• A Birthday And Hangman’s Noose
Whichever way life is viewed, its gravity and sanctity become weightier than should have been the case, when it is fading away like the morning dew. It is like a curtain being drawn, as play characters leave on the theatre stage.
With pated breadth, Nigerians, many of whom have followed the case of Lagos State versus Rev. Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeugo King, founder and leader of Christian Praying Assembly, Ajao Estate, Lagos, waited for the Supreme Court verdict. It came at the weekend.
Its affirmation of the death sentence passed on the Rev. King by the Lagos Court of Appeal, in which Supreme Court Justice Sylvester Ngwuta upheld that he would die by hanging, brought the 10-year old legal battle to a close.
The unpalatable twist to the case came as the five-man panel unanimously ruled that the 20 years imprisonment, which was in addition to the death penalty, for attempted murder on five other members of the church aside the lady member that died, is now of no consequence since the death sentence takes the place of the former.
Life has its ups and downs, and fate, sometimes plays uncanny games. Just as the Reverend’s birthday was being marked at the weekend by church members, friends and well-wishers, the Supreme Court had an awkward kind of gift coming his way, the Verdict. Like the Sword of Damocles, the hangman’s noose may finally be on its journey to the executioner’s table, if nothing else obstructed its way.
TROUBLE started on July 26, 2006 at the Reverend’s residence in Ajao Estate, Lagos, when he was alleged to have set some members of his church ablaze for offence, which he classified as “acts of fornication.” Incidentally, one of them, Ann Uzoh later died in a Lagos hospital according to the charge sheet by the Lagos State Public Prosecutor.
Rev. King was brought before the court in September 26, 2006 on a six-count charge of murder and attempted murder occasioned by allegedly pouring petrol on six members of his church and later set them on fire. But he made a ‘not guilty’ plea to all the charges.
The presiding judge, Joseph Oyewole had, on January 11, 2007, passed death sentence on him for alleged murder of a church member, Ann Uzoh, as well as the attempted murder of five other members of his church.
Since then, the Church Founder has been in jail awaiting the consummation of the sentence, while exploring legal options of quashing the verdict of the High Court and Court of Appeal in Lagos.
Rev King, through his lawyer, Mr. Olalekan Ojo, pursued an appeal before the Court of Appeal. But it did not turn his way because in its lead judgment delivered by Justice Fatima Akinbami, the Court of Appeal upheld the death sentence passed by Justice Joseph Oyewole of a Lagos State High Court.
Since then, the embattled minister, who has been in prison custody had been fighting to get an appeal against the death sentence, citing that there were incongruent issues in the evidence of the prosecution’s witness.
Justice Oyewole had in his landmark judgment on January 11, 2007 convicted Rev King and sentenced him to death through hanging over the murder of Uzoh.
On February 2013, King’s appeal failed as the Court of Appeal, sitting in Lagos, ruled that it had upheld the death sentence passed by the Lagos High Court.
Church Members loyalty
In spite of their leader’s travail, the church has been running with its activities, and the loyalty can be gauged by the splash of birthday congratulatory messages and advertisements that was given much prominence in the newspapers over the weekend.
He is referred to as “His Holiness” and widely seen by Church members as today’s messiah even like Jesus Christ in the newspaper messages. The church is still committed to his financial and material upkeep in jail without failing.
One of the papers observed that his absence has changed nothing in the manner of operation of the church, noting that
late comers to a recent Sunday service were still subjected to kneeling outside by tough-looking ushers.
Extra Judicial Leeway
The Judiciary has ended its side of the legal process, but Rev. King stand a chance of being let go or the judgment commuted to life jail, as some members of the Bar told The Guardian. The prerogative of mercy lies in the hand of the President of the country, since the matter was finally concluded by the Supreme Court, the Federal Government-related organ.
It could have been the Lagos State affairs, if it ended at the State High Court and Court of Appeal. All said, the Reverend may be still be spared, especially these days that His Holiness, Pope Francis is campaigning against death sentence.
PFN Position on Oddities
The Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) did not, at the time, give a nod at Rev. King’s actions. Former PFN National Secretary-General, Bishop Joseph Ojo had condemned the incident. He was reportedly irked that the place was called a church contrary to the alleged practices in the place. He was apparently referring to the flogging and beating of members, and the alleged burning of people with petrol.
While there was admittance of beating and flogging in the church, the Reverend pointed out that the ‘burning incidence’ was an accident.
The Bible and the practices of the Lord Jesus Christ remain the standard for today’s Christians. The scripture clearly stated it that for the woman caught in adultery, who was to be stoned to death, she ran to Jesus for refuge and deliverance from the hands of them who were to kill her. All that Jesus said was that those of them who had no sin in their life should cast the first stone. The accusers, being pricked in their hearts, dropped their missiles and disappeared, leaving the adulterous woman alone. “Where are thy accusers? Does anyone accuse you?” he asked her, but she answered him, “None.” Jesus told her that he is also not accusing her, but charged her to “Go and sin no more.”
Perhaps, it would be apt to bring the antithetical nature of certain practices in the Christian churches, especially in modern Pentecostalism, where leaders have turned to cult figures, drawing huge followership.
Thirty-seven years ago, on Nov. 18, 1978, the Rev. Jim Jones instigated a mass suicide at the Peoples Temple Agricultural and Medical Project in Jonestown, Guyana. It is the well-known Guyana Tragedy.
With about 913 dying by choice or intimidation in Jonestown and a U.S. representative and others fatally shot at a nearby airstrip, the world was shocked.
The followers had believed a lie by Reverend Jones and all partook in drinking of lethal liquid and perished. The world has continued ever since, but here was a generation that derailed from the core practice of the Lord Jesus and the Acts of the Apostles of the Lord Jesus.
Only recently, the religious world continued to reel in numbing surprises as one after the other, certain leaders come up with spooky practices like members eating grass, a pastor being borne by members all through aspects of their service because the leader’s feet must not touch the ground as ‘commanded’ by some god, and yet another leader is said to suck the breast of women for some weird deliverance.
These ‘enticement’ in the hope that people would get miracles and money without checking out what the bible says about what is God’s path to righteous service have turned to snares and offences that enslave the soul.
Rev. King’s Bios
One Mr. Aaron Ezeuko, who claims to be an uncle to Rev. Emeka King Ezeugo, told a Lagos-based paper, which visited the eastern village of Umulekwe, Achina, in Aguata Local Government of Anambra State that is the Reverend’s home town.
According to the paper, Aaron, who is the younger brother to Rev King’s father, late Edwin Ezeuko said that “the Ezeuko family is popular, responsible, well-behaved and God fearing” and “that Emeka (Rev. King) was well brought up and therefore, could not explain what had happened to him after he left home to Lagos.”
It was learnt from the eldest man in the family, Mr. Godwin I. Ezeuko, that before Rev. King started his own church, he was a visioner at All Christian Practical Praying Band, Ufuma, popularly known as “Ekpere Ufuma” in the east before he left for Lagos.
It is reported that the Reverend is a degree holder in Psychology, though the University from where it was obtained could not be confirmed.