At a glance, Ekene Iwuoha doesn’t strike you as a hero. All you see is just another young Nigerian, an average youth struggling to earn a livelihood in the midst of Nigeria’s persisting economic adversities. He was never trained as a soldier; neither did he ever undergo any tutelage in the art of firefighting. Yet embedded in him is an uncommon courage, an amazing zest that was unknown to many.
It would take a devastating inferno in Onitsha, Anambra State for the hitherto concealed persona of this exceedingly brave individual to be revealed to the world. On Thursday, October 17 2019, the commercial city of Onitsha was on fire, as the popular Ochanja Market went up in flames. Many traders and their customers were caught in the inferno. Hundreds of others looked on as their shops and goods burned. They saw their entire lives being razed by the merciless fire right before their very eyes.
As people scampered to safety while awaiting the arrival of men of the fire service, a certain young man took off and sped right in the direction of the raging fire. Many thought he was insane. But Ekene knew exactly what he was doing.
Unclad – save for a pair of black shorts – and working like one possessed, Ekene rushed inside the fire to the top floors of the complex that were yet unaffected by the inferno. From there, he began rescuing people’s goods, throwing them out to safety. People at the scene said Ekene rescued goods worth millions of naira from the inferno. Through his efforts, many people who were trapped in their shops upstairs were successfully brought down.
Eyewitnesses said at a point, he disappeared into the burning complex and there was no news of him. May people thought he was probably dead. But after a while, the young man resurfaced, bearing in his hands some safes containing millions of naira belonging to the traders.
Since the incident, Ekene has become a folk hero. His story of uncommon courage has been shared by thousands across the world.
At a time when the prevailing emotion is ‘self-preservation,’ when people hardly pay heed to the considerations of others, it is refreshing and reassuring that a man like Ekene still exists. He is a Nigerian hero.