One of the viral stories in the Nigerian webosphere last month was the murder of Super TV CEO, Usifo Ataga, by Chidinma Ojukwu, his girlfriend, a 300-level student of the University of Lagos.
Usifo was married to Brenda Ataga, a senior adviser to the Minister of Petroleum Resources.
Many people have chosen to condemn the man – “how can a successful man with a beautiful and successful woman stoop so low?” Others have focused on the girl – “how can you be so evil to murder someone.”
But instead of apportioning blames (or refusing to do so) or raising investigative questions about the circumstances of the murder – a matter for the law enforcement and the courts – I want to reflect on some important moral issues.
The story broke out as I was reading through Proverbs and many things I have learnt from the book bear on this case, whatever the legal proceedings ultimately reveal.
Adultery and murder
Some people believe that since adultery is inherently wrong, we should not use Usifo’s death as a springboard for discussing or emphasising it. If adultery is wrong, they say, then it does not matter whether someone dies from it or not and it would still be wrong even if nobody dies from it.
On the other hand are those who believe that adultery should never condemn someone to death. They believe that there is never a justification for murder and emphasising Usifo’s adultery is insignificant at best and evil at worst.
While there are certain truths to these thoughts – adultery is indeed inherently wrong and it’s wrong for a fornicator to kill an adulterer – they are both simplistic.
The destructiveness of sin
The Bible insists that sin has consequences and one of the uncomfortable truths about the moral universe we live in is that we don’t get to control those consequences.
Moreso, God does use the consequences of sins to emphasise the inherent sinfulness of sin.
For example, Solomon taught his son to run away from sinful men because ill-gotten gain takes away the life of those who get it (Proverbs 1:19) and those who try to ambush others end up ambushing themselves (1:18).
Solomon insists that “the waywardness of the simple will kill them and the complacency of fools will destroy them” (1:32). While the upright and the blameless will live in the land, the wicked will be cut off and the unfaithful will be torn from it (2:21,22).
While the path of the righteous shines ever brighter till the full light of day, the way of the wicked is like deep darkness and they do not know what makes them stumble (Proverbs 4:18-19). The one who hates wisdom loves death but he who finds wisdom finds life (8:35-36).
The point here is that Solomon highlights the destructive effects of sin to discourage his son from sinning. And he also points out the blessings of wisdom and righteousness to encourage his son to seek both.
Consequently, it is not wrong to use an occasion of sin manifesting its destructiveness for moral teaching. Solomon did it for his son over and over again.
Paul did the same in 1 Corinthians 10. Israel sinned against God in the wilderness and he destroyed many of them (verse 5). Paul used that as a source of moral teaching, encouraging us to not set our hearts on evil things as they did (verse 6).
They committed sexual immorality during their exodus to the promised land and 23,000 of them perished (verse 8). The point? “We should not commit sexual immorality as some of them did” (verse 8). Similarly, they tempted Christ and were destroyed by the snakes and in another event, they grumbled and were killed by a destroying angel (verses 9-10). The lesson? “We should not tempt Christ…do not grumble” (verses 9-10).
The author of Hebrews did the same thing. Because of unbelief and hardness of heart, God insisted that many of the Israelites would not enter his rest (Hebrews 3:7-11). The author used that example to warn us about the dangers of an evil and unbelieving heart (verse 12). Instead of entering the promised land (rest), their bodies perished in the wilderness (verses 16-19). The lesson? Let’s not be like them, let’s believe the word of God and enter into his rest.
So while sin is inherently sinful, God does use the manifestations of its destructiveness to encourage us to flee from it.
Direct or indirect, it doesn’t matter
And to the second set of people, we must emphasise that no one can control how the destructiveness of sin manifests. Perhaps an adulterous man coming up with AIDS seems more natural and direct to us but it doesn’t always work that way.
It’s not the adulterous sex itself that is evil; everything about adultery is evil. Deceiving your wife/husband, giving your heart and your body to another, disregarding your marriage covenant are all evil.
When Solomon warned his son that the house of the adulterous woman leads to death (Proverbs 5:1-5, 7:22), he didn’t spell out all the ways the death will occur.
But one of the ways he identified is the jealousy of the woman’s husband (Proverbs 6:34-35). If the husband of the woman finds another man in a relationship with his wife, he can kill the other man or take revenge through other means.
You can find an example of this in the latest Super Story series – Revenge. An older man met a young man having sex with his wife and, in anger and jealousy, hit him many times with a bat. The young man lost his life in the process.
Did the man have to kill him? No. But when you embrace sin, you cannot define the consequences; sin can bring you more than what you bargained for.
