Murder In The Cathedral

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First performed in 1935, ‘Murder in the Cathedral’ is a play by the 20th century British playwright and social critic, T. S. Eliot which tells the story of the assassination in 1170 AD of Archbishop Thomas Beckett by loyalists of the then British monarch, Henry II.

In writing the drama, Eliot was said to have drawn heavily from the account of Edward Grim, a clerk who witnessed the tragic event in Canterbury Cathedral and recorded it for posterity. Although the play dwells largely on a confrontation between the Church and State, with Archbishop Beckett willing to pay the supreme sacrifice, it also contains some embedded lessons which speak to contemporary times in Nigeria.

First, let me commiserate with the families that are now grieving as a result of the killings during an early morning mass at St Phillips Catholic Church, Ozubulu last Sunday. My thoughts and prayers are with them as I pray God to grant recovery to those that are still in the hospital. While I hope the security agencies will get to the root of the matter and bring all the culprits (including those outside the shores of the country) to book, the greater work will be how to heal and reconcile the people of Ozubulu community after what has just happened.

If, as Governor Willie Obiano said in his broadcast to the people of Anambra State on Monday, what happened was a “dangerous GANG WAR that has spilled over to Anambra State from another African country” then the authorities must be alert to the possibilities of reprisal attacks. That is also a challenge for the political and traditional authorities in Anambra State so the community does not continue to witness a spiral of violence and needless blood-letting.

Even at that, the Ozubulu tragedy should not be treated as an isolated incident for it is in many respects a reflection of the state of our nation. Last Saturday, some suspected Badoo cult members, disguised as worshippers, reportedly smashed the head of a woman right inside a Cherubim and Seraphim Church in Igbo Agbowa, Ibeshe in Ikorodu area of Lagos after a prayer night vigil.

However, it must be stated quickly that the star actor in the Ozubulu tragedy, an alleged South Africa-based drug baron who has reportedly built schools, churches and constructed roads evidently from proceeds of crime, is an antithesis of the martyred Canterbury Archbishop in Eliot’s play.

In a nation where both justice and affordable healthcare have been priced beyond the reach of the poor, as Dr Chidi Odinkalu hinted in his Twitter post on Monday, the only place many Nigerians now find succour is in the House of God. That some criminally-minded persons would now turn such a place to their battleground demonstrates just how low we have sunk as a nation. Given the way he dealt with the ‘Four Tempters’, the archbishop in T.S. Eliot’s play also teaches that there are certain compromises that are just unacceptable in God’s sanctuary.

The lesson here is that religious leaders should not only stand against the excesses of the state, they must also act as moral compass for the society such that people of questionable characters do not use places of worship to launder ill-gotten wealth. But that is not where I am going today. What particularly worries is the denial that has become part of our ideology as a society. When the news first broke, it was difficult for some people to accept that the killer was from their community, especially given the location of the crime: a church.

However, it shouldn’t have been too difficult to accept given the growing nature of organized crime in many of our cities–the sort of things you watch on CNN and imagine can never happen in our country.

The late Chike Akabogu, one of the most gifted writers of his generation, once wrote about how Nigerians like to delude themselves that they are different; that bad things that occur elsewhere have no place in our country. Borrowing from Akabogu’s thesis, I once argued on this page that the philosophy of ‘it can never happen here’ is actually responsible for our state of unpreparedness for any eventuality. Yet for us to develop, we must accept that anything can happen here, from criminality and violence to calamities like earthquake, Tsunami etc. as forces of nature rage everywhere in the world.

As pessimistic as it may sound, that is the way most serious countries now think by building negative scenarios and working to ensure they do not happen; while also planning towards mitigating such occurrences in the event that they do. But by living in denial of anything and everything, we prevent ourselves from learning useful lessons. That is why we were surprised that we now have suicide bombers in our midst. Because we never came to terms with the fact that if it could happen elsewhere, it can also happen in our country. And now we have a situation in which Nigerian drug barons who ply their trade outside our shores are bringing their fights home with the security agencies, as usual, left stranded.

