The house at Umueze, Ibeku in Umuahia North Local Government Area of Abia State is a storey building. It appears like an uncompleted one, but a closer look provides its actual state: a completed building waiting to be painted. This is the house where Mr Sunday Ugba, an electrician by profession who hailed from Akanu Item in Bende LGA, owned and in fact lived before death struck; leaving on its trail, himself, his two children and three children of a relation including a friend’s child, making the dead seven.
The road to the house is called Umueze-Umuakanu road, and it is dilapidated and galloping as rides on it, but could be traced from the Umueze Bus stop where natives would easily direct a visitor in search of it to Umuakanu road, telling him to divert to a sneaky pathway behind some buildings as the visitor moves from the Umueze Bus Stop. In fact, the house backs a deep valley and appears fearful when one beholds it from the hill opposite it.
Late Sunday Ugba, a Deacon in the Assemblies of God Church, lived happily with his family in this house, and had woken up on that ill-fated day unaware that tragedy was knocking at his door. On Monday, August 23, 2021, he reportedly bide his family farewell and told his wife that he was going to Aba to supervise a building project he had invested his money on.
In Aba, our Reporter gathered that after supervising the project, which is at its lintel stage, he decided to pay a visit to his elder half brother and reportedly handed the project over to him; telling the man to ensure that the workers at the site were paid whenever they completed their individual assignments. In fact, to ensure smooth supervision, late Sunday Ugba handed to him (his elder half brother) all the documents of the building and was about to return to Umuahia the same day when the elder half brother reportedly prevailed on him to abort the journey because of the sit-at-home order of the IPOB.
Sources said that he insisted that he must return to Umuahia that Monday to meet up with a house-wiring project he had in Umuahia, but later changed his mind and decided to pass the night in the man’s home. In the morning, Tuesday, August 24, 2021, late Sunday Ugba came back to Umuahia and was reported to have gone to fix some electrical appliances somewhere in Uyo Street in Umuahia. According to his nephew, his uncle came back to his house in the evening of Tuesday with some wraps of Suya (smoked meat) and a pack of Esotic fruit juice. He had bought the suya with his second son who also eat it and the juice and became one of the victims.
At usually, the family excitedly consumed these “beverage and meat” and at the end met their untimely death that same night. The lamentably aspect of this mass death is the story of a man whose three children that came on holidays to the family of the Ugbas and another person that was part of them also perished after meal. Ironically, the man and his wife had waited on the Lord for several years without children until God answered their prayers, giving three children that came subsequently.
Indeed, one hour the consumption of this nibbles, there was uproar as they began to roll on the ground endlessly, crying ceaseless for help that never came. Their first daughter, Ijeoma was the only one spared. She told our Reporter that she didn’t take the juice, but that she took the suya.
“It was hopeless situation. But after about 30 minutes, sanity prevailed; everybody appeared to have been healed. That was about 10pm. We then went to sleep but in the morning, I woke up to see the lifeless bodies of my dad and brothers and the four children that were in our house. I couldn’t believe it.
“I was in another room with my mother who herself was writhing in pains. Later, I found out that she managed to drink crude oil she kept in our room”, Ijeoma boldly told our Reporter.
Said a neighbour, “it was Ijeoma that later raised alarm, attracting tenants in the house and in the neighbourhood. However, before we came, the victims were all dead. De Sunday is an unassuming man; a true believer in Christ, how the tragedy befell him is a mystery”, the neighbour who even commended her daughter, Ijeoma for stoically rising up to the challenge, added.
Ijeoma continued, “My dad does not accept any gift from anybody. Even if you force it on him, he’ll reject it, so I don’t think anybody would’ve dashed him the fruit juice. Yes, I took the Suya but didn’t take the fruit juice. In fact, mine was left in the pack, but I couldn’t take it because of what I was doing”.
“Yes it’s true”, the female neighbour concurred, “Ijeoma showed us the remains of the fruit juice in the morning when everybody was crying”.
However, when the Assemblies of God Church and the police arrived, the house was cordoned off. The church was there at about 8am while the police came later. A search party was hurriedly set up and it went and indeed located the Hausa man who allegedly sold the suya to the deceased somewhere in Owerri Road. The man, they said, denied ever poisoning the suya, pointing out that many others equally bought suya from him like the Ugbas did on that Tuesday.
Nonetheless, Ugba’s nephew believed that the killer meal may have come from the juice, adding that late Sunday Ugba’s visit to Aba may have been compromised. “Well, I don’t know if he left his half brother’s house with any edible thing. But the man, was informed in the morning of the incident, but he didn’t bother to come until the next day (today, Thursday).
“Even their relations living in Benue State called him in the afternoon of Wednesday and directed him to proceed to Umuahia immediately to ascertain what was happening but he didn’t come until Thursday when he came to the hospital. Well, it’s God that knows everything. And it’s only my nephew that would say whether he collected anything from Aba or bought anywhere in town. But for now, he’s late and we can’t say much ”, he cried.
At the Federal Medical Centre, Umuahia where Mrs Ugba was said to be recuperating, the Public Relations Officer of the hospital, Mr Darlington Madubuko said the woman was brought to the hospital unconscious, adding that her husband and six other persons were brought there dead.
Meanwhile, the Police Public Relations Officer of the Abia Police Command, Mr Geoffrey Ogbonna said even though the case was reported to the police on Wednesday, August 25, 2021, his men are yet to make any arrest, pointing out that “we have intensified our investigations to ascertain if there was any foul play on the death of the seven persons in Umueze Ibeku”.
Similarly, Abia State government in its reaction on the incident, asked the relations and those concerned with their death to remain calm. The State commissioner for Information, Chief John Okiyi Kalu who announced this in a statement in Umuahia disclosed that “relevant state agencies have been mobilised to investigate the incident”.
His word, “While we commiserate with the family and friends of the bereaved, we wish to call for calm and patience to enable relevant medical authorities to properly determine the cause of the death of the seven persons that reportedly lost their lives”.
Uche Nwosu is a two time Shell Petroleum PLC award winner in the year 2000;
He won the Shell Award on Investigative Journalism and Environmental Cleanliness.