Shall Her Murderers Get Away? – By Anthony Akinwale, Guest Writer
On Christmas Day 2022, three events retained my attention. The first was the celebration of the birth of the Son of God. Some people hold the not so well-informed opinion that there is no mention of the celebration of Christmas in the Bible, and, for that reason, celebration of Christmas is un-Christian. However, apart from the fact that this opinion is a misreading of the Bible, it is also a misreading of the history of Christian beliefs and practices.
Concerning the misreading of the Bible, the narrative of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem tells us about the celebration of his birth by the angels, the shepherds and the Magi.
The celebratory tone and undertone of the narrative of the birth of Jesus in the second chapter of the Gospel according to Luke cannot but attract the attention of a careful reader. When the angel of the Lord announced to the shepherd that the Saviour had been born, he said to them: “I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people.” It would have been unthinkable that the shepherds received this “news of great joy” without the news eliciting joy in them.
Luke continues his narrative by reporting that, as soon as the news was given to the shepherds, there was rejoicing in heaven. He wrote: “And all at once with the angel there was a great throng of the hosts of heaven, praising God with the words: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace for those he favours.’”
And the shepherds, after visiting the child in the manger, “went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as they had been told.”
In the second chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew, in the same celebratory tone and undertone, it was the wise men from the east who came to Jerusalem to do him homage with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The announcement by the angel in Luke elicited joy from the heavenly hosts. The shepherds, representing the Jewish nation, could not have gone to the manger wearing a mournful look on their faces after receiving such joyful news.
And the wise men from a distant land, representing the nations of the world, brought gifts to celebrate the birth of the one they called “the infant king of the Jews.” Heaven was filled with joy, with the heavenly hosts bursting into praise, with the glory of the Lord lighting the sky in the light that shone around the shepherds, and in the star that led the wise men.
How and why then would anyone dismiss Christmas as un-Christian? How could heaven and earth not have celebrated the birth of the Saviour of the world?
The argument that Christmas is not mentioned in the Bible is no argument. From what I have just cited, we have Biblical evidence that the reality that Christmas is, the birth of the Son of God, is celebrated as reported in the narratives of Luke and Matthew.
But there is another counter-argument to this anti-Christmas sentiment. It is this: while the word “Bible” is not mentioned in the Bible, we use it, and we speak of the Holy Bible. The sola scriptura argument misreads the history of Christianity. For there was no New Testament document until the writing of the First Letter of St Paul to the Thessalonians around 55 AD. In other words, early Christians did not rely solely on the written tradition that the New Testament is. They were guided by an unwritten tradition. The account of the apostles was first transmitted orally, before it was written down in the documents of the New Testament. If the criterion of authenticity of Christian beliefs and practices is only the Bible, then the early Christians, prior to the publication of the First Letter to the Thessalonians were not living authentic Christianity.
The second of the three events that retained my attention this last Christmas was Bishop Matthew Kukah’s Christmas Message entitled, “Nigeria: Let us turn a new page.” It dissected the current situation in Nigeria in the razor-sharp trade mark characteristic of Bishop Kukah’s interventions. It spoke of “the deliberate culture of pauperization and destitution of our people”, and the need to “change our strategy so that we can turn a new page”.
Said the Bishop of Sokoto: “We need a new strategy to confront those who sit on the throne of power in arrogance and are determined to reduce our country to a jungle. We need a new strategy that separates men and women of honour from those who have chosen dishonour. We need a new strategy that provides a clearer moral guide for ordinary citizens who, based on the moral strength of culture and religion, are seeking to build a good society, even if with straws. We need to stand up and stand firm. We need new mechanisms for saying no to the violence of governance.”
The reason why we need a new strategy is self-evident and clearly elocuted. “Clearly,” says Bishop Kukah, “in almost every department and with all indicators, our nation has become a tale of two cities. We have wars between the rich and the poor, men and women, across generations, along party lines, social classes, religion, ethnicity and so on. The centre has given up in almost every department. Fixing our country and getting it back requires courage, honesty, truth, humility, trust and firm commitment. Lies and blackmail are no substitute.”
Christmas is the season when we celebrate the birth of the Messiah. Ironically, we in Nigeria seem to be perpetually in search of a Messiah to whom we shall outsource our responsibility. Eight years ago, Nigerians thought they had found one. But, as the sunset of his presidency fast approaches, Bishop Kukah in his Christmas Message paints the picture of tall promise and short delivery. Whether or not we have learnt our lesson is yet to be seen because, as another election approaches, instead of diligently scrutinizing the antecedents of candidates, supporters of leading candidates portray each of them as the Messiah “Nigeria needs now”.
It is quite common to hear people say: “Tinubu is the man Nigeria needs now” or “Obi is the man Nigeria needs now” or “Atiku is the man Nigeria needs now”. So, it seems three leading Messiahs are contesting for Aso Rock. One would wish Nigerians would take to heart what Niccolò Machiavelli said in this discourse on “The Prince”. He said the politician does not have to be good. He only needs to pretend to be good.
Bishop Kukah offers Nigerians a caveat on campaign promises in words he addressed to the outgoing President, saying: “It is sad that despite your lofty promises, you are leaving us far more vulnerable than when you came, that the corruption we thought would be fought has become a leviathan and sadly, a consequence of a government marked by nepotism.”
And if there was anyone in doubt that we are left far more vulnerable, the doubt would have been dissipated by the third event that arrested my attention on Christmas Day 2022: the cold-blooded murder of a Lagos-based lawyer, Mrs Omobolanle Raheem. She was shot and killed by policemen in Ajah, Lagos in front of her children. It shows that our police officers have learnt nothing from the EndSars protests of October 2020.
In the wake of the protests, I had written that the police is an agency of government, that government disrespects and does violence to Nigerians, and that, therefore, operatives of government agencies — the police, the civil service, etc, will treat us with disdain and violence.
Officers of the Nigerian Police have, many times in the past, got away with murder. At Lekki Toll Gate, on October 20, 2020, young and defenceless Nigerians were gunned down by soldiers. Despite the findings of a panel of inquiry set up by government, government has denied the killings.
What will happen this time around? Shall the murderers of Mrs. Raheem get away with murder? Food for thought.
© Rev. Fr. (Prof.) Anthony Akinwale was pioneer Vice-Chancellor, Dominican University, Ibadan, Nigeria.