Pray without ceasing, the Bible enjoins in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. But a woman added a ludicrous angle to the biblical injunction recently when she subjected her entire household, including her three-year-old son, to six weeks marathon ‘dry’ fasting and prayers. ‘Dry fasting’ means fasting that entails abstinence from eating food, drinking water and bathing.
Ironically, the woman at the centre of the drama, Mrs Caroline Obiora, is said not to believe in the Bible, neither does she uses it. According to a woman benefactor who gave her the place, a lock-up shop where she and her family are using to conduct the prayers and fasting, she reportedly claimed she does not need the Bible to worship and serve God acceptably.
“We tore our Bible because God told us to do so,” Obiora reportedly claimed with some air of religious superiority, according to Mrs Gladys Esonna, a widow.
Esonna, a widow recounted Obiora’s declaration: “We don’t need a Bible because God talks to us directly and also told us to dispose of worldly goods like footwear, shops, etc. He directed us to this place (meaning the lock-up shop) and we will stay here, continue our fasting, till God tells us otherwise. The end will justify us.”
In case you do not know the place she is talking about, it is No. 22, God’s Love Street, Egbeda, Lagos, where she and members of her family have been waiting on God, through fasting, for six weeks now––without bathing, eating or drinking water. The shop is now a subject of controversy between the owner and the fasting-and-praying woman to whom she leased the shop for a short let, but who has now decided to turn it into a permanent abode and has vowed to keep using it, without paying a dime, until God answers her prayers and those of her family members.
Close-up of the affected family
Nobody knows when God is likely to answer their prayers. Neither Obiora nor anyone of those she co-opted into her marathon prayers knows. And, it is only when that happens that she would release possession of the shop, she had made clear. Not knowing when that time would be, the shop owner had no choice than to forcefully eject the praying party from her property. Unperturbed, they decided to continue with their prayer business outside it until the answer they are expecting––which her son says is the provision of accommodation––manifests.
The prayer group includes Mrs Obiora’s undergraduate son who joined them two weeks ago.
“It takes a seasoned indoctrination expert to build the kind of abiding belief that has encaged her, her five underaged children, three grown-up daughters, grown-up sister and an undergraduate son,” an onlooker muttered after deep thoughts.
“Don’t answer them!” Mrs Obiora ordered her children. “They are not God. It’s God’s voice that I am obeying, not man’s voice,” she reassured them.
True to her instructions, none of her children agreed to utter a word or respond to myriads of questions being asked or the plethora of pleas directed at them by concerned citizens, some of whom felt that the woman and her children may have become captive of some religious delusion.
According to sources, Mrs Caroline Obiora sold fruits at Ladipo market in Lagos, while Chioma, her daughter, a married mother of two children, sold food on the street where the whole family used to live, and another woman, (said to be Obiora’s sister but whose name was not given) also used to operate a restaurant before Mrs Obiora’s vision persuaded all of them to destroy their shops, discard whatever material things they have on earth with the hope that God will restore everything when He answers them. So forceful was Obiora’s conviction that her son who is reportedly a 400-level undergraduate of Anambra State University studying Entrepreneurship abandoned his studies and joined his mother in fulfilling her undisclosed vision. According to multiple sources, Obiora’s husband and father of the family died one year ago. The family hails from Umunze in Orumba South, Anambra State.
What was most perplexing, the Obiora family was not known to attend any church, neighbours claimed. “The woman is nursing hopes of starting her church soon,” sources said of Mrs Caroline Obiora.
Baffled landlady/benefactor speaks
Looking baffled, Esonna, the landlady of the shop where they are staying to conduct the praying and fasting narrated how she became involved in the whole drama.
Her words: “About six weeks ago, Chioma (Mrs. Obiora’s daughter) came to my house with people she introduced as her siblings. She said they were coming from a police station because her husband drove her out of the house and she needed help. I was shocked by their appearance. They looked haggard and unkempt, with none of them wearing footwear. They could not give any reasonable explanations about their looks. But all the same, I was touched because I knew Chioma very well. She used to own a food shop down the street. So I took them inside my house and they had their bath. I told them that my house could not accommodate them but I have a shop and said they should look at it and see if they could manage there. The woman who came with her whom I later learnt is her mother said they would stay there. So I opened it for them. They swept it and stayed there. “The following day, I engaged them in a discussion to know how long they are staying and they said two weeks. But in the course of our interaction, I discovered that they were sounding too absurd.
For instance, they said God told them to tear their bibles, renounce every material thing they had. Chioma particularly asked me if I could remember that she was ok but was doing this in obedience to God’s instructions. I argued with them that God could not tell them to look dirty, including not wearing footwear, as it is only white garment church people that are known for that (walking barefooted). But they maintained their position, adding that tomorrow will tell.
“At the end of two weeks, I again asked them how long they intend to stay at the shop, she replied that they did not know because God has not answered them. They said they would stay there until God answered them. I refused and insisted they must tell me when they would leave so I can rent out the shop, get money to take care of my children as a widow. I told them that whatever God told them, He has not told me and He cannot impose them on my property. We later agreed when I invited my neighbour as a witness that they would stay till the end of August. At month-end, they were still saying that God had not told them to leave. So I gave them an ultimatum that by the first week of September if they don’t leave I would force them out and rent out my shop. After all, I only rendered help to them and should not be made to regret helping them.
