Nigerian Tribune | February 11, 2020
We have gathered around the remains of Michael in supplication but also as solemn witnesses to the penetrating darkness that hovers over our country. I have the rare honour of being considered the principal mourner in this ugly tragedy. It is not an honour that I am worthy of receiving. The honour belongs to God Almighty who created Michael and marked out this moment and pathway for him. The greater honour goes to his immediate family whose devotion as Catholics laid the foundation for his faith and vocation. To his grandmother, Mrs. Eunice Nwokocha, a most simple, beautiful and devout Catholic woman whose devotion and dedication saw Michael and his siblings, Chukwuebuka, Francis, Augustine and Raphael brought up in all the fine principles and disciplines of the Catholic faith.
The way that Mama and her grandchildren handled this family tragedy has shown clearly the depth of their faith. I got to know Mama only after the sudden death of her daughter, Caroline, who had been a devoted Lector in our Cathedral. On the day we learnt that Michael and the other Seminarians were kidnapped, breaking the news to Mama and the children was not an easy task. She took the news with equanimity and we focused on praying for their release. She and the grandchildren lived through the torments of the brutal, harsh and senseless haranguing of the kidnappers who are totally empty of any show of human emotions.
When the worst finally happened, breaking the news to her and the grandchildren proved to be one of the most emotionally challenging moments for me. She had called me three days earlier to say that the kidnappers had told her that they had killed Michael. I dismissed it by telling her that first, I had discouraged her from taking their calls, and secondly that this was part of the psychological warfare by these evil men. On Wednesday 29th, Peter Paul, the brave young man who had served as the main negotiator with the kidnappers, had already told us that they had gone to the village where the kidnappers said they had dumped the bodies of both Michael and Mrs. Ataga but found no corpses. This was the thread of consolation we held on to as a means of solace that Michael was still alive.
When we concluded the negotiations with the kidnappers on Thursday evening, I was in the Seminary to receive the three Seminarians and, although we received only two, I was still confident that Michael was still alive. We were simply going to sit and wait out for the next call and the agonizing round of negotiations again. I left for Abuja that same evening to continue my trip to Sokoto the next day. It was on my way to the airport to catch a flight back to Sokoto on that Saturday morning that Fr Daboh called to tell me that the corpse of Mrs. Ataga had been found and that there was a second unidentified corpse which they were being asked to come and identify if it was Michael. My heart sank.