THE Catholic community in Dobi, a remote village under Gwagwalada Area Council of the FCT, was in for a rude shock last Saturday when the news of Fr Michael Shekwonugaza Akawu’s sudden death last Saturday filtered into the sleepy settlement.
Fr Akawu was the Assistant Parish Priest of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Dobi, who was gruesomely murdered by unknown gunmen at a Supermarket in Gwagwalada town where he had gone to buy certain items for the Church rectory.
The story of his death was first announced on Facebook by another Catholic priest, Omokwugbo Ojeifo, last Sunday. Ojeifo, who quoted a 16th century artist, Salvator Rosa said the death of Mr Akawu symbolised the futility of life on earth. He wrote: “As the Psalmist says, ‘Human life is a mere puff of wind, days as fleeting as a shadow’ (Ps 144:3-4). Placed on the scales, we are lighter than air (cf. Ps 62:9).
We are like grass which springs up and blossoms in the morning but by evening already withers and fades (cf. Ps 90:9). This is our human story; this is the story of one of our young Abuja priests, Fr Michael Akawu, the first indigene of Abuja to be ordained from our Archdiocese. He was shot dead yesterday evening by armed robbers.”
Four days after his untimely death, the entire Dobi community was yet to recover from the emotional devastation the news of Fr Akawu’s death left on its trail. Newsmen gathered that the slain cleric, who made history on February 4, 2017 by being the first Catholic priest from the local tribe of the FCT to be ordained for Abuja Archdiocese, possessed qualities that endeared him greatly to the people despite spending a little above a year in Dobi. Akawu, 31, was deployed to Dobi by His Eminence, John Cardinal Onaiyekan on May 20, 2017. A senior priest, who worked closely with Akawu at Dobi, told journalists that Akawu was a congenial character that would be sorely missed, saying, “Mike, was a brother I wished I had for life.”
The priest, who asked not to be named for personal reasons, went on to add, “When we came here together, we saw the enormity of the mission work that needed to be done here. But, he was very passionate about the vocation, notwithstanding the challenges we had to go through as partners in the field tending the flock. He was very much a man of the people,” he said shaking his head sorrowfully.
Obiora Hyacinth, the Dobi Church’s laity Council chairman, said there is no gainsaying the fact that the people are broken by the news of Akawu’s gruesome murder. “We cannot be consoled because men like Fr Akawu are hard to come by. He was very approachable, unassuming and sacrificial. Even Muslims and non-Catholic Christians are still in shock,” he said.
A female member of the church who simply identified herself as Mama Ukamaka gave newsmen an insight into Akawu’s last moments in Dobi. She said: “Fr Akawu celebrated the morning Mass that Saturday he died. He also heard confessions of sins by the faithful. He told us he would be going to Gwagwalada town. But, somehow, he delayed his trip till evening. In the interval, he joined the youths who were doing repairs on the road leading to the temporary church premises.
“Our main church was brought down recently by a windstorm. It was shortly after the road repairs that, he left Dobi for the Gwagwalada Supermarket where he was shot dead.” A resident of Dobi who operates a small provision store, Mrs Roselyn Madaki, asked in an emotion-laden voice while sharing how she felt over the death of the Catholic cleric: “I worship at the Deeper Life Bible Church but who doesn’t know Fr Akawu in this village? Who doesn’t know the Revd Father that comes out regularly to play football with our youths? Who doesn’t know the priest that never passes through our street without greeting all he met along the way? Who, in Dobi, will claim he was not shaken by his death? In fact, I am speechless.” A similar sombre expression was re-echoed across Nigerian Christendom during the week.
While the Abuja Catholic Archdiocese described Akawu’s demise as a blow below the belt to the growth of the local church in the FCT, the Christian Association of Nigerian, CAN, called on security agencies to fish out, arrest, and prosecute perpetrators of the dastardly act. The CAN President, Samson Àyokunle in a statement commiserating with leadership of the Roman Catholic Church in Nigeria said: “ “We call on the Nigeria Police and other relevant security agencies to do whatever it takes to bring the culprits to book as soon as practicable.
“We once again call on our security agencies to be more pro-active and invest more on intelligence gathering with a view to preventing many of these crimes that are being committed.”
As Fr Akawu is committed to the sacred “Office of the Dead” in line with Catholic doctrine by Cardinal Onaiyekan and subsequently interred at the priest’s cemetery in SS Simon and Jude Seminary Kuje Abuja on Friday August 24, 2018, the FCT Police Command Spokesman, Anjuguri Manzah, has assured that investigation had commenced into the death of the young priest, saying no stone would be left unturned until Akawu’s assailants are brought to book.