“I’m a Muslim, I can never enter a Church,” so said the Consul-General of Nigeria in New York, Mr. Habib Abba Habu, responding to complaints from Nigerians that the Consulate never responded to the deaths of five Nigerians in a tragic and ghastly accident on the 21st of July, 2012.
The accident had rocked the consciousness of Americans throughout the country by its sheer ghastliness and tragedy that claimed the lives of three women and two children in New York. The news had spread like wildfire not only the mainstream media, but on broadcast television, radio and the internet. Nigerians from all over the United States and outside expressed deep sadness and felt great shock at this tragedy that befell Nigeria.
Those who died include Ms. Eucha Okafor-Mba Mcxdonald, Ms. Nnenna Obioha, Ms. Okwudiri Christina Onyekwu Epton, Miss Adaobi Ovbioha (and Master Nwaebube (Ebube) Okafor-Mba (9).
When we started getting complaints that the Nigerian Consulate-General in New York did not once react to this tragedy, did not visit the surviving accident victims at the hospital, never replied to a letter from the President of the Arondizuogu Patriotic Union National Congress of North America (An Umbrella union of all Arondizuogu people – an Igbo ethnic group) resident in the North America, nor did they send anybody to the wake-keeping on Friday, July 10, in the Bronx, New York, I decided to get the Nigerian Consul-General, Mr. Habib Abba Habu, to respond to the allegations. It was an allegation that to me as a Nigerian I found to be totally incredulous, because I didn’t believe that a Nigerian official could be that callous, and that is before I heard Mr. Habu’s reasons for ignoring this Nigerian tragedy in America.
I called Mr. Habu several times, and after not reaching him, then sent him a text message, thus “Hi, have called several times to get your part that the consulate refused to play any role in the ghastly death of five Nigerians in new york. Thanks. Chika Onyeani.” After not receiving a reply, I called Mr. Habu’s secretary, who said he was on the other line. I explained to her why I was calling and she promised that he would call me back immediately he got off the phone. For sure, Mr. Habu called back.
I explained to him the reason for my call, that I wanted to find out what Nigerians in the New York area were saying, that the Consulate did not react to the tragic death of five Nigerians which made national news in America, that he didn’t visit or send his representative to visit the surviving victims of the accident, and that he didn’t participate in the wake-keeping on Friday, July 10th. Before I could even finish, Mr. Habu shot back at me and angrily stated, “Mr. Onyeani, I am a Muslim, I can never enter a church.” I couldn’t believe my ears. I said to him, “Mr. Habu, you are the Consul-General of Nigeria, not the Consul-General of Nigerian Muslims, and your predecessors, whether Muslims or Christians or any other religion, have taken to visit Nigerians whether in the church or in the mosque.” He replied, “Well, they are they, and I am me, I can never enter a church.”
I said to Mr. Habu, “I don’t really believe you are saying this to me, and I am going to be writing about this.” “Well,” he replied, “I don’t really care if you write about it, Chief Onyeani.” Then he thought again, and said to me, “maybe I didn’t say it the right way.” As to sending somebody to represent him at the wake-keeping, which was not even held at a church but at a center at Coop City in the Bronx in New York, Mr. Habu alleged that he sent somebody. But Rev. David Kayode, who worked tirelessly with the family and the people of Arondizuogu in securing a place and who most of the New York media called to find out what was going on with the funeral arrangements, disputed Mr. Habu’s assertion because he was the individual who read the names of all the government officials and politicians who were there. He rattled off some of the people, apart a huge number of Nigerians who showed up, including representatives of the Office of the Bronx Borough President, New York Police Commissioner’s office, Human Resources Administration, New York State Assembly people and several others.
Checking further to make sure that there was no mistake regarding Mr. Habu’s assertion, I called Mr. Nnamdi Akamnonu, President of the Arondizuogu Patriotic Union National Congress of North America. He stated that in the course of the wake-keeping, somebody came and told him that there was somebody from the Consulate waiting outside who wanted to speak to him. He said he asked them to walk the individual in, but the individual refused to walk in. He then decided to go and meet with the person. Said Mr. Akamnonu, “I saw a young man in shorts with a tee shirt on, and I invited him in, but he said he didn’t want to come in, that he had a message from the Consulate, that they had received my letter.” He said that was all the message he had to deliver and didn’t have a written reply to my letter to the Consul-General, informing him that the wake-peeing was going to be at Coop City in the Bronx.” By the way, Coop City is not a church.
It is very hard to believe that a Nigerian official who is sent abroad to represent the Nigerian government, especially an individual who is appointed Consul-General with the responsibility to represent all Nigerians, should abdicate to perform his duties based on his religious beliefs. It is incomprehensible why Mr. Habib Habu should believe that only in a mosque would he be able to perform his duties, and the sad part is that if Mr. Habu had taken a very minor interest in the very tragic deaths of his fellow Nigerians, he would have discovered that the viewing of the bodies were in a funeral home, while the wake-keeping was not in a church.
If Mr. Habu didn’t know that he would be representing all Nigerians in his post, it is beyond arrogance that he would have accepted the post of Consul-Genral of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, representing more than the 160 million Nigerians in Nigeria. It is like saying that the president he represents in America, President Goodluck Jonathan, can never enter a mosque because he is a Christian. Imagine the uproar that would envelope Nigeria should such an utterance came out of his mouth. But Mr. Habu said it because he could because of where he comes from, but other Nigerians of other faiths be damned.