From 1885, southern US states dominated by whites passed series of new constitutions, electoral laws, segregation and Jim Crow statutes, to enforce prejudice and the second class status of African Americans.
Lynchings and mob killings reached a crescendo in 1892, coinciding with that dark period in American history when discrimination against blacks became a matter of law. Predictably, the orgy of violence waned with the passage of comprehensive civil rights law in 1964.
The fact is that the state need not make explicit laws permitting the use of mob action on less favoured groups. The violence that claimed the lives of 30,000 Igbo in 1966 occurred in a background of official state policy which viewed the Igbos with suspicion and disdain. They were blamed for the official colonial policy that kept the north generations behind the ambitious and educated easterners.
In present day Nigeria, it is fairly easy to lynch men and women suspected of homosexuality and witchcraft because the laws of the land criminalise their existence. The same pattern can be observed in the extrajudicial murders of theft suspects.
You may wish to ask yourself why it is fairly easy to murder Christians accused of blasphemy against the prophet of Islam, and go scot-free. Sharia penal law of Kano (2000) sections 110 and section 382b criminalise apostasy and courts have been known to sentence suspects to death.
The proposed Kaduna religious bill also seeks to outlaw any criticism or denigration of religion, and such laws can empower the radicals whose stock-in-trade is violent repression of dissenters.
In the final analysis, we must acknowledge that instruments of the law legitimise hatred and the activities of illiterate die-hards who believe Islam must be protected by force of violence. We may continue to condemn acts of violence and extra-judicial murder for many more years to come, but if the laws which criminalise apostasy, ‘witches’ and gay people are not repealed, blood will not cease to flow on our dusty streets. Perpetrators of mob violence have escaped the long arms of the law for so long. This has to change, and quickly too.
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