By Pat Amobi Chukwuma
Nothing happens for nothing. Few years ago when I was a young priest, I was at the pulpit delivering the Word of God during 6.00p.m Mass. It was getting dark gradually. Suddenly an unholy and stupid action took place inside the House of God. A young man of about 20 years of age stood up from the back pew, holding a red card like a referee in the football pitch. Raising the red card up before my face he shouted, “Father, time up!” By implication he was ordering me to stop the homily. Probably I was wasting his precious time. I tried to control my emotion but I couldn’t. I diverted my attention at the unruly young man for interrupting my holy and legitimate ministry. I made it clear to him and his likes that evening Mass has to do with sunset and not sunrise. Sunset entails that the descent of darkness is imminent. I put it to the young man that if he dreads darkness he should have attended Mass in the morning. In addition I blamed him for being impatient in an evening Mass that did not last more than one hour. The polite thing (though illegal) he would have done was to leave the church quietly. I called him to order without placing any curse on him. Surprisingly, he died suddenly two weeks after the incident.
On hearing the sudden demise of the young man, I was highly touched. I prayed God to have mercy and grant him eternal repose. Then I began to reflect on the departed young man’s unholy action on that fateful day in the church. Probably destiny prompted him to come and announce inadvertently that his time on this earth was up. Had I known, I would have anointed him after calling him to order on that Sunday evening. He was impatient to hear the Word of God and death was impatient with him. This is a lesson for you and me. By God’s grace I shall see him on the day of Resurrection to know his final destination. Nobody is perfect, including my humble myself. If God does not temper justice with mercy, then Heaven will be empty. Nonetheless, since the repentant thief on the right hand of Jesus Christ at Calvary went straight to paradise, there is hope. Because of the action of the holy thief, wherever I go I struggle to stay at the right hand. It is only in the church that I often unwillingly stay at the left hand due to my ministerial function. I remember also that on the final judgment day, Jesus Christ will separate the sheep from the goats. The sheep will be on his right hand while the goats will stay on his left hand. To the sheep he would say, “Come, blessed of my Father! Take possession of the Kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world” (Mtt. 25:34). And to the goats on the left hand he would say, “Depart, cursed people, out of my sight into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels!” (Mtt. 25:41). A stitch in time saves nine. Practice makes perfect. Learn always to stay on the right hand. Avoid eating goat meat. Make sheep meat your favourite.
Time is a precious commodity. Everything in this physical universe goes with time. Time lost cannot be regained. The Holy Scripture says, “There is a given time for everything and a time for every happening under heaven: A time for giving birth, a time for dying; a time for planting, a time for uprooting. A time for killing, a time for healing: a time for knocking down, a time for building. A time for tears, a time for laughter; a time for mourning, a time for dancing. A time for throwing stones; a time for gathering stones; a time for embracing, a time to refrain from embracing. A time for searching, a time for losing, a time for keeping, a time for throwing away. A time for tearing, a time for sewing: a time for keeping, a time for throwing away. A time to be silent and a time to speak. A time for loving, a time for hating; a time for war, a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 – 8). Once the time for each event elapses, then it is time up. If you are sleeping and it is daybreak, then it is time to get up. Refusal to get up means the desire to die. Each day has its activities lined up. Once the time is up, you go to the next thing. It is only a mad person that continues to dance at the arena when the music stops. In the seminary as well as in an organized school, failure to obey the bell means time is up to show you the gate out of the seminary or school. The regulator is not exempt.
A talkative is someone who talks when it is not time to talk. I was once a talkative during my class three in the secondary school. Eventually we impeached our class prefect because of his incompetence. He was also a notorious sleeper in the classroom. If a bus driver sleeps while on the road or a pilot sleeps while on the air, what happens to the passengers? Without any campaign and to my greatest surprise, I was overwhelmingly elected to be the new class prefect. Prior to then, I was called ST (Senior Talkative). After my free and fair election as the new class prefect, my classmates changed my petty name to STP (Senior Talkative Prefect). It is a contradiction to be a class prefect and to be a talkative at the same time. Therefore time was up for me to stop being a talkative. Otherwise how can I morally write the names of noise-makers and submit the list for punishment when I myself was a notorious noise maker? It is only in Nigerian corrupt government that such unjust action is possible. Some of our elected leaders seem to be above the Law. Today we watch with dismay how court orders are no longer obeyed by the powers-that-be.
Presently in our polity, the Senate is proposing a bill against Hate Speech, which has passed the first reading. The worst aspect is that the hate speech bill is attached with death penalty by hanging. Were the senators sleeping when the obnoxious bill was being read for the first time? Who determines what hate speech actually is? For instance if one says “I hate you” is it hate speech? After all, the biblical quotation I cited above says that there is time to love and there is time to hate. We are morally bound to love the good and hate the evil. We cannot remain silent in the midst of evil. We ought to condemn evil. Is this condemnation a hate speech? Saint Augustine asserts, “Love the sinner but hate his sin.” What we should condemn is perpetration of evil in the society whether as leader or as the led. The Nigerian Civil Right Group has accused the Senate and the Executive of trying to gag the press and free speech in the country. It is a movement towards dictatorship or totalitarianism. Dictatorship turns democracy into ‘demo-crazy’.
The antidote to hate speech is good governance at all levels. Hardship compels people to talk against the government in power. The Holy Writ says, “He who rejects correction will be broken suddenly and without remedy. When the virtuous rule, the people are happy, but they groan when the wicked are in power”(Proverbs 29:1- 2). In other words, good governance brings happiness while bad governance brings hatred. The Hate Speech bill, if passed into law, will render concerned Nigerians speechless. It will also render most citizens of this country deaf and dumb. My advice is that the Legislative and Executive Arms of Government should build reformatories in every geopolitical zone of the country before the Hate speech is passed and signed. The hang men should also import enough hanging ropes. Nigerians are hungry and angry. Power failure has become a perennial problem. We have not got our elections right. There is bad governance in the country. Our roads are terrible. Insecurity is our worst problem. Many sane Nigerians are calling for the restructuring of the country in order to correct anomalies and move the country forward. It is time for the National Assembly to make laws that will move the country forward instead of chasing shadows.