More would certainly be achieved if more and more of our pastors, imams and traditional priests join in helping to enshrine a custom that dishonours wealth which provenance is either suspicious or unknown. No more recognition or glorifying so-called business moguls of no visible merchandise and who purport to run an offices without identifiable addresses.
Mathew Hassan Kukah (MHK), it was, who perhaps best framed a key ethical question bogging the contemporary society with collapsing values. To reclaim the moral boundary, the engaging Catholic Bishop once argued that it is no longer enough for the cleric to expressly grant the request of a congregant to bless his or her endeavour out of shared ecumenical spirit without first ascertaining its nature.
To gloss over such little details is to risk donating the ecclesiastical seal to an undertaking likely to fail the integrity test, thus inadvertently allowing the impression to be created that the mere sprinkling of “holy water” could confer the hygiene outlaws usually crave in seeking to have their loot laundered. And in case such “enterprise” turns out to be less than licit, the shepherd stands as condemned as the calculating Pharisee.
Of course, we can take liberty to assume that implied in MHK’s sermon was also a frown at pastors who readily demand and accept gifts of private jets or limousines from their “spiritual children” who, in reality, were no other than those already officially certified as fuel subsidy thieves or vampires sucking crude from the nation’s pipelines.
Today, against the backcloth of the fabulous revelations since last Saturday of the exploits of kidnap king, Chukwudi Onuamadike (a.k.a Evans), MHK’s words could not be more pungent.
Until he met his Waterloo, Evans would easily have passed as a celebrity next door. He possessed and flaunted all that are now discounted as the only success indicators by an increasingly materialistic society: big houses at home and abroad, front-row seats at temples, big cars, big titles, big families often on foreign holidays, etc.
At his upscale estate, neighbours recall he was the perfect resident. He paid his dues promptly even though he avoided community meetings like a plague. Watching him driving by in exotic automobiles or power bike, many must have eyed him with envy, wishing God put them in his shiny shoes.
At the car wash, he would sit inside his wonder-on-wheels with the engine running while the cleaning lasted.
In his village, we read about his step-brother describing him in flattering terms as “nice, kind-hearted guy”.
We also read of fat envelopes donated by him to charity homes and temples of worship.
One account (though unconfirmed) states he was arrested and arraigned in court earlier this year alongside his wife but, predictably, soon bought his way to freedom.
But what many must still find most puzzling is how a man dreaded for sowing fear and terror across the land for years, almost thought invincible as to warrant the police placing a big bounty on head, would eventually be found not in a fortress or catacomb, but at a regular tenement.
This could in part be attributed to the dysfunctionality of the three socialising agencies: family, the neighbourhood and those sociologists describe as “the significant others”.
That Evans could inhabit Magodo for so long and remain invisible is a reflection of the new reality in our big cities. Everyone is in a hurry. People rush out even before dawn in pursuit of a living. On return at dusk, they are mostly too broken by the pressure at work, agonising over what awaits them the next day. By weekend, most prefer to remain indoors, lying in bed more or less, trying to recover the breath they lost during the past grueling working days.
In place of old-fashioned hearty chatter in neighborhood recreational parks over drinks, we now find it more convenient to set up WhatsApp conference on the go. Social media platforms are taking the place of the clubs and confraternities of old as the new socialising venues. Phone calls are replacing physical visits. Fawning symbols contrived by computer are now accepted as substitute for the bonhomie of old, that throaty human laughter in real life. Territorial boundaries have collapsed.
So, over time, the big paradox unfolds: neighbours grow into strangers even when social media is supposed to bridge distance. While rapid urbanisation is robbing our communities of their soul, technology is increasingly rendering our humanity impersonal.
Only that could explain why no one still seemed to have taken notice of sneaky Evans in Magodo even three years after the police placed a ransom on his head. In the days gone by when intimacy defined the community, Evans would not have been able to hide for so long. Neighbours were each other’s keeper. Suspicion would have easily arisen if anyone chose to step out of line.
Once upon a time, when three or four people were gathered, someone was bound to break the ice soon. But not any more. Today, rather than chat up an acquaintance at a public space, we would rather now spend the time fondling our phone devices – texting or browsing.
In a way, the concept of society has changed. Instagram, Facebook and other cyber platforms constitute the new society. Seamless as access could be, the values are false, the language vile. They have become arena to show off.
It used to be said that when your yam harvest was bountiful, a shared communal sense of proportion dictated that the news be hoarded, if not entirely hidden. Today, we all seem in a hurry to even exaggerate our worth on social media as if modesty has become a cardinal sin. We glory in spending what we don’t earn.
