The Leader: In a more detailed way, what is your experience with Boko Haram?
Fr. Law: Ok my experience with Boko Haram took place exactly one year of my arrival to the diocese. I arrived on the 7th day of September 2013, and on the 7th of September 2014, I was just having mass in on of my out stations and then during consecration, a young man passed on his motor bike and shouted at the people in the church that Boko Haram people are near us. He shouted “what are you people still doing in the church”. Before I could lift my eyes, my whole congregation had run way leaving myself at the altar and the catechist beside me. I did not abandon the consecration. I quickly finished up, packed everything after consuming my own and then headed off to my car. Some of my parishioners who were outside wondered how I was going to get back to my house.
They asked me which route I was going to take to my house since they didn’t know what direction and which side Boko Haram was coming from. I bravely hit the road, feeling really very bad because of the way these terrorists came to hit us. As I hit the main road to my house, I discovered that the road was filled with people who were running for their lives. However, I managed to get to my house. Really I didn’t see the Boko Haram people that day. But as I got to my house, the chairman of my church and all the members of my church came and told me that the town wasn’t safe anymore especially as I live in the church compound that it was better for me to leave the town. So as I came out, I saw the soldiers even running in front while we were struggling to run behind them. The road was filled with people running, refugees looking for shelter, people looking for the closest area of safety. I ran to Yola which is about 3hrs away from my house. I stayed in Yola, the following day I called my superior and he said I could come down to Owerri. So I came to Owerri.
And then the second one happened this last October 29th. We had just finished morning mass, and I was in my room when a man came knocking in fact hitting on my door. He happened to be the C.M.O chairman of my church. He came to tell me that Boko Haram people were very much beside us and that there are sounds of bombshells and gunfire everywhere in the town. We could actually feel the approaching insurgency coming very close to us. Then I quickly picked one or two of my things put them in my car and sped off. Just like the other day on the roads, a lot of people heading off to a place of safety. The banks were closed down and nowhere people could afford to pay for their transportation to the next point in fact no vehicles or motorbikes. People were running helter-skelter to find shelter for their children carrying little things from their houses. Men, women, children and the old those who could not walk many fainted on the road. No place to find even clean water to drink. I carried more than 8 children in my car to Yola town where we stayed from Wednesday 29th to Friday 31st of October. I went back to my parish to remove the Blessed Sacrament and to tidy my house before leaving. Getting on the roads the number of refugees I saw was quite frightening. Old men and women, little children and pregnant women, Muslims, Christians, soldiers, in fact all kinds of people were running away. It really was quite terrible. I was able to get to my parish; removed the Blessed Sacrament in one of my out stations, arranged my things; carried my diary and locked my house. I also took the parish records because there’s a law in the Maiduguri diocese that any priest traveling must go with the parish records because you might not be sure of coming back to meet your church in tact.
-The Leader: Now that you have escaped with your life to the eastern part of the country, do you have any plans of going back?
– Fr. Law: Yes, I have my plans of going back because of my people/parishioners are devastated. I’ve heard that some of them lost their family members. My C.M.O chairman in one of my out station was killed and some of my members were also injured by the bomb blasts. Some have got their houses burnt and it will be inappropriate for me at this time to say I will not go back. I should be part of the healing process. It’s very painful and disturbing to work in a place where I’m not sure of coming back alive or not sure of coming back to meet my house in tact.
– The situation is disturbing because in my house I don’t sleep up to 3hrs. Any little movement in the house jolts me up. But then, I have to also be part of the healing process for my people. I have to be the therapy they need at this time. But I am just waiting for the situation to go down a little bit. I am in contact with some of my parishioners, the bishop of the diocese and the priests who ran to different places. As soon as the situation is manageably okay I think I should go back to my place continue my work until my superior deems it right to withdraw me.
– The Leader: What is your motivation for wanting to go back?
