A Black, Sad Saturday
ASIMIYU Gbolagade was a transporter in Oyo State until crisis broke out among members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in the state, forcing him to abandon the group for politics.
In the wake of the crisis between the deceased Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain, Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, and former governor of the state, Alhaji Rashidi Ladoja, which extended to the transport union, Gbolagade, an ardent supporter of Ladoja, fled the garage for his dear life and joined the Unity Group, formed by Ladoja’s wife, Yinka. He was the secretary.
Ironically, he lost that dear life last Saturday, alongside 17 other members of his group in an auto-crash while on their way to Okeho in Kajola Council.
Salewa, his eldest daughter, said her father, after observing his early morning prayers that fateful day, exchanged banters with her mother who was also billed to attend a social gathering in Ibadan before bidding his family farewell. It was the last farewell.
“When the news of the accident and his eventual death was broken to us, I thought I was dreaming and I kept on imagining the kind of agony he would have gone through before he finally succumbed to the cold hands of death.
“My father fled the garage to save his life to join the Unity Group of Ladoja’s wife, Yinka, where he was the secretary before his death. He was always coming home with files and other documents and he was committed to the group. It was in line of duty that he went to Okeho, but we never knew he would not return alive,” Salewa recalled, amidst sobs.
Some Ladoja supporters, including two wives of his younger brother, had left his Bodija, Ibadan residence last Saturday for a ceremony in Okeho by an associate of Ladoja, who is a former Action Congress (AC) governorship aspirant in the 2007 elections, Alhaji Alli Oyedeji.
But midway into the journey, one of the buses in which they were travelling conveying 13 women and five men, had a collision with another vehicle, a Toyota Dyna car carrying planks along the Ado-Awaye-Okeho road.
The two vehicles reportedly caught fire almost instantly and all those travelling in them were burnt beyond recognition. It was gathered that the other vehicle had five people in it, including the driver.
In all, 23 people died in the mishap. The fire, it was learnt, was aggravated by a jerry can of petrol stored in the boot of the bus for the return trip that never was, due to the scarcity of fuel in Oke-Ogun, and indeed, the whole country.
When the news of the demise of his supporters spread into town, Ladoja was said to have queried the mental state of the first caller until a second person repeated the same thing.
A source said: “Oga first said, ‘you don’t know what you are talking about. Please hand over the phone to another person. What type of accident is that? What are you saying?’ It was when the second person, who is a senior aide, repeated the same thing that he believed.”
His Chief Press Secretary (CPS), Alhaji Lanre Latinwo, who was in the second bus conveying the supporters, explained that they had to make a detour when word reached them that the other team was involved in an accident.
Latinwo said they opted to take the Lanlate-Ado-Awaye road, instead of the dilapidated Ibadan-Iseyin route, which is notorious for armed robbery attacks.
“But that was our undoing. The team going to Ijio was about 30 minutes ahead of the second team, but when the second team got to Maya, the accident occurred.
“Since there was no survivor in the bus, there was nobody to give us information about the accident. All we saw when we got there was that the bus conveying them had a head-on collision with an articulated lorry conveying planks. It was a gory scene.
“We watched helplessly as they were being burnt. The immediate younger brother of his Excellency (Ladoja) was with us and he could only weep as the fire got fiercer, with his two wives burning,” he recounted soberly.
Since then, the Bodija, Ibadan home of the former governor has turned into a Mecca of sorts, as sympathisers and party supporters besiege the place to commiserate with him.
When the human traffic became too much, the former governor was said to have relocated from his residence on the advise of his doctors, who are said to be watching over him. Ladoja was said to be suffering from shock as a result of the incident.
An inter-denominational service was held for the repose of the souls of the deceased on Monday, after their burial 24 hours after the crash.
A manifest of the passengers inside the ill-fated bus revealed the names of the passengers : Mrs. Bose Adedigba (Egbeda); Mrs. Joke Lawal (Ibadan South West); Alhaji Mustapha Bello (Ona-Ara); Bisi Owollabi (Ibadan North); Mrs. Fatimo Ladoja (Ibadan South East); Alhaja Kudirat Ladoja (Ibadan North); Mr. Hakeem Oyebola (Ibadan North); Mrs. Toyin Adeyami (Ibadan North) and Idiat Adewuyi.
Others were Wasiu Babatunde (Akinyele); Tajudeen Afolabi (Ibadan South East); Deborah Balogun (Ibadan South East); Hakeem Bello Soja (Ibadan North); Debo Olabisi Emiola (Ibadan North); Mrs. Danjuma Iya Eleja (Ibadan South-West); Mrs. Adesina (Ona Ara); Mrs. Idowu Adebiyi (Ibadan North-West) and Asimiyu Gbolagade (Ibadan North).
Clerics at the service urged the congregation, which included the immediate family members of the deceased and political associates, not to lose hope because of the unfortunate incident, noting that whatever may be the circumstance under which it happened, death remains an inevitable end for every mortal.
The ruling party, in solidarity with the former governor, declared a three-day mourning for its members who lost their lives in the accident.
The party, through its Director of Publicity, Morohunkola Thomas, described the accident as sad. Thomas, in the condolence message, urged surviving members of the party to pray for the repose of the souls of those who died and fortitude for their families to bear the loss.
The party expressed worry that the death of the members came at a time when utmost cohesion and genuine reconciliation was becoming highly visible within the party.
It added: “The PDP prays for the repose of the departed souls. The party also expresses its condolence to the families of the members who lost their lives in the said fatal accident.
“Our prayer is that Almighty God will grant their families the fortitude to bear the loss of their beloved ones, and that God would put an end to this kind of situation within our party.”
Similarly, the Action Alliance (AA) in the state joined in offering words of condolence to the former governor on the death of his supporters. In a message signed by its state secretary, Olu Omotoso, the party described the incident as unfortunate.
The party said: “We are pained to hear that all those that came to the scene of the incident watched helplessly while their loved ones were being roasted in the inferno without being able to lift a finger due to unavailability of fire fighters, despite the fact that the scene ordinarily is very close to the headquarters of a local government council.”