Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Fifteen-year-old Ayongo Lubem is one young person who is now acquainted with sorrow. These days as he sits pensively on a wooden chair, Lubem is often lost in thought, looking into space, oblivious of what is happening around him. In the deep recess of his mind, his thoughts are focused on what the future holds for him.
He cuts such a pathetic picture that make tear drops roll down your cheeks as Lubem’s softly spoken words hit you in the heart: “So, now, I’m all alone in this world just within a twinkling of an eye. My father and mother both gone on the same day and now my only brother has gone to join them just within 11 days.”
Parents of Lubem, a JSS 3 student of Mbabur Community Secondary School, Ahumbe were among the over 50 people who died in the fuel tanker explosion that rocked Ahumbe community, Gwer East Local Government Area of Benue State on July 1, this year.
Recall that aside the dead, about 100 victims were evacuated to eight different hospitals in Makurdi and Aliade, the headquarters of the local government with various degrees of burns.
And since the unfortunate incident, despite the immediate intervention of the state government, corporate organizations and well meaning individuals to foot their medical bills, about 20 of the injured victims have also died at the various hospitals.
Lubem’s eight year old brother, Ayongo Aondongu (Jr), who was among the victims that were evacuated to the hospital also gave up the ghost at about 6:30am on July 11 while still on admission at Federal Medical Center, Apir.
Narrating how it all happened, Lubem who had been with his only sibling at the hospital since the accident occurred said he (Aondongu) could not sleep that night due to excruciating pains all over his body.
“My brother woke me up at about 6:00am and asked me to turn him over to the other side and I did. Thereafter, I picked up our bucket and went to fetch water at the tank just by the ward. By the time I returned at about 6:30am, I noticed that my brother was not moving at all.
“I called his name, he didn’t answer. Then I moved close and shook him but he didn’t respond. It was then that I rushed to call the attention of the nurses who came and checked him and then broke the sad news to me. He had died while I was out to fetch water,” Lubem said with tears in his eyes.
Recalling how the explosion happened, Lubem said that on the fateful day, he was somewhere in the village when news got to him that a tanker had fallen by the road and he immediately rushed there too.
He said by the time he got to the scene, he met many people, some scooping fuel from the fallen tanker while others, especially travelers parked their vehicles away from the tanker because they couldn’t pass.
“Some people were also flagging down vehicles on both sides of the road just as other people were also making calls to the Fire Service and other security agencies.
“I soon located my parents close to the tanker scooping fuel with other villagers and I joined them too. But while we were at it, a bus attempted to pass through the narrow path that was left on the tarred road and as it did, I felt a very hot sensation on my body.
“That was why by the time a second bus insisted he would also pass through, I immediately left scooping fuel and ran as fast as my legs could carry me away from the scene. I told my parents how I felt but instead of them to leave and follow me, they only asked my younger brother to follow me while they continued scooping fuel.
“My brother, on the other hand, initially refused to leave but when my parents insisted, he reluctantly left but was foot-dragging and grumbling as he was leaving the place. It was at that point that I heard the first explosion.
“The exhaust pipe of the bus scratched the tarred road and ignited a spark which caused the explosion. By the time I looked back, I saw many people enveloped in fire, running and shouting for help.
“In no time, there was a second explosion and many more people were getting burn, houses and vehicles were also affected. From where I was, I couldn’t see my brother or my parents. There was confusion everywhere.
“I saw balls of fire and many figures of human beings running with fire all over them and shouting for help. I couldn’t recognize my parents among them. By the time the fire was finally extinguished, my parents were among the dead but my brother survived with burns all over his body. Now he has died too, leaving me all alone in this world.”
Asked how he was feeling, Lubem said, “I’m confused right now. I feel I’m losing my sanity at the moment. I had to be with my brother for 11 days in the hospital before he finally died. He was immediately buried in Ahumbe. Now, I have to return to my parents’ house all alone.”
Though Lubem is living in a family compound with his uncles, he feels life has dealt him a heavy blow as he now has to take up the responsibility of fending for himself at this tender age.
“Both my father, Aondongu Ayongo and my mother, Doowuese, were peasant farmers before they died and my uncles are also farmers with their own huge responsibilities too. That is why I’m appealing to well meaning Nigerians to help me with my education.
“If I can only get people to foot my educational bills, I will continue farming to feed myself because I don’t like to be a total burden to anyone,” Lubem said as another tear dropped from his eyes.
Also speaking, a young graduate, Fidelis Nyamve, who turned out to be an angel on assignment and brought help to Lubem and his told our correspondent how he discovered the bereaved teenager and his brother at the hospital a day after the accident.
His words: “I’m from the area where the accident happened and so, I felt concerned and decided to get close to the victims. And because I live in Apir, I just decided the morning after the accident to visit the victims at the FMC, Apir. It was while I was going from bed to bed to commiserate with the victims that I found Aondongu on bed crying in pains. When I got near and asked questions, I discovered that he had lost his parents in the inferno and his only surviving brother, Lubem, was the one taking care of him.
I felt pained that as young as he is, Lubem had to be bearing the whole burden of standing in as a parent to a brother. That was why I went to the social media to cry out on their behalf and I’m glad that many people rose to assist them.
Many even visited them at the hospital. Since then, I’ve been following their issue along with my brother Paul Gyenger who also took up the matter on the social media. It was during that time that we discovered that the hospital was charging them despite the fact that the state government had paid for all their expenses.
As soon as we drew the attention of the hospital and the government to that, they stopped charging them. We also cried out on the social media when he needed blood and people responded by donating blood but only one pint of the blood was transfused into him before he died while the other one was kept in the blood bank for other victims who might need blood too.
From the response we got, I knew that people wished Aondongu had survived. That’s why I kept people informed on all that had happened to him. Now that he is gone, we are calling on well-to-do individuals to come to the aid of Lubem.
Nyamve appreciated all spirited individuals who had contributed one way or the other to assist the victims adding, “I’m now more convinced that there are still good Nigerians everywhere and that gives me joy.”