by Festus Iyorah
Following the seven-year bloody reign of the deadly Boko haram terrorists in North East part of the country, Nigeria is yet again embroiled in another conflict that has killed thousands of people from 63 in 2013 to 1,229 people in 2014, according to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index.
FESTUS IYORAH in this seven-part series reports the hazards the Fulani Herdsmen have caused, dividing people across ethnic and religious lines.
Imo, Nigeria, November, 18, 2016—A crowd of people gathered, watching as a hearse shuddered to a halt somewhere in Ebenator-Ekwe, Imo state.
The exact location was Saint Anne’s Catholic Parish, and laying in the brown casket adorned with golden embroider was the lifeless body of Lazarus Nwa-offor, the man to whom they had come to pay their respects. Nwa-offor, a Roman Catholic seminarian, had been gruesomely murdered by suspected Fulani Herdsmen on August 25, 2016 at Ndiagu, Attakwu, Akegbe-Ugwu , Nkanu-West Local Government Area of Enugu State.
Nwa-offor drew people – friends, families, well wishers -in the hundreds, from the Nigeria’s eastern states of Enugu, Anambra, Imo, Abia.
Soon, everyone formed a large huddle round the casket positioned on a makeshift funeral bier shrouded with purple cloth. The purple cloth which signifies suffering in the Catholic Church doctrine matches the priests’ chasuble.
Expectedly, everyone was hounded into a state of melancholy, an emotional relapse featuring gloomy faces—some moist with tears, some had tears welling up in their eyes.
But no one cried.
It was not yet time to cry. It was time to bid farewell to Nwa-offor through a funeral mass celebrated in grief, in pains, in prayers and thanksgiving for a “martyr” who had lost his life serving God in his vineyard.
Silently, everyone filed into the church to begin the burial mass in a procession led by the altar servers, then Nwa-offor’s friends, lifting his corpse aloft. Gently, they placed him on their shoulders like professional pallbearer, surging to the front of the altar to begin the mass.
Black Thursday in Ndiagu
Enugu, Nigeria, October, 16, 2016—Ifeanyi Agbo, 42, Nwa-offor’s landlord had just returned from mass at a local parish of the Roman Catholic Church—which was a few miles away from his house when I visited on a sweltering Sunday afternoon.
He was sitting on a blue plastic chair, donning a checkered yellow and red Ankara fabric, staring motionlessly into the dreary faces of his kinsmen including the chairman of the community—who came to pay him a condolence visit. They also came to plan for the burial of their matriarch, Mrs. Ifeoma Agbo who had also been killed alongside Nwa-offor when suspected Fulani Herdsmen attacked on August 25.
The gloomy miens on their faces depicted sorrow, anger as they discussed in Igbo language, predominantly spoken in south-eastern Nigeria.
A nostalgic memory of the herdsmen attack, government and the king’s efforts to enhance the security of residents in the community, the welfare of their relatives still in the hospital and the burial plans of their matriarch formed the discussion at Agbo’s veranda.
Agbo, who received an incision on his head during the attack, had just returned from hospital. He was discharged from Mother of Christ Hospital in Enugu a week earlier, after staying in the hospital for about two months.
In the attack that lasted for about an hour, two people died: Nwa-offor, his tenant, and his mother, Ifeoma Agbo, in her early 70s.
Three people were seriously injured: Agbo, his pregnant wife, Eunice Agbo, and his sister, Chioma Agbo.
Ndiagu, a sleepy community surrounded by hills is nestled in Attakwu, Akegbe-Ugwu , Nkanu-West Local Government Area of Enugu State. It’s about a 15-minute drive from Enugu metropolis.
It was 12:45am when the herdsmen walked into the unrestricted compound of Agbo; no fence, no gates—just a plastered, unfurnished bungalow.
They did not knock at the door, says Agbo, who nodded off few minutes before the mid-night raid.
Instead, they climbed through the ceiling with the aid of a wooden bench, Agbo’s kinsmen say, showing me how the bench was positioned against the plastered wall in the veranda.
They climbed through the wall with a bench, jumped down from the ceiling, and unbolted the entrance iron door leading to the living room for others to enter.
Then, operation began.
“It was a terrible night. I didn’t know what was going on after they struck,” Agbo remembers, adding that he had no idea of what led to the attack.
During the attack, Agbo said they punctured his mother’s stomach. Her intestine popped out and she lost her life as a result of that. Agbo was stabbed in the head, his wife Eunice was doubled stabbed in the head. His sister was punctured in the stomach too but she survived, Ifeanyi
They did not come to maim alone. They also came with a mission: to kill.
“They kept shouting we must kill someone today,” Agbo remembers, adding that it led to the instant death of Nwa-offor.
Asleep in his room—which is behind the bungalow, Nwa-offor who was jolted into consciousness, perhaps by the uproar at the living room, came from behind to know what was happening.
But he never got a full glimpse of what happened. He met his death instantly.
“As soon as he arrived at the living room, he was hacked to death,” Agbo said with a whiff of nostalgia. “He died instantly.”
“It’s unfortunate we lost the seminarian,” the chairman of the community, Ndubuisi Obodo, chimes in. He said he met everyone in the pool of their own blood when he arrived after the attack. They were rushed to the hospital where Agbo, his wife, mother and sister were admitted.
Nwa-offor, the dark, gap-toothed seminarian was not buried alone. He was buried with his aged father who died a week to his son’s burial.
Pa Matthias Offor, 115, according to his biography distributed at the gravesite, is still waiting for his last wish to come to fruition: To attend his son’s diaconate ordination, to witness his son become a priest, and to be called “Papa father” before he joins his ancestors.
He would have to wait till 2018 for his wish to come to fulfillment; however, it never came to fruition.
Pa Matthias died after he got to know about his son’s death through divine intervention, perhaps.
His family had kept the news from him for three months until 10thNovember when Papa roused from sleep and shouted “Which of my son is killed?” repeatedly, crying, bitterly.
Few hours later, Pa Matthias died.
Papa Matthias had faced myriads of challenges from financial difficulties to the death of his wife, Ezinne Offor in 2003 and his daughter, Theresa in 2005.
But nothing happened to him. Nwa-offor’s death formed the last straw that broke the camel’s back.
Reverend Fr Theophilus Nwadike, the parish priest of Saint Anne’s Ebenator described the burial mass as a “double tragedy” to the parishioners and Nwa-offor’s family.