Pastor Donald Esosoakpor in Ugono Orogun, a rural community in Ughelli North local government area of Delta state, is crippled, bedridden and abandoned by both his church members and the community. Ugono Orogun is one of the communities in the Orogun clan of over 20 communities. Available facts from community sources reveal that Esosoakpor, though a man of God, violated the custom of the people, hence the gods got hold of him.
Our reporter was in Ugono Orogun on Tuesday, April 18 when he inquired into one of the people’s customs in the area. One of the customs which has been in practice from time immemorial is the worship of iguana, a snake-like animal, otherwise called alligator. This creature is held sacred by the people of the area. According to the tradition, the community members are forbidden from eating the creature, killing it or injuring any part of its body.
Community members told NAIJ.com that any indigene of the community who flouts the custom and offends the creature will have himself to blame. But, our reporter learnt that the pastor, a farmer, had traps in the bush which caught the animal and it died. As an indigene of the area, the custom demands him to bury the creature as human beings are buried. But Pastor Esosoakpor threw the animal away and the gods never allowed him to go.
Mr. Samuel Oteri, who narrated the custom to our correspondent, said the pastor was turned to a cripple in the village and began to walk on all four as the creature does. He said: “One pastor that used his trap to kill it has turned to a cripple. It has peeled his skin. He is in the village, you cannot see him because he is locked up, they locked door against him.
“He was moving as the iguana on the ground. Because he killed the animal. The incident happened last year. He was a pastor at Aragba. He was pastor in Ugono before he was transferred to Aragba. He is an indigene of the community. His trap in the bush caught the animal and he threw it away, instead of burying it as a human being.
“He is supposed to bury it as a human being. He went to the shrine and confessed. He is no longer a pastor again. His church members were contributing money and food for him until he confessed. They though it was something else. But as soon as he confessed, they abandoned him to his fate.
“He is locked in the house, nobody can see him right now. He is crippled, he cannot move. He went down and began moving as the creature moves. That is our tradition and we respect it.”
Mr. Oteri said the tradition has been with them from time immemorial. According to him, the history is traceable to the days of their forefathers who went to war and were attempting to cross a river when, on getting to the river, the bridge had fallen but the enemies were still after them.
He explained that as soon as the people were loss on what to do, the iguana appeared from nowhere, a number of them lined up, formed a colony on the river and the warriors crossed over on top of the animals. And as soon as they had crossed over, the animals disappeared. And when the enemies got to the river, there was no bridge, the animals had left and so the people were saved. That was the genesis of the worship of the creature.
He said if an indigene of the area kills the animal, it will have effect on him which will eventually lead to death. He added that if a non-indigene kills the animal, it will have no effect on him but if he is discovered by the indigenes to have killed their god, he must be killed along with the animal.
Another community member, Monday Atebi, gave further details. When our reporter asked him what about Christians who believe in the word of God, he said the individual will die come rain or sun as far as the person is an indigene of the community.
“You must die whether you are a pastor or not. If I see the animal, despite I go to church I will not kill it, I will leave it to go on its own. It always comes to our house to eat native chalk. If it comes to your house, you drive it away but if you hit it with anything, if that place pains it, that part of the body will pain you too.
“If you hit it on the waist and the waist pains it, it will pain you until you go to the shrine for cleansing. There is a shrine for it in Orogun main town. There is a priest of the shrine in the town. As far as you are Orogun indigene whether you are a pastor or not, if you kill it, you will die.”
Another mysterious part of the creature, according to Atebi is that if a stranger takes a photo of it, it won’t show on the camera but it shows if the photo is taken by indigene of the community. That sounds mysterious. He said many people have tried it but they didn’t succeed.
The animal is free, it moves into the community and out of it at will without fear of being killed or injured. “But if you kill it, Atebi said, ‘we kill you life and direct. If you kill it in our presence, you will follow it.” He added that the animal does not move anyhow, before it appears, it must know that Orogun person is there. It will appear in front of the person, knowing that the person will not kill it.
When told that civilization and Christianity are taken over the world, he said that is their tradition, it can never be put aside because it remains sacred to them. He added that nobody can bring an end to it. But when our reporter confronted him with this question, “Why do you believe in animal more than God?” To this question, he answered: “There is God but this is the practical one we have seen. I have never experienced that of God but this one is practical. People that go to war will tell you it saved them.”
Another pastor in the community, Pastor Enoch Emiowe, has a diverse view from what the indigenes have said. For him, it is unbelief that is affecting the people. He said every community has gods that govern their daily living. And they believe the gods.
He said the people believe in the gods and they stand by them. He stated that a member of his church had told him that the day he kills the creature and eats it, that would be the day she would bow out of the church. “That will make you know how much they reverence the animal. And the truth is that the preaching of the gospel is to set you free. It does not mean eating or not will make you a Christian or not but when you become a Christian, there are certain things you must let go,” the pastor noted.
According to him, for peace to reign in the community, when he sees the animal, he does not touch it, though a non-indigene that killing it won’t have effect on. “The reason I will not kill it is because of them. If I kill it I’m not helping them rather I will be causing trouble. The born again members may not say anything but the unbelievers will react and it may not be palatable. That is why before I was posted here, our bishop advised me on these things.”
He explained that his mission in the community is to preach the gospel and not to go after animals, adding that until the people are converted, that is when they can decide for themselves. However, he believed that the animal cannot harm him as a man of God whether indigene or not.
Pastor Emiowe said irrespective of your tribe or ancestral background, as far as one believes in Christ, the individual is free from the bondage of tradition and worldly custom. “If you have the faith and you eat it, nothing will happen to you. But your faith is not the faith of others because like in my community, Okwagbe in Ughelli south, they forbid boa, they don’t eat it, they don’t kill it.
“The boa comes to the community, it enters the house, if it enters your house, you gather plantain, grind them together, put oil and pour it to the boa before it leaves your house. And boa is bigger and more fearful than iguana. But the word of God has declared it, if you eat anything it will not hurt you. The word of God says if you eat any deadly thing it will not harm you.”
He said most members of his church are spiritually babies in the faith. “They still have the fear. You need to have the knowledge of what Christ has done for you, also know that you are a part of Christ. Know that as much as your faith carries you, nothing will affect you. The problem they have is their faith and ignorance of the word of God,” Pastor Emiowe stated.
To attest to the fact that faith is the only needed ingredient to overcome all this, he said a member of his church in another branch, killed the animal and ate it, it didn’t do him anything but the community members rose against the pastor, insisting that it was the pastor of the church that taught him to kill the animal, hence the pastor and the church member must die.
But while they were planning to kill the pastor in Eboh area of the same Orogun clan at night, he ran from the community, the boy who ate the animal also ran from the community to escape being killed by community members over the death of an animal. He added that they are still very much alive and nothing has happened to them, though the youth who killed the creature is an indigene of the community.
The Orogun people are good example of a people who are clinging to their old ways of life; they believe that iguana has extra-ordinary powers. They worship it and forbid any indigene from eating it, no matter the situation. They believe that the iguana saved them during communal wars with other tribes, and could also save them from any kind of danger in present time.
Orogun kingdom is one of the numerous kingdoms that make up the Urhobo nation spread across Delta state in the southern part of Nigeria. It is in Ughelli North local government area of the state with population of over 50,000 people.
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