For Emma Nkwoukwu, a legal practitioner whose wife, Felicia, died in last Friday’s bomb blast at the United Nations House in Abuja, her demise has left a big vacuum in this closely knit nuclear family. Even to grant an interview to a journalist, a small meeting of the family members available had to take place to see who would respond to questions.
Felicia was the matriarch of that home which started 35 years ago and has been blessed with seven children.
She had gone to work that Friday morning as she had done every working day in the last 27 years when she joined the United Nations office in Nigeria as front desk officer and telephone operator.
She transferred to the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, after a stint with the United Nations’ Children Fund, UNICEF, in Lagos.
When she was in UNICEF, she was called the Voice of UNICEF. As receptionist, she took all the calls and directed them to the appropriate officer, if need be. But most times, she answered to all the inquiries regarding the work of UNCEF in Nigeria.
It was that recommendation that earned her automatic transfer to UNDP. In the two agencies of UN, she has won award including 1996 staff award for dedication to UNICEF goals and the 20 years service award which was conferred on her about seven years ago.
She had been tipped off that another award was in the offing this year. But that will come as posthumous or not at all.
Ten minutes before the blast went off, she had spoken to her son, Dennis, asking for a plate of rice which will serve as breakfast and lunch for her. She usually leaves her Kubwa residence early to beat the infamous slow traffic on that road and to be on her desk by 8 am as stipulated by her employment rules.
Dennis told Vanguard that he had bought the food but decided to eat his own meal of white rice and stew at the canteen where she bought the food. He had just settled down to eat the meal when he heard the sound of the blast.
“ Immediately I heard the sound, I rushed outside and saw smoke coming out from the direction of the UN building and I rushed to the place. I was there within five minutes, that was before the fire service, police and other security agencies arrived. When I arrived I rushed straight to my mother’s office and there was confusion everywhere and several bodies were thrown around the place.
”I was asking anybody I saw whether he had seen my mother. It was only then that somebody said, “Check is that Ileya’s body “ and Ileya worked with my mum in the same office. I kept turning the bodies I saw on the ground there until I saw my mother’ s body lying in a pool of blood. I cried, knelt down and prayed for her.”
For Mr. Nkwoukwu who was told of the incident by his brother-in-law, he collapsed when he came face to face with the corpse of his wife, stretched out in the morgue of the National Hospital, Abuja.
He had rushed to his wife’s office when he was told of the incident and was prevented from reaching the building by security personnel who feared that the entire building would collapse.
He was asked to go and search for his wife at the hospital. At the National Hospital Emergency desk, he was also told to go and check at the wards or the morgue.
As a member of the Deeper Life Church, he mumbled a brief prayer of faith and went straight to the wards to check if his wife was in any of them. He did not find her and grudgingly, she headed to the mortuary where after seven minutes of search, he found the lifeless body of his wife of 35 years.
“ I collapsed and the only thing I knew was that I found myself here in my house. How I left the mortuary I cannot say. The impact was too much. It has left a vacuum in my family.’
“Government should tighten security in the country to stop innocent people from dying. How does this matter concern us.I believe that all religion preach peace. I am not a muslim, but I believe that they were not sent by their leaders to go and kill innocent people.”
On what he will miss with her death, Nkwoukwu said “She was a very faithful woman and, very loving. She was dedicated to her work. She does not play with her work or her family. I am going to miss her companionship. I will miss her advice, especially in difficult period, she will always stand by me.”
Mrs. Nkwoukwu who was 54 before her death, hailed from Ewulu, Aniocha South Local Government Area of Delta State.