It was a grey and wet morning. It had been drizzling and ominous dark clouds hung on the horizon threatening to unleash a deluge. I kept praying and hoping against hope that Mother Nature would hold back its watery fury until I made it to the home of the Ezeonos’ located in Irepodun Estate, Igando, Lagos.
However, as I knocked on the massive black gates, the rain began its watery dance and I could have been soaked to my underwear but for providence.
For months I had repeatedly heard the inspiring story of the Ezeonos’ at St. John Catholic Church, Igando, Lagos. Only a couple of weeks earlier, in a thanksgiving ceremony that included a massive reception for the entire parish tagged “The Fabulous Four”, the family had celebrated the one year anniversary of their bundles of joy. Somebody had taken an advert in the church bulletin with a picture of the couple cuddling their infants, and guess what? The bulletins were sold out: a rare feat at the parish.
It was a smiling Ezeono who ushered me into his home, a two-storey duplex painted in cream. As I made myself comfortable, I couldn’t help but notice the Sacred Heart altar, which dominated a section of the living room with the perpetual candle light burning.
I was anxious for the interview to kick off and the exchange of pleasantries seemed to last forever. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Ezeono cleared his throat and began to speak, his baritone voice reverberating, holding me spellbound.
“I don’t know how much you know about us at the parish, but it all began in 2010. We were returning from the village…”
Three months earlier…
At St. John Catholic Church, Igando, the Ezeonos’ are the poster family. Blessed with two kids and relatively successful, they belonged to most of the societies and never hesitated to make monetary donations whenever an opportunity sprang up.
So, three months earlier, when the parish priest summoned Ezeono to a meeting prior to the family’s departure for the village, he probably thought it was church business as usual!
“I thought the priest wanted to discuss parish issues but what he asked me was, ‘must you travel this December?’ I told him it was important, but if God says no, who am I to travel?” Ezeono recalled.
However, justifying reasons why he had to travel, he explained to his parish priest that in the immediate past month he had been elected General Chairman of his village meeting and his first assignment was to organise a dinner so they could raise funds for pressing projects, and the dinner was slated for the Christmas season when most sons and daughters of Akpo would come home. Also, his age grade group, Ofuobi, was marking its 20th anniversary and he was chairman of the organizing and planning committee.
“I had too many projects for that December, so I told the Rev Fr, ‘this is what is taking us to the village.’ And he replied, ‘somebody said he had a dream about your family and that people from the church were coming to commiserate with you and you were not crying.’
“So, I said, ‘father, this is a dream. You can pray for me.’ Father said he had started praying and he gave us prayers to say.”
However, something strange happened on the Saturday preceding their journey to the village. Ezeono had a dramatic fall that shocked him out of his wits!
“We had attended morning mass as usual. The floor was obviously slippery and as I stepped out of the door I slipped and fell. It was so dramatic! Within a couple of seconds, a crowd had gathered around me. I was so shaken and embarrassed!
“It was my son, Chude, who lifted me up. I related it to the dream Rev Fr had revealed to me earlier. So, we kept praying and thought that it was all over.”
January 7, 2010
The journey from the village that morning of January 7 had been without any incident. Mrs. Ezeono was looking forward to resuming her job as a school teacher in Lagos, while her husband was looking forward to returning to his business after achieving so much in the village and, of course, Chudi was dreaming of his masters in the UK.
As they hit Agbor, home was just a few hours away. Little did they know what was in store, stalking and waiting to pounce. And as they cruised on the ever busy highway en route Umunede, hell finally let loose on them!
The scene that followed could be described as one from a James Bond thriller. The only difference was that the ‘actors’ were real!
Though, the whole thing did not last longer than 20 seconds, it left a trail of what the late Afro-beat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, would describe as ‘sorrow, tears and blood’.
For some strange reason, a policeman dashed across the road and began waving at them frantically, forcing the vehicle in front of Mr. Ezeono’s SUV to screech to a halt. Ezeono only had a few seconds to decide whether to ram into it and probably kill everyone on board the SUV, or to swerve off the road. He chose the latter, believing he could pull it off!
However, as he stepped on his brakes to begin the hair-raising maneouvre, his back tyre busted and he lost control of the wheels as the SUV swerved and somersaulted, rolling over four times before coming to rest (belly up) in the bush!
Valley of the shadow of death
Thanks to seat belts; they could have been flung out of the windows like the others, but Ezeono and his wife were trapped in the front seats of the mangled vehicle. Luckily, passers-by and fellow road users came to their rescue. While the others with Chudi were soon found and rescued with minor injuries, Chudi was nowhere to be found!
However, a search party soon found him seriously injured, but there was no vehicle to quickly convey him to the hospital.
“Everybody fell out. It was only my wife and I that were left in the car, because we were wearing seat belts. After they rescued us, I expected they would take us to the hospital because my boy was bleeding. I kept shouting for someone to help me with a car, but nobody responded. By the time policemen went to do a U-turn and rushed us to the hospital, he had started foaming in the mouth and ears.
“In my time, I have rescued more than five accident victims, who were bleeding after ghastly accidents, and they all survived,” Ezeono’s baritone voice reverberated, bouncing off the walls with a soft painful ring, “now I was watching my own son as he was bleeding. I was scared he was going to die. I kept shouting and shouting for people to please help me with a vehicle so I could convey him to hospital, but all they kept saying was, ‘baba, no worry, nothing go do your pikin.’”
Hospital, at last
As they approached Agbor General Hospital, Mr. Ezeono obviously became hopeful; at last, Chudi would be treated. However, in shock Ezeono listened as the doctor on duty explained that there was nothing he could do because the hospital had neither drugs nor equipment to handle accident emergencies!