It explains why soon it took only a few moments after Evans was paraded on Monday for pictures of his brood to surface online, oozing opulence. Though the source was not stated, it is most likely to be a screen-grab from either an Instagram or Facebook entry. Such is the perversion of the new society.
On the other hand, family failure is undoubtedly illustrated in Evans’ evolution from a petty thief to becoming the czar of the underworld. According to reports, his parents knew he was into crime and unwittingly aided and abetted him by keeping silent.
At least, his father reportedly admitted his son once told him he was into drug trafficking. While the mom was said to know of the kidnappings but never gave her blessings.
Planning, conducting reconnaissance and executing kidnaps on Evans’ scale and keeping victims for months, evading security dragnet, definitely require uncommon intelligence. If only Evans deployed his in a positive way.
Parental deficit of the Onuamadikes could be situated in the context of what is now commonly termed the “micro-wave” parenting model. It consists of the abdication of responsibility by the authority figures at home often under the excuse of pursuing daily bread.
When the parents cannot meet the family’s basic needs, they often end up forfeiting their voices all together at home. When a son without visible source of likelihood brings home a brand new SUV or undergraduate daughter begins to flaunt the next generation iPhone, how many parents still possess the moral authority to ask questions?
Surely, the bottom of sudden wealth is often very murky indeed.
Overall, more poignant questions certainly await the Onuamadikes. Apart from possible tepid reprimands uttered understandably beyond the earshot of a third party or immersion in the usual “fasting and prayer”, what other concrete steps did they take to really wean their ward off the life of crime early in the day?
A parent who cherishes the family’s good name, is conscious of the inevitability of Karma and un-desirous of eternal shame would not have quickly thrown up their hands in cheap surrender.
Even more abominable is the role of the wife. Evans reportedly confessed that his spouse sometimes cashed the ransom on his behalf. Could he have lied to her on the real nature of his “business”? But it would have been humanly impossible for her to remain in the dark all these years while her hubby rolled in billions without an office address.
The only logical conclusion to make under the circumstance is that she knew about all the secret trips, the nocturnal calls and why the bales of dollars bore bloodstains. We are then let into the grotesque shadow of Jezebel and Saphira rolled into one. And then, what sort of business could they been telling their children daddy was doing?
Again, what sort of a woman – a mother of five at that! – would happily go to bed with and wake beside a devil like Evans each morning? And she was not scared of having her children trained with such blood money? We can only pray the iniquities of the evil couple don’t come back to haunt the little children who must be treated as innocent in the circumstance.
As for the “significant others”, the guilt list will certainly stretch from the social circuits to the conclave of miracle merchants and allied specialists who partook of Evans’s tainted dollars. He often introduced himself as an “international businessman”. The Nigerian ambassador to Ghana reportedly attended a shindig once held in his honour in Accra.
Evans also reportedly confessed that he gave fantastic donations in form of offering to churches, thereby implicating pastors in his web of sin. What then remains is for him to name all his spiritual fathers – both orthodox and traditional – who collected dollars in appreciation of “special prayers” or ritual sacrifice to help him either beat police traps or evade arrests all these years.
Then, you can be sure many in cassocks across the west coast will be losing sleep in the times ahead.
This leads us back to MHK’s golden charge. More would certainly be achieved if more and more of our pastors, imams and traditional priests join in helping to enshrine a custom that dishonours wealth which provenance is either suspicious or unknown. No more recognition or glorifying so-called business moguls of no visible merchandise and who purport to run an offices without identifiable addresses.
Of course, that will only mean massive pay-cuts for many self-styled prophets. Recall the story of a popular Lagos-based prosperity pastor implicated in the theft by a church member sometime ago. The latter was found out by his employer in the hospitality industry to have systematically stolen tens of millions of naira as a account clerk.
He later confessed to the police that more than half of his loot was donated to his church either as offering or “seeds”. He said each time the pastor made an altar call for “anyone blessed or expecting miracles” to sow a seed, he was often over-powered by a spirit to give and give.
The bigger shocker came when the implicated pastor was eventually confronted. While not denying receipt of millions and a giant generating set, he categorically ruled out the possibility of a refund even after it became clear the source was unclean.
So, the impression invariably created in public mind could be put roughly as this: were Judas Iscariot to offer ten percent of his infamous 30 shekels of silver to that same pastor, it would be game as well.
Such is the new ethical bind we now have to deal with.
Now, a little quiz for the day: how much of your neighbour do you really know?
Louis Odion is a Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (FNGE).