2Rev. Fr. John Odey.
Dele, in an article titled The Choice We Make, which was published in the Newswatch magazine of November 17, 1986, Ray Ekpu reasoned that by introducing the novelty of a letter bomb into our violent environment, Nigeria has launched a war. He said that this is a novel kind of war in its impact and method. It is a war that has expanded the threshold of violence and compelled every Nigerian to live in the fear of our collective insanity. It is a war that has placed Nigeria on the same level with Lebanon or Northern Ireland. While death remains the end of every man, he concluded: “There is something to be said about a nation in which the jewels on its crown are sadistically plucked and thrown away. That is what the messenger of death has tried to do, to kill the vibrancy of our nation by removing the jewels from our crowns…For the dead man represented a voice that was willing to pronounce sentence on wrong, on whoever or whatever was wrong. It is for this reason that that voice represented hope for the New Nigeria of our dreams.”
Another of your colleagues, Yakubu Mohammed, believed that by the way you died and going by the cause for which you died, you simply died to live. That is why he bemoaned your death through a piece titled *Dying to Live.* It was published in the Newswatch of November 10, 1986. In that piece, he asked: “Why did they kill Dele Giwa, a gem of journalism, a paragon of excellent prose, a stickler for efficiency?” He continued: “What could be more bizarre than a death in the family, death parceled, sealed and delivered to a journalist’s happy home, a home full of life and conviviality? And at breakfast time when father, mother and kids should be eating, chatting and suffering the distractions of the little ones, the gifts of God, without whom, homes are usually never lively?” In spite of your daunting physical absence in our midst in the past 25 years (now 37 years), I want you to know that Yakubu Mohammed is right. You died to live. You live in our memories. And you will live there till the end of time. You live in memory. That is why I am writing this letter to you 25 years (now 37 years) after they have killed you.
Your other colleague, Onome Osifo-Whiskey, reflected on your death in a piece he called, *One Leap, a Thousand Dangers.* In that article which was published in the Newswatch magazine of November 10, 1986, he wrote, “For any civilization or history that is worth the name, there must be a pathfinder, the man of talent and vision, to champion it.” For that your colleague, you had all that it takes to be a pathfinder and a man of talent and vision. He described you: “Giwa was a bundle of talent, vision and energy. He worked feverishly for the dawn of a new day, one of a new, richer, nobler frontier for humanity.” Quoting Erica Jong, an American writer, Whiskey said further: “Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.” He concluded: “When originators of great ideas lie prostrate in death before their killers, their blood waters and fertilizes the soil and, overnight and through the years, the ideas sprout and grow.”
Dele, you followed your great talent to the dark place where it led you. Since then, your blood has been watering and fertilizing the ideas and the ideals for which you lived and died. Your death changed the reputation and the scope of journalism in Nigeria and raised it to an enviable height. You did not die in vain. Dele, I will live to remember that your blood, the blood you shed to make Nigeria a better place, has been watering, fertilizing and sharpening my feeble effort to stand up against injustice in Nigeria irrespective of the dark places that have been punctuating those feeble efforts. You and others like you thought me that it is a crime to keep silent in the face of injustice.
Dan Agbese, another colleague, pondered over your cruel assassination in a piece titled *Like a Bad Dream,* which was published in the Newswatch magazine of November 3, 1986. There, he made the following parody of the word tragedy: “Tragedy is a business. Tragedy is news. Provided it happens to someone else. Someone in Belfast or Chile or Nicaragua or Lebanon or Israel! Someone whose mangled, bleeding body has no known name or familiar face. Someone who is just a statistics, a number! But when tragedy crashes through the roof of your own home, it takes on the ugly, frightening, disturbing shape of reality; shattering your belief in mankind or God or whatever; putting you through the grinder that is confusion embedded in the tiny cells of the brain. And the ugly question mark pops again from nowhere: Why?”
