By Dayo Johnson
THERE was tension and unbelief across Ondo State on Thursday when the family of the late immediate past governor, Dr Olusegun Agagu, less than 24 hours after the plane conveying the corpse to a lying in state from Lagos to Akure crashed, killing 13 passengers, including a serving Commissioner, Mr Deji Falae, insisted that the burial plan should not be altered.
Mixed reactions followed. While some people were of the opinion that it would be callous to go ahead with the burial because of the tragedy, others argued to the contrary since none of the late governor’s family members died in the plane crash.
Indeed it was a black day for the 37-year-old state.
The decision of the family to continue with the burial was greeted with condemnation across the three major political divides in the state- the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the ruling Labour Party (LP) and the All Progressive Congress, APC.
Many chieftains of the three parties said the incident was a double tragedy that would need time to heal.
Shortly before the demise of the former governor, the traditional ruler of his community, Iju Odo, in Okitipupa council area, joined his ancestors.
Consequent upon Agagu’s death, it was gathered that the family was approached by a seer that disaster loomed in the family and was asked to pray and fast for seven days to avert the disaster.
The fasting and prayer ended few days to the plane crash.
Reports had it that the Agagu family, after confirming its members in the aircraft survived and that the corpse was intact, asked that the remains of the former governor be brought to town for burial on Friday.
Olufunke, the wife of the former governor, after she reportedly spoke with his son, Feyi and, son-in-law, Femi Akinsanya, relocated with her two daughters, Solape and Omowunmi, to Iju Odo, her husband’s country home, for the final burial.
A source said Ondo State government suggested to the Agagu family after the ugly incident that the burial be put on hold but the family saw no reason to halt the ceremony.
The state government was said to have called the attention of the family to the mood in the families of those who died in the plane crash.
The insistence to go ahead with the burial may have necessitated the absence of government officials at the burial.
Aside some members of the burial committee and a senator representing Ondo South, Boluwaji Kunlere, government officials, including Mimiko and his deputy, Alhaji Ali Olanusi, were conspicuously absent. Some aides said the governor could not attend the burial because he” is more grieved” as no fewer than four government officials, including a commissioner, died in the crash.
A statement by the PDP state chairman, Hon Ebenezer Alabi, confirmed the anger of the people of the state.
According to Alabi “the decision to go ahead with the burial was taken after a meeting with the members of the family.
”We just consulted with the family and the family has decided to go ahead with the burial moreso that the son of the former governor survived, the son-in-law survived and the casket did not scratch at all. ”So while the family symphasised with the those that lost their lives and their loved ones, they have decided to go ahead with the burial as was initially planned”.
Also, report had it that the MIC Funeral Services, whose Managing Director, Tunji Okusanya, and son, Olatunji, died in the crash, delayed in releasing the corpse of the former governor on the day of burial ostensibly to register their displeasure over the plan to continue with the burial.
However, the Agagu family, possibly after giving the matter a second thought and sensing the implication of the statement by the state PDP chairman and the condemnation that followed, adjusted the programme and made it a solemn burial devoid of pomp and pageantry.
The wake keep, earlier slated for Thursday, was the first to be cancelled.
The family, as early as 8am on Friday, the day of the burial, issued a statement to clear the air on the vexed matter. Journalists, who trooped to Iju Odo, to cover the burial, were handed the statement signed by a younger brother to the former governor, Pastor Femi Agagu.
The statement reads: “The family of the late former governor of Ondo State, Dr Olusegun Agagu, sympathizes with the families of the 13 persons that died in the plane crash conveying his corpse to the state on Thursday. ”The family, consequently, has decided to scale down the details of the funeral to its barest and basic minimum”. They added: “The funeral will now be a private family affair devoid of pomp and pageantry.
”It is also instructive to note that the traditional Christian wake was entirely cancelled.
”The Agagu family deeply commiserates with all the bereaved families and prays fervently for the repose of the souls of all the departed, even as the family continues to remain in close contact with all the families affected by this tragedy.”
There was a light reception at the end of the burial with a live band which sang the praises of the former governor.
Sources at the weekend claimed that the Agagu family left Iju-Odo immediately after the burial on Friday.
We did not hire plane-Ondo govt
Meanwhile, Ondo State government has denied the claim in some quarters that it hired the ill-fated plane to convey the corpse of the former governor.
According to a source, the state government merely provided the fund to charter the plane while the choice of Associated Airlines for the plane was that of the Agagu family.
The source added that the Ondo State government also picked the bill of the ‘Night of tributes’ organised in honour of the late former governor in Ibadan.
The lying-in-state in Akure that never held, the source said, was, however, arranged by the state government.
The source said the clarification became necessary following false claims on the Ondo government’s role in the burial, saying the state government did at it could to make the burial a success.
The commitment of the Ondo government to make a success of state burial for the former governor, the source said, was the reason it raised a committee to handle the burial arrangements alongside the Agagu family and deployed officials to accompany the corpse from Lagos to Akure, regretting that some of the officials died in the plane crash.
“Left to us, the corpse would have been conveyed from Lagos to Akure by road, but the family opted to take it by air. We obliged them and released the fund to charter the plane to them. We did not do the plane hiring. They (the family) did. Not see what the decision has cost us!,” the source stated.
The source said it was wicked to say the state government hired the plane when “in actual fact, it tried to stop Associated Airlines from plying Akure-Lagos, Akure-Abuja some months ago after some Ondo government officials noticed some lapses in one of its planes.”
“The state government even did a letter to Associated Airlines to that effect.”
Reports that I own crashed Associated Airlines is wicked-Igbinedion
In the meantime, a former governor of Edo State, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, yesterday, described as mischievous and misleading, reports linking him with Associated Airlines, owner of the plane that crashed on Thursday.
While commiserating with the families of Agagu and those who lost their lives in the crash, the former governor expressed shock that he was being associated with the airline in social media which, according to him, “is another attempt to tarnish my image by my detractors”.
While speaking to Sunday Vanguard on telephone, yesterday, Igbinedion said, “People can be wicked some times. Some of my friends called me to say that people are insinuating in the social media that the crashed Associated Airline plane belonged to me. This is not true. I want to say that I have no hand or business in the running of Associated Airlines.
“It is sad that people will just get up and feed the public with lies and, to me, that is wicked. I see it as another attempt by my detractors to rubbish my name. You can see that when Nigerians are mourning the incident, evil people are somewhere insinuating rubbish, cooking up false stories just to feed the public. I will advise those behind it to change from their evil behavior so that they will not face the wrath of God”.
The former governor, who said he was shocked when he received the news, called for prayers for the souls of the dead. “I was really shocked like many other Nigerians because the late Dr Agagu was someone we all knew very well and for this to happen even after his death is quite sad. I pray that the Almighty God will grant mercy to the souls of the departed”.