Osuagwu : A Victim Of Lack Of Value For Human Life In Igboland

DenyI LIVE in a country, which proves that a country that does not believe in God can still love fellow human beings and stand in solidarity with them most times. Sweden and the rest of Scandinavian countries demonstrate the popular belief that a country that does not know God will suffer from all kinds of social evils to be false. Most Swedes and people living in Sweden have no business with God.

There is a serious ignorance about God and sacred things to which they make no apologies. Most are antagonistic to God and anything to do with Him. Religion and God are the most marginalised things in Swedish society.

While in most countries, to be a God-fearing person or a Christian is a plus for political office seekers, in Sweden, once a politician declares that he or she believes in God or makes it known that he or she is a Christian, that is a guarantee for losing elections or ever being appointed to head institutions in the Swedish society. In all things, one is expected to be politically correct.

This means that God has no business with the business of a secular society and should never be a reference point for governance or leadership. Interestingly, this country without God is one of the most secured, prosperous, loving and successful countries on earth. This is a nation of atheists, skeptics, agnostics and yet a nation where honour, integrity, truth, justice, value for human life, concern for the welfare of individual persons are most people’s concern. It is, in other words, a nation of atheists that do all in their power to avoid giving scandal to others through living an unethical and irresponsible life.

Since the tragic news of the brutal murder of Rev Fr Dennis Osuagwu CMF, people have attributed it to different things such as the lack of fear of God and belief in Him. Rev. Fr. Maurice Jiwike, in his article in the Leader online Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri, has made this point in an article titled: “The assassination of Rev Fr Dennis Osuagwu CMF…caused by lack of faith in God”.

Obviously, the Igbo person has lost the sacredness of human life, as all kinds of acts devoid of any sense of the sacred, are daily committed against our fellow Igbos. While I do not doubt that it could be one of the factors, yet I live and experience daily in my life a nation without God yet where love, truth, honesty, solidarity, respect for human life, dignity of the individual person, accountability and responsibility hold sway in all facets of the individuals’ and nation’s life. This is why I believe that the problem with the increasing social evils in Nigeria is not about God but more of a lack of value for human life. Most of our people are religious people without any idea of the moral implication of their faith. It is not really that they do not fear God but rather, have a fear for the wrong ‘god’.

The Christian God does not seem to answer fast enough for most ‘Christians.’ And that is partly the reason they resort to a ‘god’ that does not waste much time. A nation without the fear and belief in any deity, in all intent and purposes, seems to be better than a nation, where a pantheon of gods and goddesses hold sway.

On Saturday 15 August, one of my brothers called from Nigeria to ask if I had heard the tragic news making rounds in our community and in the state. My brother’s subdued voice warned me that the tragedy was close home. I felt it could only mean that a close person was involved. I replied no! Then he went on to inform me of the sketchy information surrounding the merciless murder of our cousin Rev Fr Dr Dennis Osuagwu CMF. Immediately I dropped the call, I rang one of our brother priests back home. He confirmed the news, having called my line three times earlier that ‘Ides of March’ for Fr Dennis without success. He informed me that the source of his information was there, when Fr Dennis was taken to the mortuary.

The confirmation of this tragic incidence was still like a fairy tale to me. I left my room to visit the Blessed Sacrament in our church. Standing in front of the Tabernacle, tears filled my eyes and I asked Jesus why He did not intervene, especially as Fr Dennis was just coming from the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass.

I was so angry and with deep sorrow that I said to Jesus: ‘If the culprits are not apprehended, I will be disappointed.’ I left that night hoping the whole story would just be one hell of nightmare the following day being a Sunday. Alas, that was not to be the case. The reality sank and I trembled with fear and indescribable sorrow.

During the week, I called home to get more information about the circumstances of his death. According to some family members and the official information from the Claretian Missionaries that visited the family, Fr Dennis had just celebrated the feast of the Assumption of our Blessed Mother, Virgin Mary with his fellow priests. He left to see the students retaking their exams in their Polytechnic at Nekede.

