowance for the interrogation of existing beliefs and that if actually an insult had existed, the Muslim students would have had the capacity to overlook it. A graver danger is that as long as the basic training to live among people who oppose their worldview is absent, these religious extremists cannot grow to be members of a sane society hallmarked by religious pluralism. They would only end up as those who would be exploiting religious differences to stoke conflicts.
What kind of education really takes place in such a so-called educational environment that cannot accommodate scepticism? Donít we all know that the chaperon of human progress is scepticism? After all, among Muslims themselves, there are different views of their own religion. Societies with which progress is identified are not those opposed to extending the frontiers of knowledge. It is rather those that privilege the accommodation of opposing views. While those who belong to a certain religion are free to be beholden to a certain view of the world, they must realise that they cannot abridge the right of others to hold contrary views. And it is the height of delusion for one to think that he or she is better equipped to fight Godís battle than Himself. And how have they achieved justice when those they have killed were not the student who allegedly insulted their prophet?
The polytechnic authorities and security agencies cannot escape excoriation for the escalation of the crisis. It is commendable that the security personnel of the polytechnic were able to save the alleged offender from being lynched. But why were the authorities of the institution not proactive enough to bring in the police and other security operatives to effectively squelch the violence? It was the irresponsibility of both the polytechnic authorities and the state security agencies that paved the way for the Muslim students to mobilise to wreak more havoc. Or was it a case of complicity? The same police and other security agencies that cannot handle a situation like this are the ones that have kept detaining and prosecuting a man for naming his dog Buhari.
To a large extent, this religious bigotry is encouraged by the attitude of the government. It is the governmentís inability to really punish those who display such bigotry that sustains religious extremism. Just recently, a carpenter. Francis Emmanuel, was brutally stabbed in Kaduna because he did not fast like his Muslim neighbours. We have not been told how the state has sanctioned the mastermind of this botched murder. We have not been informed of the efforts the state has made to arrest the killers of the Abuja evangelist, Eunice Elisha. Worse still, the state encourages religious bigotry by sponsoring religious pilgrims to Mecca and Israel. To send a strong message that the state would not tolerate religious bigotry, the state should stop sponsorship of religious pilgrimage. The government at the federal and state levels must respect the secularity of the country as required by the constitution. Anyone who wants to go on religious pilgrimage should do that on his or her own.
Those who need the attention of government are not those going on pilgrimage. They are those who are jobless, those who are staving off hunger by selling their blood. Instead of providing foreign exchange for prospective pilgrims who want to embark on religious jamborees and improve the economies of Israel and Saudi Arabia , the government should deploy the resources to develop the country. Such funds being spent on pilgrims should be deployed to improve education. Due to official neglect, our educational institutions have lost their purposes. This is why they have become breeding grounds for religious bigots. We cannot be talking of sponsoring pilgrims in a country where the absence of good educational opportunities has spawned almajiris that are easily manipulated to foment religious crises. There are workers being owed and pensioners are starving to death. Those who have eaten enough and they want to go on pilgrimage should be allowed to pay for it.
The government and religious extremists must realise that because killings such as those of Zamfara do not generate a reprisal that could provoke a religious crisis should not make them to take the victims for granted. The government must not wait for the victims of religious extremism to run out of patience. By then, it would be too late. The nation has paid a huge price for the religious extremism of Boko Haram. And now is the time for the government to send a strong message that religious bigotry goes in tandem with dire sanctions.