BY PHILIP AFAHA
26th October 1996 at the Grasshopper stadium which will later be renamed Dan Anyiam, as the beagle re-echoed my name I spirited from the stands on a quick march to received my NYSC merit award. I took a brisk salute at the military governor of Imo state as we were taught those days .on stretching to collect the award the Governor asked `are you ok`?, I nodded in response as the governor smiled while handing the frail award to me. What Col. Tanko Zubairu did not know was that his youngest awardee will not take up the automatic employment privilege which was the reward for feat I attended.
A week earlier my parents had called to order that I must not spend a day longer in Owerri after my passing out, this order was the least my parents could do to keep me alive and out of the lion’s den—this was the era of human rituals which gave birth to the otokoto saga in Owerri. It was a period when 419ner and ritualists held sway in Owerri and people woke up every morning to herald headless corpses straddling in almost all major streets. As a Youth Corper I had sighted a couple of such along Awaka, Wetheral, Egbu and Ikenegbu layout.
The most haunting was a lifeless body of a pregnant woman with a split open belly and on her chest was her dead foetus with its head severed ostensibly for money rituals. I wept profusely as I marched back to the stands because to me all the efforts I put in writing my first Book `ibiala na` owerre` has come to naught, I will have to forfeit the automatic employment I desperately worked for, I was to forgo that national entitlement which was to come with that hallowed award , I was to leave owerri the next day to Akai Ubium to return the sand I took with me when I departed a year earlier. I was to return alive in line with our traditions, `afaha isipkaha ekong`
6th august, 2017, on the newsbar of my television set was a screamer `breaking news: gunman opened fire and killed dozens in church at Ozubulu` my initial calculation was that Igbo herdsmen have started their own madness, I felt Igbo youths have started to wrestle the trophy of evil from their northern counterparts, because in Nigeria people compete in everything including madness.
The story this time was different as it was bizarre; like scenes in a Mafiosi or Colombian gang movie, a drug baron drove into a church premises in Ozubulu, opened fire and killed worshipers during a holy mass. May their souls rest in peace. Those who survived the attack confessed they knew about the deal, and that a `good baron` recently relocated from soweto to ozubulu and even built church and other amenities for his people.
Another son of theirs `a bad baron` has also retreated from Soweto drug market to settle score with the one who built a church. The bad baron came looking for his colleague in `his` church and in disappointment decided to teach the community the other side of what they have been celebrating. As scores of Ozubulu people lay dead in the morgue, there is a consensus that the community knew who their benefactor and the assailant were.
Even though they knew that these were criminals, they adored them in village gatherings and even in their temples. To really confer acceptability the baron who built a church took the Ecclesiastical title of Bishop of Ozubulu and his portraits are on billboards across Anambra state for everyone to behold. But for this crisis, he would have become pope before 2019.
Like Owerri society of 1996 and Ozubulu, most communities in Nigeria have sacrificed values for money. The get rich quick syndrome is making people to worship money no matter where it comes from. People celebrate and give chieftaincy titles to carriers of moneys even when they know the satanic sources of such wealth.
Churches organise thanksgivings for people with questionable characters and even accept donations from them. Between Owerri and ozubulu, to be celebrated, one needs to be rich by any means necessary, but unlike Ozubulu, Owerri purged itself clean during the Otokoto brouhaha of 1996, Ozubulu appears too traumatized to voluntarily vomit its bad eggs.
Ozubulu community needs every external assistance available for attitudinal restructuring. It is annoying to hear everybody confessing knowledge of the bad nature of these kingpins. It is annoying that they accommodated them, enjoyed their questionable wealth, celebrated them,…and nobody ever reported to the law enforcement agents, nobody ever denounced the bazaar until the horrific eclipse of 6th August. The recent horror gives a window to why the Nigerian personality has been suffering rejection in South Africa. It is really sad. We must restructure our ways, fast.
Dr Philip Afaha is a Senior Lecturer and Deputy Director of UNIABUJA CONSULT