It is just natural that news of such fatal crash as the ill fated Dana airline crash in Lagos some days ago elicits a momentary wave of shock and curiosity among Nigerians. Thereafter, and almost immediately, the shock tapers off leaving close relatives, friends and associates of the victims to bear the sad memories till they get over the shock. For me, it is the same mode of reaction and thereafter, I make sure I access the passenger manifest of such ill fated planes, scrutinize it to see if any of my friends or relatives is involved and that will decide my level of attachment to the event. I know that is similar attitude Nigerians have of such incidences and the shock wave go almost after that momentary expression of shock. Often, such expressions are more of fear that one could be a victim than for the actual victims of such disasters. And so life goes on and it is natural that nothing changes after every incidence, as Nigerians only see such as enlivening the dour lives they have been made to live in such a woe ridden country.
And so, when I heard the news of the Dana air crash, shock followed and after I made instantaneous contacts to ensure that relatives and friends were not involved, I relapsed into my normal life to await the release of the manifest of the ill fated flight. But no sooner had I decided on this than I, like every other Mbaise man, was jolted by the unofficial information that Prof. Celestine Onwuliri, the immediate former Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology Owerri and a distinguished Mbaise son was on board the flight. The news came from close but unofficial sources and even as we confirmed it, we still waited for the official flight manifest while praying that the news turns to a hoax by the time the official manifest had been released. I am sure that was the same prayer those closely related to the few lucky ones that had their names in the manifest but who never got to board the ill fated plane indulged in. To their relief, God answered their prayers but not to us, the many friends, relatives, well wishers, compatriots of Onwuliri and the 152 others and also the many others that were crushed in their rooms, on the ground and elsewhere by that deadly purveyor of death.
With the release of the manifest, our fears were confirmed and right there at No 121, his name was written among the victims of the crash. As is usual of me, I scrutinized further and there at No 60 was the name of my good friend and affable gentleman, Dr. Ike Abugu. I noticed some other familiar names on that morbid list but I, and several others were quite numbed by the confirmation of the fact that Prof. Onwuliri, Dr. Abugu and of course several others have been sent to the journey of no return by an unfortunate flight in a country where life is marked by so much uncertainty.
I know that thousands of families and millions of Nigerians experienced that same feeling given their affinity to one or two or more of the victims of the crash. Let us put ourselves in the shoes of the Ayenes where an entire family that thought they have escaped the unsure life in Nigeria, perished in one short flight. Let us wear the clothes of the Onitas where two sisters on short visit to Nigeria, perished. What of the Ike Ibes where a mother and her daughter going for medical treatment abroad died? Of the Dikes, where mother and son perished? Of the Onyeaguchas (by the way I thought they were related to my friend Uche Onyeagucha until he cleared the air on this on his facebook page later the following day) and the many other families who lost two or several family members in that disaster?. So, in that mid afternoon crash, several Nigerians were plunged into deep mourning that will last months, if not years, and long after our own momentary show of concern, as a nation, has ebbed.
To me, the deaths of Onwuliri and Abugu were clear decimation of the scarcely available human potentials we desperately yearn for to take our beleaguered country to the next level. The duo represents terminated fonts of development that would certainly have helped our national cause for salvation from the perdition that is threatening to swallow us at present. Onwuliri was an academic who rose through the ranks to professorship and rose to become first, the Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Jos and later the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology Owerri. The meticulous and productive manner he went about his duties stands out and is a worthy memorial to his capacity as an academic and an administrator. The many landmarks he left at FUTO are veritable marks in the sands of time that speak for him today and will speak for him for many years to come. The many people whose lives he directly and indirectly affected positively, the many people he mentored and the many life changing impacts he had on those that came in close contact with him are collectively bereaved by his demise. His deep religious attachment complimented his disciplined life to turn out a well cultured persona whose
I knew Dr. Abugu who earned his PhD in Russia from his close attachment to Igbo causes especially his commitment to various leading Igbo groups like Aka Ikenga, Igbo National Council, Ndigbo Lagos and such other expanded groups like Good Governance Group and South East/South South Professionals. Both of us belong to these groups so our paths usually crossed. I remember the very day we left an Aka Ikenga function together at Borudillon Ikoyi a little after midnight. He and I talked of the best routes to take since he was heading to Ilupeju and I to Ikeja. I suggested we take the mainland route through Carter Bridge while he felt we should take the Third Mainland bridge, an option we settled for. It was raining heavily as we drove off at that unholy hour. He drove behind me, like a guardian angel and as we parted at Oworonsoki, we horned at each other as he detoured to Gbagada/Anthony while I continued towards Ojota/7up. He was one of the many Nsukka professionals who made an impression on me as firm, principled, hardworking and honest. Led by the self effacing, effective and silent facilitator and mobilizer, Emeka Ugwu Oju, this group include, but not limited to, Dr. Nick Idoko, Felix Abugu, Editor of Saturday Guardian and many others. His steadfastness to the activities of these groups was beyond question. He was affable, humble, disciplined and industrious. He had been heading the Nigerian Association of Small and Medium Scale Entrepreneurs for quite some time now, which makes him a critical player in the nation’s real sector.
I have gone this far with Onwuliri and Abugu for the fact that I have a fair knowledge of them while alive. The others who died in the air crash may have better testimonials than the duo, they may elicit more tearful tributes depending on from where one is looking at the issue but the point being made is that the crash decimated us as a nation and as a people. It shrank our capacity as a nation and inflicted deep gashes on our collective efforts to walk away from the doldrums of the present. The void they left in the hearts and minds of those closely associated with them is deep because while alive, they worked to improve human living conditions of their respective necks of the wood and those fortunate to drink from their brimming well of goodwill. It is therefore natural that their memorials will hold on for ages to come but that will not detract from the fact that their deaths came as one of the manifest hallmarks of our degeneracy as a nation.
The truth is that Onwuliri and Abugu did not make the hefty impression they made on me and the several others now mourning their loss by the volume of cash they wielded or the amount of influence they peddled while alive. They made such positive impression by the sheer manner they employed the little space of their earthly offices to leave indelible imprimaturs on those that come in contact with them. Whether it is in opening life changing doors of opportunity to them or pointing the way to healthy mora
l compass, they ensured they left a memorial upon which their earthly life would be mirrored in the years to come, after. I know the several others that perished in the flight may have left similar footprints which add up to make their painful rites of passage much more difficult to bear.
As Onwuliri, Abugu and the victims of the ill fated Dana air crash continue their new life in the afterglow of earthly life, we commit their souls to God and pray His bountiful mercies on those deeply pained by their irreparable loss.