Print   |   Back
December 9, 2014
African Voice
A Man Who Stood in the Gap to Close It
by Imo Eshiet

Evangelist Sunday Sandy Etukeren was a man who well understood the power of the gospel in his day. He effectively used gospel light to dispel the darkness of idol worship and plural marriage and with inspiration, fired people to aspire above limiting folkways.

He also used gospel incentives to foster unity, peace and goodwill among a people riven by mutual tribal distrust and conflict. Driven by strong convictions that all men are brothers, he saw with clarity through the tribal fog and drew the sword of the gospel against the tyranny of communal divisions and hatred.

In his time, as indeed now, everything in Nigeria was filtered through ancient and inflexible clannish lens. This malignant behavior robs Africans of so much capacity-building. The blight caused bloodletting in South Africa and stood in the way of halting apartheid in its tracks much earlier.

In Kenya and Zimbabwe, the story was just as grim. Rwanda and Sudan outdid all others in tribal fury, brutality and savagery. In Nigeria, the insanity wasted more than two million lives. Even now, since incoherence is steep deep in the country, homicidal tribal bigots run wild, turning large swaths of the country’s northeast into an abhorrent killing field.

In colleges and universities I taught in Nigeria, certain positions were reserved for people from certain tribes, a shocking and offensive travesty known in Nigerian-speak as “son of the soil” syndrome. This was so even when such persons clearly lacked the required distinctions. Hence the mediocrity of these institutions, because policies are based on tribal ethos that fail to represent the standards and values of quality education.

The Annang and Ibibio people, for example, probably share a common origin. Unlike Americans and the British who are separated by an ocean, their boundary is contiguous. There’s hardly a word an Annang speaks that an Ibibio does not understand.

With minimal differences, they share similar conventions, deities, foods, and worldview.

They also intermarry, yet the enmity between them is sometimes grim. And despite shared institutions, both claim they are different tribes.

Their unprincipled politicians manipulate tribal fault-lines and deceive the people so as to make personal gains. An opportunistic Ibibio chief for example, using the Nigerian civil war as cover, attacked and murdered prominent Annang intellectuals and politicians. Then taking advantage of the resulting vacuum, he promptly declared himself the paramount ruler of both tribes.

Before this, Annang politicians, seeking for breathing space from their more numerous Ibibio cousins, had aligned with Ibos (another of their neighbors) to run a party that ruled eastern Nigeria. The Ibibios who felt spited threw in their lot with a party in western Nigeria.

When the war broke out a Nigerian military officer from the western region who had unconcealed sympathies for the party of his tribe commanded the Nigerian troops. The Ibibio chief saw this as an opportunity to eliminate Annang leaders in retribution for perceived past antagonism. The ensuing slaughter, though on a small level, eerily anticipated the horrendous Tutsi-Hutu massacre.

Such reeling and dastardly betrayals breed animosity and tear asunder relationships woven over time and history.

Evangelist Etukeren saw in these bitter mangling of relationships a gap he could work to restore wholeness.

Evangelist Etukeren graduated from Bible College, Ukpom Abak in 1959. His father, who founded the Baptist and Apostolic churches in his village at Ekom Iman, had expected the son to take over from him. The young evangelist, being something of a rebel, instead opted to work for the Church of Christ Mission.

The Mission posted him to a remote Uruk Ata Nsidung village west of the Quo Ibom River where he served from 1960-1972.

Unlike present-day Nigeria, where prosperity theology supplants the truth, early Christian ministers saw their calling as service to the people rather than their pockets.

Upon arrival, the 22-year-old minister went to work with zeal. A versatile minister, he was a charismatic singer, a prolific songwriter, and an arresting preacher. With his gifts he soon won over the people. He secured a plot of land at the center of the village and put up a chapel.

Because he engaged in activities that spoke to the needs of the community, he was able to enlist the help of members and non-members in raising his church building. With them he dug sand from a nearby river to mold cement blocks and bricks for the construction work.

Seeing his devotion, a local philanthropist, Asukwo Akpan Obot, came to the aid of the toil-worn preacher and donated a piece of land for him to build a house to live in.

The Nigerian Civil War cut short his mission, and he returned home to take care of his family. The war had barely ended when he went back to his church and found that the he work he started had come to a standstill.

He contacted the village head and with a token fee secured several iroko trees for use in the building. He hired lumbermen and other craftsmen to saw the trees for use in roofing the building. Working like a man possessed, he soon completed the project.

It was a mark of his strength of character and faith that he lived harmoniously with a people equally dedicated to folk beliefs, fetish and idolatry. Many of those he affected are currently successful men and women in various professions.

He easily won the hearts of those he served because they saw his sincerity. While he served on his mission, his wife stayed home to farm and raise animals to support his work and his family. This freed him from temporal concerns and focused his energies on taking the gospel to other places like Etim Ekpo, Nkek, Ukanafun and Ikot Ekpene.

His heart was so much with the Annang tribe he labored in that when he tried to set up a church among his own home folks, he was poorly received. He took heart believing his mission lay with the Annangs whom he loved until he suddenly passed in 1990.

Today the people he spent his time uplifting in the gospel and education fondly cherish his memory. The sage who wrote the proverbs had it going for souls like Evangelist Etukeren when he wrote that, “the liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered himself.”

Currently Etukeren’s son sits as a sales executive in an auto company in the U.S. His grandchildren are attorneys and pharmacists, thus continuing in the family heritage of advocacy for the voiceless and healing for the afflicted.

Evangelist Sunday Sandy Etukeren consecrated his time, energy and resources to a higher calling because he knew what Rodney Johnson meant when he said, “Standing in the gap is our duty, our calling as Christians. God is looking for those who are willing to stand for those who cannot stand for themselves — are you willing? ... We are not here just to live our lives, we are here to influence. Influence our families, friends, community, city, state, nation, and world.”

Copyright © 2024 by Imo Eshiet Printed from