A Loving Tribute to Very Rev Fr Achi BY Raphael Opawoye
GUEST COLUMNIST BY RAPHAEL OPAWOYE
It is with great sadness that the Christian community in Nigeria, Niger State in particular, mourns the death of one of its most highly respected leaders, Very Rev Fr Isaac Achikpili Achi who was gruesomely murdered by bandits in the early hours of Sunday, January 15, 2023. Father Isaac Achikpili Achi, a Catholic priest, was killed in a most grisly manner inside his house at St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Kafin-Koro, Niger State. The terrorists decided to burn the building with Father Achi when they could not access where the priest was.
In the course of his ordained ministry which spanned almost twenty-eight years, Father Achi was a Reverend Father, a Shepherd, a Priest, and Coordinator of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Paikoro Local Government Area, Niger State.
No matter the order of ministry to which he was called, the office he held, or the title he bore, the most distinguishing mark of Fr Achi’s ministry was friendship, that friendship into which Jesus called his disciples in the Upper Room on the Eve of His Passion, Death and Resurrection, that friendship into which he calls his followers in every age.
Rev Fr Achi as the Coordinator of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Paikoro Local Government Area worked assiduously to unite the body of Christ in the Local Government and beyond. He was a voice to the Church.
He survived multiple attacks, abducted in Madalla and spent days in captivity until his Church members raised some ransom before he regained freedom. He survived the Christmas Day bombing that caught global attention, where a Boko Haram suicide bomber struck around the Church leading to the death of about 44 persons, many of whom were his parishioners. Scores of his parishioners were injured as some had gone permanently blind.
Surprisingly, about a year after Father Achi conducted the requiem mass for victims of the devastating attack in Madalla, he stood before the congregation and appealed to them to learn to forgive all those who deliberately hurt them. He said those who perpetrate evil against the state and innocent citizens require prayers. In his homily, the priest appealed to Christians “to learn to forgive all those who deliberately hurt them.”
He urged “Christians to remain prayerful,” stressing that “the power of prayer and love can overcome all situations.” What a rare gem!
Fr. Achi had indeed lived the life of a saint. He practically lived his life as a true disciple of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Testimonies abound. He catered for humanity as one beyond the flock of his faith. He provided drinking water for the people of his community. He offered succour to the needy in various forms. He promoted education to as many as came his way and showed the desire to be assisted. He was a peacemaker.
A lot of people looked up to him as their mentor. He was a youth counselor, and was able to sponsor many people to universities across Nigeria. He had a large heart. He will surely be missed by all that were privileged to come across him.
Rev. Fr. Achi, stretched himself to cater for both Christians and non-Christians, Catholics and non-Catholics. For a man known to have dedicated his life to serving his local community of Kafin-Koro and its environs, providing them essential social amenities through his personal efforts, Fr. Achi did not hold back from his community anything he could give to uplift their wellbeing. His blood will forever cry out against his killers, even as their lives are already headed to perdition.
Fr Achi was one of those Priests in whom as Rowan Williams would say, you could see “The Gathering Christ” … someone around whom it is possible so see what the Church is, the Body of Christ, each and every one of us, members one of another. Father Achi enjoyed gathering the Church for worship and fellowship, for dialogue and discernment of the Spirit’s work in our midst. Across differences in theological perspective he gathered people and enabled them to speak and listen to each other with respect. Throughout his entire ministry he upheld the wonders of diversity in unity.
He worked hard to help us live by St. Paul’s counsel that we be “forbearing in love”, and “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. Indeed, he embodied that long cherished principle among the body of Christ holding one another in “bonds of affection” in Christ.
Late Father Isaac Achi is a pretty cool-headed man who had stolen the hearts of people everywhere he went. He celebrated five hundred years of priesthood last October. He also marked the twenty-eight anniversary of his ordination as a Reverend Father few days ago at a mass that was attended by forty other Reverend Fathers. Among the Reverend Fathers who attended the Mass were Fr. Vincent, Fr. Paul Bawa and Fr. Musa. It was incumbent of them to attend the mass as it was an ecumenical thanksgiving mass service.
15th of January 2021, it was Rev Fr John Gbakan. 15th of January 2023, its Now Fr Isaac Achi, both of Minna Diocese, Niger State, Nigeria. Both gruesomely killed by bandits. We stand with the church at this critical period, May God protect and save the church, we are deeply hurt and Our hearts are heavy…. May the soul of Rev Fr Isaac Achi rest in perfect peace.. Amen.
The late cleric survived the December 2011 bombing at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, Suleja Local Government Area, escaped a previous kidnap attempt when terrorists invaded his residence in 2013, and survived a robbery shooting two years ago.
Congregants described the deceased as an easygoing man ready to help at any time. One of them, David Bulus said he could not hold back his tears when he saw the burnt body of his priest. “My Father was roasted by those people. You cannot imagine what he went through. To have died just like that, roasted like ‘boli’. Now, who would I run to when I need advice? He has always been there, he always had time for us. Now, our Father is gone,” David said with tears.
An NYSC member, Daniel Ezieonu, described the priest as a big brother figure to them in the council “as he never hesitated to share his food and drink with everyone around the church.”
A parishioner of St. Theresa Catholic Church, Micheal Oche, said the deceased was a blessing to many families during the trying period of the Madalla bomb blast. He called on the government to ensure the culprits are brought to book.
A Twitter user, Chinaza Asogwa, recalled how the priest came to their aid when thieves invaded their house: “When my mom was pregnant with my younger sister and my dad was out of town. I was just 6 at the time and thieves attacked our house. My mom called him panicking and he drove straight to our house with police men. You dare not step on his parishioners. This cuts my soul deep,”
Governor Abubakar Sani-Bello of Niger State, who vowed to bring the perpetrators to book, directed the security agencies to work towards arresting the culprits.
The governor, who urged the people of Kafin-Koro and the entire parishioners to remain calm and allow security agencies do their work, adds: “I am saddened and horrified to learn of the killing of Rev. Fr. Isaac Achi, who was set ablaze by bandits at his residence in Kaffin Koro. This senseless act of violence is a heinous and unacceptable crime that has no place in our society. The tragedy has undoubtedly caused a great deal of pain and suffering. There is no justification for such a heinous crime, and those responsible must be brought to justice. As governor, I assure the people that we will do everything in our power to ensure those responsible are held accountable. We will also work to ensure that all religious communities are protected and respected.”
Pope Francis also called for prayers for the soul of Father Achi. At the General Audience at the Vatican on January 18, 2023, Pope Francis also asked everyone to remember in their prayers the many Christians who suffer violence directly. He spoke in particular about Father Achi.
Fr. Isaac Achi, who was 61 years, hailed from Kafin-Koro in Paikoro Local Government Area of Niger State. He had served in his home parish over time, but was said to have been posted out to the parish at Madalla, Suleja, recently and was yet to relocate. He has been celebrated as the first indigenous Catholic priest from Gbagyi/Koro land.
After his ordination on January 7, 1995, Rev Fr Achi was later transferred to Minna Archdiocese of the Church from where he was moved to different parishes. He was drawn into the Church in his early childhood and was very magnificent as a staunch Catholic until the killers cut short his life’s journey.
Fr Achi was in 2011 the Pastor of St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madalla, a suburb of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Father Achi has now gone to a place where he would no longer be troubled. He is comforted by Mathew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” May the soul of very Reverend Father Isaac Achi and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in perfect peace.
Good night Very Rev Fr Isaac Azekpili Achi, until the end of time, when the Master of the Universe will reign, for ages upon ages.
*Pastor Raphael Opawoye is the Secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Niger State chapter.