Fr. Law: My motivation is the faith of the people. I am not from there, I am from Owerri but I see that the people there are determined. And one question that keeps ringing in my head is ‘if I was ordained for Maiduguri diocese and they have these upheavals at this time, will I abandon them and run away, will I look for another diocese, will I abandon the diocese that brought me up? And the other side of it, if I am to be from Adamawa, Yobe or Bornu state and there’s problem in my home what will I do. Will I abandon and deny my home? No I will still be there to salvage the situation. I know I am not from there, I know the safest is for me to find a way of coming out and leaving that place, but I also feel that it would be better for the people to have me so that we will be able to heal the environment together and then be able to say praise the lord together at the end of this whole terrible situation.
The Leader: This is the true spirit of a missionary and I wish you good luck Fr. We pray that everything goes well and that very soon the Boko Haram would be a thing of the past.
Fr. Law: What I want to add there is to appeal to our people here in the south to understand the situation of our brothers and sisters in the north are facing. It’s a very terrible situation, it’s brutal. You go to church and see Christians being butchered and massacred. It can be quite disheartening for the priests there. Sometimes our people here don’t understand. We dismiss the whole situation as a political gimmick the north is playing. In as much as Boko Haram insurgency may have some political undertones and some religious coating, I feel that the major thing we have to put in cognizance is that this is human life and these are human beings and whatever thing we can do to support them to encourage them to hold on to their faith, we should do it. Many of them are refugees in their home lands. They have no clothing, footwear, their children have no food and some have not seen their parents for weeks and months, some have nowhere to communicate to the next point. I solicit for help in whatever way we can, to support these children, men and women. We can also support the efforts of the church in Maiduguri; support the effort of the missionaries who are working there. It would be highly appreciated because when you see the numbers of the refugees on the roads who cannot afford even N200 to board a bike to the next point, when you see people who will tell you that they have not eaten for three days, when you see people who have not taken shower because they have no soap, when you see people who have no slippers on their legs to move, you will be able to understand what we are talking about.
So the Christians and Missionaries working there would need your encouragement and support and we also need to pray together so that this insurgency would stop. We really need to cooperate with one another, we need to tell ourselves the truth that whether it is political or religious, the human life that is involved is the major thing and we have to work hard and be united to be able to salvage the situation and save more people. Directy or indirectly, Boko Haram insurgency is affecting all of us because the farms, businesses, schools and churches are closed down. In Nigeria especially in the South here, we have many things that we get supplied from the north. Many food stuff and fruits come from the North, but when these farms are destroyed, how do we get these supplies? So the earlier we support them to fight this insurgency, then the better for us. Thank you.
How ENTRACO agents ambush motorists in Owerri
By Emeka Ani
Motorists in Owerri have raised the alarm over constant harassment by officials of the Imo State Environmental Transformation Commission – ENTRACO.
The drivers claim that the officials of the Commission ambush them at various deplorable points of roads in the capital city, waiting for them to contravene either the “One-Way” drive or to drive against traffic by using the wrong lane.
A victim of the commission told The Leader, “You know that some portions of the dual carriage roads in Owerri are so deplorable that only tippers and lorries can access the flooded portions. So, in order to avoid the damaged portion, those of us with small cars drive against traffic to avoid getting stuck in the flood. And as soon as you try to avoid the flood, the ENTRACO officials, who know the travails of motorists and lay ambush will swoop on you, arrest you and drag you to their office where you are made to pay a certain amount of fine.”
“The ENTRACO boss and his team are aware that some roads in Owerri, especially in New Owerri are in very bad shape and no sensible driver will use them. The only solution is to use the section of the road that is manageable, and which the Commission says is an offence. What exactly do they want motorists to do in that circumstance?. Carry our vehicles on the head? So, let the State Government address the state of roads, make them motorable instead of ambushing motorists who try to save their vehicles from the deplorable roads.”
