11 August 2005

Nigeria: Killing At St. Dominic's Church


Lagos — THE cold-blooded and senseless killing of 42 year old Dominican cleric, Fr. Godwin Okwesili last week has once again brought to focus the intolerable state of insecurity in our society. Once more the reality is brought jarringly home that human life has become so cheap that no individual, institution or place could be considered a safe sanctuary for citizens.

The facts of Rev. Okwesili's brutal murder in the sanctuary of the church are most traumatising. The unsuspecting cleric who simply stepped out, of his rest in his room at the priory to ascertain the source of an uncommon noise in the area was instantly killed by armed robbers who were the source of the noise the poor cleric heard. It does not in anyway make the killing of this young priest any more bearable to note that in recent past, quite a few other priests and clerics have been murdered with impunity in the sanctum of their churches.

In fact while the shock of the killing at St. Dominic's Catholic Church, Yaba is still on, the Lagos Catholic Secretariat has raised another alarm concerning threat to the life of another priest of the parish at Falomo, Lagos.

The question really is: what is happening to Nigerians and Nigeria that gangs of desperados are setting out in numbers to dispossess clergymen and other church workers of their money, property and maximally, their lives at the drop of a hat?

The answer to this question in no way undervalues the lives of other secular Nigerians which are snuffed out daily during robberies or through pure assassination.

The issue is that even in the most extreme circumstances like wars, the lives of children, women, the aged and those of priests are usually spared by even the most hard-hearted of bandits.

A situation where defenseless citizens like priests become targets of robberies and are exposed to brutal killings speak of extreme depravity within the society.

For the records, three men had driven to St. Dominic's Catholic Church at Yaba, Lagos at around 4.45 pm, on Tuesday August 2, claiming to have a parcel gift for one of the priests from a man for whom the said priest had reportedly prayed, and who was presently abroad.

In the ensuing dialogue with receptionists, at the abode of the clerics in the church premises the hoodlums had pulled out guns with which they ordered the church workers to lead them to the church safe. In the commotion, an unwary Fr. Okwesili who was just five days shy of his 42nd birth day and due for ordination as a Dominican priest this January, had stepped out to see what all the racket and noise at the reception was all about. What he saw and received were hot leads and instant death.

Thereafter, his assailment, had fled, reportedly blaming one another for the fatal shooting, and without succeeding to cart away money which was the primary motive for invading the church premises in the first place.

Though the Catholic Church authorities have issued statements to the effect that the slain priest was not a subject of brutal assassination, for now, the police are not yet to complete their investigation, even as Fr. Okwesili will today be buried.

Whatever the motive for the killing, Nigerians are enjoined to assist the police by way of tips and information to track down this band of killers as they are very likely to do so again, if not stopped.

But beyond the immediate, isolated case of Fr. Okwesili, the fact that this could happen at all in a society at the throes of socio-economic and political re-structuring should alert those behind the official dislocation of the way things have always been done in the country about the level of desperation of disillusioned elements who now hold nothing to be sacred in pursuit of their disparate dreams.

Without in any way condoning robbery and the beastly tendencies that drive individuals to crime, we implore government to expedite all acts, laws and measures to alleviate the economic difficulties of Nigerians and reassess all policies that tend to magnify and widen, rather than bridge the gap between those who are perceived as having and those who feel they have nothing to lose by taking to crime, even against sacred institutions.

That criminal-minded Nigerians and others desperate to enjoy the dividends of democracy and other goodies of life now see the church and church-workers in the same light as other economically lucrative sector institutions goes to show how unhinged from sanity many minds have become in the society.

Sadly, in our ocean of general economic desolution, churches are often ironically viewed now not as houses of God and refuge but as repositories of great fortunes and wealth.

This is strange even if the bearing of some unorthodox religious groups had lent credence to such nation.

There should be a lot of fear and loathing when ordinary citizens view the church and men of God" in general as legitimate targets of robbery attracts, blackmail and assassinations because of the perception that those are lucrative organisations out to make money and not save souls.

It is instructive that the ruse used by the assailants of Fr. Okwesili was to present a gift as token of appreciation for some prayer-assisted success. Alas the Catholic Church is still one of the most sober and conservative of the faiths, but here it is , a victim of the perception of churches as places for robbers to find money.

Against the background of this troubled era, churches and other institutions that were hitherto considered hallowed, sacred and insulated from the filth and perversions of secular life should take extra steps to hold up their true profile in the society.

Churches and other 'soft targets' all over the country had better heeded the advise of Lagos State Police Commissioner that they start to provide special security for their clergymen within the church premises. This is an advise that conforms to the spirit of the times when nothing is sacred anymore and anything is possible.

Meanwhile, as the remains of Fr. Godwin Okwesili is committed to mother-earth today, we wish his soul repose in the bosom of our Lord.

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