Uzokwe's Searchlight

Achuzia's defense sounds similar to Obasanjo's image project where the president was saying that Nigerians should cover our bad aspects and highlight only our good.
Monday, August 9, 2004

Alfred Obiora Uzokwe


euters reported it and CNN made it headline news. It scrolled continuously across the bottom of TV screens everywhere. It was difficult to miss it. Anambra state was in the news again!

Okija Shrine arrests
No, it was not for something good. It was not for the discovery of a cure for cancer or AIDS. It was not for the construction of a suspension bridge over the river Niger. It was bad news. As soon as I saw it, I felt the way I did a year ago, when the sitting governor of the same State was abducted. My heart sank and I wondered why the State seemed to be mired in one misadventure after another.

The news was direct and clear. The Anambra state police, on Wednesday, August 4, raided a shrine at Okija, Ihiala local government in Anambra state. During the raid, they recovered 50 decomposing bodies and 20 human skulls and arrested 30 witch doctors who were believed to be responsible for the upkeep of the shrine. "The heads, genitals and other vital parts of some of the bodies, found in a teak forest in Okija village, had been severed, a sign they may have been killed for ritual"[Reuters] The raid, appropriately dubbed "Liberation Raid" was conducted at the behest of Nigeria's Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun. He had earlier received petitions from two citizens of the area.

It is almost difficult for someone who was not present during the raid to fully understand the gruesome nature of what police found at the shrine. However, the reaction of the police commissioner, Felix Ogbaudu, tells the story. This was a man that must have become accustomed to seeing death by dint of his profession. However, it was reported that when he beheld the macabre sight of decomposing bodies, skeletal remains, severed parts and skulls of fellow human beings, he simply wept! Then he turned around towards the 30 priests of the shrine, who were suspected to have caused the havoc and rhetorically asked, "are these human beings or ghouls?" The question was very appropriate for how is it possible that the priests felt comfortable in the midst of the remains of their fellow human beings, knowing that they contributed in one way or the other to their demise?

In response to a question from the press on how the bodies got there, one of the priests in the shrine, one Mr. Osita Ndukwu, said, " … if any body reports to us that someone has wronged him or her, our chief priest will send for the person…if he fails to come after two notices, the chief priest will command the deity to go after such one…and when the people come to tell us that the deity has killed the person, they will be told what to bring to the shrine including the corpse of the person"

The above assertion is contradicted by a Guardian News investigation. According to the issue of Thursday, August 5, 2004, "adherents [the shrine patrons], including rich and influential people, who come there were poisoned to die and their corpse and property brought down to the shrines while the priests share the booty" Added to this, the police commissioner later reported seeing concoctions in the shrine. It is therefore this author's considered opinion that the statement attributed to the priest about the deity killing the people is merely a carefully crafted and rehearsed statement; a subterfuge to cover-up the crimes and atrocities that have been committed there. Ascribing the killings to the deity is a veiled attempt to deflect blame from the real criminals. Lets face it, what deity kills people just because they failed to answer a call? Talk about punishment not fitting the crime.

The other assertion made by the Guardian is that the property of the dead men was brought down to the shrine and the priests shared the booty. Mr. Ndukwu the priest indirectly corroborated this when he "admitted that his family resides in Lagos where he owns houses and other businesses [Guardian News, August 5, 2004]. Inotherwords, while the families of their patrons are being subjected to heartaches by the diabolic actions of the shrine priests, which culminate in the death of their loved ones, the priests were amassing wealth and houses in Lagos. This tells this writer that greed is a motivating factor in all this and if the Guardian investigation is anything to go with, poisoning human beings for financial gains is as egregious a crime as can be and frankly deserves the stiffest of punishments if not the ultimate punishment.

Police commissioner Ogbaudu told the press that some of the bodies he saw shrank rather than decompose, a pointer to the fact that they may have been treated with chemicals. This shows that the priests were no dummies. They were not mere primitive men trying to sustain a primitive tradition that had been handed down to them by the previous generation. They carefully preserved the corpses by treating them with chemicals so that they would be put on display for their patrons to see. They wanted them to believe that the deity killed the people thereby portraying its powers. It was like advertising a product so as to drum up more business. This time, the product in question was dead people.

It was not too long ago that Anambra State was in the news. Appalling news. The governor had been abducted and was about to be overthrown when he cried out to the nation. Through providence or accident of history, people rallied around him and he went back to work. One curious thing though is that when the governor's adversaries and erstwhile Godfathers gave their own side of the story, they noted that the Governor swore in the said Okija shrine to step down after taking office. After initial denial, the governor accepted that he swore there but did so under duress. In a swift reaction to the recent events in the same shrine, "a Don at the Madonna University, Okija, Anambra State, Mr. Emeka Obi, called on the police to investigate the state governor, Dr. Chris Ngige and his estranged political godfather, Chief Chris Uba, to ascertain whether they had any link to the bizarre find at the shrines in the state"[Saturday Punch, August 7, 2004] "If the police can prove their claim that the shrine was used for rituals, then people like Ngige and Uba, who were alleged to have gone there, should be charged along with the 30 arrested suspects" Mr. Obi said during his interview with Punch newspaper..

