This is where I stand on the question of the death penalty. I am a strong advocate of the Biblical principle of “an eye for an eye” or “a tooth for a tooth”, as it applies to human life. I am, therefore, in league with those who argue that anyone who takes another person’s life in a spiteful manner deserves to die. No one, regardless of their social status, has the right to take another person’s life. The sanctity of human life must be respected by everyone.
It is in the context of the preceding logic that I welcome last Friday’s ruling by the Supreme Court that upheld the death sentence passed on Chukwuemeka Ezeugo (also known as Reverend King), the General Overseer of the Christian Praying Assembly. The Court of Appeal in Lagos had upheld in 2013 the death penalty that was passed on Rev King by a Lagos High Court. But the iniquitous pastor took his case to the Supreme Court in his strong desire to live while he had already terminated another woman’s life.
The Supreme Court judgment has brought to a final end the horrendous conduct of Rev King who, before his downfall, operated as though he had the right to determine those members of his congregation who should live and those who deserved to die. Anyone who is acquainted with in-depth knowledge of what Rev King did to some members of his church, including the young woman who was incinerated openly and maliciously in the most gruesome manner, will not shed a tear over the death sentence passed on Rev King. Those who live by the sword shall perish by the sword. It is that simple.
For the benefit of anyone who did not know what Rev King did to deserve the death penalty, I will attempt to abbreviate the story here. Full details of the case can always be retrieved by accessing the text of the judgments delivered by the Lagos High Court, the Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court. All three courts were consistent in ruling that Rev King was guilty of the hideous murder of a member of his church. It was a dark and ghoulish conduct you would not expect from a person who before now identified himself as a man of God.
Rev King was sentenced to death because he sprayed petrol on Miss Ann Uzoh, a member of his church, and set her ablaze along with five other persons. He perpetrated such a monstrous crime because he was consumed by callous rage in his groundless belief that Miss Uzoh had committed “acts of fornication”. Miss Uzoh died on 2 August 2006, a week and four days after the incident. Justice Joseph Olubunmi Oyewole of the Lagos High Court (Ikeja Division) who initially heard the case against Rev King unequivocally found that the man was guilty of murder and, therefore, sentenced him to death by hanging. That was on 11 January 2007. For the cold-hearted manner in which Rev King killed Miss Uzoh, the aberrant pastor deserved to die in equal measure.
In his attempt to overturn the judgment of the Lagos High Court, Rev King approached the Court of Appeal in Lagos to challenge the decision of the High Court. On 5 November 2012, he was given the chance to argue his case before the justices of the Court of Appeal. Unfortunately for Rev King, the Appeal Court justices collectively upheld the death sentence passed on Rev King by the Lagos High Court.
It was not just the decision of the Court of Appeal to uphold the death sentence against Rev King that attracted public attention to the weird case but also what one of the justices said during the ruling. Justice Fatima Akinbami of the Appeal Court who presented the judgment criticised the behaviour of some pastors toward their followers. She said: “The ingredient of this case is so bizarre. It is so devastating how some men of God will give out to their congregation scorpion instead of fish, and stone instead of bread. It is indeed sad and unfortunate.”
The Court of Appeal found that Rev King’s behaviour toward members of his congregation was eccentric, remarkably odd, extraordinary, high-handed, and unusual. Incidentally, the Supreme Court justices expressed similar sentiments in their judgment. Justice Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court who read the lead judgment that rejected Rev King’s appeal said “the facts of the case could have been lifted from a horror film”. He said further: “This appeal has no merit. The judgment of the Court of Appeal is hereby affirmed.”
Having been found guilty of murder by a High Court, a Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court, Rev King has exhausted all legal loopholes through which he hoped to escape justice. He now awaits a date with the hangman. Here was a presumed religious leader and a pastor who drew a multitude of followers to his house of worship in which he also abused his followers. Here was a tempestuous, hysterical, sneering, bad-mannered, hot-headed, pretentious man to whom many men, women and children entrusted their lives, their future, their finances, and their love but he chose to heap violence and sheer hatred on them.
I have said before now that Nigeria is a nation of strange pastors. While some pastors are devoted to Christian religious work, others are pretenders and con artists who preach the gospel of prosperity in the name of God. These are the quacks, who target naive or easy-to-fool members of their church. There are far too many phony pastors whose behaviour is at odds with the core principles of their religion.
The leader of a Pentecostal church in Lagos, who spoke to Vanguard last week after the Supreme Court judgment, captured the reasons for the proliferation of fake pastors who use their fraudulent churches as vehicles to swindle innocent members of their congregation. He said: “There are many men doing worse things than Rev. King in this country and it appears there is not much we can do to arrest the development. I have said it before… the economy is contributing as many people are jobless and want to do anything to earn a living. Pastoral work is extremely difficult… It is because they have nothing to fall back on; that is why you see all these things here and there… They can’t preach because they are not trained to preach; so they resort to all kinds of manipulations to attract people.”
Phony pastors such as Rev King are destroying the future career of young men and women in Nigeria, as well as the religious and moral foundation of the country. They pretend to be serving God but they commit horrendous and vicious crimes against humanity. While it is not all pastors who engage in criminality, the reprehensible activities of those who commit crimes against members of their congregation contribute immensely to public attacks on the character, integrity, and authenticity of all pastors.
The challenge that faces us as a nation is how to differentiate genuine pastors from the impostors who preach about the kingdom of God but behave in ways that contradict Christian religious principles. A more serious problem in our hands is that defenceless members of our society regularly expose themselves to the dangerous antics of impious preachers on the streets. The pastors extract money illegally from their victims; they also solicit sexual gratifications from members of their congregation. These pastors are nothing but sexual predators.
It seems to me that when we talk about endemic corruption and insecurity as the main threats to national development, we tend to misjudge the damage that crooked pastors have done to the nation. As I have argued previously, poverty, ill health, suffering, and personal misfortunes have driven people to the point where they use religion as a form of analgesic to help them to relieve their pain. In Nigeria, too many troubled people want to experience miracles in their lives. Faced with personal problems, they sprint to their pastors in expectation of miracles. To demonstrate how serious the situation is, you will find there are men and women who occupy high positions of authority who are easily influenced by the sweet words of disingenuous pastors. These men and women thoughtlessly submit their hearts, their finances, and their love to the bogus pastors and prophets.
By taking his case all the way to the Supreme Court, Rev King hoped to escape justice. In the end, he failed. He forgot that the law is no respecter of anyone’s economic or religious status. He must now face a date with death. Rev King must get ready for the final hour when the hangman will knock on his prison door and take him away to be executed by hanging. There is a saying: As you do unto others, so shall it be done unto you.
Renowned English playwright, William Shakespeare was right. In that memorable line in the tragedy known as Julius Caesar, Mark Antony had said: “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him; The evil that men do lives after them, The good is oft interred with their bones, So let it be with Caesar…”
All those who were tortured by Rev King, including the family of the young woman who was burnt alive by the perverse pastor, will soon get the chance to mimic the Shakespearean line by saying: ‘We came to bury Rev King, not to eulogize him’.