Long faces, broken spirits and an atmosphere filled with grief welcome you to the home. Tucked in a reserved part of Okota, a sprawling suburb in the heart of Lagos, the neighbourhood has perhaps seen more visitors over the last few days than at any previous time in its history. Since the tragic demise of Oluchi Anekwe, a 300 level accounting student of the University of Lagos who was electrocuted on campus last Tuesday evening, the flow of sympathisers has swelled by the minute – men, women and even children – everybody has turned up to commiserate with the household. It is the most difficult period for the Anekwes, a catholic family from Aku in Igbo-Etiti Local Government Area of Enugu State.
A promising, God-loving and talented young lady, Oluchi had everything going for her. At barely 22 (she could have attained that age on December 5); she was on top of her academic and social life. A high flying student of accounting with an envious grade in school – first class – her dream of becoming a renowned investment banker in the future was gradually taking shape. To further cement her future and enrich her resume, Oluchi was already preparing to sit for the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria exams later this month in her bid to become chartered before graduating from the university. Such was her love for excellence. But last Tuesday, all those lofty dreams went up in flames after tragedy struck. Oluchi would now be buried on the week she was supposed to sit for the ICAN test – an ambition she had pursued with unflinching passion and determination in recent months.
“It still feels like a dream that my daughter is gone,” Chief Basil Anekwe, her distraught father told our correspondent on Thursday at the family home. Days of shedding tears had taken toll on him. His eyes were a bit swollen while his skin had become unusually pale – a testament to how heartbroken his daughter’s tragic and sudden demise had left him.
“She was the star of the family,” he continued. “Always striving to become the best at her academics. Even as a first class student, she wasn’t satisfied, she wanted to break records and was already discussing where she would prefer to do her Master’s degree. That was who Oluchi was.
“I remember that last Sunday, she called and asked me to send her some money since her elder sister, Nkem, was staying with her at her apartment behind the school because of the distance from Okota to her office. I promised that she was going to get some money from me by Wednesday at most. So, on Wednesday morning that I had planned to go send her the money, I got a call from my eldest son that Oluchi was very ill and that she was in the hospital. Suddenly, I saw my driver show up at my apartment in Ogun State where I work; I was surprised to see him. Not quite long, my son called and told me that he had sent the driver to pick me to come to Lagos as a result of Oluchi’s sickness. At that point, I became restless. The driver didn’t utter a word to me.
“When I finally got to Lagos, I asked to be taken to the hospital to see her. I insisted on seeing her at the hospital because I assumed she was alive. But when we got to LUTH and the driver was going towards the mortuary, I began to think that the girl might have died after all. I insisted on seeing her and they wheeled her out of the morgue, she was almost laughing. One of my daughters brought out holy water and rubbed it on her mouth, telling her to stand up that we were here to take her home. Her neck was still lose, it wasn’t stiff yet. In fact most parts of her body were still not stiff after staying there throughout the night. My wife wasn’t even aware at that point. It was later that evening that the news was broken to her.
“Her death is a big loss to us,” he said before breaking down in tears.
Oluchi’s immediate elder sibling, Nkem – a practising lawyer – gave a vivid account of her last moments before the sad incident. The 26-year-old told Saturday PUNCH that the accounting undergraduate could have survived had staff of the UNILAG medical centre attended to her immediately she was rushed to the facility. She said they insisted on seeing her Identity card before checking her. Nkem also revealed that her sibling had a premonition of something terrible happening a few days before the sad incident. She battled to contain her emotions while pouring out her heart to our correspondent.
“Last Sunday while at one of our prayer meetings in church, the man of God asked us to rebuke every monitoring spirit assigned to follow us about. Immediately, Oluchi got on her knees and started praying seriously, crying for God to rebuke evil away from her. I had never seen her pray like that before. It was as if she knew death was around the corner,” Nkem said.
Maybe the accounting undergraduate truly had an inkling of the calamity to befall her. In one of her last few posts on her Facebook page, Oluchi had given an insight into perhaps what was to come.
