Pastor Bitrus Tumba is the father of Ezekiel Bitrus, the 27-year-old youth that was allegedly killed by a security agent during the demolition of Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, aka EYN, by officials of Borno Geographical Information System in Maiduguri. He shares his grief with PUNCH
Who exactly are you?
I am Pastor Bitrus Tumba, the assistant pastor of COCIN Church Santimari in the Maiduguri metropolis. I have seven surviving children and one granddaughter. I am 62-years-old. Aside from my pastoral work, I engage in farming and the rearing of animals to support my family.
Can you narrate how your son, Ezekiel, was killed?
He and some other labourers were working on a church construction site at Maduganari when, suddenly, they saw a bulldozer driving towards them in the company of the civilian Joint Task Force in Hilux vans carrying heavy arms. Before that day, there was a day they (labourers) were on the site when a Muslim man confronted them, asking, “Has the governor not stopped you from building a church here? The governor told Mohammed Naga to tell you to stop this building. Why are you insisting on continuing with the building?”
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What did the labourers say?
Responding to the man, Ezekiel said, “We are only labourers here; we don’t know about that. You can meet the church leaders and confront them, not us”. When he got home that day, he narrated the story to us and we advised him to stop the building and he stopped. But he was called on later to continue with the building, with the assurance that everything had been settled.
Before they killed him, the CJTF seized their phones, using the advantage of the guns in their hands. Afterwards, the bulldozer proceeded to pull down the roof of the church and demolished the whole building. Ezekiel later approached the CJTF to give them back their phones since they had demolished the church. It was at this point the heavily armed CJTF shot him in the chest. They shot and killed him instantly. The CJTF continued shooting sporadically into the air to scare people who had gathered watching as the drama unfolded.
On the morning they killed my son, I went to my farm to check my crops and remove weeds from the crops, but I was not feeling comfortable. I tried to force myself to work but my body was not responding appropriately so I came back home. On getting home, I proceeded to Baga park when Revd Emmanuel Balami called me to tell me that Bishop Mohammed Naga said we should meet at the hospital.
Did you suspect anything as of that time?
What I thought at that time was that the meeting was in connection with the church saga. It didn’t occur to me that my son was affected. I was on my way to the hospital when a call came in and the caller said I should head for home instead. As I made my way home, a call came in again and someone told me to proceed to the hospital. As soon as I dropped that call, another person called and said, “Ezekiel has been hit by a stray bullet”. I immediately told the person I knew Ezekiel was no more. I became confused and rushed to the hospital. On getting to the hospital, I saw a crowd of people and rushed there, thinking I was going to see my son but I didn’t see him. I was walking out of the ward when I sighted one of my church members who rushed to me and said, “You know you are a pastor, what has happened has happened. I plead with you to take heart. Please, don’t let this weigh you down, I want to confirm to you that your son, Ezekiel, is dead”. I then asked him what happened and he narrated to me exactly what I just told you. I asked again where the corpse of my son was and he said it was in the booth of an SUV. They opened the booth for me to see my son lying dead in a pool of blood with a whitish foamy substance in his mouth. I took pictures of the dead body and left.
How did you feel when you were informed about his death?
Sincerely, I cannot quantify the pain I feel inside me. Since his death, I have not stopped crying. I have cried from morning to night. I have not closed my eyes to sleep for a single second
My son was not killed in the process of stealing. He was not killed in a gun battle. He was not killed in an armed robbery operation. Ezekiel doesn’t fight nor does he quarrel with people. He was not rebellious either. He was killed because he was building a church. Haba! Even if I pretend not to shed tears, I still carry serious pains inside but Jesus Christ has foretold us as Christians, to expect such persecutions because he too suffered persecution. God also encourages us in John 14 to persevere in the face of persecution. Jesus said though they may kill our physical body, they cannot kill the soul. So, drawing inspiration from the Bible and the word of God, I am very convinced that my son Ezekiel is not dead, I am convinced that he has just transformed to the spirit world. And I am sure he is resting with the Lord.
Each time I remember that Ezekiel is dead, tears drop from my eyes. I am not finding it easy. I carry so much pain inside me. When I sit alone, I cry. When I try to sleep, the sleep doesn’t come.
How else would you describe your late son?
He was a Higher National Diploma II student in his final year. He was a bricklayer (mason). That was what he did as a handiwork. He was also a very religious boy. Ezekiel always said to anyone that cared to listen that he could not compromise on his faith and religion. As a bricklayer, he handled the building of different churches: one at Dala, one at Wulari, and another at Maduganari that eventually cost him his life. One thing I can affirm about my son is he was bold and fearless. Nothing scares him; if he was afraid, he would have run away when the CJTF started the trouble, but that was not in his character.
A day before he was killed at the construction site, he went for a church service at Shuwari, where he worshipped, and told them to pray for him because he was encountering challenges in the cause of his work. In the morning of that Wednesday, after the devotion, his elder sister urged him to take it easy with the church building because he (Ezekiel) told us they were being threatened. But he came out and told us he was prepared to die for Christianity and as such, no amount of threat would stop him from completing the church building. According to him, that was his only contribution to the growth and expansion of Christianity. Though he is Michika, he spoke Kanuri fluently and related with the Muslim brothers well. Ezekiel was also into farming. This year alone, he farmed rice and maize. He was the pillar of our home. He assisted me in the upkeep of the entire household.
Was he married?
He has a four-year-old daughter who is in nursery school. He was the one responsible for her school fees and feeding, but that responsibility has now shifted to me with his death. Also, Ezekiel was a gospel artiste. He released over ten gospel songs that are trending among the youths in the church. He was planning to launch his album this year before he died. On the previous night, his older sister had a terrible dream about him, that he was being chased by strange people with matchets in their hands. She told him about the dream and advised him to take it easy but as I said earlier, once his mind was made up on something, no one could stop him, no matter the opposition, especially when it had to do with his religion. So, he told the sister to pray for him, but he went on with the church building and it was on the next day, Thursday, that he was killed.
Has the government contacted you since your son was killed?
The government has not come to my house. But that is not important neither is it my problem. If they like, let them come; if they don’t like, they shouldn’t. After all, they killed my son. It was the state governor that gave the agency the directive to demolish churches in the state. BOGIS is an agency in the office of the governor Prof Babagana Zulum it is supervised by the governor.
The executive secretary of the agency receives directives directly from the governor and he carries out every directive given to him by the governor to the letter.
See, as a leader, you should always strive to be a leader to all. The animals, human beings, trees, land, and every other thing are under the control of the governor; if he was a sensitive leader, he would have come to commiserate with us over the actions of his administration.
My call to the governor is he is a leader for all people, not only those professing his religion. All those working under him are his appointees. When he was going around the whole state campaigning, he didn’t hinge his campaign on religious grounds; he campaigned across religious divides and promised to carry everyone along. On the day of his election, I trekked for over 10 kilometres to get to my polling unit.
I trekked from Damboa road to Mafoni area on foot to cast my vote. But what has he rewarded me with? Death! The death of my oldest son is what I got as a reward for voting him into power. No problem. I call on him to be careful with the type of advisers he has and the type of advice he receives.
Some are just after their selfish interest only. What still baffles me is that, up to this moment, the Christian Association of Nigeria chairman, Bishop Mohammed Naga, has not called me to console me over the death of my son. He has my (phone) number. He used to call me on other matters and he knows my house too. He has neither called nor come to the house. It is truly surprising to me.