“But, I think he could have done something if they had oxygen, but that hospital had nothing! It was sad because it is strategically located. A lot of accidents happen on that road, so it should have been equipped to handle such emergencies,” lamented Ezeono.
Consequently, he was forced to watch helplessly as life slowly ebbed out of his only son and heir apparent. He cradled his dying son in his arms and wept, praying, hoping for a miracle, but Alas! The shining star of the family, Chudi, soon breathed his last and gave up the ghost.
Losing a 22-year-old son is traumatic, but what happens when that son is an only heir around whom you have built your life around? Ezeono was distraught, his wife was inconsolable.
“He was a promising boy,” he said, pausing for a while. The room was so silent you could hear a pin drop. “He was to resume for his masters at London Metropolitan University on January 26 and he died on January 7 in my arms. I was in total shock!
“I informed the doctors that I was hypertensive. They took measurements and were alarmed with the results and instantly recommended drugs. I had to part with N3,000 to purchase drugs and bandages because the hospital had neither.”
Mother in sorrow
“I do not know where the grace and strength to pull through came from. I won’t call it courage because I have never been a courageous person; it was only God’s grace. My husband held him in his arms as he bled to death,” Mrs. Ezeono said, recounting her agony as she watched her only son die.
“I sustained serious injury. Everything around me was spinning. They had to bring me down from the hospital bed and lay me on the ground. It was so numbing. For a long while after the accident I kept asking my husband, ‘where is Chudi?’ I was in denial; I just couldn’t believe he was dead! We tried to cry, but tears wouldn’t come. I tried to sing mournful songs, but only praises would come out of my mouth.
“I clung unto my rosary. I consoled myself by asking, ‘what did Our Lady do the day Jesus Christ died?’ I told myself that, at least, God still left a daughter for me, but Our Lady had nobody and that was why Jesus handed her over to St. John. I took consolation from that. I said, ‘God, you have been so nice to me. If this is a little test, give me the grace not to fail.”
A couple of weeks later, family, friends and well-wishers came together to bid Chudi goodbye. Indeed, it was a tearful ceremony. Sons and daughters wept, while fathers and mothers reminisced on Chudi’s person. A dark cloud had descended; St. John Catholic Church, Igando, was in mourning.
Chudi was a kid who loved Gospel music, rather than sing mournful dirges, the parents had given strict instructions that nobody was to cry or sing mournful songs. And so his funeral turned out to be a praise worship ceremony!
However, as the days rolled by, the memories continued to haunt the family and they began to ask questions. How could God allow such a misfortune befall them? How could God abandon them? Why?
In public they refused to cry and kept up a courageous front by being cheerful. However, when the Ezeonos’ got back home every night, they collapsed into each other’s arms and wept.
If the Ezeonos thought with the burial of their son their challenges were over, they were wrong! They were still battling to come to terms with the sudden passage of the star of the family when something fresh began to happen.
It began with just a small discussion about what Ezeono described as ‘mischief makers’, but spread like wildfire, and within a couple of days, rumour began flying around that the elder Ezeono had used his only child for money rituals!
While this was going on, Ezeono went about his business as usual in the church oblivious of the ‘wicked’ rumours around him. It was weeks later that he finally got wind of it, and when he did, he went berserk!
“I was so angry. How could people be so destructive and malicious? I was going about the church doing my own bit. Little did I know that people were saying all kinds of terrible things about me! Mischief makers originated the story and they started spreading it. They said I had used my son, my only son, for money rituals!
“I heard the parish priest was even aware and I was disappointed, because I felt he should have asked or informed me. I confronted him and he admitted hearing the rumour, but said he asked the lady who whispered the wicked rumour to him to get out of his car immediately she told him!
“Wouldn’t it be stupid if I killed my only son to make money?” Ezeono queries rhetorically, “who will I keep the money for? Who will inherit the money? Probably, I killed him to dash them (rumour mongers) my wealth.
“As you can see, I have just a boy and a girl. How could I kill my only boy after training him to university level? How could I use my heir apparent for money rituals? That tells you how unreasonable people can be.
…And more trials
Meanwhile, in the village, a new problem was brewing. Mrs. Ezeono disclosed that her husband’s relatives and friends had surreptitiously approached him, offering him another wife because, as they put it, ‘your wife is too old to bear children.’ They argued that because of his achievements and role in his family, he needed a worthy male heir to carry on the family’s name.
“We were still in the village after Chudi’s burial when people started calling. They told my husband not to worry about me because I was already too old to have babies. They said they would get him an under-16 girl that would deliver beautiful boys for him. All he had to do was rent an apartment for her.
“When my husband rebuffed them because of his Christian beliefs, some said, ‘listen, I am also a knight in the church. Don’t you know that your position in the family is important? We love your wife, but what can you do? She is old. You can rent or buy a house for a small girl and keep her there and your wife wouldn’t be the wiser, while she makes baby boys for you. Are you the only one who is a Christian?”
She disclosed that virtually everything under the sun was suggested to her husband, including using juju to reclaim his ‘lost possessions’.
“Another set said, ‘come, we will take you to a herbalist that would help you. Everything you have lost would be restored to you. The shocking thing was that some of these men were knights in the church! And that’s the reason I can’t stop thanking my husband for standing by me! I wanted to replace our lost son. I was 50 already, way beyond child-bearing age. What was I to do?
“People were sending me all kinds of nasty text messages and I took them to the Blessed Sacrament and said, ‘Daddy, you can see, people are already calling You names, so Daddy, protect your name. I have no name to protect. I told you on that day, ‘wake this boy up or else people are going to call you names.’ Now, see the names they are calling You. They are saying that I have used Your son for money rituals.’ We felt so bad by the betrayal and decided to withdraw from church activities.” READ MORE