They were those passing out for their Youth Service. On the way, he gave two young men a ride, who in the pretence of alighting, opened the doors for three other young men to jump in the car. They dragged him out of the car into the forest and brutally murdered him in cold blood and then fled without any trace. These five young men murdered him in a very violent way.

During my own priestly ordination in 1998, Fr Dennis was already in the United States. He was not home during the two years I spent in Nigeria before I left for missions. So, we never really had time to meet after my Ordination until 2013, two years after his return to Nigeria. On December 29, 2014, he celebrated his Priestly Silver Jubilee and I was in Nigeria for the celebration. The following day, we sat down together with his younger brother and discussed how beautiful the ceremony was. Commenting on all the beautiful things said about Fr Dennis during the occasion, his younger brother said: ‘How wonderful to be alive to hear the wonderful things said about one, as if it were one’s funeral?’
A couple of days later, we were together again and together, we went to pray for my mum who was then seriously sick. For me, the experience was a great feeling of joy, as we had the opportunity to catch up with the many years that had passed without any close contact. My mum finally passed last March 30. I came back home for her funeral and Fr Dennis sat down with me under a mango tree in the compound on May 14 and we discussed the funeral preparations and the vigil Mass of my mum to be celebrated that day. Because of a workshop he had earlier scheduled for students, he could not make it back for the Mass. The following day, May 15, we were all at my mum’s funeral Mass and burial.

Deny, as we fondly called him at home, was a soft spoken and humble person. He was a good Christian and loved his fellow human beings. He was a very simple priest, who loved the priesthood and served with dedication whatever responsibility entrusted to him. He inspired me in many ways, especially in his simplicity and love for the priesthood and the fact that he always spoke the truth in love. He was not a person given to sentiments. He was a peacemaker and loved to spread peace. If he had any weakness, it was his sharp and lovely sense of humour, which could be easily misread by those without a sense of humour.

His death has touched many people both in Nigeria and the USA, where he served for 16 years until 2011. Many Nigerian priests from the Southeast have become more apprehensive, wondering who would be the next victim. For those outside Nigeria, it is raising issues about coming back to Nigeria.

Personally, it could not be closer. When the tragic incidence was announced in some parishes, some people actually cried for me. In one of the parishes in Aguneze, a cousin’s parish, as the announcement was made by the parish priest and seeing my cousin there, some people who knew her started crying for her because they thought I was the victim. My biological sisters had some people condoling with them and they had to explain that there were two priests in the extended family.

Until his death, I never heard that other Rev fathers had been brutally murdered in the past in Nigeria, many of them in the Southeast. Sadly, many of the killings are taking place in the most supposed Christian and Catholic part of Nigeria. My question has been what the church in Nigeria, the diocese, the laity, Christian mothers, Christian fathers, and the youths, the Knights of the church and bishops of the dioceses done to ensure that other priests and religious persons do not become victims of such murderous acts.

What have the Archdiocese of Owerri and the Claretian Missionaries done to ensure that other priests and religious people do not suffer similar fate in future? What have priests in Nigeria, especially those in the dioceses, where these incidences have taken place, done or are doing to show that this development is not acceptable and should never be tolerated? Sadly, not much, as far as I know and can tell has been done.

The general reaction has been to condemn the terrible and savage act, ask for prayers for Fr Dennis’ soul and for the conversion of the murderers. If truth must be told and it should, Fr Dennis does not really need our prayers, as he died a martyr. We should rather be asking him to pray for us. He has paid the ultimate price for his faith in Jesus Christ. Religious people often times run the risk of asking God to do the things that God has entrusted to them. We abdicate our responsibilities and become unaccountable, while hiding under spirituality.

The governor of Imo State, where many of these crimes against ministers of God have taken place, needs to rise to the occasion and ensure that the Police and other security agents in the state do their work. It is vital for justice to be done and to be seen to be done. This is the most effective way to fight crime and to significantly reduce crime in any society. Perhaps a major problem is that we are setting up governments that have neither the fear of God that can inspire and motivate to good action nor the prerequisites value or respect for human life that is the fundamental basis for an effective democratic system.

