…Tragedy, Regrettable – Bishop Ezeokafor, Soludo
Saturday the 4th of November, 2023, came like any other day in the lives of students, staff and Management of Tansi International College, Awka. Everybody had gone about their different chores and duties as they would routinely do on any such weekend. And for members of the school football team taking part in the ongoing Awka Diocesan School Sports Festival, it was another day to hone their skills and be better prepared for the competition. Their coach, Mr Emmanuel Azubuike, popularly known as Zubby, was on hand to drill the students to put them in good shape. But not even the most pessimistic could have had a foreboding of the disaster that would claim the lives of three of the students later in the day, report Jude Atupulazi, Abuchi Onwumelu, Ikeugonna Eleke, Michael Nnebife and Onyinyechi Ekoyo.
The training session, billed for that evening, had started as usual but midway into it, the skies opened up and it began to rain. The coach called off the training and asked the students to go inside. But some other students who were not part of the school team, including some school team members, could not resist the allure of playing in the rain and would return to the pitch when they felt the rain had subsided.
One of them was Master Ifedilichukwu Ezeani. He, along with his colleagues, gathered in the school field and split themselves into two groups preparatory to starting their game. But it had barely started when tragedy struck.
Ezeani, one of the six survivors of the tragedy, narrated what happened thus, ‘All I can remember that happened that day is that as the rain started falling, the main team stopped playing and went inside.
‘We who were playing beside the field then entered the main field as the rain reduced.
‘We chose our two different teams and we started the ball. But as we took the first pass, the lightning and thunder came.
‘I couldn’t remember any other thing that happened from there till I got up in the hospital.’
Fides gathered that what happened next was that nine of the boys on the pitch fell to the ground, lying still. It was a situation that left three of the students dead, with the other six given oxygen at Regina Caeli Hospital, Awka, for resuscitation. They survived. The dead ones were all SS3 students. They were Obi Francis Chukwunwike (SS3A); Emmanuel Chidubem Usulor (SS3B); and Micheal Uchechukwu Obeta (SS3B). Obeta and Usulor were also part of the school’s main team.
Ezeani admitted that they played the football game without wearing boots, a situation, the school manager, Rev Fr Izuakor affirmed, was normal for usual school games unlike a competitive match where wearing of boots by the players is applied as a rule.
When Fides visited the school on Monday, 6th November, 2023, the entire atmosphere of the school was quiet solemn, and the school authorities, including the executive members of the school’s Parent-Teacher-Association, PTA, gathered in the school, all wearing mournful looks; even though the school was partially in session.
Briefing the Fides team, the Principal and Manager of the school, Rev Fr Fidelis Izuakor; and the school’s football coach, Emmanuel Azubuike, popularly called Alias Coach Zubby, gave an eyewitness account of the incident.
The school principal, Rev Fr Izuakor said, ‘Our students were preparing for diocesan interschool sports competition. They had already played a match on Friday.
‘Then on Saturday, 4th November, 2023, in the evening, during a normal time for school games, they started their normal game with the coach around 4:30.
‘As they were training with the coach, around 5:30, it started raining. Then, the coach stopped the training; collected the balls, and dropped them at the security post where they are kept.
‘Within the space of four to five minutes, some of the students took their private balls into the field.
‘Just within a space of five minutes, the lightning and thunder followed.
Personally, during the game; I was in the volleyball court. As soon as it started raining, I stopped.
‘And as soon as I entered my room, I heard the thunder; within the next seven minutes, some of the students came to my room, banging at the door, saying that we had an emergency.
‘It happened that the lightning followed by thunder struck nine of the students and they fell at the field.
‘Then we rushed them to the clinic and a nurse administered first aid on them.
‘After this, we rushed them to the hospital. There, a doctor examined them, after which he told us that three of them had no pulse; that they were already dead. But he started reviving the other six and he was able to stabilize them.
‘They were discharged today (Monday, November 6),’ the school principal said, and named the three that could not survive, as Chidubem Osulor, Uchechukwu Obeta, and Francis Obi.
According to him, the remains of two of the deceased had been released to their parents and they have already been buried.
‘Two of the parents came to hospital in the night of that day; the next one came in the preceding morning. They were duly informed.
‘Two of them took the corpses of their children, that is, Obi Francis and Obeta Uchechukwu. As it stands now, they are buried,’ he said.
When contacted, the coach, Mr Emmanuel Zubby Azubuike, shared a similar account with the principal.
