Though Joel, Chisom and Esther lost their parents, Jeremiah and Josephine Okwuchukwu, on the day of the Dana plane crash, finding foster parents for the children is likely to free them from poverty, Motunrayo Aboderin writes.
Everyone our correspondent spoke to at the crash site of Dana airplane in Iju, Ishaga, Lagos State, described the family of Jeremiah and Josephine Okwuchukwu as very kind, loving and down to earth. They were less than an average family. But one would not know until you got closer to them. Things were not always rosy for the family. Before the parents died, the family went through a very difficult phase.
Teachers and a cleric said that there were days the children would not eat from morning till night. But one phrase was common in the mouths of neighbours ‘the mother loved her children.’
A pastor, Mr. Godwin Simire, of Faith Chapel International Church, said that Mrs. Josephine Okwuchukwu would have done anything for her children.
He said, “She was a wonderful woman, very hardworking and caring. She gave her all for her children. There was even a day she told me that she found a pair of old socks in a dustbin which she quickly washed and dried so that one of her children could wear them to school.
“That family went through a state of penury. But you would not know unless you were close to them. Mrs. Okwuchukwu did all she could just to make sure that her children live a comfortable life.”
Simire said that the husband, who was an okada rider before his death, was not really there for his family. He said his negligence started when he lost his job.
He said, “He used to work in a good company, but was later retrenched. That was when he started riding okada. It’s like the family moved from grace to grass. Mrs. Okwuchukwu found it hard coping. Imagine having money to buy what you want, then all of a sudden, you don’t have money again.”
Simire said that the Saturday before she died, Mrs. Okwuchukwu had said that if she was to die, she would not worry about her children because she knew she had trained them to be independent and strong.
The Pastor added, “Her four children were very hardworking and committed to Bible study. They were very intelligent and well-trained. Sometimes, after school, they would pass by our house to eat. Those children went through a tough time.
“On the day of the crash, I had gone to her house to visit her. I was worried because she had not been attending church services. From January until May 27, we did not see her in church. Even after May 27, she disappeared. When I got to her house, this was around 3pm, “I asked her why she did not come to church, she said she was washing clothes. I prayed with her and left. I did not see her husband. But from what I heard, he had attended a men’s fellowship meeting at his own church that very Sunday. During the course of the meeting, he took permission to go home.”
Simire said when he heard the news of their death, he was very sad. “I thought the whole family had died. I was later informed that three children survived. That before the crash, the mother had sent the first boy on an errand and when he did not return, she asked the other two children to go and look for him.
“After I heard that the three children survived, I quickly ran to the crash site. I met the children outside. The first boy did not want to leave the crash site, he kept saying ‘my mummy will come out; we just left her now, she sent us on an errand’”.
When asked about the welfare of the three children who have been adopted by the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Raji Fashola, Simire said the second and third children were not really aware of all that was going on and that it was just the first born, Joel, who looked sad. “I visited the children some days back and while we were all talking, Joel just broke down in tears. I felt so bad. But I know God will take care of them. At least, they will now have foster parents. ‘’
Our correspondent visited the children’s’ former school, a public school at Iju Ishaga, Fred Williams Memorial Primary School. Once you get into the school premises, you can’t help but say that the surviving children have moved from grass to grace.
A teacher, after hearing that the children had been adopted by Fashola shouted, ‘Wan ti fo lo, meaning these children have gone high.’
Describing the Okwuchuwkuws, Chisom’s (the 2nd boy) class teacher, Mrs. Adeniran, said the family was one of the best she had ever met.
She said, “The children were lovely. Chisom is an intelligent boy. I always treated them like my own children. They were so respectful and humble. They were so good in greeting people. Their parents really trained them well. The only sad thing about them was that they did not have money. Sometimes, the children will come to school hungry. There were days they would not eat throughout. But the mother was always trying her best. She would come to the children’s school at around 8 am and wait till 1pm when the children close. She loved them. She might not have had money, but she had love for them.”
Adeniran also confirmed a statement that the parents had to die for the children to enjoy life. “The woman was good. She hated the fact that she could not provide the best for her children. It was like she had to die for the children to enjoy. The Friday before their death, she said if she died, we should not give her children to her family members because none of them cared for her. It’s like she knew she was going to die. There was a day we spent over two hours talking. She just kept telling me about her problems. I felt sorry for her especially because her husband was not too supportive.”
Shalom’s class teacher, Miss Peace, described Shalom, who died with her parents, as a quiet but intelligent child. “She was so beautiful. She had a very good handwriting. She was in Nursery two. At first, the school put her in Nursery one but the class teacher said that she was too brilliant for Nursery one, then they moved her to Nursery two. I will miss her dearly.”
Other class teachers, said the children did not deserve to go through such pain. One of them, Mrs. Kuteyi said, “Everyone in this school knew the woman. She was very friendly. She used to come to school every day. She would sit down with the food sellers talking while her children were in class. It’s like she always wanted to be around them.”
Chisom’s best friends, Godwin Ukpevegbu and Steven Obinna, said that life would not be the same without Chisom. They were such close friends. They said they would miss him so much.
Despite the sad ambiance, the teachers were happy that the children would now have a better life. The Principal of Movet Group of Schools, Iju Ishaga, Mrs. Joy Adedoyin, who had a good relationship with the family, said that the children would now have the opportunity to go to a better school.
She said, “Before enrolling the children at Fred Williams, Mrs. Okwuchukwu had approached me. She said that she wanted her children to attend Movet School, but when I told her our school fees, she never returned. I think she did not have enough money to pay our school fees. I heard she also went to other schools around the neighbourhood, but their fees were too high. She later chose Fred Williams Memorial Primary School.”
Adedoyin said that on the day of the crash, Mrs. Okwuchukwu was weaving the hair of her last child, “If the girl had followed her siblings, she would still have been alive. But only God knows why it happened like that,” he said.