How Lagos journalist died after eating bananas ripened with poisonous chemical
By Olabisi Olaleye
If Emmanuel Okwuke, a meek and brilliant telecommunications reporter, had known that his favourite fruit, bananas, would despatch him to an early grave, he probably would not have bought those bananas at the Ketu Market in Lagos, sometime in June last year.
But he was killed after eating those same bananas, which, unknown to him, had been ripened with carbide, a killer toxin.
The 50-year-old journalist had bought the bananas on his way from work that fateful night. Since he worked late and arrived home late each night, Okwuke, who wanted to keep himself fit and healthy, said he usually didn’t like to eat solid meals whenever he returned home in the night.
On that particular day, he had arrived home just before 11pm. After exchanging pleasantries with his wife, he checked on his children in their room. The eldest was 10, while the last child was a baby. The kids were already asleep before he got home, so he ate the fruits alone.
Unknown to him, the bananas he ate had been ripened with carbide, a poisonous toxin. And it didn’t take long for the chemical to start unleashing havoc on the journalist’s entire system.
The reporter later confided in some of his close friends that he visited the restroom all through that night, as the poisoned meal he ate earlier devastated his intestines. By daybreak, he was already very weak and dying in instalments.
It was after a check was conducted on him later that it was discovered that what he had for dinner was sheer poison.
“I called my wife, but my voice was not loud enough. But somehow, she found me where I was on the floor. I was very weak and I was rushed to the hospital by my wife and neighbours, as I was told later.
“I didn’t know where I was until the following day. I was told by the doctor that I had food poisoning. And from the test and everything, it was discovered that it was the bananas that I ate that caused the crisis. My wife, Julie, brought the remaining bananas and subsequent tests revealed that they had carbide,” the journalist told some friends before his demise.
Carbide is a compound composed of carbon and a less electronegative element. Most traders now use this chemical to ripen fruits, especially bananas, pawpaw and apples.
Okwuke, who was the Information and Communications Technology Editor of Daily Independent, explained that he was discharged on the third day and went home.
He believed he had overcome the condition totally and that all was well after he had followed the doctors’ prescriptions and was taking his drugs religiously. But his fellow telecommunications reporters urged him to go for a comprehensive medical examination at another hospital so as to be totally sure that all was well.
That was when he discovered that the fruits he ate had done more damage than he could have imagined. “My liver has been damaged, but I’m hopeful because my trust is in God,” he told the reporter.
Thereafter, he kept managing his liver with drugs and injections, which cost him about N8,000 on daily basis. He, however, succumbed to death on the last Christmas Eve, December 24, 2016
A medical report by Mehnaz Mursalat and Co, entitled: ‘A critical analysis of artificial fruit ripening: Scientific, legislative and socio-economic aspects,’ informed that calcium carbide releases acetylene, which almost works like ethylene in terms of speeding up the ripening process.
“Direct consumption of acetylene has been found to be detrimental, as it reduces oxygen supply to the brain and can further cause prolonged hypoxia.
“Calcium carbide is alkaline in nature and irritates the mucosal tissue in the abdominal region. Cases of stomach upset after eating carbide-ripened mangoes has been reported recently. “Though, eating the carbide-ripened fruit does not lead to any allergic reaction instantly, seizure, headache, sleepiness may be faced while applying these chemicals on the fruits. Impurities like arsenic and phosphorus found in industrial grade calcium carbide may cause serious health hazards when workers are in direct contact with these chemicals while applying the ripening agents. This may cause dizziness, frequent thirst, irritation in mouth and nose, weakness, permanent skin damage difficulty in swallowing, vomiting, skin ulcer, and so forth. Higher exposure may cause undesired fluid build-up in lungs (pulmonary edema).”
Meanwhile, in the final weeks of last year, while many were praying to God to experience an eventful New Year, Okwuke’s family had an agonising experience.
As he was being laid to rest in his home at Unity Estate in Igbogbo, Ikorodu, many wailed and tears freely cascaded down the cheeks of family members, friends, colleagues and sympathisers, as his children asked everyone around: “Where is my daddy?”
His wife said Okwuke had cried out three times before he breathed his last, saying “Lord, have mercy on me.” And then, a moment to his death, he had looked into his wife’s eyes and said: “Thank you, my wife.” He then passed on, the woman recalled.
The eldest child, Treasure, refused to be pacified. As her father was being lowered to the ground, she broke into a directionless run until some able-bodied men held her down and tried to console her. Her siblings and her mum were also inconsolable just as the men, who helped cover the casket after his remains had been lowered into the grave.
In his brief sermon before he was buried, Pastor Sunday Orenede of the Deeper Life Bible Church, Ikorodu, had asked the question: “Who is next?” The question jolted many people at the funeral, prompting fresh wailings.
Orenede said: “Who will be the next when death comes knocking? I should let you know that heaven rejoices when a saint dies. But it also weeps when a sinner dies because he has no abode to stay.”
Quoting copiously from the scriptures, the pastor enjoined everyone to live each day as though it was the last.
“Live in a godly way and impact the lives of many people, just as several testimonies from family, friends and colleagues revealed that Brother Emmanuel truly impacted and inspired lives,” Pastor Orenede counselled.
Okwuke was born on May 14, 1966 at Ekpon-Igueben, Edo State. He lost his parents at an early age and was raised by his uncle in Lagos. He graduated from the University of Lagos, where he studied Mass Communications. He is survived by his wife, Julie, and kids.