FEATURE ARTICLE

Fr Pat Amobi ChukwumaThursday, October 26, 2017
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FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN

t was terrible. There was confusion. There was pandemonium all over the South-East and South-South Regions of Nigeria last week, exactly on 11th of October 2017. Rumour went round that the Nigerian soldiers under Operation Python Dance were parading round the schools vaccinating children by force and injecting the virus of monkey-pox into them. It was also alleged that the soldiers were out to vaccinate children of school age with harmful concoctions that will in marriageable age render them impotent. In this way the population of the Easterners and Southerners will be drastically reduced. It was also alleged that some of the school children already immunized were collapsing and dying here and there. It was like an outbreak of war. Some people thought that the world was coming to an end on that fateful day. Parents were panicking and running helter-skelter, shouting and crying. They rushed to schools in great number, looking for their children to collect them for fear of the unknown.

I was driving from Abagana to Awka as it was happening. I wound up my car's glasses and switched on the air condition apparatus to cool the sweat already running down all over my body like flood. The cassock I was putting on became extremely wet because of the quantity of sweat rushing out from the pores of my bodily hairs. Then I made the Sign of the Cross and did a perfect act of contrition in case of any eventuality on my way. Along the road, I saw a soldier fully armed standing by the road-side. I began binding and casting, in case he intended to shoot me or vaccinate me by force.

On reaching Awka, my breath failed me as I saw a great traffic of pedestrians along Zik's Avenue running up and down. Vehicles, big and small, were standstill due to the multitude. Many parents were dragging their children home from school. Having lived at Awka for some years, I took an inner street road and found myself inside St Patrick's Cathedral premises. The whole compound was full of people, cars, motorcycles and wheel-barrows. Some parents who succeeded in collecting their children from the group of schools inside the Cathedral premises were running home with them. Some were driving their own children home on cars, which were scarcely moving because of the volume of traffic hold-up. A few poor parents were conveying theirs home on wheel-barrows. The commercial cyclists and tricycles drove some of the children and their parents home overloaded.

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. At the time of emergency, anything can happen. Human life is a primary value and must be protected at all costs. Standing at a vantage position at Awka, I saw some mothers scaling over school walls in order to get hold of their children. While scaling over the school wall the wrapper which one of the mothers was tying fell off. Thank God she was putting on a long tight black pant. She did not mind, so far she got her child. She threw the child over the wall. By God's grace the child fell on top of a half trip of sand on the ground at the other side. The mother scaled over the wall gallantly again. She saw her wrapper lying on muddy sand. She picked it up and tied it round her waist without minding the dirtiness. She held her only child round her shoulders and ran home madly.

Some of the parents broke the gates of some schools in Anambra State and forcefully took their children against the wish of school authority. One of the female teachers who tried to prevent one of the parents from taking her child by force met fire. She barked at the mother thus: "Stop trespassing and get out of this class please! Your child is in my custody as far as school hours last. I am in-charge!" The mother of the child in question retorted, "Who are you? As I see you, you are unmarried and have not experienced the pains of child birth. Common, let me have my child before thunder breaks your stubborn head!" A fight ensued between the two. The parent attempted biting off the right ear of the female teacher while the teacher tore the parent's dress from neck to knee. The cries of the pupils in the class attracted the headmistress and other teachers who intervened and separated the fight. The teacher's ear was bleeding profusely while the parent was standing half naked before all.

At Asaba, it was also horrible. Out of fear, one of the tensed mothers took a Ghana-must-go bag and ran to her child's school. When she succeeded in collecting the child, she laid her quietly inside the bag for fear of the soldiers of the python dance. She boarded a commercial motorcycle (okada) with the child inside the bag resting on her laps. Hardly did she know that the child was suffocating. The child's cry was not heard because the bag was firmly zipped up for fear of the unknown. On reaching home, she quickly opened the bag and saw the child lying in coma, sweating like a fowl in hot water. She raised an alarm. Sympathizers ran in dozens. The child was immediately rushed to a nearby hospital for medical attention. The nurses on duty put the child in a stretcher and rushed him into the emergency theatre. The doctor was alerted. He ran into the emergency room without delay. Observing that the child was already in coma and breathing his last, an oxygen machine was connected to his respiratory system. Meanwhile the mother of the expiring child was at the door crying despairingly. If not for sympathetic by-standers she would have strangled herself. By God's special grace, the expiring child was resuscitated miraculously. This is one of the consequences of fear of the unknown.

