Recently, the Alokha family in Auchi, Edo State, committed to Mother Earth the body of Reverend Sister Henrietta Alokha, principal of Bethlehem Girls College, Lagos. She was killed along with 19 others in the explosion at Abule Ado, Lagos, on Sunday, March 15.
Alokha died in the explosion as she rescued her students.
She was educated in schools in Nigeria as well as in Wisconsin, United States. She was ordained a Catholic reverend sister in 1987.
Anselm Alokha, Henrietta’s elder brother, said the deceased, the third daughter of the family, had always wanted to be a reverend sister.
“She always lived a life of sacrifice. I don’t think that she would desire to change in her next world. She must be happy where she is that she rescued all the children even though she could not save herself at last,” he said.
“She grew up in a Catholic family with strong disciplinary background. She lost her mother when she was eight years old and her dad died in 2004. Nothing will bring her back, but I will want the government to give her a posthumous award, the church to name an edifice after her and the school to engage in an annual competition in her honour. For us and those who knew her very well, she will be remembered for her leadership qualities and style, humility, kindness, courage and prayerful disposition.”
A staff of Bethlehem Girls College, Odion Joy, said Henrietta offered a great sacrifice.
“Her sacrifice to humanity, which God called her for, has come to an end. That is why God called her to himself. She was always calm and agile. She was transferred three years ago to Bethlehem Girls College as the new principal. She treated the children as a mother.
“She was a disciplinarian but her approach was different. If she wanted to punish any offender, she would ask the person to pray the Rosary or any other prayer that came to her mind.”
President Muhammadu Buhari saluted her courage and heroism, saying posterity would remember her sacrificial spirit in rescuing children kept under her care and putting her own life on the line.
Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, said the late principal deserved a posthumous National Award for the heroic act of sacrificing her life for the children under her care. Adamu said Alokha’s supreme sacrifice must not be allowed to go in vain.
“I understand that she might have escaped the inferno if she had chosen to run away. Rather, she chose to risk her life trying to evacuate her students, thereby dying in the process,” Adamu said. He prayed that the Almighty God would grant her eternal rest and comfort the family.
A journalist, Vanessa Offiong, said the late principal was also her principal at Presentation National High School, Benin City, Edo State.
“She was there for about one year before I left. She had just returned from the US and was sent to my school, an all-girls’ Catholic school in Benin City. She was younger than the other reverend sisters and also brought a new perspective to the way things were done. She played the guitar and would often play to us students. She cared very much for us in a way that was not just her playing her role but in a way that was also motherly,” Vanessa said.
One of her former students, Bissie Adeleye Jagunna, wrote: “Sister Henrietta, you exhibited the motherly love for all the children in your care, as their custodian. Thank you for not letting their mothers be in sorrow. You laid your life down for their girls. Rest on peacefully. May his perpetual light shine on you, Sister.”
Another, Omono Ebi Dawodu, wrote: “Sister Henrietta Alokha, you were a rare gem. You taught me self-confidence. You always made lemonade for me thinking it would help me with weight loss. You promised my dad whenever he came visiting that you would take care of me and you did exactly that. You have always protected your students and you proved that again by laying your life down for the students in Bethlehem College in the gas explosion.
“We, your students, were never ready to say goodbye forever, even though we know it’s part of life. This day, our hearts are heavy for losing someone so special. We mourn your death and also celebrate your life. On the sands of time, you have left your footprints with glory. Everybody will know your name and recall your story. God has gained an angel.”
A parent, Mrs. Chinasa Okeke, whose daughter graduated from the school last year, said she was devastated by Sister Henrietta’s death: “I didn’t know her much, except that she was the principal of my daughter’s school. But the few times I met her, she made impressive positive marks on me. Since then, I developed a personal relationship with her. I used to call her from time to time. Even a night before the explosion that killed her, I sent her a text message but she did not respond to the text until I heard the news of her painful exit.”
The Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Rev. Alfred Adewale Martins, confirmed that, apart from the administrator, an unnamed female security guard also died in the explosion.
His words: “Sr. Henrietta Alokha and another staff that died have paid the supreme price in their bid to lead all her students to safety.
“We pray for the repose of the souls of the departed and the quick healing of those who were injured. We pray the Lord to provide for the needs of all those who lost their property in the sad event. Our prayer at this period is that the Good Lord will grant eternal rest to the faithful departed and strengthen all of us with the fortitude to bear the effect of this disaster.”