By Chukwunonso Ekesiobi
Life is a contradiction of both joy and sadness. If we are pleased now, we may be unhappy tomorrow, and vice versa.
There are moments when life appears to be glistening with accomplishment, and everything appears to be strewn with delight. Then, there are moments when life can be so sad that they leave a trace of it on our psyche, so painful that it emotionally blights any happiness that subsequently comes our way.
This is why we look forward to weddings, the arrival of a child, birthdays, and similar delightful events. It is equally normal to remember our first days at school, celebrate graduations, promotions, getting a job, or winning a contested contract.
On the flip side, accidents and the loss of a job, financial savings, property, and investments are a painful reminder of sorrow. What about dealing with the bereavement of a loved one? God forbid right? Indeed, ‘this life no balance’ because, truly, the pursuit of cheerfulness contrasts and coexists with the reality of melancholy.
Personally, the month of April 2021 will forever remain indelible. It appeared as if circumstances conspired together to undo me and fate had turned against me. During my wedding preparation slated for the 17th of April in Anambra, I joined my kinsmen to attend the burial of an in-law in Enugu on the 6th of April in the company of a close friend, and upon return, disaster struck close to the popular ninth-mile. One of our vehicles (a Honda Accord) developed some technical issues at Ama Junction with no option than to stop the car and seek assistance.
Parking the car on the side of the road facing oncoming traffic, the necessary warning signs and other precautions were positioned. With the day already dark and little success fixing the vehicle, the next step was to tow the vehicle to the bustling ninth-mile area in search of a safe parking spot for the night and continue the journey back to Anambra.
As the arrangements to move the broken vehicle began, the calamity unfolded in a flash (around 08:25 pm). A fully loaded Dangote cement trailer, moving at a wild speed, veered off its track to the opposite lane and cleared all in its path – including the Honda about to be hauled. Rising from the ground, my hearing was momentarily clogged by the extreme decibel level from the impact. Suddenly, the noise rushed in my ear with a flurry – the weeping, screaming, and wailing!
Amid the ensuing confusion, I ran a reconnaissance of the scene and immediately sought the whereabouts of family members who made the trip. While most were safe and unharmed, two members of the group sustained broken head and leg injuries respectively and were rushed alongside other injured persons to a nearby medical centre. The scouting continued for the two persons yet to be accounted for. Then, close to the broken fence of a nearby petrol station which fortunately immobilised the trailer was the lifeless body of my kin, Mrs. Chibuzor Izundu, a widow and mother of four. Also, a commercial motorcycle operator laid unconscious next to his disfigured machine, and adjacent to him, among the shiny glass pieces and other debris that carpeted the road, was the corpse of another lady, an unfortunate pedestrian, sadly affected by the accident.
I have heard of frequent trailer accidents across the cross but nothing prepares one for such a horrific nightmare. While I was trying to come to terms with the agonising confusion, there was still another shock in store for me. Where was my friend, Kamsi and where was the Honda car? Suddenly, there was a call from the direction of the trailer that someone was trapped underneath. Lo and behold, beneath the trailer, whose driver immediately took to his heels, was the Honda with Kamsi in it.
He was in the driver’s seat while it was about to be towed before the unpleasant incident took place. Kamsi’s voice could be heard from below the wreckage calling for assistance, “Please Help Me, abeg make una help”. As time wore on, Kamsi’s voice gradually faded with each call. Those who rushed to the scene made efforts to offload the cement to lighten the weight of the trailer frame but the subsequent attempts to reach him were unsuccessful. FRSC officials arrived to ease the mounting traffic, transport the remaining injured persons to the hospital and take the available corpses to the morgue. The assurance that a heavy-duty tow truck was on the way was all we held onto. Having to watch and wait helplessly till Kamsi’s voice was no more, prompted a choking desolation and etched the horror of that night to heart.
The FRSC truck arrived around after midnight but was not in good shape after several trials. It took the intervention of a crane belonging to the Nigerian Breweries which arrived around 2 am to lift the trailer and the Honda as well.
It was at this point that Kamsi’s lifeless body was retrieved. What a painful death! The shock for me at that point was indescribable. I could hear people furiously condemning what has become a normal incident at that particular spot and nothing has been done to mitigate another occurrence. The same leadership failure Kamsi was so poised to tackle became the burden that snuffed the life out of him. Are there no checks for driver qualification of such vehicle category?
Are these trucks regularly examined for roadworthiness? Why are the concerned authorities (the Enugu state government, the FRSC, the Nigerian Police among others) unconcerned about the incessant deaths at that particular spot? No bumps or speed breaks, no street lights, and other preventive measures in a functional society? What about medical attention for the injured and compensation for the bereaved family? No action. No one is held responsible.
