Barrister Austin Okeke Writes From South Africa.

The late General Sani Abacha military regime was under various sanctions, consequently, the Nigerian missions all over the globe couldn’t function as they normally would for reasons of illegitimacy resulting from the various sanctions.

International law allows a host government and other international organizations to recognize the leader of a community as a De Facto Ambassador in a situation such as the Nigerian missions found themselves at the time.

I then emerged as the De Facto Ambassador of Nigeria to South unprepared.

I was only 27 years old at the time. The youngest ambassador at the time.

I didn’t know what to expect. I am not a career diplomat; I had just left a seminary school, training to become a Catholic priest.

Due to the incessant murder of Nigerians in South Africa, I led a protest match to the United Nation’s office in Johannesburg to deliver a memorandum of grievance for them to intervene.

The United Nations office promised to take the matter up with the South African authorities. Nothing came out of it that abated the extermination faced by Nigerians in South Africa.

My people were dying prematurely, no assistance was forthcoming. What do I do?

I was made to visit the State-owned mortuary virtually every month, to go identify dead bodies that were Nigerians.

To get to where I found dead Nigerians, I had to move other dead bodies around and away from my path.

I was not prepared for this I must confess. Before this time, I could not stand the slaughter of a chicken, I never imagine myself in such places as a mortuary packed full of dead bodies of different shapes, colors and sizes.

I was at the center of what I could not imagine; I was consumed by the demands inherent leadership.

I have come to South Africa to seek greener pastures and to enhance my personality and to increase my chances to earn a decent living for my family, myself and my children. Now am faced with all these?

I sought further explanations from God Almighty. Like Samuel in the Bible, I heard myself saying to God; “here I am Lord. Is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night, I will go, Lord, if You lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.

I severally visited the office of the Red Cross office in Johannesburg with the same complaints. Demanding for their intervention and assistance.

The Red Cross, noticing how energetic I was, my zeal and my willingness to serve humanity, instead of pampering me, ladened me with more tasking and responsibilities of taking care of other English speaking West African countries such as Liberia and Ghana.

I embraced the assignment with pleasure, I went out to the streets of Johannesburg, gathered as many as I could, the Liberian and Ghanaian citizens and duly discharged my humanitarian duties with dexterity free of charge.

Outside of the Red Cross duties, we co-opted some of the willing Liberian and Ghanaian citizens into the Nigerian community meetings as one and the same people.

I particularly enjoyed the accent of our Liberian people each time they had to speak in pidgin English o.

I also used my office as the De Facto Ambassador of Nigeria to South Africa to advance the interests of Nigeria and Nigerians in the areas of trade and investment between Nigeria and South Africa.

I hosted the Nigerian Independence day celebration for four years. This is to keep the Nigerian flag flying.

In one of the celebrations, I approached the late Ma Winnie Mandela to be our Special Guess of Honour, to which she gladly accepted. May her soul rest in peace.

I did invite the Nigerian diplomats and other diplomats from other foreign embassies to all the independence day celebrations. We indeed had fun.

I didn’t mind that the late General Sani Abacha military regime had earlier and unsuccessfully made an attempt on my life, I didn’t mind that he might further send mercenaries to attack me again, I was very confident that the Lamb of God who spilt His Blood for my sake, still will cover me with His precious Blood. I faithfully recited each time Psalm 91; He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High and Psalm 23; the Lord is my Shepherd always on my lips.

After all, what is the essence of life without freedom?

The Catholic Cathedral of Johannesburg naturally became a place where I sought solace and Divine inspirations.

In 1996, I was the first Nigerian to be voted into the Parish Pastoral Council “the PPC”

We started the Nigerian Catholic Community; I saw my membership of the PPC as a position of service rather than of a position of status. I was also at the time the leader of the Nigerian community in South Africa. I also oversaw Swaziland and Lesotho.

In 1996 I negotiated with the then governing council at Catholic Cathedral to introduce the Nigerian styled Thanksgiving and Bazaar, Family Thanksgiving and the Nigerian Mass on the Schedule of Sunday services.

We envisioned to build a parish for Nigerian Catholic Community in Johannesburg.

My regime stepped down and handed over after our first term. We had the right to do a second term but elected to allow younger and fresh breed of leaders to steer affairs.

Funny enough, most of the people we had handed over to are still sitting in power for close to 20 years. Doing nothing.

They recycle themselves, no new introduction of ideas since our time, no plan to hand over to younger people, no originality of thoughts, no nothing.

They now have turned the organization into money-making scheme. They have not kept any account ever since, no minutes.

I even attended one of their meetings in November 2016, on the invitation of one very concerned member. I cautioned them to observe corporate governance and to keep minutes and bookkeeping as well. If you ask to see their minutes book, you will discover that the date started from November 2016; the same day I was invited to the meeting for rescue purposes.

Now the scary part is that South Africans have now taken offense because it seems the Nigerian Catholic Community has captured their parish. Why won’t they, when some of the leaders now wake up and drive straight to the cathedral every morning as though it is their office?

The South African staff working at the parish office gossip these anomalies amongst themselves and we get to hear them as well.

Why won’t they because most people including Nigerians have advised them to step down and allow growth but they will not.

They even fought with a Nigerian priest inside the Sacristy. What a sacrilege. The priest thereafter resigned as our Chaplain.

Some notable people and priests that we started the Nigerian Catholic Community with no longer attend events at the Cathedral for the simple reason of impropriety on the part of the old and inept leadership. It is rubbing off on us all.

From the beginning, we decided and observed Easter as our general thanksgiving day. During Mass, we match from the back of the Johannesburg cathedral to the Altar bearing different gifts and items, these included but not limited to cows, food items etc. Symbolic of the Jews going to the Altar of their synagogue bearing the first fruits of their labor.

The late Bishop of Johannesburg; His Lordship Reginald Osmond couldn’t hold back tears rolling down his checks just because of how we demonstrated and expressed our gratitude for God’s love and mercy in our lives and in a foreign country for that matter.

South Africa was fresh into a democracy; the late President Nelson Mandela fresh in office and South Africans were still reeling from the pains and evil associated with Apartheid.

In the maze of all that was happening at once at the time, we could still eke out a livelihood.

In fact, you could feel the dawn of a new era. The smell of prosperous South Africa in the air, a ray of hope lit up in the air. We had to go with the flow; and that we did successfully. Thanks be to God Almighty.

The Catholic Cathedral of Johannesburg is called Christ the King Church.

Come the Feast of Christ the King, which is usually in November, we repeat the same things with an added value of bazaar sales of all the gifts donated to the church. So to raise funds for the Cathedral. Blessed moments indeed.

To celebrate the Nigerian Independence day anniversary, we did organize soccer tournaments amongst ourselves. Trophy and redemption fee attached.

We had William Okpala “Willy the cat” as christened by the late Earnest Okonkwo. He was the number goalkeeper of Orlando Pirates Football Club of South Africa; very popular and a good goalkeeper for that matter.

We had Raphael Chukwu Ndukwe, another great soccer player playing for Sundowns Football Club of South Africa. Ndukwe was the one that scored the equalizer in the Nation’s cup match against Cameroon in Lagos in 2002.

We had so many talented soccer players who had migrated to South Africa seeking for career opportunities; most did find clubs and some move to Europe from South Africa.

I thank you.

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Austin Okeke
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Barrister Austin Okeke Writes From South Africa

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