Therefore, all the talk about no one deserving to die is simplistic. While no sinner wants to die, we cannot control how sin will choose to destroy us if we keep indulging it. And sometimes, it does give us more than what we bargain for.
The murder of Usifo was unecessary but when you keep fire in your bosom, you can’t dictate the temperature at which it will burn your clothes (and more). Funny enough, Solomon used this same metaphor to describe the destructiveness of the particular sin of adultery (Proverbs 6:27).
One reason we need to understand the inherent sinfulness of sin is that sometimes those who sin prosper and those who are righteous suffer. This is the dilemma of Psalms 73, Malachi 3, and Habakkuk 1. Or, as Qoheleth puts it, sometimes the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily and men’s hearts are filled with schemes to do evil (Ecclesiastes 8:11).
In Psalms 73 and Malachi 3, Asaph and Malachi found the answer in the coming judgment. Evil men may prosper now but their destruction is inevitable on the day of judgement. Righteous men may suffer now but their glory is inevitable on the last day.
Sin is sin regardless of consequences. We must not use consequences as the sole determinant of what’s sin (we must not be utilitarians).
However, even at that, God does use the manifest consequences of sin to remind us of the destructiveness and sinfulness of sin and lead us away from it ( in all its manifestations).
Learning our lessons
So what lessons can we learn from the case of Chidinma and Usifo?
Many people believe that the important lesson is that girlfriends should not kill their boyfriends. Others believe that drug use is a problem and people should avoid dangerous drugs.
But these are not sufficient.
We get more of what we normalise
One of the lies we have told men is that adultery is part of masculinity.
This is a big mistake because you get more of what you normalise. When homosexuality and transgederism were normalised in the west, they got more of it.
In a WhatsApp group I belong to, someone insisted that it’s in the nature of a man to cheat and that it was only a matter of time for the married ones in the group to cheat.
The more we tell men that adultery is normal and women that adulterous husbands are normal, the more adultery we’ll have.
Temptations to adultery are normal and because men have more sexual drive, the temptations may be more acute.
However, the presence (or acuteness) of temptation is not a sufficient cause of sin and neither a justification for it.
Paul said he placed his body under subjection (1 Corinthians 9:27) and he admonished the Thessalonians to learn how to control their body in a way that is holy and honourable (1 Thessalonians 4:4).
He dismissed the argument of some people in Corinth that the body was made for fornication just as food for the stomach and the stomach for food. The body, Paul said, is for the Lord (1 Corinthians 6:12-13). He went on to say that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (verse 19).
Solomon never considered fornication and adultery an inevitable part of manhood. He encouraged his son to flee from the adulterous woman (Proverbs 6,7) and rejoice in the wife of his youth (Proverbs 5:18).
God never thought adultery was inevitable when he made Adam and Eve, one man and one woman (Mathew 19:4-6). Neither did Jesus or the apostles when they condemned adultery as a sin (Mark 7:22, 2 Peter 2:14, 1 Corinthians 6:9).
Apart from the self control that comes from the rational mind controlling the will and the emotions, believers have the Spirit of God in them that helps them overcome the flesh, exchanging the works of the flesh for the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-25).
Therefore, instead of encouraging men to normalise adultery, we should encourage them to overcome the temptations and embrace fidelity. And we can use the destructiveness of adultery and the blessings of fidelity to encourage them.
The same way we get more of what we normalise, we get less of what we consider morally wrong and unjustifiable.
Just as adultery is not normal for men, it is not normal for women. Men and women, boys and girls, we must learn to possess our bodies in honour and holiness.
Rejoice in the wife of your youth
God hates divorce because marriage is a covenant (Malachi 2:14). Marriage is not a mere contract signed by a man and a woman before a magistrate. It’s a covenant made before God.
Unlike a contract where the specific terms of engagement are clearly stated prior to the agreement, a marriage covenant is less specific. In fact, the wedding vow includes words like “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, till death do us part.”
The generic nature of the marriage vow reinstate the fact that marriage is a commitment to a person rather than a commitment to a thing (in the case of a contract).
Therefore, it takes a great deal of commitment to remain faithful to the covenant. It means when he loses his job and she loses her beauty, the covenant is still valid since it is not to beauty or a job that you committed yourself to.
This is why Jesus said sexual immorality is the only thing that dissolves a marriage (Mathew 19:9) and Paul adds the death of the other partner (Romans 7:3) and the departure of an unbelieving partner (1 Corinthians 7:12-14).
Marriage is not a fickle, comfortable merger of two bodies but a covenant. And those who come together in such a covenant must honour it. And one way to do that is to make the marriage bed honourable (Hebrews 13:4).
