By Patrick Tagbo Oguejiofor
His fellow inmates were contemptuous of him and they never hid their disdain for his life of solitude. He would not join in their shameless boastings of the horrors they visited on the society, nor would he resign himself to his fate. He could not bring himself to accept the fact that he was a prisoner and would remain so for five years.
Besides, he did neither of those things the cell mates were bragging about, and rather than invent stories of wild conquests, he buried himself in endless lamentations of his misfortunes which came upon him like the Biblical thief in the night.
He could not sleep the first two nights. All the tricks he tried in order to delude himself of the realities of his captivity were an exercise in futility. Everything that speaks of his loss of freedom were perpetually there to remind him of his sordid fate- the smell of shit and urine from kerosene tins that served as toilet, awful noises of men in captivity and the tireless songs of stings of mosquitoes feasting on his flesh.
He cursed himself endlessly for being the architect for his own tragic fate. He had acted like one upon whom a spell has been cast upon if not like an outright fool. He had taken the Pastor’s advice without critically weighing their implications.
Blood rushed to his heart and he felt a wild urge to tear the steel cage and split the skulls of those incarcerating him and the pastor of course. But there were equally times when the images of Chioma would steal into his mind and he would struggle to dismiss her to no avail.
Although no more, Chioma had become an integral element of his existence even before the loss of his freedom. There was no shadow of doubt about it that his tragedy took its roots from the tragic story of his relationship with her. She loved her even till her untimely death in that sad incident that he could not absolve himself of guilt.
“Yes, I am guilty as charged. But now that you have been avenged, why can’t you leave me alone?
He was addressing Chioma. It was if she was with him. He looked at her angelic eyes, enviable physique and heard he soft voice that usually inflame him to violent passions. The film began to play back, sweet romance that turned sour bringing in the brain washed Pastor Ifedigbo in and finally landed him in goal several years after Chioma’s sudden death had sent wave of shock on everyone that knew her.
Memories of Chioma flooded back as if the whole incident happened just yesterday. It was his entire fault, he thought sadly. If only he had said capital No to Pastor Ifedigbo’s theory of restitution, sanctification and holiness unto the Lord things wouldn’t have taken this tragic turns as it were now.
Until the incident that landed him in goal, he was successful business man, dealing in automobile spare parts at Kenyetta Market, Enugu. Happily married, he also occupied a three bedroom flat with his beautiful wife at the Government Reserved Area quarters of the coal City reserved for the elites of the society. Then he became a born-again Christian, and having decided for Christ and converted, he joined the membership of the Sanctified Church of Christ.
But nothing terrible would have followed his sudden change of denomination but for the mysterious catalogues of misfortunes that trailed his footsteps about a year ago after he surrendered his life to Christ Jesus. Shortly after that he was promoted from a floor member of the church to an usher in the Lord’s vineyard. Then the strings of tragedies commenced.
First, he lost his first and only issue following a sudden attack of measles. Then the auto-spare market was gutted by fire and he lost over two million naira. Next, he lost his father. Then robbers shot his wife robbing her of her January salary. The strange thing about these happenings was that they all occurred within a spate of two weeks.
Any wonder why many concerned individuals felt they were not empty-handed? Friends advised him to consult an afa priest to find out why misfortunes were trailing his heels. He managed to resist the pressure to visit a traditional doctor for ‘enquiry’ on what was responsible for his endless misfortunes. Now that he is in Christ darkness and light has no communion. So he ran to Pastor Ifedigbo for counseling.
“I think the hand of Satan is my life and I want it off my life, Pastor,” Ogechukwu lamented at the end of his story to the Pastor who granted him an uninterrupted audience.
“I think something is rather wrong with your life,” said the Pastor who had waited patiently to tell him this. His worried look seemed to add to the pains of Ogechukwu’s tortuous mind and the statement stunned him to the point of speechlessness.
“Yes,” began the pastor relaxing on his settee like a consultant who had diagnosed the cause of an ailment. “There is an unconfessed sin in your life,” he said calmly, “and except you confess and make the appropriate restitution, one misfortune after the other will perpetually dog your footsteps. Though hands join together, says the Lord, No sinner will go unpunished.” Pastor Ifedigbo quoted from the Holy Scriptures.
Initially Ogechukwu was confused. Then his mind went to work. What could it be? Chioma almost immediately flashed across his mind. Yes, that was it, he thought quickly. He has openly confessed every other sin during the period of discipleship training to God and to the members of the Sect except this sin bordering on Chioma.