Imagine the effects it would have had, if the diocesan bishops, priests and laity were to organise a state protest to the Governor and the Commissioner of Police to demonstrate that there is zero tolerance for merciless killings of priests. Both the government and law enforcement agents and the perpetrators of these heinous crimes will get the message. Unfortunately, we have become perhaps so comfortable with life and complacent that crimes committed against our fellow human beings no longer mean much to us. We behave as if it does not concern us. The kidnappings of priests, armed robberies in parishes and rectories, attack of convents and religious houses, watching the merciless killings of other individuals with indifference, or even encouraging it and sometimes taking part in it ourselves show how easily the value for human life loses the power to influence our actions in Igbo land. In our culture, we utterly lack value for the basic existence of human life and have even less respect for the existence of living creatures generally. Somehow, when it involves close, loved, or honoured persons, we do indeed have the appropriate feeling, and we even worry for their lives. But outside of this circle, the feeling fails. This lack of value for human life is now deeply engrained in Igbo culture, as tragedies that happen to others now make others happy.
In countries with properly functioning legal system, crimes are also committed to a certain degree. But the criminal justice system works so effectively that most people who commit crimes are apprehended and pay their due to the state for breaching the bond of trust, community and unity through their crimes.

In Nigeria, where there is very poor policing, very weak courts and poor law enforcement, all these have combined with intractable structural injustices. Most people who commit crimes go unpunished and this has encouraged many to now commit crimes with impunity. Thomas Jefferson was on point when he said: “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government”.

We can prevent this and stop this development by doing practical things as priests, laity, and diocese, bishops that send clear message to these murderers that our society will no longer tolerate such crimes, killings of servants and ministers of God in cold blood.

In a nation or state, where God is no longer feared and believed such as Nigeria and Igbo land, the only effective way to fight crime is to make sure that those who commit crime against the state are caught and brought to justice. In such a state, fear of the effectiveness of the law, becomes the beginning of wisdom. Unless effective laws are put in place and implemented, there will be other tragedies as terrible as the one, which took place along Nekede-Avu Road on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Whatever happens, Imo State Polytechnic, Umuagwo and its staff have some questions to answer. Unless Catholic bishops, priests and laity in Igboland practically commit themselves to fighting this evil, Fr Dennis will not be the last. We must not allow ourselves to be silenced by the fear of evil and intimidated into silence by murderers, ritualists, cultists and their likes.

Certainly, it is difficult to forget tragedies like this, when they happen to those who placed their hope in the Lord and called on Him. Yet, they died violently in the hands of the wicked and godless. There is a tragedy in all of this. When we see all the evil in our world, it feels as if the Lord is indifferent to good and evil. The Psalms argue that the Lord’s Eyes are on the righteous and His ears are open unto their cry.

We are told that when the righteous cry, the Lord hears them. The righteous must suffer lots of afflictions, but the Lord delivers them out of them all. These words feel empty, especially when we know that the good and innocent have suffered gruesome deaths in the hands of evil people. Why could God not have intervened and rescued His priest?

It is obviously extremely painful and challenging to our faith in a God, Who is good and delivers His faithful from evil. Incidences such as this challenge our conception of prayer and our Christian faith. Yet, the Christian life is a world that can transform suffering into glory, sacrifice to victory, problem to glory, sadness to joy and tragedy to meaning. Our Christian faith opens a door to another world that is otherwise inaccessible. It is my prayer that the assassination of Fr Dennis will not be in vain. Hopefully, it will mark a turning point for the Igbo’s indifference to the value of human life just as the assassination of Julius Caesar marked a historical turning point for Rome from a Republic to an Empire. May our brother and priest, Fr Deny rest in the happiness, joy, and light of the risen Lord.


Rev Chikezie Onuoha MSP
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