Nigeria is certainly passing through a dark phase in its history. From the wheeler-dealers that are called businessmen milking the nation dry to the shenanigan of some of our greedy but visionless politicians and the satanic exploits of hoodlums, it is trouble all over the place. The situation confronting our nation today beats imagination.
One thing that has remained constant in recent times is the rise and continued rise in criminal activities in every nook and cranny of the country. Perhaps, there is nowhere in the country, be it our cities, villages or any of the hamlets for that matter, that is safe. This reminds me of Bernard Odogwu’s book, No Place to Hide, or the late Chinua Achebe’sNo Longer at Ease. What all these boil down to is that we are a nation at war with ourselves.
Many years ago, once you leave the city to any of the villages, you are overwhelmed with the hospitality, conviviality and spirit of camaraderie that embrace you as soon as you step your feet into your village. Above all, there was this real or imagined air of absolute security that pervaded the entire environment. But not anymore! Hoodlums are on the rampage everywhere. Some of their victims have been traced right from the cities to their villages and are either killed, robbed or kidnapped. Not long ago, a serving police commissioner who was close to his retirement travelled from his base in Ilorin, Kwara State, to his hometown in Enugu where he was gruesomely murdered in cold blood.
In the early hours of Sunday, August 25, 2013, while Christian faithful were getting ready to go to church for the usual weekly worship, tragedy struck. This time, the victim was Reverend Father Peter Ayala, the Catholic priest in charge of St. Thomas Moore Catholic Church, Sobe, Owan West Local Government Area of Edo State. The lifeless body of the priest was discovered inside his apartment in the Cathedral. So far, information available said a locally made double-barrelled gun and two spanners were found with his lifeless body. The rumour making the rounds is that the priest mistakenly shot himself while cleaning his gun. But such outlandish claims have raised a lot of doubts in the sleeping town.
Ayala’s neighbours were said to have rushed to his apartment when they heard the sound of a gunshot that early morning, and were shocked to see him in the pool of his own blood. The questions being asked by many are: Why would a reverend father be keeping a gun in the house? If it was true that Ayala actually owned a gun, why would he choose early Sunday morning, when he was supposed to be in the church, to clean his gun? If, indeed, his neighbours heard the sound of a gunshot and rushed to the scene, why would they meet the body stone dead? Was any attempt made to rush him to any hospital for medical attention?
Again, some other people are saying that the reverend gentleman might have committed suicide. This assertion is arrant nonsense. Such a happy, quiet man had no worries for which he would even toy with the idea of taking his own life and he could not have died accidentally. Anyway, there is every possibility that he could have been murdered. This is more germane given the fact that if actually the gun belongs to Ayala, he would have known that it was loaded. In any case, why would he choose to service his gun on a Sundaymorning instead of preparing for mass? And I don’t believe he could own a common locally made double-barrelled gun. What for?
However, it is gratifying to note that, in the face of all these rumours and postulations, Rev Dr Gabriel Dunia, the Bishop of the Auchi Diocese of the Catholic Church, has called for caution and warned people not to engage in apocalyptic guesswork over the circumstances that led to the death of Ayala. According to him, though the church was traumatised by Ayala’s death, it was eagerly awaiting the result of police investigation.
Dunia believes that “although the body of Rev. Fr. Peter Ayala was found lying lifelessly in his pool of blood with a locally manufactured gun and a big spanner on his body and floor respectively, they were only some of the clues on which experts’ examinations must be effected to ascertain more authentic proofs of what had led to the death.” The question is: What would a big spanner be doing on the body of somebody who supposedly died of gunshot either self-inflicted or fired by an assassin? I believe the talk of spanners, or what have you, is a mere decoy to mislead investigators into jumping to unfounded assumptions.
However, Dunia spoke glowingly on the late Ayala. He said the late Father was a “calm, modest and well-behaved cleric who worked under me as a seminarian when I was the parish priest of St. Joseph Catholic Church, Emeora, 17 years ago and as a priest who collaborated with me, nonetheless similarly in the Diocese of Auchi until his passage from this sinful world.”
I cannot agree less with Dr Dunia. Ayala, until his unfortunate death, was a good friend of mine and a true friend for that matter. I met him in 2001 while he was serving as a parish priest in Iviukwe village on the Auchi-Jatu-Agenebode Highway in Edo State. Surprisingly, Iviukwe village is the home town of irrepressible lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who was kidnapped by yet-to-be identified hoodlums at Ehor, a village on the Auchi-Benin Expressway on Friday, August 23, 2013. That incident happened two days before Ayala’s death. In that kidnap episode, four policemen were said to have lost their lives.
As a priest who resided in the parish at Iviukwe, Ayala had a concurrent obligation to lead them in service in most of the adjourning villages in the area. That was how he came into contact with my aged mother in the late 1990s, when she relocated to Iviukhua, my village, also in Etsako East Local Government Area of Edo State, a distance of less than 2 km from Iviukwe. Considering her active role in the church, it was not difficult for my mother to invite Ayala to come and perform the dedication of my country home in July 2001.
That was when I met the late Ayala and our friendship blossomed ever since then. Shortly after the dedication, he was posted to Port Harcourt on pastoral duties. He was also in Rome for some time. All these times, we kept the contact alive. I remember in one of our discussions way back, he told me he had a cousin who was a journalist as well. He gave his name as one Brotu (Eric). That name stuck. I remember my days of freelancing with the defunctDaily Times. There was a guy who went by that name with Times Internationalmagazine, one of the titles on the Daily Times stable. It was edited at that time by Dr Dayo Alao, now a professor with the prestigious Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State.
I received the news of Ayala’s death through a phone call by my mother from the village, in the early hours of Monday, August 26, 2013. The obviously devastated old woman spoke to me amidst sobs, as she said: “They have killed your friend, Fr Ayala.” I was particularly shattered and I tried to figure out whether such a quiet, jovial, nice, easy-going, young man deserves to die in such a violent manner.
I will like to appeal to the police authorities to do everything possible to get to the root of this heinous crime and similar cases that have cast a dark spot on our national image. From all I know of Ayala, he could not have engaged in anything that could lead to his death in such a callous manner. He was a gentleman through and through. I will surely miss him; so also are the many people who traversed his path while he was alive. May his soul rest in perfect peace! Amen.
‘One thing that has remained constant in recent times is the rise and continued rise in criminal activities in every nook and cranny of the country’
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