Almost two years ago, I started working on a book, following my 2015 Platform Nigeria lecture, “If We Stay Here We Die” where I borrowed from the experience of my younger brother who wasted several years in “slavery” across several countries in the attempt to seek ‘greener pastures’ outside Nigeria.

Tentatively titled “From Frying Pan to Fire: How Nigerian young men and women ruin their lives trying to cross to Europe”, I am hoping to complete the work by the first quarter of next year. One of the things I have discovered, in the course of interrogating the complex immigration problem, is that some Nigerians have not only morphed into the Mafia in Italy, they also have their own deadly “Families” with tentacles back home. Since my focus has been on Europe, South Africa did not even cross my mind until the Ozubulu tragedy and now I am hearing a lot of stories from that end.

What the foregoing says is that the security challenge we are dealing with in our country today requires much more than drafting in troops. To contain the activities of criminal cartels, especially those that specialise in drugs, human trafficking, kidnappings, prostitution, insurgency etc., you need close-to-the-ground intelligence gathering and partnerships at all levels. Meanwhile, the weakening of state capacities, due largely to corruption and ineptitude amid declining resources, has facilitated the emergence of these dangerous forms of crime with tremendous challenges to the rule of law.

Unfortunately, as things stand, the police that should ordinarily deal with this challenge lack the capacity, manpower and material resources to handle these new dimensions to organized crime that we now witness almost on a daily basis across the country. That then explains why foot soldiers of drug warlords who reside outside our shores would carry their battle to a place of worship in their own community with innocent citizens becoming cannon fodders for their madness.

In ‘Murder in the Cathedral’, there is something in the character of the assassinated archbishop of Canterbury that may be useful, especially in times like this. In Eliot’s play, Beckett encountered four tempters and he acquitted himself most admirably.

The first came with the suggestion for the Archbishop to gratify the flesh in the form of “singing at nightfall” and enjoying “wit, wine, and wisdom.” Giving in to the pleasures of life, it was argued, would prevent the archbishop from coming into conflict with the king. He turned down the idea.

The second tempter came with the lure of political power and the words were as flowery as those used in Nigeria by our self-deceiving politicians: “Disarm the ruffian, strengthen the laws…Rule for the good of the better cause…” Having resolved that he had spiritual authority which was all he needed as a man of God, the archbishop would not “descend to desire a punier power.”

The third tempter offered a “fight for liberty” to end the “tyrannous jurisdiction” of the king over the bishops and barons. In rejecting this, the archbishop said that “No one shall say that I betrayed the king.”

The fourth tempter encouraged Beckett to pursue martyrdom so as to attain sainthood. Even when he accepted the fate that eventually befell him with equanimity, the archbishop nonetheless would not succumb to doing “the right deed for the wrong reason.”

The difficult choices that the man of God in ‘Murder in the Cathedral’ had to make were quite enlightened and well thought out. In contrast, the sociology of crime in our country is rooted in several dimensions: from ugly business practices ranging from gun running, armed robbery to kidnapping on an industrial scale. For the drug barons among them, the ability to fight dirty wars knows no distance or boundaries hence Ozubulu is well within their range even from as far off as Johannesburg.

The security requirement for containing the ability of these dangerous individuals to re-enact Ozubulu in other theatres across the country is therefore a cross-border challenge. The authorities must begin to gather intelligence on some of these criminally-minded Nigerians who reside in South Africa, Italy and other such destinations. Our religious leaders should also begin to exercise caution on those who think they can buy salvation with filthy lucre.

In the end, what we are dealing with is a pan Nigerian problem and the viral elevation of cash to the status of king of all things such that every aspect of our national life has become transactional: religion, business, politics, sex, friendship etc.

While the desperation for social recognition by these barely literate characters often takes the form of ostentatious displays of expensive vehicles, bogus mansions as well as donations of schools, churches, town halls etc. even the competition for meaningless chieftaincy titles can get bloody as rival factions plot violence and murder, including in the most sacred of places, just to gain the upper hand.

That, in a nutshell, explains the Ozubulu tragedy.