At Onitsha, most of the traders at Main Market and other markets closed their shops and rushed to different schools to collect their children for fear of being vaccinated with harmful drugs by the soldiers of Operation Python Dance. Some of the traders took their children into the warehouses and locked them up. One of the school children was luckily locked up in a provision warehouse. He was nine years old. Since morning of that day he has never eaten. He knelt down inside the warehouse and prayed, "The Lord is good, all the time!" He stood up and started consuming biscuits, Lucozade-boost, milk, malt, and honey. At late evening the father opened the warehouse to bring his boy out. He was taken aback as he saw empty packets and empty containers of assorted drinks and empty tins of milk. He saw his boy sleeping on top of the goods dreaming and snoring. The whole warehouse was filled with foul polluted air. The angry father gave him a hot slap. He jumped up suddenly and exclaimed, "Daddy, thank Sir! Please I would like to be sleeping here every day until the Python Dance soldiers leave for the barracks." To serve as punitive measure, the angry father took the boy home and locked him up inside an awful pit toilet for two hours. Indeed the boy enjoyed in the provision warehouse and suffered in the awful pit toilet. Was the father's action right or wrong?

The fear of the unknown is in born in every human being. A pregnant mother becomes happy at conception. She and her husband dance for joy and look forward expectantly of becoming parents. However, they have palpable fear of still birth or unsafe delivery. In fact the nine months period of pregnancy is shrouded in fear of the unknown. The expectant mother goes to antenatal clinic at specified times. Since God is the Alpha and Omega, she also runs to church from time to time for efficacious prayers. As I was entering a church some time ago, a distressed pregnant woman's shout forced me to look behind. What did I see? I saw 8-month pregnant mother running towards me and beckoning me with a wave of the hand. She was sweating a lot and was breathing from the mouth. I was moved with pity. She knelt before me and pleaded, "Please father, bless me. My time is fast approaching. Pray for me that I may give birth in peace." I did not waste time. I prayed charismatically over her and commanded all powers that be to take flight from the pregnant mother so that she would have a safe delivery. I commended her into the hands of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. She responded with a big Amen! I sprinkled her with holy water. She asked me also to anoint her highly expanded belly with holy oil. I can't remember if I did so.

When an expectant mother gives birth safely, there is an immeasurable happiness in the hearts of the couple concerned. But if it is the other way round, sadness envelops the family. Many families have suffered from infant mortality for years past. Often it becomes the mortality of the expectant mother. Which one is preferable: still birth or mother's death during birth? Life is a primary value. Ethically speaking, there is no human life that is greater than the other. The child's life is as important as the mother's life. When an expectant mother has to be operated upon, the medical doctor must do his best to save the lives of the mother and the child. Any attempt to eliminate one of them intentionally is morally culpable.

The life of a priest is equal to the life of a seminarian. The life of the principal or headmaster (headmistress) is not greater than the life of the student or pupil. The life of the president or governor is not higher than the life of an ordinary citizen. It is unfortunate that when the president, governor or a high government official falls sick, they go abroad for treatment. But when an ordinary citizen or poor man (woman) falls sick, he/she is treated locally at the risk of of the unknown. Why should those in authority not equip our hospitals like the ones abroad? It is unfortunate that most Nigerians who suffer from different types of cancer are flown to India for fear of the unknown at the terminal stage. A huge sum of money is spent on them, yet they return home to die.

When a child is growing up, there is fear of what he or she will become. A distressed mother came into my office not long ago. She was crying hopelessly. I tried my best to console her but all in vain. Then I left her to cry to her satisfaction. When all the tears in her eyes have finished, she began to lay her complaints. She regretted coming into this world. She had attempted taking her own life many times but all to no avail. God blessed her and the husband with two boys and two girls. Sadly, the husband died early. She sold all she had to train the four children up to secondary school level. Later, the two boys joined a notorious armed robbery gang and were killed in an operation. The two girls after their post-primary school became notorious prostitutes. They contacted the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome and were between life and death. Let me ask. Between this distressed woman and a childless woman, whose condition is better?

On reaching maturity a girl entertains the fear of marriage. Most of the young and old girls who storm prayer houses and places of religious crusades are driven by the fear of getting husbands. For them, other things and heaven should wait for now. Their fear is that a woman's time gets over quickly. Their male counterparts' time lasts till death. One girl told me that her concern is to get married, even if it is a mad man. At least it would be on record that she had once married. A young man on the other hand entertains the fear of getting a good wife. Anyone man or woman who marries a bad wife or husband is already in hell. A certain man came to me complaining of marrying a devil incarnate as wife. A lady told me also that she entered the vehicle of thieves in her marriage. Must everybody get married? Which is better: sadness in marriage or happiness in remaining single?

Human beings are mortal. We are in constant fear of death. Shakespeare says that cowards die many times before their actual death. Are you a coward? One of my friends says that even though he wants to go to heaven, but he is not in a hurry to die. No one actually wants to die. We are ready to live but not ready to die. No wonder death continues to claim us unexpectedly. Personally I am not afraid of death as such. My fear is based on what comes after death. The three last things are death, judgment, heaven or hell. These create fear of the unknown. Where will you and I spend our eternity?

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