… Mother of slain priest asks
• Last testament of late Fr. Tyolaha
Murphy Ganagana, Rose Ejembi; Linus Oota, Makurdi
Seventy–year-old Mrs. Nancy Gor is in pains, sad and inconsolable. Since December last year when suspected herdsmen launched sustained attacks on Tiv communities in Benue State, she had been troubled and prayed fervently for an end to the mindless bloodletting, unaware that death was lurking around her home. On Tuesday, April 24, the unexpected happened.
Rev. Fr Joseph Gor, her first child aged 39, was among the two priests gunned down during a morning mass by a band of marauding herdsmen at St. Ignatius Quasi Parish, Ukpor Mbalom, Gwer East Local Government Area of the state, alongside 17 other parishioners and residents of the community.
Agony of a bereaved mother
Seated on her doorsteps on Thursday afternoon amidst a crowd of sympathizers at her Mission Ward One residence, behind Dayspring Hotel in the North Bank district of Makurdi, the state capital, she gazed into the sky, murmuring some inaudible words as the Saturday Sun reporters approached her. Suddenly, she burst into tears and exclaimed in her native Tiv dialect: “Oh God, why did you forsake me?”
Her late son, the eldest among five siblings –two male and three female, was her shining star. With a bleeding heart, words became too heavy for her to describe him, but she managed to express her thoughts through her 34-year-old daughter, Mrs. Grace Lashima, immediate younger sister of late Rev Fr. Gor, who hails from Ude, Guma Local Government Area of the state.
“He was born in Makurdi, in 1979, attended Army Children School, North Bank, Makurdi, for his primary education, and Mount St. Gabriel Secondary School, also in Makurdi. He was so much interested in serving God; first, he was an altar boy, living with Rev. Fathers and working with them while he was in secondary school. This made him to pick interest in priesthood. He started with a nine months training at St. Charles Luanga, Aliede, and proceeded to St. Thomas Major Seminary at Kachio, near Makurdi, where he completed his training. He was ordained a priest on July 6, 2013”, she recalls.
The septuagenarian narrated her late son’s brief sojourn as a priest, and how his life was brutally cut short. “After his ordination, he was first posted to St. Augustine Catholic Church, Demekpe, Wadata, in Makurdi, and was deployed about two years ago to St. Ignatius Quasi Parish, Ukpor Mbalom, Gwer East LGA. He is humble and amiable. Last Saturday, he attended the wedding of one of his childhood friends at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, North Bank, Makurdi. He was doing a six month agricultural programme for Catholic priests at Akure, where he was to complete his programme in two weeks time. After submitting his project on Wednesday, last week, he travelled the next day to Benue to attend the burial ceremony of the mother of his colleague and friend, Rev. Father Nyan, on Friday. After the burial, both of them were in Makurdi to attend the wedding of his childhood friend on Saturday. After the wedding, he left for Mbalom to hold mass on Sunday and came to Makurdi on Monday morning. He returned same day late in the evening for a funeral mass at Ayar Mbalom scheduled for the next morning. He was preparing to set out for the burial when the gunmen came and shot him dead. He had no regrets. He expressed no fear when he was posted to the rural community and indeed left a legacy. He built a nursery, primary and secondary school within the two years of his stay at Mbalom, which had no school prior to his deployment to the community. Having been killed, his absence makes me empty and lost in a wilderness. I have been praying fervently for the Federal Government to be able to end the mindless killings in Benue, but I didn’t know that death was lurking around the corners in my home. Oh my God, why did you forsake me?”
Double calamity averted
Madam Gor may not get an answer to her question, but she is lucky to have evaded double calamity. But for providence, she would have also lost her youngest child, Jessica Gor, aged 26, to the attack that claimed her son. A graduate of Social Studies, Jessica further gave an insight into her late brother’s dream and how she missed the ferocious bullets of the attackers.
“I was living with him (Fr. Joseph) at Mbalom and travelled to Makurdi on Sunday, April 22, to see a sick person in a hospital. I had intended to return by the weekend before the attack on Tuesday. Before I travelled to Makurdi on that Sunday, he told me to try and return early because schools have resumed but the pupils in our school, Bishop Anagbe Primary and Secondary School, were yet to resume and I am the cashier of the school. We already had about 126 pupils in the school which started in September, 2016. It was his personal effort with assistance from some parishioners. He was passionate about the school because he wanted to use education as a means to develop the community. But these heartless Fulani herders aborted his dream. So sad!”
Not lucky a second time
The Gor family shares same fate with Mr. Gowon Tyolaha, elder brother of Rev. Fr. Felix Tyolaha, who fell to a hail of bullets on the pulpit while saying the mass on that black Tuesday. Ironically, the late Fr. Tyolaha was ordained a priest barely two years ago, and had escaped death by the whiskers at his first outing as a parish priest in Yogbo, Guma Local Government Area of Benue State, where the locals have faced heavy attacks by herdsmen. Unfortunately, he was not lucky a second time.
