Friday, June 10, 2022, the people of Gakem, a small but significant community in Northern CRS, located near the border village of Ankar in Benue State, ‘’came out’’, physically and metaphorically, and assembled at their central market square. As early as 5 30am, the chiefs and elders of the village, members of the ecclesiastical community and their congregations, old men, young men, old women, young women, teenagers, toddlers and breastfeeding infants, the strangers in their midst and just about anyone in the village who had no serious health challenge or other greater worries, trooped out of their houses, some with plastic chairs perched on their heads or shoulders. They were all headed for the venue for the event scheduled for 8.00 am.
In their numbers, they were trekking or running or biking or riding in cars to the venue with one purpose in mind. And that purpose was to participate in, or be living witnesses to, the event proclaimed days earlier to hold in the square. The event for the day was a ‘’Solemn Assembly for Humbling Oneself, Fasting and Prayers for the Deliverance and Redemption of the Gakem Community’’.
At exactly 8.00 am set time for the commencement of the event, one of the officiating ministers for the day’s event, Pastor Sunday Ishima of the Triumphant Ministry and Prayer Co-coordinator of the PFN, Bekwarra Branch, mounted the magnificent pulpit erected for the event to signal the opening of the Assembly. After setting the stage, he now invited Pastor Sunday Atobe, Senior Pastor of Champions for Christ ministry, who is also the CAN Chairman for Bekwarra LGA, to deliver the message which he did under a title ‘’God’s Solution to a Troubled and a Dying Community’’.
He read from Numbers 21: 4-9 which tells the story of the people of Israel who, in answer to their prayers and vows, were mandated by God to go up against the people of Midian who were their enemies in a war. Because of the difficulties they encountered in the course of the mission, these people of little faith started speaking bitterly against their God and against Moses their leader. This angered God greatly who sent serpents to bite the people and they were now dying. The people quickly realised themselves, confessed their sins and God provided them a solution to their problem.
After this reading Pastor Atobe now asked the congregation: ‘’Why did God allow the serpents to torment and kill the very people he loved so much?’’ The people chorused an answer: ‘’They turned their backs against God’’.
‘’As was the case with the people of Israel, so it is with the people of Gakem now and so it is the case with almost every village or town in Nigeria of today’’, intoned the minister. The people chorused in unison: ‘’Amen’’.’’We have forsaken our God and he is angry with us. We the people of Gakem are, therefore, gathered here today to confess that we have turned our backs against our God who has sent serpents of hunger, sicknesses and diseases, unemployment, kidnappings and ritual abductions, untimely and mysterious deaths, poverty, wickedness of every hue, stagnation, pools betting, drug addiction, adultery, murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, dereliction of parental responsibility, child delinquency, dishonesty and obtaining and gaining through deception, idleness, you name them. In short, anything that can go wrong in any community has gone wrong in Gakem village’’. The people again chorused with one voice:’’Amen’’. As God took away the serpents away from the people of Israel who confessed their sins, so also will he take away from our midst the serpents from biting us’’. The people again said: ‘’Amen’’.
In the course of the almost five hours that the event took, the most dominant word through out the duration was the word ‘serpents’’ mentioned every now and then by the minister who spoke in English and the translation in Bekwarra as ‘’Ugbiji’’, a short but very poisonous snake well known to the people whose venom sends the bitten to almost instant death. Throughout that day and the days after, the image of ‘’Ugbiji’’, stuck to the memory of every Gakeminian.
Ugbiji has been in the midst of Gakem for a while doing its havoc. But the last straw that has broken the proverbial camel’s back is the spate of recent deaths in the community. These deaths, according to the belief of the people, are not natural. Young, promising men and women are cut off, mysteriously, in their prime. Some of these deaths are said to be induced by witchcraft practices or a resort to dark arts to avenge any slight slight or grievances.
