Exactly eight years ago today, 61 students of the Loyola Jesuit College (LJC) were headed home for the Christmas holidays when the Sosoliso aircraft conveying them crashed in Port Harcourt.
These students, who had left their school and friends less than two hours earlier, were barely minutes away from re-uniting with their families when the tragedy struck. The crash claimed all the lives on board, except two (one LJC student and another passenger). It was an overwhelming catastrophe that cast a shadow in the lives of everyone involved and the nation as a whole.
The scope of that tragedy and the sharp poignancy of its hurt are sufficient triggers to provoke a crisis of faith in those less toughened by the imperatives of love and deep belief in the omniscience of God. But even when we cannot understand why those 60 children were taken away from us, we have taken solace in God’s words in the Bible that His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways.
Today, eight years may have passed and the scars are gradually healing but we will never forget our children who left us in the most heart-breaking manner. Yet while they live forever in our hearts, we want their memories to enrich the lives of others as we demonstrate that abiding bond between parents and children that is aptly captured in the motto of the LJC PTA: “For the sake of our precious jewels”!
However deep our pain as parents, the tragedy of December 10, 2005 was not only for the PTA but also for the LoyolaJesuitCollege.
Having 60 promising lives, 10 percent of its entire student population, cut short in one fell swoop, was too much for any school to bear. Yet out of that tragedy, a new JesuitMemorialCollege has emerged, on the same ground that our children perished in Port Harcourt. Also, there is now an annual memorial drama by students of LJC Abuja in honour and memory of their departed senior colleagues.
At a moment like this we cannot but draw strength from the courage and resilience of Kechi Okwuchi, the only Loyola Jesuit College survivor of that tragic incident, who continues to remind us of the obligations that the living still owe the dead. Kechi experienced the tragedy and lives it every day but she has refused to allow it to define her and the future that is still within her reach.
However, as we mark the 8th anniversary of this tragedy today, our unceasing prayers go out to the parents and guardians of our departed 60 children as well as the Port Harcourt branch of the LJC Parents Teachers Association, the management and staff of Loyola Jesuit College, and indeed all Nigerians.
For reasons beyond our knowledge those beautiful children came to us; and for reasons also beyond our comprehension, they left us. And today in their memory, we have decided to express gratitude instead of grief at the privilege of experiencing their warm companionship. However fleeting their friendship and love, gratitude is a preferable healing force and the path of positive faith. Certainly, those young spirits would wish this path for us because to live forever in the hearts of those who bore and nurtured them is really not to die.
It is from this backdrop of love that the Abuja branch of the Loyola Jesuit College PTA has decided to take a practical step of faith and build other monuments in the memory of our departed students. These monuments are to externalize the depth of our timeless ties to these 60 innocent souls. Our purpose is to erect structures that will be an enduring legacy and simultaneously serve a practical purpose for the host school in loving memory of the LJC-60.
For us, a day like this also offers opportunity to reflect on some of the challenges of our country, especially with regards to the education of our children. We believe that the PTA, alumni associations and other public-spirited institutions should get involved by coming together to provide solutions to some common problems in our schools. That is the spirit which defines communities that care.
December 10, 2015 will mark the 10th anniversary of the Sosoloso crash and the Abuja branch of the LJC PTA has chosen to commemorate the lives of our 60 children with a worthy project, the ”Loyola Jesuit 60 Angels Memorial Buildings” – a staff residence of 60 units of 2 bedroom flats comprising 5 blocks with 12 flats each – to be dedicated on the anniversary itself as a lasting legacy in the school for years to come.
The architectural concept of the proposed monument will be deliberately designed to speak to the minds and hearts of the stakeholders who lost their loved ones and also be at once a reminder and warning to our society to hold fast to enduring values.
We have marked out January 30 next year as the day for the ceremony and cheque presentation. We hope President Goodluck Jonathan who is our special guest of honour will join us on that day as we take a practical step in the bid to redefine the role of parents in the schools their children attend. We are also grateful that the Bishop of Sokoto, His Lordship Matthew Hassan Kukah has graciously accepted our invitation as the guest speaker to engage the interconnection between education and aviation, two critical sectors that are seriously challenged in our country today.
However, to achieve our objective for immortalizing our departed 60 students, the LJC-PTA has set out to raise five hundred million naira (N500m) by taxing and tasking ourselves and seeking the support of public-spirited individuals and credible institutions. Interested corporate bodies may alternatively opt to undertake erecting a building worth One Hundred Million Naira (N100m) that would be credited to them. We know we have set for ourselves a big task but it is a deliberate attempt to awaken that spirit of generousity and sense of community that define our people for the sake of our precious jewels.
At this existential level on a day such as this, the least we can do is to create a symbol, a structure, a totem that honours our fallen students. For sure, this cannot, and will not annul the hurt we still feel. Nor will it bring back the dead. But this gesture will signify faith in the past and future. Most importantly it will serve as a healing gesture for our grieving colleagues who lost their children in such a tragic manner.
We, therefore, appeal to moral and political leaders, educationists and believers in the power of the future to donate generously to this project. After all, as the French philosopher and Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, incidentally a member of the Society of Jesus, owners of the LoyolaJesuitCollege, once observed, “We are not just human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
Taking to heart the core of this rather radical perspective will surely provoke a shift in the understanding and a new appreciation of this journey of life. What’s more, it may force us to deepen and reassess our relationships with others. It will definitely help us to appreciate, perhaps like no other perspectives will, that we are building a monument to 60 LJC spirits that will never die.
Mrs Ochuko Momoh is the Chairperson of the LJC (Abuja branch) PTA.