Assumpta Ogbekile woke up that morning filled with great expectations for the day. It was a Saturday and she had made commitments to attend a friend’s wedding at Aggrey Road, Port Harcourt. After her normal chores, she bathed and dressed with care in the special colours of the day; her friend joined her and they both took a taxi to the now infamous Slaughter Roundabout at the Trans Amadi Industrial Area.
That was the last journey Assumpta undertook by herself, for not long after they got unto the Aggrey Road bound bus, a great storm broke a live armoured electric cable which danced its destructive potency into the lives of more than 100 inhabitants of the Niger Delta city of Port Harcourt.
The passengers on Assumpta’s bus saw the cable fall on a nearby bus; they saw that within seconds all the passengers had been burnt black and were either dead or dying. They also saw the cable fall off that bus and glide towards theirs. They panicked. There was enough cause to panic.
The bus, like most buses in the Niger Delta, had no insulation; the passengers were packed so close as to provide ready conduit for the destructive particles of electricity and nature was playing an unhelpful role in the saga. The noise, darkness and general chaos caused by the violent storm completely disoriented the passengers.
They started jumping off the bus and the fact that those who had gotten off the bus first were writhing and getting charred did not stop the stampede. It was for them a clear choice between doing nothing and meeting with a sure fate like the passengers in the other bus or taking matters into their own hands optimistically.
Unfortunately for them, the accursed cable was lying beside the bus in a puddle of water which stretched beyond the entrance to the bus. They could not traverse it. Assumpta jumped and suffered third degree burns from her feet up to and around her knees.
Naturally, the Rivers State government, the body that was sworn to secure the safety of lives and property in the state, was appropriately shocked by the events at the Slaughter Roundabout. Unfortunately, and as it often happens with people who were not prepared for the job, they never came out of their shock to do anything meaningful for the victims of that event. One week after her admission the hospital authorities informed her family that they had to amputate Assumpta’s legs from the knees.
The family was informed that the nerves serving the forelegs having failed and those lower parts having contracted some infection, the patient could lose her life if they did not amputate. It is worthy of note that three days after the incident, Assumpta could still move her feet and forelegs. The nerves collapsed four days after because she did not receive expert care from the inception. The family gave their assent and Assumpta was amputated. Having graduated from the university and served her country in the compulsory NYSC scheme, this young woman, beautiful as only African women have the right to be, the pride of family, friends and the flock of admirers who sought her hand in marriage, dreamt of a long, happy and fulfilled life. On Tuesday, March 16, Assumpta gave up.
She gave up trying to understand a government that would acquire planes to airlift victims of medical emergencies and ignore the same victims and deploy the planes for Abuja junkets; she gave up on a governor who visited her (while on a hospital visit to Prof. Nimi Briggs) and forgot her when he left the hospital.
Two weeks after the Slaughter Roundabout incident, 40 electric poles fell at Oginigba, Trans Amadi. As I write, an overloaded electric pole is slanting dangerously near the Garri Market on Churchill Road. Perhaps the government is not doing anything about it because nobody would hold it accountable for the loss of lives that may eventually occur. Among many other ills, the Niger Delta people have suffered from irresponsible leadership and militancy, in that order, for too long.
John Iyene Owubokiri, a Port-Harcourt based legal practitioner and National Coordinator of the Initiative for Non-Violent Change (INVC) in the Niger Delta writes compellingly on issues affecting Nigerians and people of the Niger Delta in particular.