BY JIMITOTA ONOYUME, Port Harcourt
Okogbe community in Ahoada West Local Government Area of Rivers State has not been the same since the petrol tanker fire that occurred penultimate Thursday, consuming about 200 of its residents.
A new twist to the sad story this time has to do with metaphysical related issues. Some of the natives who lost dear ones said their deceased relatives had been appearing to them, claiming to be still alive.
Emedhem Kennedy Prince of Oyakama, one of the clans in the community, who lost his brother in the sad incident, said the wife of the deceased had abandoned the house where she lived with the husband because of strange encounters she complained about.
Narrating a recent experience, he said his own family members tried to lock the door of the apartment occupied by his late brother who perished in the inferno after the wife relocated but every effort failed until they had to appeal to the deceased to allow them safeguard his property.
“In the case of one of my brothers, by name Chima Cheta, who died in the fire, we tried to lock the door of the house he lived three times but after each time it would open. So in our own way we had to talk to him before the door finally was locked the fourth time. The dead people are seriously disturbing us in my place. This is why that my brother’s wife has ran from his house. She had a child for him”.
Another resident, Eli Randy Charles, said he saw a new motorcycle parked at the spot where most of the victims were given mass burial and when he made enquiries he was told the ghost of one of the deceased appeared to a man who stole his motorcycle when he knew he died in the incident.
He said the ghost warned the thief to immediately return the motorbike or be ready for any consequence. He said the thief whispered his experience to his close pals and he was advised to take the bike to the spot of the mass burial.
“I was told that somebody stole the bike of one those that lost their lives. He appeared to the man who stole it to go and drop it. I saw the new bike parked at the venue of the mass burial ground. And when I asked questions I was told somebody who stole it had gone to drop it there. So this is the kind of situation going on in the area now,” he informed.
Many now sleep outside their homes.
He said some of the dead had also been reportedly appearing to friends and relatives in the community, saying they were not dead. “This situation has forced some people to sleep outside their houses at night,” he said.
The story of Okogbe was like that of the Biblical account in Egypt where from the house of the throne of King Pharaoh down to the commonest Egyptian there was wailing during the Passover night because every home of the Egyptian lost its first born.
In Okogbe, no family was spared of death. The traditional ruler of the area, Eze Joshua Eyiba, said the community alone lost 191 one persons. Igbuduya Youth Assembly, an apex body of youth structures of the various clans in Igbuduya, Okogbe inclusive, said 296 persons had so far been confirmed dead. A breakdown of the figure showed that 191 were from Okogbe, while other villages lost 90 persons. None indigenes also consumed in the sad incident was 15 years of age.
Meantime, the community has enjoined the state and Federal Government to provide the area with electricity. Igbuduya Youth Assembly, in their statement blamed the petrol fire disaster on lack of electricity in the community and poverty. The statement signed by the president, Eli Charles; Secretary, Emedhem Kennedy and two others said those who went to scoop fuel from the tanker did so in order to power their generators.
“The Federal Government should provide electricity for us; if there had been electricity the temptation to scoop fuel for generators would have been resisted,” they said.
They said some of those who perished in the inferno operated salons, adding that connecting the community to power will be one way to immortalise the dead. “Our people should not die in vain,” they pleaded. They further appealed to government to create employment opportunities for the area.
“It is really sad to note that Okogbe does not have electricity in Rivers State,” an indigene lamented as he spoke to Vanguard Metro, VM.
They have turned our experience to a media show
Since the incident that befell the community and its neighbouring villages, Okogbe had been playing host to high profile Nigerians trooping there on condolence visit. But painfully some of these visits only ended up as a media show, further stretching the lean purse of the community.
A youth leader captured the situation appropriately when he said the community had been spending so much of its little savings to entertain these high profile Nigerians who visited and left without making any impact on the lives of the aged parents who lost their adult children. He pleaded with the government to come up with relief for parents of these children.
The youth body in its statement said thus: “We, however, make bold to say that such effort should go beyond rhetorics and jamborees as the orphans and the aged who lost their sponsors are dying of hunger and lack of concrete government attention. Immediate palliative measures should have reached the people by now judging the magnitude of the loss”.
It would be recalled that a petrol tanker fell on the East West road end of the community penultimate Thursday, while avoiding a head on collision with a vehicle. While hundreds of indigenes of the area and other neighbouring villages were scooping the product from the tanker it suddenly burst into flames, consuming them. Most of those that were rushed to the hospital for various degrees of burns reportedly died.
Okogbe is still counting its losses from the painful incident, saying it is not enough to dismiss the victims of the disaster as those who died scooping fuel. The people would want the problems of lack of electricity and poverty in the area to be effectively tackled so that a similar tragic incident would not occur.