His words, ‘At about 30 minutes after we started the training, the rain was about to fall. I told the students that we should stop because of the rain as I didn’t want them to be training in the rain.
‘They actually agreed and I gave the captain the ball. He went and dropped it inside the security post; not knowing that some of them who were not playing went over to get a ball from somewhere.
‘Two of the boys who were training inside the school team joined them and they were playing in the rain, and I was waiting opposite the field for the rain to stop before leaving.
‘Eventually, the thunder struck with lightning very heavily. The next thing we saw was that all the boys playing inside the field were on the ground.
‘We immediately rushed down the field. Getting over there, we found their bodies not moving again.
‘So we raised an alarm. All the teachers came and we took them to Regina Hospital,’ Azubuike said.
On the measures being taken to forestall further mishaps, Rev Fr Izuakor disclosed that buildings in the school premises already had thunder arrestors but that more would be installed, this time, around the football field area.
In his response, the Chairman of the PTA of the college, Comrade Ikem Nwankwo, said the association and the school authorities were meeting to deliberate on many precautionary measures which include installation of thunder arrestors all over the school premises so as to forestall future occurrence of such incident.
Meanwhile, condolence messages have been pouring in from well-meaning people and groups in the state, with the Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Rev Paulinus Ezeokafor, and the Governor of the state, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, both describing what happened as regrettable.
Reacting to the tragic incident at the college, Bishop Ezeokafor condoled with the families of the deceased students of Tansi International College and those affected by the tragedy.
Rendering his condolences to the families at St. Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral, Awka, Bishop Ezeokafor described the incident as unfortunate, sad and tragic.
‘I was at Neni on Saturday when I received a distress call from the school’s Manager informing me about what happened. He told me they had taken them to the hospital and I said it was the right thing to do.
‘After my pastoral visit on Sunday, 5th November, I proceeded to the hospital where I met those recovering from the strike. I discovered that two out of the three remains had been taken away by the families. Seeing them, you’ll know that they are very young and never anticipated what befell them. It was a sad commentary. It happened even though there were measures put in place to avert such occurrence.
‘It is quite sad. These children never believed that they would be gone by now. Nobody is even expecting them to go that way. People will be thinking about what they will become in the future and this abrupt, sad end comes. I am really pained about the ugly incident but there’s nothing we can do other than pray for quick recovery of the affected students and the repose of the deceased ones.
‘I think they were in its (lightning’s) route and also not having anything on their legs. The lightning came directly to them and the unsuspecting students paid dearly for it. They were outside playing innocently. It is sad that they left this way.
‘On behalf of the priests, religious and laity, I sympathize with the families of the deceased and pray God to give them the grace to bear the losses. Those affected, we pray for their speedy recovery,’ said Bishop Ezeokafor.
While condoling with the families, he enjoined all to always take shelter whenever there was a thunderstorm, noting that once they were inside, the effect would not be much because it must have touched the walls, windows and other things before hitting the victim. He added that it was important for one to always put on footwear, especially the ones that could hold the lightning from striking them and also avoid areas where there were transformers, current, electricity, among others.
He appealed to all to take serious precautions, noting that it could be anybody tomorrow, even as he said that sometimes things like that could be an act of God beyond human understanding.
For his part, the Anambra State Governor, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, has expressed grief over the death of the three students who were struck by lightning while playing football last weekend.
Soludo who spoke through his Press Secretary, Mr Christian Aburime, in a press statement, extended his deepest condolences to the Tansi International College community, their grieving students, as well as the bereaved families who lost their beloved children.
The statement read, ‘The death was caused by the devastating effects of electrostatic discharge from lightning that unfolded on the school grounds.
‘Governor Soludo acknowledges the profound magnitude of this loss to the state and offers fervent prayers to the Almighty to grant both the school and the bereaved families the strength to endure this irreplaceable loss.
‘To avert the possibility of such heartrending incidents in the future, Governor Soludo earnestly urges students to seek shelter indoors and abstain from outdoor activities once the rain begins to fall, as lightning can strike without warning.’
The governor gave the names of the deceased as; Obi Francis Chukwunwuike from Nteje in Anambra State; Obeta Michael Uchechukwu, from Nsukka, Enugu State; and Usulor Chidubem Emmanuel from Ezza, Ebonyi State.
The students were aged between 16 and 19 years respectively. They were among nine others who experienced the incident but could not make it alive.
Last Wednesday,8 November 2023, the Management of the college held a therapy session aimed at soothing the minds of the students from the trauma of what they experienced last weekend.