2017 Teens Conference
The online registration for those who wish to attend the 2017 edition of the annual RCCG Teens Career Conference scheduled for 26th August is still on-going. All the details about speakers and the registration process as well as the video clips for last year’s edition, are on the website, www.rccgteapteens.org. Attendance is strictly by registration and once the portal closes, that will signify the end of registration with only those formally contacted by mail eligible to attend.

My Romance with Social Media
In the past, I enjoyed reading books but these days, I merely just collect books only few of which I end up reading. While I cannot remember how it all started, the problem is now compounded by what is becoming a budding romance with Twitter and WhatsApp. Incidentally, I have in recent weeks been bombarded by questions as to why I finally decided to go on Twitter, having said on 9th July 2014 that I might not tread that path. The more I have tried to explain the more the erroneous assertion that I foreclosed it. I never did, even when I am actually still not very active on social media.

From my experience on Twitter where I basically just Retweet or simply make a pithy response to whatever post I find interesting, I still continue to wonder how those who subscribe to practically all these social media platforms and are active on them are able to cope and yet still be productive. And I have friends who do that successfully. I envy them. Meanwhile, for the sake of those who misrepresent my position on social media to mean that I vowed never to join, I reproduce my position as canvassed three years ago at the Mr TaiwoObe-led “EverythingJournalism” group.

The session was a cyber-hangout for media professionals and consumers of media in Abuja. Moderated by respected veteran journalist, Mr. Richard Ikiebe with tested industry hands like DapoOlorunyomi, LekanOtufodurin and AzubuikeIshiekwene as speakers, I had been invited to share with the audience why I am not active on the social media circuit. I raised some issues that day that are still very relevant even today:

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Every day, I receive hundreds of emails with headlines like the following: “Lawrence Anini would like to connect with you on LinkedIn.”

“SaniAbacha has invited you to join Facebook.”

“Do you know that Malabu Oil deal, Osama Bin Laden and 99 others are also on Twitter?”

When I got an invitation to speak this morning on why I am a social media alien, it occurred to me that all the people who have tried unsuccessfully to ‘friend’ me have finally decided on their revenge. From Myspace to Facebook to Twitter to Instagram to LinkedIn to Badoo and the others, if you find an Olusegun Adeniyi, it is not me because I have never been on any social media platform. Never!

Many have asked me why and I usually shrug such question away but I will explain in a few words this morning.

I am happy Yemi Adamolekun (the brilliant young lady who runs ‘Enough is Enough Nigeria’) is here as she will remember that at a recent event where I spoke, I made allusion to why I don’t belong to the Twitter generation as I take comfort in the words of Leha Elisabeth that with user-generated content platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc., people can easily get caught up in cultivating their own image that at the end of the day we stand the risk of surrendering our future to “a generation where everyone acts like the star of their own reality show.”

However, that really does not explain why I stay away from social media which I must admit has become a potent tool in the age of information. There are two reasons why I am out. The first one is general while the second is specific. As to the general one, it all started from a realization that I was spending considerable time reading and replying emails and text messages. So I saw no point in further complicating my life. I have always believed that if anybody needed to reach me, he would get my email (which is readily available for readers of THISDAY newspaper) and send me a direct mail to which I would reply and I am very good at that.

Now to the specific: I saw very early the pitfalls in engaging people you may not even know in virtual discussions.
As far back as year 2001, because my email address was on my backpage column in THISDAY, I began to receive several group mails. There was hardly any listserv cobbled together by Nigerians of my generation that would not include my email address. And even when I rarely participated in their discussions, I followed most of the threads.

Today, I receive no fewer than a thousand mails everyday most of them as a result of these groups and several cross-postings. And my email address is on virtually all the blogs created by Nigerians in the Diaspora. So every morning, my first assignment is usually to delete these ‘junk’ mails and it has become an enjoyable routine. I even get to read most of what people post on their Facebook pages because some ‘friends’ have also made it their business to cut and paste such things, so in a way I operate on the margin of social media.