The damage on the affected families is just too heart-rending to phantom. What becomes of the four children of Mrs. Chibuzor Izundu, the late widow of just forty-one years of age? From having a parent in the morning to assuming orphan status in the evening – can anything beat this calamity for those kids? How do they survive the sudden blow? No parents to see them through school, counsel them, watch them say “I do” and hold their grandkids close to their chest. For Kamsi’s demise at twenty-three years, the case of the shattered dream of a promising young man is equally heart-wrenching.
My visit to his family afterward reinforced my anguish. How do you comfort parents who lost, not just their only son, but their only child? How do they begin to bear such irreparable loss? A child with a symbolic name for an answered prayer, Kamsiyochukwu – the way I requested from God – arrived as a blessing to a family who had endured over a decade of childlessness.
The passing of Kamsi has certainly brought despair to parents who celebrated the graduation of their only child a few months earlier. As a brutal consequence, they have to endure the denial of sharing Kamsi’s NYSC experience, witnessing his marriage, welcoming his progenies, and having him look after them now they are aged and retired.
A recent graduate (February 2021) of Political Science at the Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, Anambra State, and immediate past president of the department, Kamsi was, without a doubt, among the few observant, attentive, and knowledgeable young men of his generation. Scrolling through his Facebook timeline – Kamsi D’Mode Okonkwo – will melt the strongest of hearts. Compassionate and humble, he represents the man the youth of nowadays should aspire to emulate. He never let the fact of being an only child restrict him from living his life and chasing his dreams.
Ever since the painful passing of my friend Kamsi and relation Mrs. Chibuzor, I have been in a state of agonizing bewilderment. Amid the comforting words was the fate of a wedding already slated for Saturday, 17th April, now sandwiched between the funeral of Kamsi on the 14th April (three days before the wedding) and that of late Mrs.
Chibuzor on the 23rd of April. The barrage of advice, suggestions, and opinions from various quarters on whether to suspend or proceed with the wedding while grieving only added to my misery. How does one navigate through such an emotional maze? How does one handle the mixed feelings surrounding the already concluded wedding preparations while mourning those dear to you?
Even if the loss is not so recent, a special occasion like a wedding can bring feelings close to the surface and make it seem as if the loss was yesterday. Is it possible to successfully switch from the emotions of sadness to that of joy that these life-changing events represent? More painful is the ability to forge ahead with a wedding without Kamsi, the wedding organizer-in-chief? With his loss so recent, how do I reconcile the opposite directions of grief and love and arrive at a pleasing decision everyone? How do we celebrate our wedding while weeping? The previously looked-forward-to wedding date later became a dreaded one.
After deep meditation and reflections, bearing in mind the effort and zeal Kamsi put into the wedding preparation, the encouragement, and assurance from the families of the bereaved, we decided to continue with the wedding but toned down than previously planned. Expectedly, both funerals were packed, tearful, and moving – death is indeed brutal and without compassion. We tried our best (no matter how difficult) to celebrate with happiness on our faces while embracing the sadness in our hearts.
This is the bittersweet reality that was needed to move forward in life with its unpredictable variations. Celebrated novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, while reflecting the loss of her father in her recent work “Notes on Grief”, acknowledges that dealing with grief is not a homogenous exercise, but dwelling on it perpetuates a painful reminder and slows the recovery process. In her words, “part of grief’s tyranny is that it robs you of remembering the things that matter”. To escape this tyranny I choose to celebrate beautiful memories of Kamsi. To those who grieve and say “there are no words to express how they felt” – well, I believe that for Kamsi, there are words.
There are words of happiness about the treasured time we all had with him, albeit now too brief. There are words of charm to describe his individuality, personality, and style. There are words of sorrow to try and communicate what we are feeling now he has painfully left us. But, maybe most of all, there are words of strength, hope, power, resilience, and love. For the mourning families, the book of Lamentations 3:31-33 (NIV) provides solace and God’s assurance in times of grief, “For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone”.
Moving on for the Okonkwo and Izundu families will need more than sympathies. Although no amount of compensation can fill the bottomless void of such bereavement, having no compensation is crueler and inhuman. The police at the 9th Mile station invited all concerned relatives of the victims to commence an investigation into the incident. Following the promptings of the police, representatives of the families and the company have subsequently met and reached an understanding.
Regrettably, two months from the talks and nothing meaningful has materialised. Both the police and the company envoy have remained uncomfortably quiet. The longer the silence, the more the unease on the families who are in dire need for closure. While these efforts may suffice at the moment, the long-term solution is to prevent further unnecessary loss of life at the Ama Junction, ninth-mile. The first visit to the police station confirmed to us the existence of previous trailer accident cases from that spot. This must not continue to persist.
The need for precautionary interventions like speed bumps, road demarcations, traffic signs, street lights, standby ambulance buses and tow trucks, sensitization, and enlightenment campaigns for trailer operators and drivers among others, can serve as a step in the right direction. As a fortunate survivor, I have accepted the paradox of life as a mixture of laughter and tears, joys and sorrows. The congratulations from my wedding and commiserations since the burials have made April a month to forget and remember for me. Stay Safe.