The last few days have been a dark period for Ekiti State, a time that has seen the people of the state reeling from the deaths of no fewer than 16 persons in a fatal crash involving an articulated vehicle at a market at Iworo Ekiti.
For these people, it is impossible to hide their sense of gloomy despondency. Some have even sworn that the skies grew darker last Saturday when death strolled into the town. Since that day, tears have flowed freely in many homes in and outside the state.
The accident occurred at about 8.45pm when the truck coming from the Ifaki end of Ifaki – Iworoko – Ado Ekiti Road rammed into the market in the heart of the community.
Apart from the deceased, no fewer than four persons were injured in the incident. No fewer than three shops and a commercial bus with passengers were crushed by the truck. In one of the shops, a barbing salon, there were residents and students charging their mobile telephones.
Mrs Toyin Abass, 48, popularly called Iya Alaje in the market, was one of those who lost their lives in the incident. For her husband, Tajudeen, 50, it felt like the world came crashing down with nowhere for him to hide. He still wakes up every morning; hoping his wife would have miraculously found her way back home in the night, using the cover of darkness.
He has found it hard to believe his wife is dead and that he has to shoulder the reponsibility of taking care of their four children alone.
“I am still in shock. I fainted when I was told my wife was involved in the accident and had died. I have yet to understand the whole thing since Saturday. It has been like a dream. Since my wife’s death, I’ve had to be inducing sleep and there is no hope of when I will recover from this. It has been a traumatic experience for me and the family. My wife died with my happiness; she took our joy away with her.
“She died looking for food and resources for the family. Was it a crime for her to be legitimately looking for means of livelihood?” Tajudeen asked, sobbing uncontrollably.
Tajudeen cut a forlorn figure with bloodshot eyes and tearstained cheeks as he recalled speaking to his wife on the phone about three hours before death took her away.
“It was on that evening; I called her on the phone to tell her to get rice and beans for the children to cook, which she did. The children brought the food items home from her shop, and we were expecting that she would also join us home later. We never knew that she would not return,” he said.
Toyin, a native of Ode Aye in Okitipupa Local Government area of Ondo State, traded in groceries, including semolina, eggs, palm oil, pepper and tomatoes at the market, where she had been for over five years.
She had only on Thursday, two days before her death, stocked up on eggs, among others in anticipation of bumper weekend sales. The woman, who was also said to be a popular operator of pepper grinding machine at her shop, was described as kind and hard-working by people in the market. Her popular nickname – Iya Alaje – was said to have been coined to describe her industrious nature in the market and indeed Iworoko.
Also known as a socialite, Toyin was resplendent in the attire she had worn to the market that fateful Saturday, as she was attending a wedding ceremony that involved a royal family in the community.
She was said to have been at the event briefly, where she would probably have had her last dance and a bit of banter with her friends and associates before returning to her shop at the market at about 4pm to continue with her business activities, unknown to her that a truck coming from Kebbi State – harbinger of her death – was already on its way.
At the market, an atmosphere of pervading gloom hung in the air. A welder and commercial bike operator, Shaibu Jimoh, 25, who witnessed Toyin’s last moments and only narrowly escaped, being hit by the truck, said “the tragic event happened in a flash”
Jimoh had just taken a lady who wanted to grind pepper to Toyin’s place and had wanted to wait for the lady but a mini bus that wanted to pull up in front of the grinding machine forced him to move away from the place.
“I had hardly moved to another place when I heard the rumbling noise of the truck moving towards me from the other side of the road and crashing into everything on its way. Immediately, I took to my heels.
“Iya Alaje (Toyin) and the lady who wanted to grind pepper attempted to run for their lives, but it was too late for them as the truck crushed them. The truck crashed into the mini bus that had parked where I initially was and took it to Iya Alaje’s store and the other affected places.
“The accident left in its trail heavy dusts which covered everywhere and prevented immediate rescue operation. It was when the dust settled that people could see the extent of damage – those who were dead, injured and trapped.
“It was a dark day in the life of Iworoko. Everything happened in a flash. It will be difficult to quantify the loss. Many people lost their belongings and property. I don’t think many people will be able to recover from this as no fewer than 16 persons died in the accident,” Jimoh said.
The deceased included a woman and her child, two students of Ekiti State University, Ado Ekiti, a National Youths Service Corps member, some residents and traders, including Toyin.
But according to the residents of the community, the victims of the accident were not limited to those involved in it but others who also felt the pain. They identified the traditional ruler of the community, Alaworoko of Iworoko Ekiti, Oba Michael Aladejana, as one of such victims.
The traditional ruler passed on on Wednesday, four days after the accident, a development many blamed on “shock”.
Sources in the community said the monarch, who was in his 80s, was shocked at the tragedy that befell his community. He was said to have been taken to an undisclosed hospital, where he died in the early hours of Wednesday.
Tajudeen, who disapproved of the kind of treatment given to the corpses of the victims at the morgue where they were taken, said, “The treatment at the mortuary was gory. They just put the dead bodies on the floor. My wife’s dead body, with blood all over it, was put on the floor. They put the corpse of a child on her.
“I felt bad and had to arrange immediately for her burial. I bought a coffin and got her out of the morgue for burial on Sunday, the following day.”
Tajudeen, who said the ages of their four children ranged between seven and 20 years, expressed worry about the fate of his two youngest children – seven-year-old Aanu and eight-year-old Ayobami.
“I will appreciate if government can help the family. My wife was playing a huge role in the upkeep of the family. A vacuum has been created now. The education of the children is of prior importance to me,” he said.
Governor Kayode Fayemi, had in his condolence message to the people of Iworoko Ekiti, urged the community leaders and families of the victims of the accident to remain calm as “we collectively mourn the death of our beloved ones in the unfortunate incident.
“This is a huge tragedy and a painful experience not only for the families of the victims, but for all of us. We share with the people of Iworoko and families of the victims the pain and sorrow of the unfortunate development.
“Our prayer is that God will be with you during this painful period. Government will also look at areas of support with a view to ameliorating the pains,” the governor had said.