A caller on Ozisa Radio Fm Owerri on Wednesday confirmed the above claim, as she too was a victim. According to her, she was trying to avoid a bad portion along the West End Axis of Owerri when she was encountered by ENTRACO officials who dragged her and her vehicle to ENTRACO office at Owerri Municipal for disobedience to one-way drive. They deflated the four tyres of her car. To retrieve the car, she had to pay N20,000, which surprisingly was not receipted.
Another complaint during the radio programme was lack of uniform payment for a particular offence. According to a contributor to the interactive session, the official fine for driving against traffic is said to be N5,000. But officials of ENTRACO demand as much as N15,000 and N20,000 for the same offence.
The Commission was therefore asked to make public official fines for various traffic offences and illegal parking etc, to avoid disagreement.
Responding, the ENTRACO General Manager, Hon Macdonald Ebere apologized for the overzealousness of some of his staff and asked victims to contact his office if they felt aggrieved by the actions of his staff. He also reeled out various phone numbers to be contacted if victims were not satisfied by the actions of his commission.
Hon. Ebere noted instances where he had to sack some overzealous staff who dainted the image of his commission.
However, the issue of payment of N20,000 by a victim which was not receipted and the official fine for various offences so as to guide motorists and reduce confusion and conflicts, were yet to be addressed.
Hon. Ebere warned motorists, street traders and owners of illegal structures to obey ENTRACO directives, adding that the three weeks notice given to them had elapsed.
In answer to another question, the ENTRACO boss said his commission would soon address various illegal motor parks in Owerri Municipal.
Odenigbo has helped Ndigbo to appreciate the beauty, richness of Igbo Language – Archbishop Obinna
The Leader publishes the last part of our exclusive interview with Archbishop Obinna on the Silver Jubilee of the inauguration of Owerri Ecclesiastical Province and his Installation as Metropolitan of the Province.
Your Grace, you established Odenigbo lecture series in 1996. Do you think it has achieved the purpose for which it was established?
The issue is that at some stage the Igbos who were learned, felt that because you spoke English that meant that you were learned, forgetting that even through the Igbo language you are also learned and that our ancestors had used this language to bring us all up before the white man came. If we had to depend on English for our survival, all along Igbo would not have existed. So Odenigbo has helped our people to appreciate the beauty and richness of the Igbo language and it is also helping the church to spread the good news using the Igbo language. There has been a flowering of even publications in the Igbo language. Music in Igbo language is better appreciated than music in English, especially from the cultural point of view and even from the church/spiritual point of view.
When I think of such songs as “Ihe nke okwukwe abiala,” well, I am sure there are English songs that talk about light, but this one touches the way the Igbo language penetrates better into the Igbo soul, into the Igbo heart than English.
Those who teach Igbo have continued to appreciate what I have done for them because there was a time those who did or taught Igbo were considered low class but with the Odenigbo lecture series those studying Igbo Linguistics feel a great sense of belonging to the academic world too and those who studied Christianity or Religion also recognize that these are fields of study that are also valued not necessarily monitarily but spiritually and culturally. So, a lot of people, even among my co-workers, who used to speak English so much, they now address issues using the Igbo language and when I go on pastoral visits, addresses are also presented to me in Igbo language.
It’s not only about the language, we have been able to touch some traditions, like the ofo. I have been able to go or send priests to now look at the ofo, the symbol of authority in families and compounds. We have been able to translate the ofo into the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, because “Obe Jesu Kristi” is the ultimate ofo, the ultimate ogu; only Christ could have carried the sins of the world.
So, by studying the symbols, we also discover the meanings embedded in them and how they co-relate with higher meanings, the universal meanings that are embedded in the Christian symbols. Likewise, the issue of “ikwa ala.” I have handled that. The issue of incest, having to use Nnabe, Okuko ayaniriya etc, instead of using those symbols and going through an ordeal that is embedded in arusi, we now have created a process or some ordeal but is not anchored in arusi. So we are able to do the purification and reconciling of the people without resort to traditional symbols. We take the meanings and elevate them to a more dignified position.