She wrote: “Many are born great but die unknown…everything that makes us human is vain.”
Nkem believes that maybe the aspiring accountant could have survived had staff at the UNILAG medical centre attended to her promptly immediately she was rushed into the facility last Tuesday.
“Oluchi was still alive by the time she was rushed to the medical centre of the school but the doctors and nurses refused to attend to her until they saw her identity card and confirmed that she was a student. They refused to attend to her and that was how the girl died there. The most shocking part was that when I got there, Oluchi wasn’t even placed on a bed; they had wrapped her body and placed it on the floor. I told the doctor that it was wrong for them to have done that because sometimes the person could still be alive at that point. It was an indirect statement from them that nothing was done to save her life. Even Uju, our last born who was with Oluchi when the incident happened, wasn’t attended to even with the injuries she sustained. It was after I confronted the doctor for not being sensitive enough that Uju was only given panadol and one small tablet. This was around 8:00pm. You can imagine how long she was abandoned from the time the cable fell on them.
“At the mortuary at LUTH that night, the officials refused to honour the death certificate issued for Oluchi, insisting that it was not valid because the doctor did not sign it. He probably didn’t sign it because he knew he didn’t examine her at all before pronouncing her dead. The ambulance that brought us from UNILAG had to take the nurse back to get the doctor to sign the death certificate while the body was wheeled to a corner outside the mortuary. It was until about 11:30pm that her body was finally taken into the morgue.
“Oluchi was brought to the medical centre alive but she died because they refused to treat her. It’s a shame that an ordinary school ID card would be more valuable than the life of a human, a promising young lady,” she said.
Several days without a sign of Oluchi has left a sour feeling on the lips of every member of the household. Oluchi’s mother, Augustina, a business woman, has remained inconsolable while relatives and close friends of the family are still grappling with the reality, wondering how death could have snatched one of their brightest away. Their grief is such that even the slightest memory of her leaves them in tears.
“An alarm clock Oluchi set to wake her up for prayers and studies every midnight rang on Thursday, everybody in the house woke up and started crying,” Ugo, eldest child of the family, told Saturday PUNCH.
“It brought back her memory into the hearts of everyone of us. We cried till morning. To imagine that she would not be here with us again is really heartbreaking,” she said.
According to Ugo, a bank worker, the fashionable and very friendly Oluchi was born on a Sunday after their mother fell into labour during a church service. Given a pet name for that reason, she grew up becoming everybody’s favourite in the home especially for her calm approach to issues that needed her input. Ugo, whose wedding had been fixed for October 17, wonders what that day would now look like without the charming and loveable Oluchi in the picture.
“She told me some months back that she wanted to become a chartered accountant before she graduated from the university and was working very hard towards achieving that dream. We were all very happy for her. The last time we saw, she told me that the dress she was going to wear on my wedding in October was ready and that she couldn’t wait to put it on. But rather than wait to put that fine dress on, the earth is going to be Oluchi’s cloth now. It is so painful to lose her at such a time in her life. I am really in pains,” she said.
The family pains could have been more severe had God not preserved Uju’s life. The 19-year-old who was with Oluchi at the time of the tragedy managed to escape with her life but not without some injuries to the face and hand. She could barely speak when our correspondent visited the family on Thursday.
On Wednesday morning, enraged students of UNILAG blocked major entrances into the school and shut down academic activities while registering their frustrations at the incident. Many of them blamed the university’s authorities for not doing enough to improve facilities on campus especially at their hostels. It took spirited attempts from top management officials and an address by the vice chancellor, Prof. Rahman Bello, who blamed the incident on electric cables belonging to the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, for the rampaging students to sheathe their swords.
A delegation from the institution among them Prof. Tunde Babawale and Dr. Karo Igbinaka visited the family on Thursday. They had come to commiserate with the family and assured them of their total support. Oluchi’s body was moved to her native Enugu on Friday where she would be buried next weekend.