“He was a very generous man who was committed to the service of God. After his ordination on May 16, 2016 and when he was first posted to Yogbo at the peak of the crisis in the area, he accepted it in good faith believing that only God has the power to protect life. While in Yogbo, the herdsmen attacks almost claimed his life and he was forced to relocate to Gbajumba in Guma.
“When Rev Fr. Joseph Gor, the parish priest of St Ignatius Quasi Parish, Ukpor Mbalom, who was killed along with him, left for further studies sometime last year, the Bishop of Makurdi asked Fr. Felix Tyolaha to move to Mbalom and take over the parish. Fr. Gor came home for holidays and decided to join him on that Tuesday mass where both of them were gunned down.
“I am indeed sad over his death and the vacuum it has created will be difficult to fill. The two of us left are farmers; he was the only person that was educated. Our parents had died. Whenever he came home, he advised us to be cautious of the activities of herdsmen; we never knew he will be a victim”, his elder brother, Gowon Tyolaha, lamented.
Before his foray into priesthood, Fr. Tyolaha, a 2002 graduate of the Benue State University, had worked as a teacher at St Joseph Nyiman Secondary School, Makurdi, under a missionary, late Rev Fr. Hunter. He would have marked his second anniversary of his ordination by May 16.
But members of his family are consoled by the fact that he died a committed servant of God whose faith was unshaken till his last breath. Mrs. Roseline Ivor, wife of Mr. John Ivor, the catechist of St. Ignatius Quasi Parish, Ukpor Mbalom, who also lost his life during the attack, was perhaps, spurred by the spiritual menu offered by the late Fr. Tyolaha while saying the mass on that ill-fated Tuesday morning, moments before he was silenced on the altar.
His last testament to the glory of God, according to Mrs. Ivor, who attended the mass and witnessed the mass murder: “This is an auspicious moment to share with you God’s mandate upon our heart. I believe that you are created for glory; that is why He has ordained us at this very hour and time to reach you and welcome you into the fold. This is an arena for you to be celebrated; therefore, when you come to the Lord’s house, God’s spirit through us works in you to first raise you up as a son, who you are in God is revealed to you through sound teachings and messages from pure Christian mentoring. The beauty of this is that, no matter how bad things are with you right now, the powerful word of God is abundantly available to effect change of your lot, life, situation, or circumstance. There is no resting on our oars until you have been deeply established and rooted in the word, and seeing you succeed in your family, career, relationships and in your community”.
As a rain of bullets from the booming guns of the invaders suspected to be Fulani herdsmen showered on him after pronouncing God’s will, witnesses said Fr. Tyolaha didn’t die instantly. He had a brief battle with death as he crawled from the altar out of the church towards the community market square nearby, before eventually succumbing.
How I missed death –Fr. Godwin
For Rev. Fr. Tyagher Godwin, parish priest of St. Augustine Quasi Parish, Umenger, Guma Local Government Area of Benue State, it was divine intervention. On Sunday, December 31, 2017, he had expected a peaceful crossover to the New Year. The next morning, Monday, January 1, he prepared to hold mass at St. Peters Catholic Church, Atule, one of his outstations where parishioners in other outstations including Ibawua and Doochima were to attend. He had earlier been warned of an impending danger, and as he drove out of his parish, there was palpable tension in the air as some Fulani herdsmen clustered at some spots. The clergyman was unsettled and engaged the herdsmen on the need for peace. He got no assurance and drove off in suspense. The signs were ominous but he didn’t expect trouble so soon.
A few hours later while residents were still savouring the New Year celebrations, hell was let loose as suspected herdsmen armed with sophisticated weapons invaded Tomater village in Sengev ward, Akor in Nzorov and Bakin Kwata in Umenger ward all in Guma Local Government area of the state. They had no mercy, as they killed innocent kids, women, men, and razed their homes.
Fr. Godwin said he lost seven parishioners in three outstations, including two siblings. Among them are a father of seven, Julius Gwa, aged 52, and his elder brother, Myikwa Gwa. Also killed were 25-year-old Emmanuel Ata, and Buggy Agwai, aged 20.
As a team of policemen temporarily stationed at his parish departed amid heightening fears of a possible attack on Umenger, where he presides over the Catholic parish, he relocated to Agasha, his hometown. Before then, he reported the situation to the Bishop of Makurdi Catholic Diocese, Chikpa Wilfred Anagbe, who advised him to stay out of the troubled spot until the tension eased.
“When I relocated from my parish, the St. Augustine Quasi Parish, Umenger as a result of the repeated attacks on the community, I went and reported to Bishop Anagbe, who asked me to go and stay at Mbalom for some time; to stand in for Father Joseph Gor, who was on an agricultural course at Akure. After staying there for a month and some weeks, I later went back to him (Bishop) and told him that some of my parishioners who were displaced are back to their local churches, so I needed to go back and be attending to them, about seven churches, and be saying mass to those at the Daudu IDPs camp. It was then Bishop asked me to leave Mbalom and stay in one of the parishes within Makurdi and render services to some of my outstations and Daudu camp. So he asked Fr. Felix Tyolaha to go and stand in for Fr. Joseph Gor, both of whom were killed. I was in Mbalom from the mid January to March, this year, when I left. For me, it was a narrow escape because it could have been me”.