From ROSE EJEMBI, Makurdi
Of all those that lost their relatives, sons and daughters, in the Benue boat mishap of Sunday, July 5, 2020, now said to be 26 in number, none, perhaps could come near the pains and sorrows of the Vincents. They did not just lose in one swoop, three members of their family, but triplets, a girl and two boys. That is to say, they were happily born the same day but sadly, died the same day.
According to sources, the tragedy happened when the locally made boat said to have the capacity of carrying 15 passengers carried over 30 passengers and capsized midstream to their destination, at about 2.30 pm. While some of the passengers were said to have been rescued alive, the Vincent triplets were not so lucky.
At the Mobile Police Barracks Adeke, Makurdi, where majority of the youths that lost their lives come from, the atmosphere can best be described as gloomy after last Sunday’s mishap. The victims were children and youths of Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) Church, Adeke, who were said to have gone for final song rehearsals, across River Benue, in preparation for their annual conference tagged ‘New Life for All’ (Sabon Rai).
Last moments of Vincent triplets
It was gathered that the annual event was organized for members of the Biblical Reformed Christ Church for All Nations, BIRCCAN, Christian Reformed Church of Nigeria, CRCN and Evangelical Church of West Africa, ECWA. The victims, children and relatives of mobile policemen residing at MOPOL 13 Barracks, met their untimely death when they tried to cross from Agbor, Innyongu Area of Wadata to a village in an island opposite Kwaghter called Ole-Gabu, for the day’s programme. Most of the mobile policemen are said to be on special duties in the North East, leaving their wives and children in Makurdi.
Up till now, Ronance Vincent, eldest sister of the triplets, Paulina, Paul and Peter, who lost their lives in the ill-fated boat accident, still finds it difficult to accept the fact that her siblings are all gone like the wind, never to be seen again. Paulina, Paul and Peter were 17-years-old, respectively.
Ronance had been taking care of the home front because their father, a Mobile policeman had been on special duty in Maiduguri while their mother who traveled to Gombe sometimes in April could not return to Makurdi due to the lockdown as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. Narrating her last moment with the triplets, Ronance said that, on that Sunday after service, she had tried to dissuade her siblings from making that trip because of the torrential rainfall which lasted for several hours on Saturday.
“I told them that they shouldn’t go because River Benue would be too full but they insisted that they would go,” she recalled. “Paulina even told me that I was trying to dampen her faith. That afternoon after church, Paulina came and told me that she was ready to go and that I should give her transport fare but I told her that I didn’t have money. She then picked the N200 that a friend had given me to keep for her which I had dropped on the window and showed it to me. I told her it was actually for my friend but that she could use it. As for Peter and Paul, they had saved their own transport fares before that day, so it was easy for them to go.
“But all the same, I almost stopped them because I felt that something was not just right about that trip. In any case, this is not the first time they had gone for the programme. Even I had gone several times in the past.”
News and crisis from an unfolding tragedy
Asked how she learnt about the accident that day, Ronance said that at about 4pm, a member of the church called her on the phone and asked if her siblings were back. “At that point, I heard my sister’s voice outside and I told the caller that they were back but he said I should check to see if they were really back. When I got outside, I didn’t see my sister. In fact, there was nobody outside our block at all which was very strange at that time of the day. As I called the person back to tell him they weren’t back yet, he just dropped the call.
“Around 5pm, I was in the kitchen preparing food for my mum who was on her way back from Gombe to Makurdi, that day, after being away for about two months, when she called to say that somebody just called to tell her that there was a boat mishap in Makurdi. She said that I should go to CRCN Church in Wadata to meet other people so that we could all go and look for them. When I got there, I was told they had moved to Ijaha. By the time I got there, only one lifeless body of one of the victims had been recovered from the river. We waited till late that night but the divers and marine policemen could not rescue anyone nor recover any other corpse so, we were asked to go home and come back the following day. If I knew it would end this way, I would have stopped them from going on that journey,” she said as she broke down in uncontrollable tears.
Memories and regrets
“Paulina loved church activities very much,” she added, after regaining some semblance of composure after wiping her eyes. “She was the Secretary of Sabon Rai in our church. Peter and Paul were very calm boys. Paulina wanted to go to Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) to become a military officer. Both boys loved football and played it very well.”
Ketura Adamu who was like a big sister to the triplets said she had been with them for two weeks and just left the house on Thursday before the Sunday of the tragedy with a promise to return a week later.
“I was shocked to hear that the triplets I left at home had drowned in the river,” she told Saturday Sun. “I prayed and prayed, hoping that they would come back alive but alas, they were all gone.” Then she broke down in tears.
Other families narrate their losses
Also speaking with Saturday Sun, Bulus John, a student pastor with ECWA 3 Adeke told of how he lost five siblings in the boat tragedy. They were: Dogara Bulus, 18, Mary Bulus 16, Saadetu Kabani, Precious Kabani 12, and Mary Ibrahim. He explained that although the Bulus family had four children, they also had other relations who were staying with them. So, in all, five youngsters from the same home died in the accident.
On how he learnt of the sad news, he said:”I just finished praying and I saw a missed call from my mum around 7pm. When I called back, my mum told me the news and I couldn’t believe it. I just took my Bible and went there. I called some of my friends to go with me to the river side.”
Asked what kind of children were his siblings while they were alive, John said they were very involved in church activities. “Dogara was very active in Church. Normally before things happen, I used to hear from God but this one was very blank. I didn’t hear from God. No message or sign that any such a thing would happen. My friend was just reminding me about a dream I had two months ago where I saw massive deaths. I thought it was this coronavirus.”
Lamido Sanni, younger brother to one of the victims, Shadrach, lamented that his brother just completed his National Youth Service last year and had been doing all within his power to get a good job. Each person paid N200 as transport fare, it was learnt. They were actually going for combined rehearsals of choir members from BIRCAN Church, CRCN Church and ECWA Church, preparatory for the annual Sabin Rai conference.
The District Church Council (DCC) Secretary of ECWA Church, Rev. Benjamin Dooga, who led pastors of the District to commiserate with families of the victims and to get the names of the victims told newsmen that as sad as the incident was, the Church had surrendered to the will of God who knows and understands all things.
“The church as believers in Jesus believes God is supreme and no human can question His authority,” he said. “Since we are human, we cannot understand what has happened but He understands. What has happened is for the good of the church. Pastors of EWCA within Makurdi have come to identify with the affected families. We should all know that this world is nothing so people should come back to God because we don’t know when we will leave this planet earth. So, we should live our lives as if we are going to die tomorrow.”
At the time of filing this report on Wednesday morning, 18 bodies had been recovered many of which were buried b y the river side.