By Charles Adingupu & Oghene Omonisa
From the Vincentian Headquarters in Nigeria, Ugwaji Road, Maryland, in the hilly coal city of Enugu to the slippery Vincentian Community House, the hostel for seminarians, Abiakpo Ntak Inyang, Ikot Ekpene in Akwa Ibom State witnessed a train of an uninterrupted procession of Catholic priests – men and women who learnt of the deaths of six Catholic seminarians.
For some of the Catholic priests at the vigil mass, the tragedy only afforded them the opportunity to meet again. The banter, backslapping and jives they threw at one another sounded like the harmony of multiple instruments which creates a pleasant symphony. But this momentary excitement was cut short when some of them accosted relatives of the dead seminarians and their colleagues who escaped by a whisker the merciless whip of fate.
Most of the relatives and friends of the deceased seminarians were yet to come to terms with the reality of the deaths of their children. According to Seminarian Paul, it’s hard for friends and relatives of the dead seminarians to swallow the bitter pills of reality that their son or friend is now dead.
“It’s normal for them to maintain this uneasy calm disposition. They would react, in other words, emotion will go wild only when they see the corpses. Then they would truly believe that their sons are no more. It’s indeed painful”, he said.
At the venue of the vigil mass at Blessed Michael Ghebre Community House (hostel of the seminarians), Abiakpo Ntak-Inyang at Ikot-Ekpene, friends and relatives of the seminarians were betrayed by treacherous tears as the sight of the dug grave of the six seminarians and a place designed for their lying-in- state, confirmed the deaths of their loved ones.
At precisely 5pm, over 190 Vincentian priests started the vigil mass which was held at the open field of the Vincentian Community House, Ekot-Ekpene.
Earlier in his sermon, Rev. Fr. Philemon Okoh, a member of the Vincentian Community House in Ikot Ekpene expressed condolences to the Provincial Superior of the Mission, Most Rev. Fr. Cyril Mbata, Vincentians’ families, relatives, friends and all mourners.
“The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. There are no words strong enough that would console us. Just last month, we lost four of our sisters to a ghastly motor accident. Then, two weeks after, six of our brothers died in the same manner. Where is God in all of these? Was God there? Where and how did it happen? Many unanswered questions but we have to turn to God because our hearts have been broken”, he said.
The clergyman expressed fear that their deaths had already left a void in the life of the seminary, family and students.
The deceased seminarians were expectedly from different backgrounds. Rev. Fr. Okoh disclosed that Chukwuemeka Henry Osisiuri hailed from Umuoma Umuhu Okwuato in Aboh Mbaise LGA of Imo State. He was the younger of the two surviving sons of the family and having lived in the seminary community in Ogobia from his childhood, he had no problem tracing his vocation to the Catholic priesthood in the congregation of the Vincentian Mission.
Rev. Fr. Okoh described Chukwuemeka as a goal-oriented scholar and an embodiment of talents. According to him, Chukwuemeka was artistically created, and hardworking.
As for Emmanuel Chukwudozie Okoli, an indigene of Ndimgbu Otolo Nnewi from Nnewi Diocese, Anambra State, the clergyman described him as a silent achiever, a good footballer and a motivator. He said that Chukwudozie’s spirituality was inspiring to the extent that all who had contact with him in his places of apostolic work in Delta, Lagos and Kogi testified with uncontrollable tears on hearing of his demise.
Michael Chibuike Nwafor, a native of Oboli Awgu in Enugu State was the first son of his parents. Rev. Fr. Okoh described Michael as an epitome of wisdom, an embodiment of humility and simplicity whose only pastime was to render help to people irrespective of tribe, class and gender.
The fourth child in the family of six, Emmanuel Ochowechi Adah was an indigene of Okpokwu in Otukpo Diocese. Rev. Fr. Okoh said Emmanuel was evidently a good singer, vibrant comedian, creative, jovial, social and intelligent.
The last child in a family of eight, Joachim Omamode Erhimeyoma hailed from Umiaghwa from Warri Diocese in Delta State. Rev. Fr. Okoh described him as deeply gifted spirituality, charming character with an ardent desire to help the poor. “O Joe! It not our wish that you leave us now but God knows the best”, Rev. Fr. Okoh lamented. “Rest in peace, our confrere.”
For the Marian devotee, Emmanuel Obinna Agbo, the last child in a family of seven who hailed from Umu-Idu Ede Oballa in Nsukka, Rev. Fr. Okoh said Agbo was prayerful, intelligent, friendly and hard working.
Arrival of corpses
Events of the vigil mass dovetailed into the next morning, day of interment. The corpses of the deceased seminarians were laid in state at the Vincentian Community House at Ekot-Ekpene. Now, reality dawned on the deceased families who last saw their loved ones alive, but who were now dead.
The Provincial Superior, Rev. Fr. Mbata prayed over the deceased students, sprinkled holy water on them and ordered that the caskets be opened for relatives and friends present to bid farewell to their departed loved ones.
Trembling hands of friends, colleagues and relatives moved back and forth at the open caskets, abodes of the six dead seminarians who were already cut off from the world of the living by the suntan, a white flown sleeve gown (a common wear popular among Catholic priests).
Friends and colleagues of the six seminarians paid the last respect amid tears and groaning as they processed round the caskets. But they all took consolation in the parting words of the Provincial Superior, Most Rev. Fr. Mbata to affected students: “We shall meet to part no more.”
No fewer than three hundred Catholic priests outside the Vincentian Community were present, including Bishops of Ikot-Ekpene, Uyo and Port Harcourt Dioceses. Others were Bishop of Ijebu-Ode Diocese, Most Reverend Albert Fasina; and Enugu Dioceses, Most Rev. Anthony Okonkwo Gbuji. Others who could not make the funeral service sent distinguished delegates.
The survived seminarians who had close shave with death recalled their experiences on how God saved them from the claws of death.
I shared earpiece with late Emma Ada in the bus – Kizito
“I was sharing the same earpiece with late Emmanuel Ada. We were enjoying music from the same source when the accident happened. But he died on the spot. However, that I survived was not because I was better than those who died. But God was kind enough to rescue me from the jaws of death. I still cannot believe that what transpired was real and our brothers are no more.”
It was a painful departure
– Desmond Emejuru
“It was unfortunate they died this way. Though they were the best guys you could find in this community, their departure was indeed painful. Just imagine Emmanuel Osisiriu; they were just two in his family. His mother is devastated.”
“I was too shocked to know what was going on around me when the accident happened. Days after, I gained consciousness and learnt of the death of my brothers. I was devastated. Their death left a deep hole in my heart that can never be covered. The driver of the bus was not careless. He tried to save the situation but all to no avail. I think it was the will of God.”