Incidentally, in the course of Pastor Atobe’s ministration and the comments of most speakers at the event, the neighbouring Tiv nation to Gakem features very prominently in many of the demonic practices/sins to which the congregation came to confess and repent of. Men, women and young adults in business seek what the Tiv call ‘’Mboyivunghu’’ (‘’evil mysteries’’, if my Tiv translation is good enough) and which my people call ‘’aburungu’’. To the initiates, this is a fetish idol which the non-initiates cannot see but which exists and brings wealth and riches to targeted beneficiaries. It is similar to the effigy or images which the Israeli matriarch, Rachel, the wife of the patriarch, Jacob, was accused of stealing from her father, Laban, and the unintended curse placed by Jacob against anyone who stole them which led to Rachel’s death while in labour to deliver her son Benjamin (Genesis 31: 32-35 )
The latest affliction flowing from their involvement in occult practices of Tiv origin which is dealing deadly blow on the people of Gakem is the use of a powder-like demonic substance which is obtained and thrown at the footpaths where a potential victim will cross. As soon as he or she crosses over this deadly pour, s/he develops a skin affliction or a swelling of the leg that if not arrested supernaturally, will lead inevitably to death. A knowledgeable member of the village who is in the know about such things told me that if you cross over to some nearby Tiv villages, many Gakeminians are in their various healing homes for the treatment of that concoction of evil to undo an offender. This is the immediate trigger of the village chiefs and elders’ desperate initiative to surrender to God.
Tired of all these and many other afflictions, the chiefs, elders and nobles of the community had approached the priests of the various church denominations in the village and pleaded with them to organise the event to hand over the affairs of the community into God’s able hands.
This is how the priestly class in the village took over the baton of community redemption and seeking of Godly succour. They behaved like the true ecclesia, a group of enlightened caste concerned about the affairs of a community that has seen and lived in evil. And so it was that Pastors Matthew Alepu, Saviour Ben and many others took it upon themselves to work out the salvation of Gakem with fear and trembling.
According to Pastor Sunday Atobe, for three days the priests were in their closets praying that the whether should honour the day set aside for the assembly by not raining on that Friday. And God heard their prayer. In this season when the rains are near its peak, it did not rain during that period to ruin the event. Rather, it was towards evening, well after the event ended, that the heavens released some showers, which according to the belief of my people, is a sign that God has accepted what was done earlier in the day.
As a man with practiced eyes or spiritual sensitivity, there were five ‘happenings’ that took place that day which confirmed to me that it was God himself who was behind the whole event that took place.
First, it was the sheer number of the multitude that attended the event. The congregation was so massive that the record of attendance numbered about ten times more than the number of regular market attendees on a normal market day at the market square. That gives a picture of the level of response to the call for communal participation to deliver the land from its consuming sins. Like the people of Nineveh in the Bible days of Prophet Jonah, Gakeminians, their women and children and even their animals turned out in droves to repent of their sins and to pray fervently for personal forgiveness and forgiveness of the community. Various persons represented the youth, chiefs and elders, the integrated age-grades, traders, okada riders, motor drivers union, women, politicians and various segments of the entire Gakem society. They took turns to pray and hand over the community into the hands of God.
‘’If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land’’ (2 Chronicles 7: 12).
Taking a cue from this Biblical prescription for a heavenly traumatised people who realise the source of their trauma, all the people in their individual and collective mightiness or lowliness, threw aside their mightiness or insignificance, their business cares and concerns for the day, humbled themselves and ‘came out’ in their numbers.
Second, was the tiredness and helplessness of the chiefs and elders and the nobles and of the entire people of the community who felt it in their souls that something was wrong or that the matter had completely gone out of their hands and that there was, therefore, every need for them to commit their affairs into the hands of a higher supernatural being. It was this lack or emptiness or restlessness in their spirit that led the chiefs and elders to invite the priests of the living church to organise a prayer assembly to hand over the fate and affairs of the Gakem nation into the hands of God.