As we celebrate the silver jubilee of the province and your installation as the Archbishop, what is your message to the province on this occasion?
When the bishops of this province agreed that we celebrate this moment, it was considered a spiritual moment, a moment to deepen further, the light of faith that has reached us, which is also the good news of salvation. So my message is that we all use this moment to deepen our faith, our knowledge of God in Christ, to welcome this good news into the intimacy of our mind, our spirits, our bodies, our families, of our communities.
The prayer we are offering “Ekpere inye ekele na ncheta iri afo abuo na ise nke province owere,” captures the trust of the celebration, which is evangelization intent. So, both the prayer and the mbem (anthem), the provincial anthem which was taken from the Centenary, we are using it to deepen, to purify our lives and make the faith more solid among our people. It is also a challenge to every Catholic to proclaim the good news wherever he or she is. So, it’s not just our coming together to eat and drink, it is a challenge to become more committed Catholics, more committed devotees. That has been really behind whatever we are doing.
The catechetical quiz has already taken place among the children and also among all of us. We already had the symposium earlier, on the unity and integrity of the Catholic faith which took place at the Seat of Wisdom Seminary, then the music fiesta that we had a few days ago, is also part of using music to glorify God and to spread the good news of salvation. So, I see every aspect of it as an illustration of our faith or an expression of missionary trust.
When we feed the poor on the 2nd of September, it is also part of our duty and mission to continue to care for the poor and the needy among us. Yes, we do that quite regularly, we want them to be part and parcel of this celebration. The colloquium we have on Catholic Missioning across the world and Catholic missioning in our province, is a direct invitation for all of us to become missionaries of the faith and in the faith.
So, my message is deepen your faith in the light of the Silver jubilee celebration, which echoes into our hearts, into our land, the good news of salvation and may we become more committed Catholic missionaries in the villages, the parishes, work places, every community, along the streets, in our fields, in our offices, on the roads, cars, aeroplanes, wherever you are, be a missionary. Thank you.
Ban on armed cattle herders: Chief Finbar Ogunta gives kudos to South East governors, calls for more joint ventures
By John Agbakwuru
South East governors have been commended for their recent ban on the movement of armed cattle-rearers in their various communities.
They have also received a pat on the back for the decision to henceforth monitor from the air, the security conditions of the forests in the region.
An Owerri-based, business man and community leader from Ideato North, Chief Sir Finbar Ogunta, gave the commendations at the weekend while chatting with The Leader.
He also proffered solutions to the perennial insecurity challenges in the country, assessed the adequacy of current measures being applied by the federal and state governments to this nagging issue.
Chief Ogunta spoke on the role religious leaders should play in influencing their members and sanitizing their communities, so as to nip insecurity in the bud as well as check youth unemployment and restiveness and government’s attitude to the “Revolution now” activists.
Below are excerpts of the answers to the questions fielded:
The South East governors ban on armed cattle herdsmen is a welcome development. We have been waiting for such decision for a very long time. Our governors should know that we do not expect too much from them. This is a simple way of protection of our mothers in the villages. The decision did not harm the Igbos, fulanis or the herdsmen because Igbos are also doing business in Hausaland and they have never destroyed any life or property there.
The Hausas /Fulani have been doing business with us since ever we knew them. There has never been a time they destroyed any life or crop till recently. But since it looks as if they have support from powers that be, things have gone bad. The impunity with which they act has worsened things. From their behaviours, you will know that they are not afraid at all.
On his solution to the widespread insecurity in the country, Chief Ogunta said: First and foremost, we should be sincere to ourselves about the security agencies that we have in this country. They are created by the law of the land to protect the citizens, but certain issues militate against their efforts to do so. They are not better equipped than the aggressors/criminals. Their welfare should be improved upon in terms of good salaries, health allowance, housing and family welfare.
The government should improve on their welfare and allow them to co-ordinate and work together to curb insecurity.
