By Reuben Abati
In the case of the State and Rev. Chukwuemeka Kingsley Ezeugo, the Supreme Court a few days ago, upheld the rulings of the lower courts and ruled that the bearded, self-styled “little god”, “Jesus Christ of our time”, and founder of the Lagos-based Christian Praying Assembly (CPA), deserves to be hanged, for enacting a form of horror movie which resulted in the death in 2006 of Ms Ann Uzoh. The simple import of that ruling is that no man is a king before the law, and that the law is no respecter of persons including those who describe themselves as anointed men of God, and who on that account use religion to commit atrocities.
But the most bizarre development since that ruling last Friday has been the intervention of a group called the Ndigbo Cultural Society of Nigeria (NCSN). The group says Nigeria has nothing to gain by shedding Rev. King’s blood and that President Muhammadu Buhari should grant the convicted murderer state pardon because “he is still a spiritual leader to many Nigerians.” The Ndigbo Society is indirectly saying that Rev King’s life should be spared because he is Igbo, and a religious leader. This is nothing but arrant nonsense. It makes us wonder what happens to people’s heads once they are in the grips of the disease of ethnicism. Has anyone told the Ndigbo Cultural Society that Rev. King’s victim, Ann Uzoh, was also Igbo? Or is Emeka Ezeugo’s Igbo life more important than that of Ann Uzoh? Or the lives of the others: Jessica Nwene, Kosiso Ezenwankwo, Chiejina Olisa, Chizoba Onuora, Vivian and Uche?
We keep encountering this kind of absurdity. Crime is excused on the grounds of ethnic affiliation. My-brother-can-do-no-wrong-once-we-are-from-the-same-village: and it is this that has created a web of conspiracy whenever and wherever the ethnic game is at play, and that conspiracy is against the state and decent values of national togetherness. But we thank God for the courts of law, which in this case have brought the Rev. King saga to a closure. And please note that if the victim in this case had been of non-Igbo extraction, perhaps the Ndigbo Cultural Society would have been more strident with their appeal. They’d do well to keep quiet and not further insult the memory of the dead.
They are right on one score though: that Rev King is still a religious leader to many Nigerians. It is one of those funny things about the scope and spread of superstition and religious fanaticism in Nigeria that there are indeed persons who worship their fellow human beings and turn them into their gods. It is precisely this same form of delusion that led to the crime that is taking Rev. King to the gallows in the first place.
It is why he still has followers who believe that the Supreme Court ruling is a joke and that “Rev. King is superhuman, he can’t be killed by mere mortals”. Members of the Christian Praying Assembly are still reportedly awaiting the return of the man they call “His Holiness”. One Sunny, acting as their spokesman, says: “His Holiness cannot be killed. He is more than a mere human being and cannot be killed by any mortal…He will come back home at the appointed time and by then, the people behind this whole thing will bury their heads in shame…” These characters imagine that the people who will bury their heads in shame include the Justices of the Supreme Court?
Apart from ethnicity, religion is another major source of crisis in Nigeria. It turns people’s heads, turns them into zombies and forces them, in many cases to worship man instead of God. Across the country, every day, there are millions who have turned religious leaders including herbalists into “Little gods”. Among Christians and Muslims, widespread confusion over the interpretation of the doctrine has created such complexity that continues to lead people astray. Poverty and the scarcity of opportunities continue to drive people to places of imagined salvation. The pastors promise miracles: they not only preach the gospel, they claim all kinds of powers including the power to make the blind see, to make the lame walk, and to help the unmarried find husbands and wives. Some of the pastors add a touch of the melodramatic to it: they give out clothes, cars, houses, and free food.
But it is the people’s money being recycled and given back as token. The lifestyle of many of the religious leaders would make the Pope cringe. They preach salvation and divine protection, for example, but they live as if they are afraid of their own shadows. The poor members of the congregation relate with the anointed man of God from a distance because they are not rich enough to get close to him, but from the pittance that they manage to make, they contribute tithes unfailingly, to make the man of God and his family live it up and boast that their “Lord is Good!”
