Friday, June 26, 2020 3:14 pm
By Richard Elesho
Getting an interview with the Spiritual Director of Adoration Ministries, Enugu Nigeria, AMEN, Rev. Fr. Ejike Mbaka looked ordinary enough. I mean it neither sounds like space science, nor evoke the risk of exploring gold from a South-African mine. Meeting a man of God should be a journalist’s delight. What with the likelihood of papa or Apostolic blessing? But it proved dangerous eventually.
After fruitless attempts to get the Pastor’s contact, I arrived Enugu Saturday. I hooked up with colleagues at the Correspondents Chapel of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ. Through my colleagues, I got the contact of someone in the Priest’s media team. He explained the Priest may not want to grant the interview. “I won’t say it is impossible, but it is very difficult. You may just try your luck. I have stopped arranging interview appointments for him,” he concluded.
Reluctant to accept ‘No’ in the circumstance, I resolved to meet Fr. Mbaka. Sunday morning, I headed for Emene where the prayer ground of the ministry is located. I was among the first arrivals for the service. It was scheduled for 10.00 am. But I got there before 8.00am, early enough to observe Church cleaning process. Part of this was the use of a water tanker for wetting the concreted floor to reduce dust. Among the earliest arrivals that Sunday morning were petty traders made up of food and souvenir vendors. The latter made brisk business, hawking articles like God of Elijah and Elisha Almanac, Amen News bulletin, stickers, Amen prayer booklet and devotional. The items sold from N100 to N300 per piece. Worshippers generously picked copies.
The pulpit is a wooden platform of about 6ft elevation above the floor. Attached to its right is the Daughters of Adoration cubicle where the choir is housed. The altar is sparsely decorated and reserved exclusively for the clergy. Many worshippers will normally first pay homage by kneeling for prayers at its border before taking a seat. That is irrespective of whether its preferred occupants were there or not.
Worshippers were businesslike that Sunday. They did not want to miss out in any part of the service and carefully took the vantage seats. By 9.00am, nearly two-thirds of its chairs were occupied. The Technical/ Media crew with their aerial video and other assorted still cameras shortly arrived to set their pavilion. With their arrival, the reporter approached the one that looked most senior, introduced himself and asked if he could help make photographs of the programme available to him and also introduce him to the Information Officer of the Ministry. After a brief clarification, he demanded to know where the Reporter was seated and assured he would revert. The Reporter heaved a sigh of relief.
Skeletal worship service in songs and praises commenced as scheduled at 10.00. But the appearance of Fr. Mbaka changed everything. That was at some minutes before 11.00am. The arena instantly became charged. The songs changed in melody as worshippers attuned their dancing steps to the rapid gyrations. Perhaps in imitation of Jesus preference for infants and children, the spiritual head first attended to them. Each parent lifted her child up to him on the pavilion for his prophetic anointing and blessing which he never withheld.
Then ‘Fada’ (as he was fondly called by adorers) took the microphone and his barritone voice in high decibel oozed out from the scores of loudspeakers that dotted the landscape. Pint-sized and agile, he had his way with words. And, oh what a good singer he was! Worshippers never seem to have enough of his vibrations. He spoke and sang mostly in Igbo.
Occasionally, he interjected with English. As I spoke no Igbo, I opted to have him on recordfor an interpreter. However, not long after as people were trouping towards the open space in front of the altar, a middle aged woman stooped behind me and whispered something to me in Igbo. She didn’t wait for my response as she continued with her dancing steps to join others near the pulpit
As the service progressed, a man walked pass my seat and went to discuss with a member of the Technical team. I suspected he was a journalist like me so I kept an eye on him. He might be able to help. Two other men came to converse with him. I could not hear their conversation. But I perceived he was making a head way. Few more minutes and three young men were leading him in the direction of the pulpit. I quickly approached one of them to renew my request to meet the Information Officer. The man said there was no problem and we were meeting him shortly.
Now, a team of five. We snaked through the crowd and found our way towards the stage. Another young man joined the team and pointing at me, he said, “I know this man. He is a journalist.” Although I doubted his claims as I could not remember him, I grinned and hoped his knowledge would enhance the possibility of my meeting the man of God.
We walked right to the back of the platform and those who held us hostage (for that was what it became) stopped. They were now seven while we remained two. They assured the Information Officer would join us presently as one of them disappeared into the crowd. When he returned he was in company of a black suit-wearing lanky fellow simply introduced as ‘Oga.’ He took charge.