This writer agrees with the Don that the governor needs to come forward and tell what he knows. It is clearly on record that he was at the shrine in question. Did he see all the corpses that the police just discovered when he went there to swear? If he did, why did he look away? Was it not a civic duty for him to report that? If he had reported that back then, may be some lives may have been saved between then and now. Also, as called for by Madonna University Don, those who took the governor to the shrine clearly were familiar with the place. They should also tell the nation what they knew about the place and what they saw when they got there. If they saw the corpses and said nothing, then they have some questions to answer also.

The police should be commended for a good first step however, much needs to be done. A thorough search and investigation must take place. It must not be hurried so that this type of evil would never take place again. People who have missing relatives must be invited to review the fresh corpse and the priests must be made to give names. The police must find out exactly how they were killed. This would be the time for the police to spend as much money as they can to bring in forensic experts to find out how those people died. Were they poisoned? If so, what sorts of poison did they ingest? We need to know how widespread this has been and be able to stop it once and for all.

The second task that the police has is to go around the 36 -states of the federation and start unearthing similar shrines. It will be mere wishful thinking for anyone to believe that what we just saw is only peculiar to Okija, Anambra state. Now that we know what happens in these shrines, scattered all over Nigeria, the police must quickly swing into action. Anything short of that will be fighting this social malady half-heartedly.

We are hearing that the federal government may become involved in the investigation of the Okija shrine incident. I realize that I once frowned at the intervention of the federal government in Anambra state during Ngige saga, but in this case, if the government will be true, they are welcome. If left in the hands of the state, it may not be properly investigated because the people are too close to the crime. Moreover, the state may not have money to bring in forensic experts needed to unravel all these. Also, the trial should be public and televised for transparency. The world needs to understand that it is not the way of life of majority in the state and in Nigeria. The high priest should be forced to name names of his victims, including those that brought them to him. This issue must be dealt with in the open otherwise Igbos will in future be painted with a broad brush. It will bring bad name to the Igbos, scare people, especially foreigners from Igbo land.

One of the latest twists in this matter is that the secretary of Ohaneze, Col. Achuzia reportedly frowned at the police raid on the shrines. He was reported as saying that the developments in the shrines were not new in the Nigerian tradition and was not worth publicizing because it portrays Igbos as cannibals. Col. Achuzia may be right that the development was not new in Nigeria because we hear about rituals with humans all over Nigeria. However, just because it was not new does not make it right. Many years ago in some parts of Nigeria, newborn babies who cut their first set of teeth on the upper palate were seen as evil and tossed into the evil forest. People who had certain diseases like bloating stomach, which we now know as stomach cancer, were also tossed into the evil forest and left to die. Newborn babies that came out the wrong way were taken to the evil forest and allowed to die. In the same vein, twins were also exterminated. This was a primitive tradition that had stayed with different communities for a long time but was thankfully stamped out by the intervention of colonial masters and other people of goodwill.

Is Achuzia by his statements saying that those gruesome practices should have been continued just because they "were not new in the Nigerian tradition?" Certainly no. In Nigeria today, many have been afflicted by stomach cancer and their families took care of them till their last days. Many newly born have cut their first set of teeth on the upper palate and lived to become doctors, lawyers and even political leaders. Many twins have gone on to become great and contribute to society. Col Joe Achuzia is therefore wrong and needs to retract his statement if he was speaking for Ohaneze. Frankly, he should focus his energy as Ohaneze's General Secretary on championing worthy Igbo causes not defending atrocities or attempting to exonerate killers. If the shrines were not littered with human corpses, it would have been a different case. But we are talking about human beings, Igbos that died at the hands of fellow Igbos. It is fratricide; it is indefensible! Col Achuzia could be burnishing the image of the Igbos in many other good ways. Igbos are not lacking in achievements to be showcased to the world. Condemning this gruesome crime is the right thing to do in the presence of God and man and the brave Colonel must make a U-turn.

Achuzia's defense sounds similar to Obasanjo's image project where the president was saying that Nigerians should cover our bad aspects and highlight only our good. I criticized the president for saying so then and I hasten to criticize Col Achuzia for practically saying the same thing. If Colonel Achuzia is concerned that there are similar shrines all over the nation, then he should be calling on the police, as I did earlier, to descend on those other shrines also.

Finally, time may have come for completely purging Anambra State of evil and finally moving forward. It started when we learned how the state money was being mismanaged and why workers were not being paid. This latest scandal may have brought this collective cleansing to its ne plus ultra because, according to reports, three registers were recovered from the shrine and in due course, the names of the people on the registers will become known. This may lead to the unmasking of men who dress well by day, drive flashy cars, make donations in churches and in civic places and are made chiefs by greedy village chiefs, even though they lack the requisite wisdom. The Guardian News alleged that "prominent politicians in the state had gone from time to time to swear to an oath at these shrines" and two suspects in the shrine have stated that prominent politicians, top government officials and businessmen were regular callers at the shrine, seeking for solutions to all kinds of problems [Sunday Punch, August 8, 2004]

As things unravel with respect to this gruesome find, it may become apparent that some of these exalted men, who sometimes build churches or donate money for same and therefore occupy hallowed seats in the churches as well as parade themselves as leaders of society, are actually wolves in sheep's clothing. It may become apparent that they have been accomplices to the shrine priests in perpetrating the crime of the century. A new era may have dawned for bringing them to light and shaming them, finally giving Anambra state and indeed Igboland the respite they deserve after withstanding a grueling 30-month war that decimated it and rained blood on every nook and cranny. May God help us.