The more stylish a religious leader is, the more popular. And some have even gone from being stylish to being practically unusual. There are churches where the Pastors slap, beat, and kick members. In some other places of worship, the Pastors are reportedly romantically involved with female members of the congregation, including married women. There is freedom of religion and freedom of worship and association and so, anyone can call himself a Reverend, a Prophet, a Spiritualist or God’s Deputy, erect a tent and turn himself into some people’s God. Rev King actually lived like that, like a mini-God. He built a large cult-like followership and exercised near-absolute powers over his besotted followers. Ann Uzoh was one of his victims. Sometime, in 2006, he had set her and six other members of the church ablaze for allegedly committing fornication, witchcraft and other offences. He sat in judgment in his own court and issued a death sentence. Ann and other ladies in church were Rev. King’s sex slaves, and according to one account it was the rivalry between Ann and another sex slave that led to the dousing of Ann and others with petrol, their being set ablaze, and Ann’s death.
Ann Uzoh is better remembered as one of those promising young Nigerians whose life was derailed by religious hypnotism. Young ladies who are still today selling themselves to churches and pastors should be reminded of her story and there is no better person to offer a reminder than the father of Ann Uzoh, Mr. Raphael Uzoh. In 2006, the Nigerian Tribune (August 9, 2006) interviewed him and reported, in part, as follows:
“The decision of Miss Uzoh, a Higher National Diploma graduate in Accountancy from the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu State, to pack out of her parents’ house at the period without telling anybody, was said to have shocked everyone. According to the father of the deceased, during a chat with Mid-week Tribune, when he could no longer withstand the pressure being mounted on him by his daughters suitors who had sought her hands in marriage, shortly before she eloped with Rev King, he began the search for her until he was informed by some concerned family members that she had been sighted at the Christian Prayer Assembly belonging to the suspect.
“To my surprise, when I got there, based on the instruction of Rev. King to my daughter, I was told by some insiders that my daughter had changed her name to Ann King. And she told me that I was not her father, that she had started bearing Ann King, said Mr. Raphael Uzoh. He stated that despite this strange behaviour by his daughter and her unusual and sudden rudeness to him, he did not relent in trying to re-assure her that she was still welcome at home if she could still change her mind and come to her senses. Rather, he expressed regrets that his late daughter who was his first child remained adamant and unrepentant.
“However, the bereaved father, in tears, noted that sometime on Saturday, July 22, 2006 at the church’s premises, the accused person was said to have called the deceased and some other five members of the church into his residence and leveled some accusations against the worshippers who saw him as a little god. Mr Uzoh, now left with two children, said he learnt that once anyone was summoned by the pastor, that person, out of fear, must kneel down before the pastor, no matter how old he or she might be. There and then, the suspect was said to have passed death sentence on the girls for perceived fornication and witchcraft. He ordered for fuel and it was brought to him by one Kelechi because the first gallon of fuel brought by the accused person to sprinkle on the unfortunate worshippers was not enough, he recalled.”
That is not the end of the story. Mr. Raphael Uzoh, while trying to rescue his daughter, was ordered to join Rev. King’s church. He did and was given the assignment of lacing Rev. King’s shoes (!). Rev. King definitely lived like a king, and here are some of his followers still insisting that the hangman cannot kill him, even after the Supreme Court had spoken. It won’t be long before they start claiming that he will resurrect! But what on earth could have turned a graduate of Accountancy into a willing sex slave in a church? Unemployment? We need to worry seriously and do something about the growing hordes of young men and women who have turned themselves into slaves of churches, other religious groups, pastors and clerics. Nigeria is losing too much talent and national productivity time to places of religious worship. It is sad that political leaders also patronize these haunts and their managers. Nigeria has become one big theatre of religious ritual. The name of God is the most abused name in Nigeria today. The resultant tragedy and hypocrisy are astonishing.
For now, we can only hope, that all the religious leaders who use religion as a vehicle of abuse will learn the appropriate lessons from the saga of Rev. Chukwuemeka Kingsley Ezeugo a.k.a. Rev. King. And I am not in any way saying all clerics are bad; but that the likes of Rev. King bring the calling to disrepute and sadly, their population seems to be increasing. Rev King has had his day in court. The law has taken its course. Now, let justice be done according to the existing law, even if the heavens fall, quake or wail.