Dele, confronted and confounded by your tragic death, Dan Agbese slightly dropped a hint on what philosophers call the problem of evil vis-à-vis the God of love. Why does all-powerful God of love allow terrible things to happen to his innocent children? Agbese did not want to leave the reader in doubt about his own doubt. Hence, he pursued the case further by saying: “Those who know these things and lay a certain claim on original intelligence, try to make sense of this mass of confusion. They say those the gods love die young. If so, the gods must have a rather cruel sense of humour. It is not an act of love if it brings sorrow; it is not an act of love which interrupts well-laid plans; it is not an act of love if it shatters dreams; it is not an act of love if it terminates life; it is not an act of love if it brings void into the lives of others, throwing a pall of smoke on the path of a chosen life, a chosen career and a chosen sense of mission.”
Dan Agbese is not the only person who felt that he got stone silence in times of extreme need. King David had the same problem with God. In Psalm 35, he gave a litany of the good things he had done to the people after which all of them turned against him and plotted to kill him. When it appeared his enemies were taking the upper-hand over him, he cried out to God: “How much longer, Lord, will you look on? Rescue my soul from their onslaughts, my dear life from these lions.” (Psalm 35:17). “How much longer are the wicked to triumph? Are these evil men to remain un-silenced, boasting and asserting themselves? They crush your people; they oppress your hereditary people, murdering and massacring widows, orphans and guests.” (Psalm 94:3-6).
Dele, believe or not, even Prophet Jeremiah did not find God’s apparent silence more bearable than David. When God assigned the prophetic mission to him, he protested, gave excuses and asked God to send another person because he was not capable of undertaking such a difficult task. God told him to do what he had asked him to do and assured him that he would be protected. When Jeremiah plunged himself deep into the mission, evil men whose evil actions he denounced pounced on him and wanted to tear him to shreds. To his greatest dismay, at that moment when he needed God’s protection most, all that he perceived was absolute silence. When the silence became unbearable, he cried out to God: “I would like to debate a point of justice with you. Why is it that the wicked live so prosperously? Why do scoundrels enjoy peace? You plant them, they take root, and flourish, and even bear fruit. You are always on their lips, yet so far from their hearts.” (Jeremiah 12: 1-4).
It is the same type of silence that made the great German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, to declare: “I do not deny the existence of God. I simply call attention to his absence.” What do we make of the groaning of Jesus Christ as reported by three of the synoptic gospel writers? Mark wrote: “When the sixth hour came there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which means, My God, my God, why have you deserted me?” (Mark 15: 33-34). Jesus’ own words constitute the climactic pain, anger, powerless and despair of a person who feels utterly abandoned in the face of tragedy.
In 1906, W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the foremost black American freedom fighters, questioned the goodness and justice of God in the face of black suffering. The many questions he addressed to God were the aftermath of the famous Atlanta riot of September 22-25, 1906, during which many black Americans were killed. The cruelty committed against them then forced Du Bois to petition God. In his book, *Darkwater: Voice from Within the Veil,* he begged God: “Listen to us, Thy children: our faces dark with doubt are made a mockery in Thy Sanctuary. With uplifted hands we front Thy Heaven, O God, crying. Is this Thy Justice, O Father, that guile be easier than innocence and the innocent be crucified for the guilt of the untouched guilty?”
He wondered if God was dead, asleep or had travelled to some distant hills, far removed from the happenings on earth, that he could not take notice of the suffering of his children. But convinced that God was neither dead nor asleep, it was beyond Du Bois’ understanding how he could watch in silence when his black children were being so inhumanly treated. To assuage his predicament, and then hold on to the justice of God, Du Bois regarded what happened to the blacks as the devil’s own version of justice. But that only seemed to exacerbate the problem of evil for he then asked God: “Doth not this justice of hell stink in Thy nostrils, O God? How long shall the mounting flood of innocent blood roar in Thine ears and pound in our hearts for vengeance?”
