Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
It is more than a week since an inferno devastated a hostel in the Patterson Memorial Grammar School, Awada, Anambra State, but students of the school are yet to overcome their shock over the incident.
Chigozie Dim Anyichie, an 11-year-old JSS 1 pupil, died in the fire.
A visit to the mission school owned by the Diocese on the Niger, Anglican Communion, showed unusual quietness. Staff and students of the school were still in shock over the death of the boy.
Principal of the school, Rev. (Dr.) Cajetan Anuforo, who reluctantly spoke to our correspondent, said he reported the incident to the police. He said he was asked not to make comments on the inferno and its consequences, pending the conclusion of police investigation.
He informed the reporter that normalcy and calm had returned to the school, adding that some students whose hostel was burnt had been relocated to another hostel, where they were well accommodated; teaching and other academic activities had since resumed.
Anuforo said he went with some other staff of the school to the parents of the deceased, who hailed from Ekwulumiri, in Orumba North Local Government Area of the state, to inform them of the tragedy.
“We explained to the parents the circumstances that led to his death, which happened to be an accident and not anybody’s fault. We started with words of God and after the whole thing the parents understood and accepted that what happened was the will of God and also invited me to officiate at the burial ceremony, which I did.”
He said the boy was buried on Monday, January 13, at his hometown, Ekwulumiri. Also, students and staff had put the incident behind them as normal academic activities had commenced, he said.
The principal noted that all the programmes that should have been held the week the incident occurred were postponed to the following week, including the staff and students’ annual retreat.
“The essence of the retreat was to welcome the students and staff back to school after the Christmas and New Year celebrations. We invited a guest preacher, who told them the link between academics and God and the need for them to put God first in everything they do both in the school and at home. The retreat is ongoing now, just to tell you that we have put what happened behind us and continue with other activities,” Anuforo said.
He confirmed that the state government had promised to rebuild the burnt hostel, adding that Governor Willie Obiano sent the Secretary to the State Government to the school. He noted also that former Governor Peter Obi had also visited the school to commiserate with the school authorities and the students.
A classmate of the late student, Anthony Okoye, said the incident was very shocking. He said the students had just returned to the school after the Christmas break. He said it was regrettable that the new term started with such a disaster.
He described the deceased as very quiet, calm and intelligent and prayed to God to accept his soul in his bosom.
“We were at the praying ground when the fire started and we all rushed to the place. But due to harmattan, we could not stop the fire until it had burnt one hostel. But we stopped it from spreading to other places. It was later that we realised that one student was burnt. So, we are still living in fear. We are still shocked and are devastated by the incident,” Okoye said.
A family member of the deceased, who gave her name as Mrs. Adaobi, said what happened was spiritual and not physical. She wondered why the boy was left alone in the hostel while others were praying, just as a fire was devastating the hostel.
“The mother is my sister and has not been herself since the incident happened. It is not easy to lose a child. The boy left home back to school a day before the incident after the Christmas and New Year celebration. It was a devastating moment for us but there is nothing we can do and we have handed everything over to God. Just like the father said during the burial, God will console them. And we cannot query God,” she said.
The Secretary to the State Government, Prof. Solo Chukwulobelu, after going round the scene of the fire, expressed shock over the level of the damage and thanked God that 99 per cent of the students were not in the hostel when the fire started.
He consoled the Anglican Communion and the family of the deceased, praying for God to give them the fortitude to bear the loss.
The SSG said the state government would put measures in place to ensure that such an ugly incident does not recur in the state. He promised that the state government would assist the school to rebuild the hostel.
The Anambra State fire chief, Mr. Martin Agbili, an engineer, said the fire incident could be traced to a power surge. He advised organisations, agencies and homes to imbibe the attitude of safety management in their facilities, even as he stressed that the agency would embark on aggressive sensitisation on fire safety management in schools and public places.
Agbili called on residents to always turn off electrical gadgets when not in use, especially when going out, to avoid fire outbreaks.
While receiving the governor’s representative, the Anglican Bishop on the Niger, Rev. (Dr.) Owen Nwokolo, who was represented by Rev. Canon Beluchukwu Nwankwo, thanked the governor for his swift response. He appealed for interventions for both parents and school management to restore the school to its original shape.
It was gathered that the fire started at about 10pm on January 5 in a section of the school hostel when the students were out in the field for the night prayers.
The State Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Haruna Mohammed, said the boy that died in the inferno, Chigozie, did not go out with other students for prayers. He was caught in the inferno and was burnt.
“The fire, which completely burnt down a dormitory block, was eventually put out by staff and students of the school. However, when the dust settled, it was discovered that a JSS 1 student identified as one Chigozie Dim Anyichie, aged 11 years, who did not go out with other students for prayers, was caught in the inferno and burnt beyond recognition.
“Police detectives, led by the Divisional Police Officer, Awada Division, Chief Superintendent of Police Tony Adeyi, visited the scene and took the victim to the hospital where he was certified dead by a medical doctor. The corpse was photographed and deposited at the mortuary for post-mortem.
“The commissioner of police, Mr. John Abang, has commiserated with the family of the victim and ordered a discreet investigation to ascertain the circumstances surrounding the incident,” Mohammed said.