In the estate where I live in Abuja, there is a boy whose name is Onesimus. His parents are TIv from Benue State. When some of my kids were growing up, Onesimus used to frequent my house in order to mingle and play with my children. On several occasions when visitors came to my place and heard that strange, unNigerian name, they used to wonder in their hearts what sort of name that is and which part of the country bears it. When some get to know his parents are Tiv they will ask whether the name is a Tiv one.
Unable to hold themselves, some will venture to ask me and that will give me an opportunity to ‘evangelise’ them a little. I tell them it is a ‘proper’ Christian name, given by Catholics to those who have been baptized and have become living saints of the living God. I will send for my Bible and proceed to tell and show them that the name is found in the Bible book of Philemon, one of the shortest books of the Bible. Philemon is tucked in between the better known New Testament books of Titus and Hebrews.
The book of Philemon is so short and looks so inconsequential that many Christians wonder why it is among the books of the Bible at all. There are so many old Christians who are not even aware of the fact that there is a book by that name at all in the Holy Bible! They just ‘open and pass’ that book. So many pastors in their preaching hardly make references to the book of Philemon. Yet, that book is in the Bible and it is there for a very great purpose which you will learn about shortly.
The book tells the story of Onesimus, a run- away slave. Onesimus’ master was a rich Greek slave owner of ancient times by name Philemon after which the book is named. Philemon was a man that Apostle Paul had converted to Christianity in one of his many missionary journeys to Greece and Asia Minor. When Paul was taken from one of the provinces to Rome the capital of the great Roman Empire to face trial for some grave charges, Onesimus ran into him and was also converted and he became a very useful assistant to the jailed Apostle.
It came a time for Paul to send Onesimus back to his master, Philemon, because in the Roman Empire, it was a great offence for a slave to run away. Whichever slave did that was liable to instant death at the hands of whoever found him. Or if he was captured and returned to his master, his master was at liberty to use a red hot iron to emblazon the word ‘’fugitivus’ (fugitive) on the forehead of that slave, an identification mark that he will have to live with for the rest of his life. Seeing the dreadful fate that awaited Onesimus either in the hands of bounty hunters or in the hands of his master, Paul realized he had to write a letter to Philemon by the hand of Onesimus.
In the letter/book, he pleaded the cause of Onesimus. The significance of this book is that it is held as an example of great Christian diplomacy. We Christians are called upon to be good ambassadors of Christ in all things and in all ways, not only to be his ‘soldiers’. As Paul’s convert, Philemon, the master of Onesimus, owed Paul a duty to listen to him and do whatever it is Paul felt was a good and proper Christian way to handle an issue. In other words, Paul had power and influence over Philemon and would have harped on it and ordered him straight away to accept his run- away slave without question and without inflicting on him those horrible punishments specified by law because the Christian principle of forgiveness and brotherly love which Philemon and Onesimus now owed each other, was superior to the law of slavery and cruel punishment specified for run-away slaves. But Paul did not do that for there was a law on ground and as a proud Roman citizen himself, Paul was duty-bound to respect that law and not ask a man directly to forfeit his rights under that law. He realized the delicate nature of the problem or the tight rope he needed to walk.
With great tact and diplomatic astuteness, Paul managed to convey his great liberating message to Philemon to do what he Paul wanted. He merely hinted at the power and influence he had over Philemon, his spiritual son. He even applied some subtle blackmail or pressure by telling Philemon he will soon be coming back to see him in person when he knew very well that his end was near in Rome. When you have power over someone, do not plead it, do not flaunt it, do not harp on it in your argument; you may tactically hint at it so that you do not grate or ride roughshod over his ego or sense of self-worth and lose whatever favour you wanted him to do you in the first place. What will it pay Paul if he were to act like a soldier which could dispose Onesimus to either be killed or be scarified with a hot iron on his forehead, a reality that will humiliate and strip him of his personhood, dignity and honour?
