When about 45 years ago, Chief Basil Okonkwo, a business man, left his home-state, Anambra for Azare in Bauchi State in search of greener pastures, he had lofty dreams.
Like any good father, he planned to train his children, give out his daughters in marriage and one day, retire and reap the fruits of his labour.
Providence and mother luck seemed to be on his side as God blessed the work of his hands and he prospered. As his business grew, he got married to his heartthrob, Virginia, and they were also bountifully blessed with 10 children – three boys and seven girls.
Everything seemed to be on a roller coaster for Chief Okonkwo until April, 2011, after the presidential election. His first son, Nnaemeka Christian, married with a son, was killed in Bauchi in the post- election crisis that trailed the presidential poll in the North.
The brutal killing of Nnaemeka whose wife was also pregnant at the time, shocked Chief Okonkwo and from that moment, he began to think home and made quick arrangements to send his wife and children to Anambra state.
Due to the long years he had spent in Bauchi with its accompanying connections and commitments, it wasn’t easy pulling out the entire family back home at once. Consequently, his wife and some other children first relocated while Celestine, his surviving second son, the seventh daughter, Ifeoma and Sunday his apprentice stayed behind with him because of their education and business.
In his plans for complete relocation, Chief Okonkwo came home and began the construction of a modern building in his compound that will accommodate his family and befits his status as a progressive businessman who had spent many years in the North.
But all the noble plans of Chief Okonkwo were shattered on the night of 0ctober14, 2012 when gunmen suspected to be members of the Boko Haram sect killed him, his daughter, Ifeoma and his apprentice, Sunday Ezechukwu. His second surviving son, Celestine, an electrical electronics engineer, would have been dead too if not by divine arrangement.
According to him, he left his father’s shop on his private motorcycle and less than fifteen minutes later, the gunmen swooped on the trio, opened fire and killed them instantly as they closed their shop and were about driving home in the family’s Peugeot 505 wagon after the day’s business.
Chief Okonkwo and his daughter were buried on Monday, October 23, amidst tears and anger. Earlier, his late apprentice, Sunday Ezechukwu from Aguleri Otu, also in Anambra state, was buried in his country-home.
Oh my daughter, my husband!
On Wednesday, when Sunday Sun reporter visited the late Okonkwo’s compound at Mkpuke village, Umunnachi, there was pin-drop silence while forlorn faces betrayed emotions of sadness, anger and confusion.
Okonkwo’s widow, Virginia and Chinyere, Nnaemeka’s widow were crestfallen even as other members of the family were brooding over the cruel fate that befell them.
Okonkwo was buried beside his uncompleted building while the late Nnaemeka’s two kids even in their childhood innocence seemed aware that things were not okay as they refused to play around with fellow children.
Madam Virginia, after much persuasion and consolation by the reporter managed to say few words.
“Oh my daughter, oh my husband! If they were sick and hospitalized, it would have been better as I would have shared in their pains and even helped out in the hospital as a mother. But look at what has happened to me. I’m still mourning my first son, now they have done their worst by killing this two in cold blood. “We are not politicians and we are not struggling for anything with anybody. But since I voted for Goodluck Jonathan in the last presidential election, my family has been shattered. This is how we have ended up. Where do I begin from here? My beloved daughter had dreams as a student, my husband also had plans to relocate finally from the North but all the plans have been shattered.”
Revenge is for God
Okonkwo’s third son, Gozie was so bitter over the situation that he queried whether Nigeria’s unity in diversity is really true.
“If this had happened to a northerner in eastern Nigeria, the whole world would shake. But look at us, nobody is asking us how we intend to start life again. I came down here after the killing of my elder brother last year, and I’m yet to adjust in the east. My father was still planning to set up something tangible for me here before they killed him too.
“We cannot kill in revenge and I don’t think whether killing ten people can pay for my father’s life. I don’t think also that it will be out of place to say that this is a premeditated action against Ndigbo but our family is now the greatest victims.”
My life has been shattered
Perhaps the most pathetic scenario during the reporter’s visit was the encounter with Chinyere Okonkwo whose husband, Nnaemeka, was killed last year. Cuddling her baby girl delivered after her husband’s tragic death, she cut the image of a woman with high potentials if fate didn’t deal her a fatal blow. Amidst sobs, she poured out her pains.
“They have finished me. When my husband was killed, I wanted to lose hope in life. It was my husband’s family that consoled me and told me they would stand by me at least for the sake of the children. My father-in-law had been shouldering the responsibility of all of us. Now, he has been murdered too in this agonizing manner. Where do we go from here?
My husband and children all died in vain
While Madam Virginia mourned the loss of her husband and two children, her greatest pain was that according to her, they all died in vain as relevant authorities have neither asked about the bereaved family’s condition nor addressed the situation that led to the deaths.
“When my first son was killed, Governor Isa Yuguda told Igbo people in Bauchi not to relocate because according to him, any state without strangers and non-natives cannot go far in development. The fury generated by their death drew the attention of the federal government. They came from Abuja and took our pictures and records but that was the last we heard anything from the state and federal governments. The most painful thing was that they asked me to takes pictures with my murdered son as he lay inside the casket. They said it was for evidence purposes that would ensure that we are compensated. But now, nothing came out of it and today, more people have been killed again in my family.
“My children ought to be natives of Bauchi State because they were all born there but look at how we ended up. Again, how can the activities of Boko Haram remain unabated while the government keeps assuring us that they are handling the situation?
A cry for help
Despite the tragic loss by the Okonkwo family, the surviving members of the family still knows that life must continue but the problem now is how to continue with no visible means of livelihood.
Urging for assistance from the federal as well as Anambra and Bauchi state governments, the first daughter of the family, Mrs Blessing Ezemanari summarized the situation thus,
“For us, it is already bye, bye to the North. My mother just came down to the village and she has not started anything meaningful. My murdered brother’s wife is also here with us with her two children. My siblings are still seeking for admission into higher schools. We appeal to Governor Peter Obi to assist us and use his position to influence other authorities to assist us.”