When you say yes to a man or a woman, you have said no to everyone else. You have said yes to her/him with all of her/his physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social attributes; and you have said no to the attributes of other women/men. And your yes remains yes even when you suddenly discover there are some attributes you like that she or he doesn’t possess or there are some attributes she or he possessed and has lost. A covenant is not subject to your vacuous and varying feelings.
Solomon thus admonished his son to rejoice in the wife of his youth (Proverbs 5:18). Verses before, he told him to drink water from his own cistern and running water from his own well (verse 15). You chose this well, stick to it.
No change in your desires or her attributes justify adultery. This is why contentment is a work of Jesus Christ (Philippians 4:10-13).
One of the appeals of folly is that “stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious” (Proverbs 9:17). But those who heed folly’s call end up realising that “the dead are there, that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead” (verse 18). Many are those who have died from stolen water and food eaten in secret (metaphors for adultery).
Temptations to adultery will arise and we must take Jesus’s warning to cut off our hands and feet if they will destroy us (Mathew 5:30, 18:8) and Paul’s warning to flee temptations (1 Corinthians 6:18, 1 Timothy 6:11, 2 Timothy 2:22).
Solomon admonished his son in the same manner. The first mistake of the youth of Proverbs 7 was going down the street near the corner of the adulterous woman and walking along the direction of her house (verse 8).
By walking around in her vicinity, he exposed his inexperienced mind to her temptations. When the experienced adulterous woman met him, all was lost. That meeting should never have happened. Once it did, the battle was lost already. The young man lost when he paraded the vicinity of the adulterous woman and exposed himself to temptation.
Men and women must learn to set boundaries to protect themselves. We are not ignorant of the devil’s devices and we should be smart enough to not give him an inch since we know he will take a mile.
Couples must be accountable to each other and set principles that will help them remain faithful to their spouses. Mike Pence, the former VP of USA, made it a rule never to dine alone with a woman other than his wife.
We all know our temptations – the exact thing(s) that trigger immoral thoughts and desires. Nip it in the bud. Create fences that will protect you from your peculiar temptations.
We get more of what we encourage
We have also promoted a culture where people can get rich without anyone caring how they made the money.
Our materialistic culture has led us to believe that money is the end of all ends and that no means is out of bounds (apart from killing someone, some will be careful to add).
In such culture, internet fraud is celebrated – parents rejoice with their fraudulent children and ladies don’t mind dating and marrying an internet fraudster. Even churches don’t mind receiving them as long as they pay their tithes and donate to special projects.
I do joke with my friends that if a man introduces himself as an “importer and exporter” (without specifics) in a Nigerian movie, he’s most certainly someone with unclean hands. It’s a popular foil for fraud in Nigerian movies.
Now we have developed so many foils. Worse still, we don’t even need those foils. Society has so much made money the end of existence that it doesn’t even matter where you get it from. Everyone wants to be a big boy or girl, means be damned.
If Chidinma didn’t kill Usifo, many of us would not have minded that she was dating an older and married man. We would gladly praise her as a “small girl with a big God.”
When money is the end of existence, people will do everything to acquire it and in a culture with such ideology, the moral judgment of public shaming and disapproval will be replaced with approval, indifference, or applause.
Girls like Chidinma are products of our materialistic culture. We cannot normalise “sugar daddies” and cry wolf when more of our young girls embrace that lifestyle. We get more of what we normalise and encourage.
God saves adulterers – those who get caught and those who don’t. God saves fornicators – those who get caught and those who don’t.
Repent of your sins, put your trust in Jesus Christ and he will save you from your sins. He will cleanse your record, forgive your sins, and make you a new creature with a new heart and spirit that loves righteousness and hates wickedness.
And if you are not a fornicator or adulterer but you have not put your faith in Christ, understand that every sin is likewise destructive. Repent of them and trust in Christ. Come to Christ and he will save you.
If you are a child of God, continue to depend on him to receive the grace to overcome temptations and keep your body in honour and holiness, free from fornications and adulteries. Pray for the grace to rejoice in the wife (husband) of your youth, remain faithful to your marriage covenant, and keep your marriage bed undefiled.
And if our culture will turn to him in repentance and faith, he will also transform us and bring us into union with himself so that we can reflect his glory in holiness and purity.
Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us
o’er the world’s tempestuous sea;
guard us, guide us, keep us, feed us
for we have no help but thee;
yet possessing every blessing,
if our God our Father be.
Saviour, breathe forgiveness o’er us;
all our weakness thou dost know;
thou didst tread this earth before us,
thou didst feel its keenest woe;
lone and dreary, faint and weary,
through the desert thou didst go.
Spirit of our God, descending,
fill our hearts with heavenly joy,
love with every passion blending,
pleasure that can never cloy:
thus provided, pardoned, guided,
nothing can our peace destroy.