During the week, acting Permanent Secretary of the Benue State Ministry of Science and Technology, Sekegh Akaa, was burnt to death alongside his pregnant wife and two children when a fire engulfed their Kwararafa Quarter home in Makurdi. Akaa’s elder sister, Mrs Rhoda Mbardo Ayile, speaks to JOHN CHARLES about the pain of losing four relations at a time
How did you hear about the fire incident that killed them in their home?
It happened very early on that fateful day; I was woken up and told that my brother’s house was on fire. I was told that they were calling on their mobile phones but no one was picking up. Instantly, my husband, I and other people in my house rushed to the place to see whether we could help.
What time did you receive the distress call?
It was around 3am.
So what happened when you got there?
When we got to their house, the fire was seriously raging. We met people there, including some firefighters trying to put out the fire. My husband and I moved around the house, shouting their names and calling on them. We thought they were able to escape and hide somewhere as there was no response. I thought they were far away from the house but at the end of the whole thing, we discovered that it was not so. It was later we discovered their corpses and realised they were burnt.
Their neighbours said their doors had reinforcements which perhaps made it difficult for them to escape, what was your assessment of the situation?
I don’t think so because we saw that the door at the back was open and my brother’s corpse was on the floor there, which suggested that he had tried to escape but had to go back in to attempt to rescue his family members when he heard their cries. Unfortunately, he couldn’t make it. He probably inhaled so much smoke and fell to the ground.
The reinforcements were needed because the area had witnessed series of robbery incidents. I believe that since he was able to open the back door, he could have escaped if the fire had not started in the living room. It seems the fire started in the living room and spread to the whole building.
What kind of person was he?
He was a nice person; he was jovial and hard-working. He was a committed man, which was why he rose to the position he occupied until his death. He was posted to the Ministry of Science and Technology as director/acting permanent secretary.
When was the last time you saw him alive?
I saw him on the Friday before the Monday (this week) he died. He travelled to meet his two elder brothers and had a retreat/prayer till Sunday, which was why I couldn’t see him on Sunday morning. We belonged to the same church but on that Sunday, he also had a thanksgiving service at ECWA Church in Makurdi.
I left the church early for another prayer meeting but his wife and children were in the church and were still expecting him, so I wouldn’t know whether he was there and sitting somewhere else. His wife was seated beside me.
Could it be that your brother went for the prayer sessions with his brothers because he had a premonition that he would die?
No, the prayer/retreat was a family exercise. My immediate younger brother is a pastor and the other one is also a man of God, so we are believers. It was normal for them to come together as one family to pray and also plan as we have lost our parents. There was nothing like having a premonition of death or that someone was after his life.
But someone said you wanted the children to stay with you that Sunday…
What I said was that his wife and children visited me at home after the service and they always did that. They were here that Sunday till evening.
Did you have any premonition that death was around the corner even when they were with you that Sunday?
No! When they came that Sunday, I was not at home and there was nothing to suggest that such a tragedy could happen.
What kind of woman was your sister-in-law?
She was a very nice woman and we were close. We were even closer during her last days. For instance, last Saturday (two days before the fire incident), she came here and we sat in the living room, discussing and joking. She told me something that made me happy. It was after that she went to the salon. She was hard-working and diligent.
Some neighbours noted that the family would probably have been saved if help had got to them early and that when they heard cries in the house, they thought the couple were having an argument.
When things happen like that, people will be saying so many things, but the neighbour living close to them said she came out immediately she noticed the incident. They were not the type of couple that quarrel with each other. The neighbour was the one who screamed and called on other neighbours that the house was on fire. This made other neighbours to rush outside; though, she said people did not come out initially.
Are you aware if your brother had received threats from anyone?
He did not mention anything like that to me.
How would you describe the loss?
I was telling people who were crying at the scene of the incident that they should rather examine their relationship with God because if one does not accept Jesus Christ as his lord and saviour, they are living a careless life. No one knows what will happen in the next minute.
My brother was in church on Sunday and did not know what would happen to him the next day. On that Sunday, we all danced in the presence of God. She (my sister-in-law) never knew she would die few hours later. Death can come to us anywhere, anytime and anyhow.
God can call us anytime.
I always believe such tragedies happened because God who allowed them to happen to us as believers. The lesson here is that as Christians, we should always be ready because no one knows when God will call us home. We may die in our sleep or in an accident. There are many ways to die but the important thing is to always be ready and amend our ways.
When things like this happen, let no one rejoice over them because we don’t know how we will die. I read the story of Job in the Bible; some of his friends visited him and condemned him that such bad things happened to him because he sinned against God but he told them that he neither sinned against God nor man. Job lost 10 people in a day and all his investments perished.
So the Bible has been my companion and source of encouragement since this incident happened. That has been consoling me. We should not speak ill of God when we are faced with calamity.
We normally say heaven is good but when somebody dies, we cry because of the pain of losing them but we should know that in the end, such a person will go to heaven.
I believe that God knows everything that happens to man.
Aside from the children that died along with your brother in the incident, did he still have any other child?
Yes, there are two other children.
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