February 4, 2023

In Bauchi State, a Christian health worker is held for three months without trial on allegations of blasphemy

A headshot of Mrs. Rhoda Ya'u Jatau posted on a Muslim Facebook page: New Africa Hausa with cursive writings

JOS, August 17, 2022: Rights lawyers in Nigeria’s Bauchi State say their bail application for a Christian health worker jailed for alleged blasphemy since May is being frustrated by Muslim authorities and prosecutors.

Mrs. Rhoda Ya’u Jatau, a staff of the Primary Healthcare unit of the State’s Warji Local Government Area was arrested by Secret Service agents on 20 May, days after a gruesome lynching of a Christian college student – Deborah Emmanuel in northwest Sokoto State.

This followed she forwarded a received video to her staff chat group in WhatsApp which local authorities claimed was ‘blasphemous’.

The 45year-old mother of five was hastily locked up at the Medium Correctional Center in Bauchi on the charges of “inciting public disturbance; exciting contempt of religious creed; and cyber stalking”.

A statement of the charges read to Jatau prior to her jailing reads: “On the 20th day of May 2022 at about 1500hrs, you Rhoda Jatau aged 45years of Tudun Alheri via Warji Local Government Area of Bauchi State posted a video which despairs Allah, Prophet Muhammad, his parents and the entire Muslim community to a Warji group (WhatsApp) of Primary Healthcare Authority of Warji Local Government Area with the intent to cause religious crisis. You therefore committed the aforestated offense contrary to Sections 114, 210 of the Penal Code Law and Section 24 subsection 1b(i) of Cybercrime Prohibition Prevention Act 2015 Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

Jatau was detained for two weeks at the headquarters of the Department of State Services in Bauchi before a Magistrate ordered her transfer to prison without any trial according to Barrister Nasara Joshua who represents her.

All efforts to secure her bail were frustrated by both officials and prosecutors in the State, said Joshua in a phone interview.

“We filed an application for her bail on 20th July after she was held for two-months which is the maximum period permitted by the constitution for any suspect to be detained without trial,” Joshua said.

“But the application was not assigned to a judge until June 26 and by then, judges had gone on vacation. It was in August that the application was reassigned to a vacation judge who heard it for the first time on 11th August.”

Jatau had reportedly forwarded a video of a Ghanaian Muslim condemning an earlier mob killing of Miss Deborah Emmanuel, a Christian College Student in the country’s northwestern Sokoto State on 12 May.

The video was shared to the staff chat group of her department at the Primary Healthcare Board in Warji on the afternoon of 20 May according to a local Christian leader, Rev. Ishaku Dano. The post was reported by Jatau’s Muslim colleagues who belonged to the group as an act of blasphemy, said Dano in a phone interview.

“Based on our interaction with her, the post was both a caution against violence and the use of derogatory language in addressing other people’s faith,” he said, “but that was not the interpretation that followed.”

“This is the cursed Rhoda Jatau who blasphemed the messenger of God, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH),” reads a post on a local Muslim page on Facebook: New Africa Hausa.

The post written in the local Hausa language appeared on the page which has more than 70,000 followers on 20 May, apparently within minutes of Mrs. Jatau’s post at 3 O’clock local time. Her headshot attached to the New Africa Hausa page post bears a caption also written in Hausa that says “The one God has cursed”.

Dozens of comments by Muslim followers on the post called for her death. One of them by Salihu Muktar Yakasai whose Facebook profile shows he hails from Kebbi, the home State of slain Deborah Emmanuel reads in Hausa; “Insha Allah [by Allah’s grace], her blood must flow.” Another comment by Ibrahim Elkaba reads; “For Allah’s sake, get her and kill her.”

By 4pm on the same day, 15 Christians including Rev. Dano were severely injured in Katanga, Jatau’s town by Muslim mobs demanding her death.

Several buildings belonging to Christians including Rev. Dano’s Evangelical Church Winning All in the town were also destroyed by the mobs, Dano said.

At the time, Jatau was locked up in a cell at the Department of State Services, Nigeria’s secret Police headquarters in Bauchi, the capital of Bauchi State following her arrest. Her husband, Ya’u Adamu and their children were in hiding outside Warji, our investigations gathered.

 “They first stormed her residence shouting ‘Allahu akbar’ [God is great], Dano said. “They had gone to find her at the DSS office in Katanga before coming to the house when they realized she was not there,” he noted.

“They meant to burn the house but I and other Christians there pleaded with them and they left. But shortly later, they came back in larger numbers with sticks, stones and knives, attacking any Christian in sight and burning our properties,” he added.

Just like Miss Emmanuel’s mob attack in Sokoto, Police at the scene did nothing to stop the violence in Katanga, said Dano.

“The police came at about 4pm when the crowd was roiling at Rhoda’s house but left almost immediately. They never returned till about 9pm when the tensions had subsided,” he said.

Two members of Dano’s Church — Yohanna Yakubu and Nuhu Haruna, confirmed in an interview they struggled to put out a fire set on the church while fighting back the violence at the same time.

The Governor of Bauchi State, Bala Mohammed during a visit to Katanga town on 22 May condemned the violence and promised to serve justice for the victims. But as of 17 August, none of the more than 200 members of the crowd that took part in the violence was arrested. No compensation has also been given to the Christian victims still in displacement, Dano said.

“Many families have yet to return to their homes,” he said. “They lost everything and cannot rebuild their destroyed house.”

Jatau’s residence was not touched. But the threats on her and her family have forced her husband, Ya’u Adamu to relocate the family to a safer zone near Bauchi.

“All my farms and everything is in Warji, but I don’t have the confidence that if I go there I will be spared,” said Adamu in a phone call. “Some of the Muslim residents of the town have apologized to me but I don’t feel safe yet,” he said.

At the moment, his biggest worry is the continued detention of his wife. “I need the help and goodwill of all that care to get her out of prison.”

According to Joshua, prosecutors attempted to push for her continued detention contrary to federal laws. But judges have adjourned the suit to 18 August for consideration.