This explained why the people also ‘came out’ in an unusual boldness to unburden themselves in prayers and supplication, to confess their sins to, and plead with, God that they were tired of their many troubles, no doubt brought about by their numerous misdeeds. They were also there to tell the Almighty that weighed down terribly by their sins, they were no longer able to take charge of their daily lives and that He God should take over absolute control of their affairs for their good and happiness. They were no excuses or blaming of others for their travail which is the usual wont of most people.
Third, was the unity of body, soul and spirit of the ‘ecclesia’ of the community who accepted the challenge from the chiefs and committed themselves whole-heartedly into organising an event that later turned out a first class one. In a setting where denominational differences existed, the Catholic Church, the different Pentecostal assemblies, the Anglican Church and everyone of the believers forgot all their differences and turned out in numbers and in the unity of purpose to honour God and the land with their participation and appearance to find solutions to what ails the land.
The fourth, was the ministration of the various pastors which was largely in accordance with Scriptures and general conduct of the handing over of the land into the hands of the Almighty. One of the ministers said in the course of the event that if it was in the past the community would have gone forth to recruit powerful herbalists or witch doctors from Igede, Agatu and Tiv lands in Benue or the lands of the Mumuye, Kuteb or Jukun in Taraba to come and save the land. But that ‘’today, the people have seen the light and have chosen instead to call on God Almighty to come and save them. This land will be delivered today’’. I was touched by this powerful, honest confession.
Five, as a proud but humble indigene and now resident of the Gakem village, I remember that in my growing up years in the village in the 70s when revival and Pentecostalism were steadily gaining grounds in Nigeria, an itinerant preacher/evangelist had come to Gakem and when he was done with his preaching, had pronounced that this community was going to be a very significant town in Nigeria. That is why in the opening sentence of this piece, I had said of Gakem that ‘’this small but significant community’’.
For those who do not know, Gakem is also significant because long before that itinerant Man of God reached its shores and pronounced it as ‘’going to be great/important’’, Gakem entered the history books as the first town in which the first shut of the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War was first fired on July 6, 1967. With my self-acclaimed spiritual eyes, I can see clearly now that this village is the Bethlehem Ephrattah of the Bible of which Prophet Micah had said, ‘’But thou, Bethlehem Ephrattah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth has been from of old, from everlasting ‘’(Micah 5: 2).
I learnt that Gakem used to be the headquarters of the West African Council of Witches and Wizards. As a young man, I used to hear of the exploits of men and women in witchery and wizardry in Gakemland such as Okpele Akplaka, Ushie Amiah, Obiaje Akparaja, Ogar Akarakpo, Ogar Abaya, Etalong Odangba, Ushie Mgbede, Achoda Ojiji, Ogar Ikoni, Achoda Ihebe Ajim Unwu and many more. The surname of each of these men mentioned here is not their real names but aliases or honorifics for their deadly exploits in the dark occultic world! Alas, in the scheme of holy places, Gakem is going to be the birth place of great leaders that will be the deliverers of Bekwarra, CRS and Nigeria. This explains why the witches and wizards had sought to pollute the land and render it offensive to God. It also explains why God, in his time and on his own accord, has wrought the mighty miracle of delivering his fountain from the grips of dark forces for if a fountain is polluted, even by unbelief, God is rendered helpless from doing his mighty works there. The place would become like the Biblical towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaun where a great unpleasant fate awaits them on Judgment Day because mighty works were done in them than in other places like Sodom and Gomorrah yet they could not believe (Matthew 11: 20-24).
It is worthy of note that on this solemn day when a solemn event was undertaken, when it was the turn of the Clan Head of Uduo unit of Gakem, Chief Emmanuel Opah to seal the prayers for the healing of the land, he said something that provoked enormous sad laughter. He said that there are some women of Gakem, especially the traders among them, who leave the community with a keg of wine supposedly on a trading mission and when they get there they end up ‘’seeing male customers’’ in their closets, should desist henceforth from such escapades and that if they fail to heed this warning, when next they consort with their lovers, ‘’penis should get stuck in their vagina! The ‘’Amen’’ to this particular prayer was resounding.