Stephen Ojapah MSP
Last week Wednesday, Catholics round the world began the sacred season of Lent. The 40 day period of Prayer; Fasting and Almsgiving. As usual, our shepherds, have written letters to help guide us in this spiritual exercise. In his Lenten Message the Holy Father reminded us of the need to fast from the things that weigh us down. “Too many things weigh us down and stop us from coming close to God. It is left for each of us to make a deliberate effort at identifying the heavy baggage that we carry, those issues that stop us from giving our undivided attention to God. These include, social media, entertainment and telephone, among many others. Amidst the noise, the chaos and the daily routines of work, we often have little time to commit to God. Our God understands but He is patiently waiting to receive us at that special corner of our room, before the Blessed Sacrament in our chapel, parish, and church”. Use this Lenten season to tell God of your dreams, your frustrations, your hopes, your fears. You will hear him remind you: ‘Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God and trust in me (John. 14: 1).
The Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto Mathew Hassan Kukah, in his Lenten message to the Priests Religious and the lay faithful of the diocese, said: “Over time, blind materialism and the search for personal comfort have offered us a cross-less Christianity in which the cross is a burden, a curse. We hear it in the popular saying today, ‘It is not our portion!’ Lent offers us a chance to understand that; our present sufferings cannot be compared to the glory that will be revealed (Rom. 8: 18). Lent helps us understand that as Christians, trials, anguish, persecution, hunger, nakedness, the sword cannot separate us from the love of Christ (Romans. 8: 35). Lent prepares us to embrace the triumph of the risen Christ. This is why Christians can endure, nay, boast of their trial because they know that; these trials produce patience; patience produces hope and hope does not disappoint us because the love of God has been poured into our hearts (Romans. 5: 5ff”
As we continue in this spiritual exercise, it’s important to ask ourselves soul searching questions, look ourselves in the mirror once in a while and tell ourselves the truth. Both individually and as a country. The Holy Father Pope Francis and the Bishop of Sokoto Mathew Hassan Kukah have tried to raise those spiritual concerns individuals should be focusing on. I will like to use the story of Nathan and David as recorded in 2nd Samuel chapter 12 to reiterate what we know has been bothering us as a nation for some years now. The truth of the rot in our system can be difficult to swallow sometimes. Most times we tend to fight the minister of truth instead of facing his message of truth. At the trial of Jesus before Pilate. Jesus posed the serious question of Truth before Pilate, and for eternity, Pilate has been wondering what truth is. “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. (John 18:37-38).
In 2nd Samuel chapter 12: 1-13, we read about the sin of David and the confrontation of Prophet Nathan. At the beginning, of Prophet Nathan’s Message, King David felt the rich man who had the large number of sheep and cattle was someone else. He was already enraged, at such a man, for having too much, and yet going after the poor man’s little ewe lamb: “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.” David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.” Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! The Bitter Truth David had to swallow. Luckily, David had the humility to say I have sinned against the Lord.
It is no news that our country is going through a great period of unrest. A creation of our own hands. There are unbelievable tale of armed banditry all across the country. The coordination is “superb” the central command of this criminal enterprise seems to be more efficient than our Nigerian Security agencies. Katsina State is becoming almost inhabitable, already some local governments like Faskari, Dandume, and Kankara people in their thousands are surrendering their lands and inheritance to armed bandits and kidnappers. Niger State has suddenly joined the league of insecure states.
On February 11th 2021, Dr Fatima Damagun a columnist with the Daily Trust wrote a touching piece titled: The bitter truth. Dr Damagun, is a Family Physician working in Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital. Her column mostly deals on health matters, though she has flare for lots of contemporary issues, in fact she has been writing stories since her secondary school days. She was long- listed for her short story. ‘Remembering’ by Digibooks Africa. Dr Damagun relayed the kidnapping experience of a family friend. How she drove to visit the family after the father was freed by the kidnappers. Ali was on ground to tell the firsthand experience of what happened to his father, the cruel treatment meted to their father, and himself. The excruciating negotiation experience, of monies that they don’t have. At first, the kidnappers demanded, 50 million, they threatened to kill their father if the money is not given. The family could only gather 13 million, an unbelievable about of money collected that was not sweated for. The kidnappers did not find it easy with Ali from the story of Dr Fatima. The day they went to collect their father and hand over the money to them; the kidnappers counted the 13 million by hand before they could hand over their father to them.
“When they were done counting, one of them suddenly screamed; where is that bastard Ali? His Heart beating, Ali raised his hand, Dan iska! Kai ne ka bamu wahala ko? (You are the one who gave us problem abi) Toh, we shall hold you here. This money is too small. Let the old man go. Baba’s pleading for his son fell on deaf ears as he along with others were escorted to their vehicle outside. They had been released but Ali’s nightmare had just begun.” Dr Fatima now asked: Ali, who are these people? They are just like you. Fulani. She continued: Goose pimple’s erupted over my body at the realization of the bitter truth” These stories are almost the same all across the country. With due respect and admiration to all law abiding Fulanis. This is where we are.
Between the 11th to the 13th of January 2021, I attended an Inter-Faith training and inauguration of the committee members for Early Warning and Early Response team in Ibadan Oyo State organized by the Inter Faith Dialogue Forum for Peace (IDFP). The members were drawn from the Christian Association of Nigeria and the Jama’a tu Nasri Islam. The team and the program is not my point of reference here. But the hotel where we lodged in. For the sake of the reputation of the hotel, I will not mention the name of the hotel. For the three days we lodged, there were equally internet fraudsters lodging there, whose identity was very well known to the hotel authorities. Some had been there for a month, some two, and others three. Am talking about youths between the ages of 18 and 24. They came in expensive cars and showcasing wealth that certainly was mind blowing. One of the Islamic scholars said to me. These children look like your members in Church. Frankly speaking I was ashamed. They might not all be Christians, but I saw some with rosaries and crucifix on their necks. As we begin this season of Lent. Let our conscience be alive and active to the things and the ways of God once again.
Fr Stephen Ojapah is a priest of the Missionary Society of St Paul. He is equally the director for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism for the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, a member of IDFP. He is also a KAICIID Fellow. (email@example.com)