Òwò’s murder in the Cathedral

Busuyi Mekusi

One hurtful act that humans use to dispense vengeance and perform power is murder, which is a wilful interruption of the life of any living person. For instance, Biblical allusion reminds us how jealous and rage caused Cain to murder Abel, because of the respect God had for the animal sacrifice of the latter, as against that of the former. The Supreme Being the duo were relating to further stresses that Cain’s sacrifice was unacceptable because he was not doing good. Little wonder the compartmentalisation of the good, the bad, and the ugly! Across every known divides, these characteristics define human agencies, either partly or wholly. Beyond your intuitive internalisation of your personal orientation, the perception of others matter, even though to the level of unsolicited assessment. Therefore, are you: good, bad or ugly?

While murder is patently viewed in relation to physical killing, murderous propensities could be achieved via non-physical acts like; verbal destruction, in form of character assassination. This is underpinned in the panegyric of Akure people who are reputed for relying on the destructive prowess of the mouth to deconstruct people rather than using the sword. The supposed negativity inhered in this nuance is being regenerated by postmodern users, by replacing destruction with repair.

The effusive deep metaphors found in traditional African tropes are fast being lost to the westernisation of African societies, and demonisation of pre-western African traditional vestiges, with attendant estrangement in a globalised cultural supermarket. For example, it is not strange that traditional methods of securing communities in African societies have been lost to European and Arabic religions, which Africans, particularly Nigerians, swallowed, very hypocritically, hook, line and sinker!

Reflections done in this medium have severally bemoaned the avoidable butcheries ongoing in Nigeria, with any available space turned to a slaughtering slab; from roads to rails; from huts to houses; from farms to factories and from mosques to churches. Even though north-western and north-eastern parts of Nigeria have been endemically plagued by insecurity, the other regions that are far removed from them have experienced glitches that nonetheless call for worries. This is more so in view of the activities of killer herders, who are excusably said to be peripatetic migrants across the Sahel with unquestionable land ‘ownership’ mentality. Apart from the pockets of kidnapping south-west Nigeria has been struggling with, there have not been security breaches traceable to Boko Haram bandits and ISWAP terrorists in the area. It is against this background that the attack and murder of worshipers at St. Francis Catholic Church in Òwò, Ondo State, recently, remain sacrilegiously condemnable.

Arakunrin Akeredolu, undoubtedly, earned for himself a commendable space in the annals of security administration at a vexed moment like this in the history of Nigeria, through the diligent championing of the Western Nigeria Security Network, codenamed Amotekun, in the South-West. While other states in the region were lethargic about operationalising the outfit in their respective states, Arakunrin went ahead, not only to emplace the security outfit in Ondo State, to recruit personnel and adequately equip it for effective service. Between January and May 2022, the outfit claimed he had arrested 4,000 criminals. Little wonder the approval given by the Governor that 350 additional men be recruited to the Amotekun!

It is noteworthy that the impressive scorecard of Amotekun was not insulated from hullaballoo generated from some quarters, including the federal government and members of Miyetti Allah Association, the latter that felt they were being targeted by Amotekun, in relation to the enforcement of the law banning open grazing in the state, as well as the evacuation of illegal occupants of forests in the state. As part of the dusts raised by the operations of the corps, it was rumoured that a former Brigade Commander in the state stopped attending state security meetings, and withdrew men of the Nigerian Army from strategic checkpoints across the state. As common with the issue of security, the grapevine was rich with these pieces of narrative, but reinforced by verifiable realities.

There have also been speculations that the belligerent dispositions of Arakunrin against criminals has attracted their revulsions, with predictable possibility of wanting to undermine the success stories of the security initiatives put in place by the governor, so as to contaminate the soaring commendations that have been lavished on the Governor, from far and near. It is given the foregoing that T. S. Eliot’s memorable play, Murder in the Cathedral, presents itself as a veritable template with which to interrogate the butchery at St. Francis Catholic Church in Òwò by unknown gunmen, just as known gunmen are killing and maiming in America.

Eliot’s play centres on the historical narrative of the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170. Becket, who was a close ally of the then England King, Henry II, was exiled in France, due to his strained and complicated relationship with the King. The King appointed Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury, with the hope that his friend would be loyal to him. Loyalty remains a volatile principle in relationship, as variously theorised recently about Tinubu and Osinajo in the build-up to the APC presidential primary election. Becket, however, places his spiritual placement above that of kingly/royal authority, and the relationship broke down.

Deploying the use of chorus as obtainable in Greek drama, Eliot mediates the action and the audience, with the chorus advising Becket to return to France, to checkmate the premonition about his murder, having predicted his own death, but he blatantly refused to abandon his church. Four Knights came to the Canterbury Cathedral to challenge him of being disloyal to the King. After their departure, Becket ignored the advice to bar the door, to prevent the return of the Four Knights, but he ignored it, and rather flung the doors wide open. The Four Knights returned and killed Becket, escalating him to martyrdom.

Analogous to the contention between the King and Becket, security matter in Nigeria is a vexed one, with palpable allegations rife about the intentions of certain Fulani elements from other countries in Africa that are committed to overrunning southern Nigeria, and take over their lands. Late Obadiah Malaifa and a host of others have been very vociferous about Fulanisation agenda in the country.  As broached earlier, Akeredolu’s generalissimo posturing in the security sector, and his vehemence on the political interests of southern-Nigeria hemisphere, particularly concerning the ceding of the presidential position among the ruling APC to the south, being the Chairman of southern Governors’ Forum, have staged him against non-state actors that are fomenting troubles in the country.

Even though, unlike Becket, Arakunrin has not openly issued any personal premonition, his strong statements of reassurance to do anything to secure his people, and not capitulating to any pressure or blackmail, are suggestive of threats, both to him and his people. Beyond the case of mere coincidence, there have been about four major security breaches in the northern zone of Ondo State recently, particularly the case of the kidnaps of a clergy and his son at Ose, and that of an expatriate at Òwò, the hometown of the Governor. The abduction of the expatriate was highly reprehensible, as his driver and security detail were killed, in broad daylight. So, the gruesome deaths at the St. Francis Cathedral were a climax of what appeared a revenge by elements badly hurt by the unique courageous styles of Arakunrin.

When the St. Francis attackers arrived at the Cathedral, they were not there for Arakunrin, as the Four Knights came for Becket, but turned harmless and helpless parishioners to sacrificial lambs, made to suffer, vicariously, the boldness of a man given to protecting his people. The splashes and pools of blood of the innocent wetting the well-paved floor of the Cathedral are not only indicative of the horror in humanity, but instructive about the dangers ahead, serving as a chorus to the southwest. My mind is with the victims of this rage, and their families, as dwellers in the state are now shocked about the nearness of harbingers of death and destruction. The Holy Mass that got disrupted by these massive murders would have applied the Viaticum on the victims who got escalated to the status of martyrs, just like Becket.

As part of the negative commentaries of Nigeria configurations, leaders who have failed the people, at one point or another, issued choreographed condolences, while they made a political capital of the deaths with visits paid to Òwò, and donations made to the victims and the church. One wonders whether donations would not be better for enhanced security though. The poor remain mere arithmetic in the hands of political elites.

The church, Nigerians and governments must emplace mass eclectic actions against insecurity, as the rich are well protected to easily become victims. Parodying Tinubu’s political slogan, Òwò lókàn; wón gbewá (it was the turn of Òwò; they brought it). Talókàn? (Who is next?) in this rage? Congratulations to Tinubu, but mountains still to climb!

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