Tomorrow, Friday, 18th September 2005, a needless burial will take place in Aku, Enugu State. Oluchi Anekwe will be lowered into the bowels of a moist, red earth. The barely 22 year old, first-class bound 300-level student of University of Lagos, electrocuted when a loosely hanging high tension wire fell on her in her campus, will be interred. With her blooming promise.
At the solemn occasion, her father’s pain will thaw into tears. Her mother’s heart will be numb and cold, like the remains of the girl her womb had shaped. Her sisters will wail. Her classmates will recall Oluchi’s kindness. And a catholic priest will rub the balm of a comforting sermon on the hurting wounds.
The priest will speak about the brevity of life (‘’all fresh are grass’’). The inevitability of death (‘’there is a time to die’’). The preciousness of the soul (‘’what shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?’’).
At the end of the funeral mass, all Oluchi was and could have been would be quietly dumped into an early grave. And she will resume life in history; occasionally entering and exiting tales and reminiscences of all who had experienced parts of her.
I learnt of Oluchi’s death through Twitter. I logged into my account and saw #RIP Oluchi trending. I was instantly alarmed. My heart pulsed faster. The hashtag had conveyed to me the dreamy faces of two of my friends who bear that name.
I went on to read the tweets. Some carried the picture of a girl making a smile beautiful. I liked her. And I wished – oh I wished! –that she had died differently.
I have tried to imagine that interrupted walk back to room in Sodeinde Residence, New Hall. Her gait must have been unhurried, lady-like. She must have been returning to rest herself…before the descent of the cable noose that made her news.
The element of timing in this tragedy is disconcerting. The wire didn’t fall before or after she had passed. The wire fell when she had come to a certain spot. And the wire had to fell at a specific, measured velocity to hit her. Her strides seemed to have been synced with the collapse of the live wire.
Oluchi died too violently.
I have been jolted by electric shock a couple of times. While fiddling with an appliance or an artery of wires, the surprise would just happen. The incidents lasted no more than two seconds. They served to remind me that I needed the electrician. But I would feel thoroughly shaken. And I would feel drained of some blood and virtue.
Oluchi had her eyes focused forward –literally and figuratively. She would never have imagined that a scavenger bird would alight on her head or that a lethal gift of gravity would befall her. She must have been processing an innocent thought before that moment. Before death fell on her like an unripe orange. And a surge of electric current ran through her frame. And she crashed to the ground.
As we have now come to know, Oluchi was rushed to the UNILAG medical centre. She arrived alive. But the staff on duty did not see the conspicuous emergency. They didn’t see a human being on the twilit boarders of life and death. They didn’t see someone’s daughter tailing off into expiration.
The callous medical doctors and nurses wanted to see her Identity Card. A piece of laminated paper or a small rectangular plastic, embossed with UNILAG logo, Oluchi’s photo and biodata. They rebuffed entreaties and laments of the desperation good Samaritans who had brought in Oluchi …in the hope that an urgent intervention could give her another chance at life. The medics refused to check her.
I find their request for ‘’Identity Card’’ in that most distressing situation disgusting. It was as if the medical staff was resisting the insult of being implored to tend to a Nobody. Without the Identity Card, Oluchi was no human being worth the alms of compassion.
She was an unknown quantity. Only an Identity Card could have helped upgrade her value and qualify her to receive first aid!
In a public service culture where people earn wages for indolence and gossip, Oluchi may have been an intrusive disturbance. I mean, what else could have possibly inspired the otherwise professional life savers and healers to send people in search of Oluchi’s Identity Card when the obvious priority of the hour was to rescue her from the brink of death?
Was the poor girl who had already passed out supposed to will herself back into consciousness, hear the Bring Your Identity Card conditionality, jump up on her feet, race into her room, fetch the all-important Identity Card and then run back to the doctors?
Could she have done that sprint and tendered that Identity Card, the evidence of her human value, inside one minute?
In a country where Identity is a key decider of fate, Oluchi may not have deserved the status of an emergency patient. She could not be put in any tentative category that would have made attending to her possible. She was an Anekwe. Anekwe is the name of nobody.
Nobody could have risked a bet on her. Whether she died or survived did not matter. She didn’t have universal name recognition.
In a civilization where the sound of one’s name determines whether and how they are welcomed to certain places, Oluchi may have had a wrong nomenclature. If Oluchi’s name caused resonance, one or two of the doctors on duty would have associated her name with their own cousin or niece. Somebody would have felt kinship. Oluchi wouldn’t have been a leper everybody didn’t want to touch.
I can’t presume to fathom how well those medics enjoyed their sleep on the night of that disaster. Did they go to bed with a torn in their conscience? Did their minds justify their murderous negligence while they ate dinner? Did they resolve to act differently if a similar incident occurred in the future?
In the aftermath of Oluchi’s death, members of her family have been dredging up their memories, retrieving her last memorable words and deeds. Her immediate elder sister, Nkem, recalls that the Sunday before, Oluchi ‘’got on her knees prayed praying seriously, crying for God to rebuke evil away from her’’ when a presiding church minister instructed the congregation to bind ‘’any monitoring spirit assigned to follow us about’’.
Nkem suggested Oluchi may have sensed a tragedy looming. ‘’I had never seen her pray like that before. It was as if she knew death was around the corner’’.
Even one of Oluchi’s last Facebook posts bears a profoundly melancholic tone. ‘’Many are born great but die unknown…everything that makes us human is vain’’.
And so we could say it must have been her destiny to die young? Right?
When Oluchi was asking Heaven to deliver her from evil, she was praying the earnest prayer of a girl who loved life. She was praying the prayer of a girl who wanted to live life to the fullest. She wanted to qualify as a Chartered Accountant before graduating. She was studying for the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria exams scheduled to hold this week –of her burial.
When she posted that reflection on her the internet, she was contemplating the fragility of human potential. Those born great could die unsung. She must have been pondering her significance and wondering about what could possibly truncate it.
It’s important that we don’t dismiss her death as an ineluctable verdict of predestination. That would be tantamount to absolving those who created the scenario that extinguished Oluchi’s genius. It would be transferring human culpability to an abstract phenomenon. Which is pathetic because it tacitly affirms a toxic attitude that will yet produce more casualties.
So let’s ask: Who was the Director of Works that neglected to cause the removal of that death sentence of a wire over a busy track? Is he still rooted in that office? Will he earn a salary this month?
Who are the doctors and nurses that put an Identity Card above human life? Will they receive a wage debit alert at the end of this September? Will anyone sanction them? Will they be pardoned because Oluchi was ‘’just one individual’’: because this was not a case of genocide?
What will Eko Electricity Distribution Company lose for killing a girl on a walk to greatness? The cheque its official will hand the bereaved family as ‘’compensation’’?
Oluchi’s village, Aku, is a factory of professors. Oluchi was another bright brain to come out from that place. But her fatherland murdered her.
Nigeria killed Oluchi for her defiance. Nigeria denied her power supply. But she found ways to read –by other lights. She probably had the seed of a Dora Akunyili. She may have blossomed into the Amazon Accountant that fights and exposes fraud in government. Her promise may have threatened a country that consumes her citizens.