“But the first week of September almost ended without any sign of readiness on their part to leave. So on Saturday, September 7, I went to Afonka Police Station with my lawyer and lodged a complaint and they took them there. The DPO of the station wanted to help by informing Human Rights or Welfare but a policewoman whispered something to the DPO. Suddenly, the DPO changed his mind and told my lawyer, that as a lawyer he should know what to do. Thereafter, they sent us out of the station. Before then, I had called my brother-in-law to help me lock the shop. That’s how they stayed outside and I raised the alarm that attracted the public.”
Police, neighbours, woman’s son, weigh in
A police sergeant, Mr Uzor Ije, who is conversant with the case, corroborated Esonna’s narration by sharing the bit he knows with Saturday Sun.
“These people came one night after maybe vigil and met the woman that owns the shop,” he said. “They said they needed a place to stay and finish their fasting. The woman, out of pity, allowed them to use her shop, thinking it could be for a day or two. Now, they have stayed over one month and still do not want to leave the place. The woman who has rented out the shop took them to the police but the police rejected them. Surprisingly, Mrs Obiora’s son who is an undergraduate came to join them two weeks ago. People have tried to help them, give them bread, food, pure water, I even learnt that one man gave them N150, 000 but they rejected it, with all of them saying that God did not tell them to receive help from anybody.”
A neighbour, Eniola, weighed in, with a sigh: “Chioma was okay before this thing started. My pain is that there is a three-year-old girl with them and they cannot allow people to feed her. If they want to kill themselves with this type of fasting, it is their business. But they should not subject innocent children to intense suffering such as this. I want the government to help them. They really need help. It’s possible the thing is making them mad. We are tired of seeing them stay here like this.”
Mrs Obiora’s undergraduate son,
Obiora, who speaks good English and understands Igbo and Yoruba very well refused to talk to anybody but intermittently said: “I don’t know why people are showing concern or making noise over this. I came to see my mother and she said God spoke to her and they have been in this movement for a month before I joined them two weeks ago. The landlady gave my mum and sisters her shop and we have been staying here until she decided to eject us forcefully. We cannot stay here forever. I heard somebody has rented the shop. But we must stay outside this shop until God answers us, as mum directed. How long it will take, I don’t know. We are not asking for anybody’s help, even if my younger ones die of hunger, it’s God’s will, not man’s. He is the one who gave the children to my mother; if he decides to take them, no problem. It is true they look weak and tattered, physically, but they are spiritually stronger. We don’t know how soon God will answer us, but we will stay here till He does.”
A young man who introduced himself as Marcus narrated how they were able to convince Obiora to open up and talk. “I told him, oh boy, you are falling our hand o. Look at this crowd that gathered here because of your family; talk, so you can get help,” he recalled.
“Reluctantly, he said there is something he wants to say but he would like to talk to me in privacy in other not to embarrass his family. I said Ok. He then told me that they have accommodation problem and he felt what the mother embarked on was the solution to the problem. We convinced him to take his bath, eat food and talk to his mother and siblings to do the same. He persuaded his mother who initially refused. But later she reluctantly allowed people to take the little ones away, bath and feed them.”
Another thing that was said to have helped in making Obiora have a change of mind was a call from a lady suspected to be his girlfriend. The landlady’s daughter called Deborah said that someone Googled Obiora’s Facebook account and saw one girl with whom he chatted regularly and asked him if the girl was his girlfriend. “Immediately, he paid rapt attention,” she said. “So they got the girl’s number from her Facebook account and called her to speak to Obiora.
The moment they were done talking, Obiora suddenly regained himself and became cooperative.”
A neighbour who does not want her name in print said she finds their behaviour very strange. “The people may be into rituals or may have read Six Books of Moses that has turned their minds,” she said. “Do you know that they demolished their shops at Ladipo and the one here? They swept everywhere clean, even the gutter. No pin was left; that’s when I started thinking they were up to something spiritual.”
When our correspondent called Chioma’s husband’s phone number graciously provided by neighbours, the young man who is said to be a bouncer in a hotel and also known as a coach because he teaches martial arts, confessed that the matter was beyond him. Hence he collected his two children from his wife, Chioma. There was nothing he could have done, he insisted. He, however, promised to call back but up till the time of filing in this report, he has not done so. Of the lot, Obiora who a neighbour bought a phone for after his mother collected the one he had, seemed to be the saner. “I did not know what came over her (his mother),” he said. “I had thought the prayer would last for one or two days. I never bargained for what it turned out to be. As it is, we need accommodation because my mum had left where we used to stay at Shasha. We need money to rehabilitate ourselves; that’s the only way I can rescue my family from this mess we have found ourselves. Nigerians should please help us to pick the remaining pieces of our lives. We do not need condemnation. Mistakes have been made, what we need now is to help rebuild our lives.”
Because someone allegedly gave them N150, 000 and they refused to collect it, saying that they would only do so if God instructed them to, it becomes difficult to know whether Obiora was speaking for himself or for others as well.
When our correspondent called the Lagos Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Elkanah, to make enquiries on the matter, he said he does not have the details. He added that there was little the Afonka Police Station could have done except to call the attention of the Lagos State government agency in charge of such matters. He gave him the phone number of an official of the agency, who, when contacted, promised to look into the matter.