Where Is Truth? – By Anthony Akinwale, Guest Writer
In the evening of Saturday, January 14, 2023, I had placed a call to Bishop Felix Ajakaiye of Ekiti Diocese. His voice sounded low. So, I inquired if I had interrupted his sleep. He said I had not. But I remarked that he did not sound well. He told me Fr. Michael Olofinlade had just been abducted while he was returning from the funeral in Ado Ekiti of Fr. Michael Ilori.
I received the news as I was preparing to go to bed. It was quite disturbing. I prayed that the unfolding story would have a happy ending. But from that moment, it was difficult to fall asleep.
I woke up on the morning of Sunday, January 15, the following day, to learn that in the early hours of that Sunday, in a parish in Minna Diocese, gunmen killed and burnt Fr. Isaac Achi, and critically wounded his assistant Fr. Collins.
Fr. Achi had hosted me at St. Theresa’s Parish in Madalla in January 2009. After preaching the annual retreat of the priests of Shendam Diocese at the invitation of Bishop James Daman, OSA of blessed memory, I was to go to Minna to preach the diocesan priests’ retreat. Fr. Achi was sent by Bishop Martin Uzukwu of Minna to pick me up at Lafia. By the time he got to Lafia, it was getting close to sunset. And so, instead of driving all the way to Minna in the dark, prudence obliged us to stop at his parish in Madalla for me to pass the night before continuing to Minna. I recall that I could not sleep because there was a Church holding an all-night vigil just behind his fence.
The next time I heard of the Parish in Madalla was when it was bombed on Christmas Day 2011. Fr Achi was in the thick of things mourning the dead and carrying the maimed. I heard he was latter abducted, and, on another occasion, attacked by armed robbers, before he finally fell victim of insecurity in the early hours of January 15, in a land of assorted but ineffective security agencies.
Worthy of note is that Fr Achi was killed by gunmen who set him ablaze on the 57th anniversary of the first military coup in Nigeria, the wound of which is yet to heal. I have often said that all those who took part in all military coups in Nigeria, and all those who led us to war, should be tried, convicted, and, in the spirit of national reconciliation, pardoned so that we can open a new page in Nigeria.
Nigeria bade farewell to innocence in the riots that the old Western Region witnessed just before military rule. The riots, in which innocent lives were lost, came as a result of increasingly centralizing and conquistadorial conduct of the government in Lagos led by Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa. Those riots also provided a convenient excuse for young and idealistic military officers to stage not just a coup but a very bloody coup, which, if not ethnic in intent, was at least ethnic in execution and outcome. The young soldiers who staged the coup did not think it through.
Then came the “revenge coup” of July 29, 1966 with its own share of lawlessness and shedding of innocent blood. But, if Nigeria was a patient with a headache before January 15, 1966, sequel to that first coup and the second coup, the patient developed a brain tumour. Fifty-seven years later, the patient is neither dead nor alive.
There is darkness in our world, and there is darkness in our land, because there is darkness in the minds of human beings – the darkness of evil, the darkness of hatred and falsehood. In Nigeria, we live in perpetual darkness. Our country is going through a spiritual, moral and political crisis. Since that day, fifty-seven years ago, when this country experienced the first military coup, we are yet to recover from the mindless and heartless bloodshed of that day, of the second military coup, and of the civil war during which millions were killed. The culture of violence has continued. In the years that followed, we witnessed more coups with a cruel logic. In this cruel logic, those who staged successful coups became heroes, while those who staged unsuccessful coups were labelled villains and shot by firing squad. Historians have come up to query whether or not the death sentence passed on some of those executed was violation of the nature of justice.
Our country is what we and our political elite have made of it, a land where honesty is punished, while dishonesty is rewarded; a land where what’s right is wrong and what’s wrong is right; a land where we do bad things but find an excuse around it; a land where to be fraudulent is to be smart, while to refrain from fraud is to be an imbecile; a land where to be a successful coup plotter is to be a patriotic leader of a “corrective regime”, while to be part of a failed coup is to be a “dissident soldier”; a land where integrity is no longer valued, a good name no longer honoured.
Also worthy of note is that Fr. Achi was buried on the feast of Blessed Cyprian Iwene Tansi, described in the Collect of the Mass on his feast as one in whom God combined “the apostolic zeal of a pastor with the life of a monk”. May the intercession of Blessed Tansi bring justice and peace to Nigeria.
As Fr. Achi was being buried in Minna, I was reading the Guardian Newspaper of January 20, 2023. The newspaper reported that on Thursday, January 19, gunmen invaded St Michael’s Catholic Church, Ikulu-Pari, in Chawai Chiefdom of Kauru Local Government, Kaduna State. Unable to find the priest, they abducted the Catechist Mr Kefas Ishaya. The Guardian Newspaper quoted News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the gunmen picked the Catechist when they could not find Fr. Joseph Shekari, who was not in when his residence was attacked.
That was the second time within a year that they would try to abduct Fr Shekari. In February 2022, he had been abducted. On that first occasion, his cook, Sati Musa, was shot dead by the gunmen while trying to protect his Parish Priest.
According to the January 19, 2023 edition of the Punch Newspaper, Aid to the Church in Need, a global Catholic charity organization based in the United Kingdom, has just informed the world that, in 2022, no fewer 28 Catholic priests were abducted in Nigeria, four priests were assassinated.
It would be morally unconscionable to fail to see the abduction and killing of Catholic priests in Nigeria within the wider context of threats to life and property of the average Nigerian. The life of a priest is not of greater value than the life of the average Nigerian. But this is written to call the attention of the reader to what we know already: that government in Nigeria is either unwilling or unable to secure this land and its peoples. Yet, those who have woefully failed to secure the land are campaigning for continuity with arrogance and insolence.
Thank God, Fr. Olofinlade regained his freedom on Tuesday, January 16. As at the time of writing this, we prayerfully await the release of Catechist Kefas Ishaya, and the full recovery of Fr Collins.
Nonetheless, for as long as we glorify politics without morality, the question shall remain pertinent: where is truth?
© Rev. Fr. (Prof.) Anthony Akinwale was pioneer Vice-Chancellor, Dominican University, Ibadan, Nigeria.