He said we needed to move farther away from the crowd to reduce interruptions and noise. We did. ‘Oga’ wanted to know our mission. We told him. He didn’t look convinced. My fellow abductee who I now learnt was from TVC raised objection to our being treated like criminals. His objection was overruled by ‘Oga.’ I began to have a strong feeling of grave foreboding.
Our captors were now about ten. And they encircled us. ‘Oga’ asked for Identity Cards and looked intently at us as if scanning for other evidences to confirm our claims or exhibits to nail us. “They are journalists,” he confirmed. He wanted to be polite. In fact, he forced himself to be polite. But, in spite of his decoy at friendliness, one could perceive a frightening irrational note in his voice. He went into a homily about how journalists through inaccurate reports have created problems for Fr. Mbaka, to justify our abduction.
“You cannot just walk to any Catholic Church and say you are a journalist without informing them. You must understand that this is a private ministry. He is not an ordinary priest. He is a prophet and you can not just sneak in here and do what you want.” He then set conditions for our release. My colleague grumbled something about civility. I heard one of the tough boys close to me in barely audible voice mumbling something like “wetin this man de talk? If they allow me handle him…” to his comrade.
Did ‘Oga’ also eavesdrop on the side comments? Most likely, from what followed. He explained the heavy weight of our offence and how unpleasant it would be if he allowed the boys to administer justice, “because they are ready.” He said it was important for us to cooperate with him and asked afresh how many people were in our unenviable company. I explained again that we came separately and I knew of no others.
Then he said his team had to search our bags, phones, recorders and such other devices for anything relating to Adoration Ministry. The level of whatever they find would determine our punishment. “The only help I can do for you is to delete any offensive materials we find. Definitely, you cannot leave here with them. Then, we would see what we can do.” Subsequently, he gave us the chance to confess our sins by ourselves before his team discovered them.
As he delivered his unpleasant verdict, my stomach rumbled. I remembered my son’s dream and a fresh affliction of melancholy overawed my soul. About 5.40am that Sunday, my wife had woken me up with a call. I wondered why she was calling that early. As I picked the phone she requested I call back for lack of airtime. Of course I called her back immediately.
She said our first son, Oyemi came to wake her up about a bad dream he had. In the dream, someone had escorted me to a source for an information. As we were leaving the place after obtaining the information, the person who took me there fired a gun at me and the boy woke up worried. So he ran to wake her mum. They knew I travelled to Enugu, but they didn’t have any idea about the nature of my mission. They wanted me to take caution as I assured there were no troubles and I was fine.
Now, as I confronted danger, I remembered the warning. But what caution was there to take again? What would they do after they find those researched materials, recordings and photographs on one of my devices? Will the dream come true? So many questions flooded my mind. Attempting an escape would be suicidal. I just prayed and remained calm.
Our interrogators enforced the search. They started with my colleague’s tablet. ‘Oga’ directed him step by step to the gallery. He screened the photos. Then he did the same for the video and audio files. Surprised there were no fresh materials or anything related to the Adoration Ministries, he commanded him to open his bag. He confessed to keeping a campcoder in anticipation for an interview. They searched the bag and the recorder inside out. Again, nothing incriminating was found.
It was now my turn. May be I looked too harmless or just for some inexplicable reasons, ‘Oga’ and his team paid reduced attention. I fumbled with my phone reiterating that I had nothing there from AMEN. I opened an old photo album pretending it was the most recent item on the phone. Oga said I should open the gallery. “Oh, this phone has no gallery.” I managed to say. Curiously, Oga seemed to believe me.
Then at that time, a voice from one of the guys interrupted. “There is nothing on this phone that he is holding. That is not the phone he used. He used the big one in his pocket. I saw him with it. Let him bring it out.” He said boldly. That must have been a voice of miracle. Deep down in my mind I gave thanks. In order to further mislead them, I hesitated before bringing out the tablet, from where it had been since I arrived the prayer ground. Promptly, I switched on the device and boldly handed it to Oga. He declined acceptance, asking me to open the gallery instead. It did not contain anything on Fr. Mbaka. We have earned partial release.
‘Oga’ looked at us for a while, explained what just happened was routine and warned us against unscheduled visits in future. One more step before final release. He disclosed that the organisation has an editor for its in-house journal, ‘AMEN News’ who would need to meet us for final drilling. For the moment his boys could lead us back to the service pending when the Editor would surface. As the boys became somehow more polite, I informed them I was having abdominal discomfort. I needed to use the toilet. No one begrudged me on that.
Thus, I made good my escape from captivity of the Adoration Tough Boys.