In spite of all the odds staked against the blacks, Du Bois had an abiding faith in God. Still reflecting on the maddening extent of black suffering and indulging in the conviction that God would not approve of it, he pleaded with God not to be silent any longer but to do something to stop the suffering. He said: “Bewildered we are and passion-tossed, mad with the madness of a mobbed and mocked and murdered people; straining at the arm posts of Thy throne, we raise our shackled hands and charge Thee, God, by the bones of our stolen fathers, by the tears of our dead mothers, by the very blood of Thy crucified Christ: What meaneth this? Tell us the plan; give us the sign! Keep not Thou silent, O God! Sit not longer blind, Lord God, deaf to our prayer and dumb to our dumb suffering. Surely Thou, too, art not white, O Lord, speak – call, great God, for Thy silence is white terror to our hearts!”
A black preacher called Nathaniel Paul did not just stop at protesting that God should not allow the suffering of the blacks to take place. After protesting to God about their sufferings, he went as far as blaming the land, the sea, the winds, the waves, the ship and every other thing that was connected directly or indirectly with their sufferings. In a report called *An Address on the Celebration of the Abolition of Slavery in the State of New York, July 5, 1827,* Nathaniel Paul lamented:
“Tell me, ye mighty waters, why did ye sustain the ponderous load of misery? Or speak, ye winds, and say why it was that ye executed your office to waft them onward to the still more dismal state; and ye proud waves, why did you refuse to lend your aid and to have overwhelmed them with your billows? And, oh thou immaculate God, be not angry with us, while we come into this thy sanctuary, and make the bold inquiry in this thy holy temple, why it was that thou didst look on with the calm indifference of an unconcerned spectator when thy holy law was violated, thy divine authority despised and a portion of thine own creatures reduced to a state of mere vassalage and misery?”
Like those of many other blacks before and after them, Du Bois and Nathaniel Paul’s pains were real; their questions were poignant and disturbing; their doubts were humanly speaking justifiable. All these shook their faith to its foundation. But they could not destroy it. In other words, they did not end in despair and pessimism. Du Bois concluded his entreaty with a strong affirmation of faith that God is “still the God of our black fathers”, who had said: ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay.’” Nathaniel Paul equally concluded his with the unshakable faith in the same God whose ways are different from our own. He said: “Hark! While he answers from on high: hear Him proclaiming from the skies – Be still, and know that I am God! Clouds and darkness are round about me; yet righteousness and judgement are the habitation of my throne. I do my will and pleasure in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath; it is my sovereign prerogative to bring good out of evil, and cause the wrath of man to praise me, and the remainder of that wrath I will restrain.”
Another and more recent very poignant expression of people’s helplessness in the face of God’s perceived silence in times of desperate need came from C. S. Lewis, the famed Cambridge and Oxford Professor of Renaissance English Literature. He remained a bachelor until he was 58 years old when he married Joy Davidman, an American poet. After they had lived happily together for four years, Joy died of cancer. That was when loneliness meant cumulative disaster for Lewis. He was overwhelmed and devastated by sorrow. He wrote a book, *A Grief Observed,* to tell the world how he felt. In that book, he wrote: “Meanwhile, where is God? When you are happy and turn to him with gratitude and praise, you will be – or so it feels – welcomed with open arms. But go to him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?” Like Du Bois and Nathaniel Paul, Lewis eventually surrendered as he declared: “I have gradually been coming to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted.”
Dele, vengeance is God’s own and he will repair it at his own time and pace. The fact that the all-good, all-loving, all-knowing and all-powerful God whose every attribute stands out as an antithesis of evil allows evil people to embark on the heinous crimes they commit against humanity is as mysterious as God himself. It has overstretched the wisdom of the greatest philosophers and theologians in history. It is in an attempt to make some meaning out of the problems posed by your cruel assassination that I have mentioned a few out of the many people who have been confronted with similar problems and they ended up by asking God many questions.
*To Be Continued in part 3*