The story of the Kaduna State House of Assembly which recently enacted a law specifying castration for men found guilty of rape reminds me of the story of Onesimus who would have had to carry forever, a deforming scar and a life-defining evidence that would announce to anyone with whom he came in contact the message that: ‘’here comes a slave who tried to run away’’. It reminds me of horrible punishment which achieves practically no useful purpose other than to satiate our innate human desire for vengeance while the errant perpetrator of the crime is required to live with the scar forever.
Rape is, no doubt, a very horrible crime but to me, the punishment specified by the honourable men of the KSHA is as horrible as the crime it seeks to eradicate. Castration, to me, looks like murder and non-murder combined and inflicted at the same time. A castrated man is a living dead person. It is worse than serving a life sentence with hard labour and without parole. It is also worse than death in that while you live, you the creation of God, are altered unalterably or irreversibly.
All of his life, a castrated man will carry on him a scar that tells everyone, ‘’here is a man who raped a lady. He has been ‘de-manned’, ‘unmanned’ and is now manless’. Although he looks manly, he is, in fact, totally manless’’. You will become a source of negative curiosity, jeers and mockery for life. Children who do not even understand will hurl abuses at you any time you pass in their neighbourhood. Even in death this man will still be remembered as the man who was made ‘unman’ or a non-man by the law of his country. That type of law is cruel, uncivilized and will not even glorify God or the society we seek to please. It is a recall of Stone Age cruelty and barbarism, unfit for a legislation to serve 21st century people.
Perhaps, the greatest argument against the punishment of castration is its irreversibility. Nothing reasonable can be done about it if the punishment has been carried out. If later it is proven that the convict was wrongly accused or framed up and punished undeservedly there is absolutely nothing that anyone on earth can do about it. The victim cannot be de-castrated or ‘uncastrated’. All that the Kaduna State Government may do for such a man is to apologise profusely and give him monetary compensation.
I invite Nigerians and people of the word to note that in the famous Biblical/Koranic story of Potiphar’s wife, it was this wicked woman who earnestly, violently and seductively desired Joseph and even wanted to rape him who was the very person who told the world that it was Joseph who attempted to rape her and make a sport of her and Joseph was convicted for that ‘crime’! In a world in which if a woman alleges that a particular man raped her, 99.99999 percent of men, women, judges, priests and laymen will believe her, this KSHA law is nothing but a very dangerous monster..
In this 21st century, is it civilised and does it sound decent to castrate a man as a punishment for the crime of rape? Let us leave that aside and consider the practically of its application or implementation. Which doctor who took the Hippocratic Oath will agree to carry out such a court judgment? May be, it will have to be a veterinary doctor who is used to castrating dogs! Since the story of this law broke, I have been wondering about it. My mind has been in torture. Who between the rapists and the members of the KSHA is more decent?
It is clear that members of the KSHA were simply overtaken by foolish emotion not expected of men and women called upon to make laws to govern society. They did not think deeply enough on this issue. Law makers are supposed to be self-controlled, intelligent, broadminded and unemotional. Emotion does not solve any single social, political or economic problem. In fact it tends to compound problems as we have seen in this unwise law. Unless the KSHA members intend this law to be a mere scarecrow meant to be unenforced, they should go back and tinker with it and come up with something that is reasonable and decent and in conformity with the values of the 21st century.
In their hate for vengeance, the horrible members of the KSHA forgot that in the modern world, some women now rape men. Well, their own is called ‘molestation’ of young boys! Whatever name women’s rape sin is called, how do you castrate such women aggressors? Do you’ de-seed’ them or remove the entire female genitalia? How will that even sound to the ears of the civilised world?
But come to think of it, why do our laws seem aimed at exacting revenge and not at reforming offenders or making them offer useful community service? Why did the KSHA lawmakers not think of offenders serving long years in prison and compelled by provisions of that law to offer pratical service to humanity such as planting and nurturing to fruition something like three million oil palm seedlings before they can be eligible for parole or pardon? In other words, grave offenders become society’s great benefactors? Why can’t we build an economy based on the self-redeeming sweat of our criminals? Why do we like laws that only seek to satisfy our instinct for vengeance, useless vengeance that does not even assuage the pains victims of crimes suffer?