But how could he confess such a terrible sin without getting into some serious trouble?
As if the Pastor was reading his mind he went on to persuade him to confess and that God was there to forestall any evil plan of the enemy. That did the magic; Ogechukwu poured out the sordid story of Chioma.
Chioma was his sweet heart during his sojourn at the Federal Polytechnic, Afikpo where he took up a National Diploma in Marketing. Chioma was a student of Secretarial studies. A few weeks to their graduation (and at a period when he could not boast of three square meals per a day), Chioma became pregnant.
When several attempt to abort the pregnancy through the use of self prescribed drugs failed, he borrowed some money from friends and took Chioma to Nkpologwu Village where a patent medicine dealer lived and carried out illegal abortions on young school girls and village women.
The quack, popularly known by the girls in trouble as “Doctor”, had performed several abortions successfully to his credit, but had a different story with Chioma’s case. He had barely completed the operation when Chioma collapsed like a kwashiorkor victim.
Three hours later she had not regained consciousness. She died around at the man’s ‘theater’ which was a small compartment behind his medicine store.
There was no question of reporting the matter to the police. Both the unlicensed doctor and Ogechukwu would be bundled into police cells and later be charged for homicide. The crime carried a capital punishment: death by hanging. So they conspired and buried the deceased in a shallow grave at the outskirt of the town at about that same night.
That was six years ago and during those years Ogechukwu had benefited from the Federal Graduates Loans Scheme, which he used in setting up his automobile spare parts store. He later married his beautiful wife Nnenna when the business stabilized.
“Now that you have confessed,” began the pastor “your problem is half-solved and the burden you carry is much less. Sin, as you know is a burden and it burdens only those who carry it on your hearts and shoulders. But in order to bring an end to your travails and in order for your name to be completely erased from the book of God’s unquenchable fire that burns with brimstone and transferred to the lamb’s book of life, you must make restitution."
" You must confess. You must confess this sin to the church and then confess it to the parents of the girl whom you have robbed of a precious daughter. You must equally confess to the police too because you have sinned by breaking God’s law as well as the laws of Men. You have sinned against the church and against the state of Nigeria….”
But Ogechukwu was afraid and could not reconcile his feelings. He was being asked to go and commit suicide by the pastor. But the Pastor soon allayed his fears. He told him what he was about doing was what thousands were doing everyday so as not to lose the Kingdom of God.
He added the Church would back him with fasting and prayers, adding that the prayers of the saints availed much more so when it involves a compulsory obligation for one that wants to reign with Christ eternally. The God who instructs him to go the way of restitution will not allow him to be swallowed by it. Even if God failed to deliver him, it is better for him to lose his life and gain God’s kingdom.
After weeks of fasting and prayers, Ogechukwu felt a heavy load lifted off his mind. He thanked the Pastor over and over again for his divine guidance. He also thanked the church for their tireless moral and spiritual support in the form of endless fasting and prayers offered on his behalf. Next, he took a taxi one chilly morning to Garden Avenue in Enugu where Chioma’s parents lived. Both parents were at home and he was very glad to meet them.
He went in his best clothes and was warmly received. Then he introduced himself. They could not recollect his face easily. Ogechukwu confessed it all from the beginning to the end to Chioma’s stunned parents.
At first they thought he was mad and they started to pull away from him while waiting for him to attack them. Things happened quickly. Other relations were called in to listen to his story which he repeated several times.
Asked whether he was ready to meet the police over his confession, Ogechukwu obliged. Even then they did not believe he was a sane person until he had made a written statement at the Central Police station. It was then they changed their mind and concluded that it was not the saving power of Jesus Christ that brought him but the retributive law of justice was taking its due course long after the crime was omitted.
Or how else could a fully grown up man in his senses own up to such a serious crime no one saw him commit? They wondered.
But Ogechukwu maintained a strange calmness during this period of surprises and answered questions unambiguously, putting everything as clear as the daylight and punctuating his sentences with verses from the Holy Bible.
But the situation changed dramatically when the trial judge pronounced a five years sentence for being an accessory to murder. That was when he broke down and wept like a child and his wife’s lament tore through the length and breath of the court room. In the meantime, the quack doctor was declared wanted and the police are still looking for him.
Patrick Tagbo Oguejiofor is a poet, author and academic based in Abuja, Nigeria. His works include Cobweb in the Sky and Voices from the Desert.
Oguejiofor is also the editor of Crossroads, an anthology of poems celebrating the life of the great Nigerian poet, Christopher Okigbo.
Image: Punch Newspaper, Nigeria.
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