Asked how effective government measures have been, in fighting insecurity, he replied. In my opinion, the measures that the federal and state governments have been applying so far are like one step forward, five steps backward. The insecurity in the system has been politicized, tribalized, regionized and used to waste tax payers money.
To this effect, the government at all levels should be pro-active and sincere in fighting insecurity in Nigeria.
Speaking on how religious leaders (Christian and Islam) can help nip insecurity in the bud, he said: As a Knight of the Catholic Church, I feel leaders from all religions have so much to contribute to curb insecurity in Nigeria. Their followers listen and practice what they hear from them, therefore they should preach peace. Our religious leaders in this country with the amount of wealth they control can create jobs and employ so many youths to reduce idle hands who are being used as tools to fuel insecurity in the country. The religious leaders should start to educate and enlighten their followers, especially the youth on the implications of being used to put wrong people in position of authority in Nigeria. They should also condemn all actions and inactions perpetrated by the tools of insecurity in all parts of the nation. In other words, all killings and other vices should be condemned in totality.
On how to put an end to youth restiveness, Chief Ogunta said: Regarding youth restiveness, In our culture, we used to pick our young ones and freely train them in different lines of business and at the end help them start up their own.
History has shown that the most successful men in Igbo land went through that process. So, I still feel that people should be encouraged to help train our young ones through that culture to help curb the restiveness of youths in Nigeria. Religious leaders should also put pressure on the government both state and federal to create jobs to engage at least from 1000 to 2000 youths every year in each state. Such meaningful jobs, especially setting up of industries or institutions should be based on skills acquisition. This must be fought for collectively by all religious leaders in various states.
Discussing how Governor Emeka Ihedioha can achieve his “Rebuild Imo Agenda”, Sir Ogunta replied: Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha has been in government as a Federal Legislator in this country for many years, making laws for the good running of Nigeria. Therefore, he has the capacity of knowing what the people want. He should remember that PDP has been out of power for some years. It is good, he came up with the Rebuild Imo Agenda. To make rebuild Imo agenda a reality, I will advice that he should use only people who have integrity. Governor Ihedioha should try as much as he can to avoid those who want to make all their fortune in a night, meaning, desperate wealth-seekers, sycophants and unqualified persons in various ministries and departments.
Any other burning issue?
The only burning issue I have in this country is the rate of killings, destructions of villages and families, burning, maiming, kidnapping without sufficient condemnation from official quarters and religious leaders.
Before the victory of Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha and PDP in Imo State, we the indigenes and members of PDP in particular have been searching for solutions and alternatives to the bad governance of past administration of APC. Among all the contestants, we found Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha of PDP qualified to handle the ruined state. We also, realized that there will be a huge task ahead to take away power from a man who believed that the mantle belongs to him and his family. We now decided on a house-to-house campaign, mostly in Ideato North to unsit APC in Imo State. All the leaders of PDP in Ideato North LGA, including my humble self volunteered to be the polling booth agents to make sure that the results were not tampered with and for a free and fair election for every polling booth. Despite all odds, we succeeded in protecting the votes and results from being altered and Governor Emeka Ihedioha rightly won the election.
He had this to say about the, “Revolution Now” activists:
“Revolution now” is an ideology propounded by a group headed by Sowore, who was supported by different interests. I see it as a wake-up call on the government to sit up. I however feel there is another way to channel that ideology to have more positive effects on the society. The ideology should be enforced at different arms of leadership, the Executive, Judiciary and Legislature.
You cannot attempt to change Nigeria from up down and succeed. If you try that, two things will happen, either you go left or you will be corrupted by the system.
My own approach is that, they should start from the legislators in various constituencies. All constituencies should investigate how their constituency allowances are being used. If not properly used or not even used at all, revolution now starts from that point. Those up will be hearing the message from those down, while the governors would hear that people are revolting . You will now see that the Presidency will adjust itself to satisfy the yearnings of Nigerians.
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