The gaze in Azor’s eyes suggested that if only she could turn back the hands of the clock, perhaps some sort of divine intervention may have prevented her younger sister and the three other family members from dying in the inferno which razed four flats in the row.
But the deed was already done. Azor, emotionally broken and physically weakened by the sudden tragedy, told our correspondent that the incident was too painful and unimaginable.
The painful incident involved a senior official in the employ of the Benue State government, Serker Akaa, his wife and two children.
The deceased, until his death, was an acting Permanent Secretary in the state’s Ministry of Energy, Science and Technology.
Witnesses said that the fire, suspected to have been caused by electrical surge, started at about 2:20am from the living room and spread to the other three adjourning flats.
An occupant of one of the three other affected flats and Chaplain of the Government House Chapel of Grace, Rev. Daniel Unongo, told our correspondent that he was awake at 2:45am when he heard the deceased’s wife and children crying for help.
“I live in Flat 3. The fire started from the deceased’s Flat 1 and affected four flats on the row. When I heard the late woman and her children screaming; I quickly ran outside my house to see what was happening.
“We (including other neighbours) tried to break through the doors and gate but it wasn’t accessible, even the window had double burglary. So, we started pouring in water containing detergent to quench the fire while we called the Fire Service and they arrived in less than 30 minutes at about 3:20am,” he said.
Unongo explained that the four occupants of the house died before the arrival of the Fire Service, even as it took the fire fighters another 30 minutes to break down the door.
The government house chaplain added that through the period of the fire, the late permanent secretary’s voice was not heard as he assumed that the man may have died earlier from the roof which collapsed on him, considering the position he was discovered when the fire was finally put off.
He added, “Recently, we have been experiencing power surge in this area so we are thinking that may have been the cause of the fire. Some of my appliances were blown up days ago as a result of electricity surge. But, since nobody escaped from the house, we don’t know for sure what really happened.
“They (deceased) were supposed to have a maid but she hasn’t been seen. We do not know if the maid was away at the time of the incident because four bodies (husband, wife and their two children) were discovered after the fire was put off.
“The courtyard door was open, the man must have opened it but fell beside it as the roof of the house fell on him. He died on a spot apart from his wife and children.”
Similarly, the woman in Flat 4, Mrs. Josephine Iorhembe, whose house was also gutted by the fire, narrated that she was praying at 3:00am when she started hearing shrill cries from the deceased’s end of the apartment calling for help.
Iorhembe said she ran outside her house, joined other neighbours to fetch water in a bid to quench the fire but that their effort could not yield any fruitful result before the voice of the weeping woman and her children suddenly stopped.
“I heard the late woman crying and shouting for help. Her two children were also crying. She was asking neighbours to bring water soaked in detergent and we were doing our best. Shortly afterwards, I heard her calling the names of her children, later I didn’t hear her say anything again,” Iorhembe narrated.
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While still sobbing, Iorhembe disclosed that the late Akaas were good neighbours, adding that, “the late wife who was in her early 30s was like a daughter to me.”
Iorhembe also said the deceased couple had four children, two of whom are boarding students -a male and female, at the Bristow Secondary School in Gboko and were however fortunate to be away in school when the incident occurred while the remaining two who died alongside their parent attended First Baptist Primary School, a stone throw from home.
Reacting to the news of her dead relatives, the late woman’s elder sister, Azor, said the deceased pregnant wife, Linda, was her youngest sibling and their mother’s last child, stressing that her late sister was jovial and loveable.
“I didn’t have any premonition about this sad incident. The last time we spoke on phone, my sister was so lively, we chatted and laughed loudly for a long time and I never knew that was our last discussion.
“I live in Gboko. Someone broke the news to me on phone this morning (Monday) and I boarded the next available vehicle to Makurdi,” Azor explained.
Other neighbours of the deceased also said they were peace a loving couple while some members of the church testified that the late man, his wife and their two kids; Tertsegh,3, and Sender Akaa, 6, were full of life when they attended a thanksgiving service on Sunday at their ECWA church along Barracks Road in Makurdi barely 12 hours before the unfortunate incident.
A neighbour of the deceased, Samson Inalegwu, who took to his Facebook page to mourn the late family, wrote, “Every other day I usually encounter this lady and her two little children walk back home after school, the one thing that always struck me was the fact that the children always greeted anytime they pass. That made an impression…great impression.
“Early hours of Sunday morning, fire gutted some houses at Kwararafa quarters. On reaching there to sympathise with the victims, I was told that a man, his wife and children all perished in the inferno.
“Now this is me, at the usual period unconsciously waiting for the mother and children to pass… as I asked about them, there was calmness. Then I was told that the lady and children I was referring to were the ones killed in the fire. Kai!!!!! This is painful. God help us.”
A brother of the deceased, Rev. Favor Akaa, described him as a God fearing man, averring that they had attended a two-day retreat at ECWA Church in Makurdi at the weekend where he worshipped and praised God.
According to the clergy, he had a conversation with his brother Sunday night (few hours before the sudden incident) at around 11pm about a certain transaction he was scheduled to do on Monday but preferred to do it on Sunday before his demise.
“He told me that his heart could not rest until he had done the transaction. It is appointed unto man to die but you cannot spend time with God and tragedy will happen. It is a wonderful thing to spend 48 hours with God. His death is strength to us. It is time for him to depart and we give glory to God,” Rev Akaa posited.
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Meanwhile, crowds continue to besiege the vicinity days after the occurrence but policemen from Division A Police led by its DPO have cordoned off the affected houses.
Police Public Relation Officer (PPRO), Catherine Anene, who confirmed the incident, said the cause of the fire was yet unknown.
Anene said the corpse of the deceased government official and three of his family members were recovered by the police and deposited at a hospital morgue.
Governor Samuel Ortom has expressed deep sadness over the death of Seker Akaa, his wife and two children.
The governor in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase, said that the death of Akaa and his family was a painful loss to the state government and Benue in general.
Ortom consoled the bereaved family as well as their friends and relations over the unfortunate incident and prayed God to grant the deceased eternal rest.
The remains of the late acting permanent secretary, born on February 4, 1954, was committed to mother earth alongside his wife and two kids on Thursday at his home town in Gboko area of the state.