However, right from year 2001, I saw the danger in virtual friendship from what transpired on some of these listserv. Many of these internet friends would begin by eulogizing one another, just on account of some posts on which they agree until a day when someone writes something they do not agree with. The disagreement could even begin in an innocent manner but one word out of turn and it would degenerate into serious verbal wars and hate speeches, sometimes even threats of violence. On most of these Nigerian listserv, especially by those in the Diaspora, the discussion often begins with a mundane issue, then the names of Chief ObafemiAwolowo, Dr NnamdiAzikiwe and Sir Ahmadu Bello are thrown into the mix and before you know it, they would begin to exchange abuses and curses!

It was about this time that Facebook was launched and then the Paris Hilton of this world started telling us what they ate for breakfast, where they went in the afternoon and who they were sleeping with at night. And I asked myself: why should that be my business? I saw what people were doing on Facebook, and I decided I was not going to join. And I never did. But since then there have been several other platforms that have left me behind. I bet readers will ask how I survived as a presidential spokesman without being on the social media. I was clever enough to surround myself with brilliant professionals who were active on the social media: BolajiAdebiyi, Ken Wiwa (Jnr) and Yakubu Musa.

For sure, the social media is good and because of the pressure from several friends, I have been tempted to join Twitter. I have been considering the offer in the last six months and will decide one way or another before the end of the year! But then, my brother, GarbaShehu, former president of the Guild of Editors, says I am only living in denial given that people can, and often do, read my columns on social media platforms.

I have been told a million times that as a writer, I cannot do without social media and while I concede that I may be denying myself the opportunity for more readership (or to deploy the appropriate term, followership), I also know that I do not have the temperament to be explaining why I wrote certain things to people who may already have their own prejudices. Once I write my column based on my convictions and understanding of issues, I don’t look back and I don’t even read the comments posted below anything I write. Those who have issues with my position would write me directly and I do receive several of such mails every day. Some of them I reply. But I have no business with those who judge others by their own standards and our country is replete with many of them.

By way of conclusion, while I usually consider myself odd, maybe even local, for turning my back on social media in an age in which every vulcanizer and bricklayer in town is on Facebook, Instagram and the likes, I am comforted by the fact that there are also millions of people like me, including celebrities who are also not on any social media platform. I have selected what an international supermodel and two movie superstars said to justify to myself that I may not be too odd afterall.

Kate Moss: “Now, with Instagram and everything, everyone’s so on their phones that even when I’m in a restaurant someone will come up and ask to get a picture with me. I’m like ‘No’. There are no boundaries anymore.”

Scarlett Johansson: “I don’t know how I feel about this idea of, ‘Now, I’m eating dinner, and I want everyone to know that I’m having dinner at this time,’ or, ‘I just mailed a letter and dropped off my kids.’”

Jennifer Aniston: “I’m really computer illiterate. When I see people on their BlackBerrys, working them like some girls work a hairdryer, I’m just stunned.”

For me, these are good companies as I continue in my blissful ignorance. Interestingly, I was invited to the school of my ten-year old son recently to speak to his Class (Primary Six) on “The Essence of Social Media”, probably because the organisers did not do their homework well to know I don’t belong. I went nonetheless and really enjoyed interacting with the smart kids.

In the course of my interaction with them, I asked if anyone was on social media and the hands of half the class were up, including that of my son. I asked him which platforms he was on and he said Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp. Now wait for this: He said he has 21 followers on Twitter! We are talking of a ten-year-old boy. Is that not crazy?

Now, let me conclude with a joke that depicts the reality of the present generation. It is about raising a family in cyberspace based on a conversation between a girl and her daddy:

Girl: “Dad, I’m in love with a boy who is far away from me. I am in UK and he lives in Nigeria. We met on a dating website, became friends on Facebook, had long chats on WhatsApp, he proposed to me on Skype, and now we’ve had two months of relationship through Viber. I need your blessings and good wishes daddy.”

Dad: “Wow! You have my blessing to get married on Twitter, and I believe you can have fun on Tango. You can even buy your kids on E-bay and send them to school through Gmail. And if you are fed up with your children and husband, you have the option of selling them on Amazon!”

While the social media remains a very interesting world for the initiated, I am not yet ready to belong to that world.

ENDNOTE: Right now, I am minimally active on Twitter but I enjoy WhatsApp with all the gossips and outlandish tales. But even at that, there are moments I just wish I was back to my days of blissful ignorance!

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