Community sacks cleric, razes church over snake’s killing
From Goddy Osuji
He killed our sacred snake - Eze
Two-week-old baby, others missing
Car, property worth millions destroyed
A group of villagers has sacked a Christian cleric, his warden and their families from a community in Ebonyi State. The reason? The priest was accused of killing a snake.
Angry villagers in Akaeze, a community in Ivo Local Government area of Ebonyi State on March 17 expelled the priest in-charge of the Anglican Pentecostal Church in the village, Rev. Daniel Okoli and his family after the man of God was alleged to have killed a sacred snake.
The villagers also destroyed the church building and personal belongings of the priest and his warden.
The pastor’s warden, Mr. Paul Chukwu, a native of the village, incurred the wrath of the villagers when he pleaded with them to stop the damage. They invaded his house and sacked his family. His house was pulled down, his property worth millions of naira destroyed and the entire family hounded out of town. Since then, the whereabouts of the family’s two-week-old baby has remained unknown since the incident.
The traditional ruler of the community, Eze Dickson Obasi, has been interrogated by the police in Abakaliki where investigation is ongoing.
Hear the priest: “On March 4, the traditional ruler, Eze Dick Obasi, invited me to his palace. I went the following day with my Archdeacon in-charge of the Archdeaconry. After the discussion, they gave me seven days to leave Akaeze community. The report went to my Lord Bishop who sent emissaries to the traditional ruler to plead with him to allow the church handle the matter. Even the Chancellor of the Diocese called the traditional ruler and later went to him to plead with him to allow the church settle the issue. Surprisingly on March 17,at about 5.30 pm, a group of people led by one Chief Christopher Ogbune invaded the church premises and started destroying the church buildings and my property, including my car. They wanted to kill me and my family, but the joint Army and police patrol team stationed at Akaeze came and rescued us. And on the following day, a Sunday, they came back and burnt my car. They also destroyed the church building completely. The parsonage was destroyed and all my personal and church belongings, including the poultry farm, were burnt. I ran out of my house with only the coat I was putting on at the time they came. Everything I have as a man was burnt by the irate villagers.
“They accused me of killing a snake, but it was a false allegation. All my explanations to the Eze met with deaf ears. I was with the patrol team throughout the night when they invaded the church, and in the morning I ran to Afikpo for my dear life. Though the traditional ruler gave me seven days to leave the community, my Bishop, after getting the report, pleaded with him to allow the church intervene, that there was no need for me to leave.
“It was my Archdeacon that reported the matter to the police at Akaeze that Saturday night. The matter is still under investigation by the police. They have visited the scene to see the destruction.”
Paul Chukwu, a farmer and the pastor’s warden also narrated his ordeal. “It was on Saturday evening, and I was at the church because of the choir practice. It was during the period that the villagers besieged the place and started destroying both the church property and those of Rev. Okoli. When I pleaded with them to stop, they vented their anger on me and started beating me. We called the Army/Police patrol team at Akaeze, and they rushed to the scene to rescue us. They took us to their post where we slept till the next morning, a Sunday. We were later told that the people had again invaded the place and were destroying everything in sight. They destroyed the church, the vicarage, the priest’s car and everything in the church compound. They then went to my house and pulled down the building. They burnt my machine, generator and everything in sight, including my yam barn. I am married with five children including a two-week-old baby. I don’t know their whereabouts.”
At the palace, the traditional ruler, Eze Dick Igwe Obasi, Enyinaogada 1, explained his own side. “There was a pastor posted to the Anglican Pentecostal Church at Amachi who has been killing green grass snakes. The snake is sacred; it is an abomination to kill it. And when the community found out his activities, they decided to send him packing for desecrating the land. That is the problem we had with the priest.
“We do not worship the snake, but it is something that is sacred and it is an abomination to kill it. I don’t know how many he has killed since I was not there. But I got a report that he killed many of the snakes, and that he uses them as feed for his poultry.
“He has been in this community for over a year and knows that it is an abomination to kill the green grass snake. According to our tradition, anybody who kills the snake, if he or she is an indigene, is immediately ostracized. If the killer is a stranger, he must leave the community immediately or risk dying within six months.
“Apart from the snake, another thing that is sacred to the community is that nobody kills any crocodile at the Ezeiyiaku River. Anybody who does that will suffer the consequences.
“Religion has no effect when it comes to the culture and tradition of the people because they are two distinct things. We give to Caesar what belongs to him while we give to God what belongs to him.
“I am a Christian, but there is no way I could change the tradition and culture of the people. Culture is not something you change overnight; it is a gradual process. The snake does not even bite.”
Anglican Bishop of Afikpo, Rt. Rev Paul Udeogu in whose domain the action took place is, however, furious with the action of the community. He has vowed to ensure that justice is done.
He spoke to this reporter at the Bishop’s court, Afikpo.
“The villagers attacked my priest after accusing him of killing a sacred green grass snake which they call their grandfather. He was asked to leave the community within seven days or face their wrath. Ordinarily, the church is an institution. The traditional ruler should have petitioned me as the bishop of the area.
“The priest there is not there on his own mandate. I even went as far as sending a high powered delegation to talk to the Eze to be patient while the church handles the matter amicably and to give me time to do that as the Anglican bishop of the area. Even the Chancellor of the church interceded to ask the Eze to give us sometime, that we were already handling the matter. But he was adamant. He insisted that the priest must leave despite the constitutional provision that guarantees every citizen the right to live anywhere in the country unmolested.
“I also called the daughter who was instrumental to the building of the church. After all the pleading, and despite the fact that the school was in session, and the priest’s wife is a teacher, teaching the Akaeze children, they invaded the church premises. They destroyed our property and that of another individual who tried to defend the priest. That is an abomination to the church in this modern age.
“My priests and parishioners at Akaeze are Nigerians who have the freedom of worship and freedom to reside at Akaeze or any other place in Nigeria without being molested or embarrassed. Why should Eze Dick and his cohorts desecrate and destroy our church without any just cause? We cannot watch our several years of labour destroyed just like that. Therefore we demand that Eze Dick Obasi and the people he sent to burn our church rebuild the church and parsonage, replace the priest’s car and all our church property with immediate effect. We also expect the security agents to charge them for their criminal acts.”
Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) in Ebonyi State, Mr. John Eluu confirmed the incident. He said investigation is ongoing.