The contrasts of the small American towns of Reading and Kutztown in the state of Pennsylvania and the sensitivities of the commercial but culturally-rich Onitsha town of south eastern Nigeria hold divergent approaches to handling and disposing of the August 17, 2010 brutal murder-suicide unleashed by the 64-years old Onitsha-born Prof. Chukwudubem (Dubem) Agha Okafor.
Onitsha’s indigenous population is a city of sophisticates, joyful and educated, westernized-yet tradition-bound people.
Hence, the massively unusual brutal acts of one of their own (Prof. Okafor’s) shooting his wife, Cheryl V Okafor, 37, and shortly after turning the gun on himself inside his relative’s house in the 300 block of Pear Street, (in Reading) continue to reverberate across the two continents of the U.S and Africa.
USAfrica, USAfricaonline.com and CLASSmagazine spoke with some knowledgeable and tradition-bound Onitsha indigenes on the realities of burying a man who committed such heinous and wantonly
The repeated, summary phrase from the Onitsha indigenes at home and abroad whom I spoke with is: abomination! The question, then remained, what do they do next, back home? Refuse him burial at home in Onitsha? Or give him a less than significant, less than standard transition for an Onitsha son and scholar of Prof. Okafor’s pre-murder-suicide status?
One of the cultural leaders of Onitsha who chatted with me/USAfricaonline.com with a request for anonymity given the sensitive nature of the issues said: “although he (Prof. Okafor) is our son, according to our Onitsha custom, he committed an abomination and cannot be buried at home in Onitsha.”
An elder Onitsha man added “We are all embarrassed. It’s unheard of; and I am 73 years old, and have seen a lot of things.” Another, a U.S resident told USAfrica “we are as shocked as any other person. We are truly deeply worried by these violent events.”
But the question I asked about how the Onitsha diaspora will respond to the crisis was answered by 40-something year-old Onitsha nurse in New York who told USAfricaonline.com that “we are split into three or more groups, but we are watching to see who will step up to this issue to help the families heal….” It does not seem as easy, given the complications and sensitive aspects of the murder-suicide.
On Saturday August 21, 2010 at the the New Hope Baptist Church in Reading, Pennsylvania, the Caribbean communities, Nigerian friends and church family of Cheryl’s had very immediate resolution to bury their repeatedly traumatized daughter around the era she has lived for decades.
In a sermon soaked with references and terms of encouragement and reflection on the tragedies of life, one of the men who always gave the late, murdered Cheryl Okafor (nee Moncrieffe) messages of upliftment despite the many problems she had faced, resident Pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church, Rev. Jeffery Bell, commended her spiritual destination, stating that: “As her pastor, I know she was a child of God and lived a life of victory.”
Rev. Bell shared information about the victory to include the strivings of Cheryl to serve God and the community even more than she did with the educational and literacy organization she established with the late Prof. Okafor. He said “She was a minister in training where she was scheduled to receive her licence to Minister the Gospel within the next 6 months….” He added that Cheryl was a “fighter” who despite many obstacles fought “abuse, low-self esteem, bad relationship and bitterness.”
Amidst all those, Bell noted that “I am so glad that I stand here to preach about someone who knew God; she is not dead but her spirit has left her body to be with the Lord…” That body was buried, amidst tears and pain and agony, at the Laurel Dale Cemetery in Reading. The sermon and services were witnessed by many, particularly Cheryl’s heart-broken 4 children, namely: Calvin Philmore (born with her first husband, Alfred Simon Philmore, who in 1998 shot her boyfriend Osmond Dacosta Walker to death in the same city of Reading; Alfred is still serving jail time in a state prison in Fayette County, Pennsylvania).
The second child is Jahil Little. The 3rd and 4th children are those she had with Prof. Oakfor: Christian and Nkechi.
While the immediate family of the Okafors inside Nigeria and across the east coast of the United States sensitively navigate their limited and sad options, Cheryl’s folks have wrapped up the restful transition for a woman whose life was punctuated, at almost every turn and twist, by violence, violence and then, her violent murder….
•Dr. Chido Nwangwu, honored by the Washington-D. C.based National Immigration Forum for utilizing multimedia to fight authoritarianism and foster freedom of expression, is the Founder & Publisher of first African-owned, U.S-based professional newspaper published on the internet USAfricaonline.com, The Black Business Journal, CLASSmagazine, PhotoWorks.TV, AchebeBooks.com, USAfrica.TV and several blogs. He served on the board of the oldest civil rights organization in the U.S., the NAACP Houston; publicity committee of the Holocaust Museum, Houston; recipient of an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree in May 2009; served on Houston former Mayor Lee Brown’s international business advisory board (Africa), and has appeared as an analyst on CNN, VOA, SABC, etc.
CNN International profiles USAfrica’s Founder Chido Nwangwu.