TRAGEDY struck, yesterday, as the Minster of State for Labour, Chief James Ocholi (SAN), his wife and son died in a fatal auto crash along Abuja-Kaduna highway.
While Ocholi, 55, and his son, Aaron Enojo, 20, died instantly, his wife, Blessing Fatima, a Registrar at Salem University, Sokoto, was said to have died later from injuries sustained in the crash.
It was gathered that the wife slipped into coma before she finally gave up the ghost in the hospital.
The late minister and members of his family were said to be travelling in his Prado SUV.
Explaining how the minister and his family members died 57 kilometers away from Kaduna, Kaduna State Sector Commander of Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, Francis Udoma, said the rear tyre of the SUV they were travelling in burst, while the vehicle skidded off the road and somersaulted several times into the bush.
Udoma, who made this known in a telephone chat with newsmen in Kaduna, yesterday, said: “The rear tyre burst and the vehicle somersaulted into the bush. The minister and his son died on the spot, the wife died in the government hospital at Doka, Kaduna.
“His driver, the chief detail, the orderly and the P. A. (Personal Assistant) were injured and are receiving treatment.”
The news of the minister’s death reportedly rattled the Presidency, which deployed some members of the cabinet to receive his remains at National Hospital, Abuja, last night.
They include Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Babachir Lawal; Governor Yahaya Bello Kogi State; Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige; Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole; Dr. Jaf Momoh, and Chief Medical Director of the hospital, Dr. Tayo Haastrup.
Reacting to the accident, President Muhammadu Buhari in a statement by Garba Shehu, his spokesman, described Ocholi’s death as untimely, regretting that Nigeria had lost a key component of the change agenda.
He also described the deceased as an accomplished and patriotic Nigerian, saying: “Barrister Ocholi was an accomplished and patriotic Nigerian, who was keen to accept the call to service at a time his country needed him.”
The President remarked that in the few months Ocholi had been in office, he had already begun to distinguish himself through his commitment and dedication to his portfolio, adding that Ocholi had a long record of political association with him.
Buhari also extended his condolences to the government and people of Kogi State, who he described as having lost a distinguished and irreplaceable son.
This was even as he also sent the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr David Babachir, to formally convey the news to members of the deceased family as well as his church and prayed that God comforts and grants them the grace to bear the loss.
“The entire country mourns the loss of this great man, who has sadly left us when we need him most,” the President said.
Also reacting to Ocholi’s death, Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State expressed shock and described him as a pragmatic and dynamic lawyer.
Bello in a statement issued, yesterday, in Lokoja by his Chief Press Secretary, Kingsley Fanwo, described the late Ocholi as a pragmatic, dynamic, humane and brilliant law officer, who was known around the world for his dexterous approach to legal and political issues and one of the most unswerving constitutional lawyers Nigeria has ever produced.
“The governor recollected with nostalgia how the late Senior Advocate of Nigeria joined other progressive minded individuals around the country to drive the intellectual pillars of the All Progressives Congress. The late Ocholi was a complete gentleman, who was irrevocably committed to the advancement of Nigeria,” Fanwo said.
The governor also described the late minister as a detribalized Nigerian, who believed in the oneness of the nation, summing up his death as an irreparable loss to Kogi State, Nigeria, the All Progressives Congress and the legal profession.
Speaker of Kogi State House of Assembly, Umar Imam, said the late minister’s quest for peaceful resolution of every issues, be it political, community or otherwise, endeared him to the hearts of the people.
Umar in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media, Bawa Dangana, said though the death occurred at a time he was needed most, the people of the state would take solace in the agitation of the late minister to ensure that peace reigned in the society.
The speaker urged the family to take solace in God, and urged the people of the state to take lessons from his death and pursue peace at all times.
Erstwhile Minister of Labour and Abuja lawyer, Nwadiala Emeka Wogu, in his tribute, described his death as shocking and saddening.
He said: “It is very sad and shocking and a big loss to the legal profession. The labour movement will miss him, given his active involvement in the peaceful resolution of industrial issues.”
The All Progressives Congress, APC, in reaction, described the death of the minister and his son as shocking and a monumental loss.
APC National Secretary, Mai Mala Buni, in a condolence message, said the late Ocholi, who was the party’s Deputy National Legal Adviser, would be remembered for his selfless service to the country as minister, party, legal profession and his home state, Kogi.
While extending his condolences to the people and government of Kogi State, Buni prayed God to grant Ocholi’s immediate family the fortitude to bear the painful loss.
A condolence message by his friend, Mr. Sebastian, read: “It is simply unbelievable that my good friend, James Ocholi, SAN, is dead. Worse is that he died with his beloved wife and child. This is most tragic. This is most shocking.
Death, where is your victory? ‘Where is your sting? Christ overcame you and rendered you comatose on that Old, Rugged Cross when He resurrected with tempestuous power. I mock you in most un-mistaken terms.”
Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State in a statement yesterday, said Kaduna State government was in deep shock over the loss.
El-Rufai, through his spokesman, Mr. Samuel Aruwan, said the accident was devastating.
He said: “The state government extends its heartfelt condolences to President Muhammadu Buhari and the Ocholi family.
“Our condolences go to members of the Federal Executive Council and the entire nation. The minister died at a critical time when his contributions in the ongoing national rebirth and realisation of the change mantra are needed. May the Almighty God grant their souls eternal rest.”
In his reaction, NBA President, Augustine Alegeh, SAN, said: “It is a sad and shocking news. It is unbelievable. James was a devout Christian, a consummate bar man whose knowledge of law stood tall.
“He was modest, unassuming but very clear-headed and efficient in the discharge of his duties. He contributed immensely to the development of the bar. This is a very sad and painful loss to the entire bar. We pray for the safe recovery of his wife and others involved in the accident”
Labour analyst, Mrs. Funmi Komolafe, said: “His (Ocholi) appointment was seen as an indication that the Buhari administration was set to move the ministry beyond dispute resolution and strikes.
“It was the first time that the ministry had a Minister of State. Before his appointment, the ministry always had a minister. Successive governments never saw Labour as a key ministry that deserves a Minister of State. “Ocholi died before he could make his mark or justify his appointment.’’