Remembering the Loyola 60
I have never been good at grief. Some people grieve really well. I tend to stop at depression and start over with denial.
This is especially true when I think of the sixty. I'd much rather believe that they were like the lot of you that I no longer speak to: doing well in some part of the world that I no longer have any access to. That Uzo Awaji is still playing pranks that I won't like. That Wole's still Wole, being too good for the world in some little corner of Canada.
My greatest regret then and now remains the things I never got the opportunity to do or say. If I had known that I would lose them, I would have made more of an effort to say the things I should have said or do the things I should have done. But what did I know, at 15? What did any of us know? We were so young that the idea of death seemed unworthy of thought or discussion.
We had been raised to believe in formulas, to be hopelessly optimistic, but that event was perhaps the first time that life told us what life was: A series of intersecting lives and incidents, that we can neither understand or control - all that would be left of them were the memories, and the should haves, would haves, or could haves.
I would have thanked Chidinma Nzelu for letting me pester her whenever I needed to learn how to draw or paint. Her talent was undeniable.
I would have hung out more with Peter, the one time that I saw him outside school. He had mastered the true virtue of silence. When he spoke he was listened to more often than not. Every word was well considered, every laugh measured.
I would have teased Busola more about his ears and his middle name if only to hear his astute comebacks.
Augustin Monago's name was a song in my head. Knowing me, I probably sang it to him. As impolite as that may have been it gave me the briefest glimpse into his sunny disposition.
Onyeka. Einstein. I would have thanked Onyeka for his patience, and his unselfishness. I would have thanked him for putting C class on the map. He challenged the A class book wizards mightily. I would also have thanked him for leaving his balls hanging out on the field one afternoon during inter-house sports. It's been the source of many a laugh since.
I would have thanked Richard and Chuka too, for holding Kenny back when he wanted to kill me for telling Folake something that I probably shouldn't have. I would have done well to have taken ironing lessons from Richard, and I would have done better to have been a student of Chuka's. Dating Faridah in Loyola was no small feat.
I would have thanked Chinweoke for saying it like it was and for having the balls and the ovaries to wrestle with Aboyeji in some of his more insufferable moments. She was the closest thing to an Amazonian I'd met then.
I would have thanked Uzo for her easy smile. She embodied the fact that the happiest person in the room was not necessarily the one that laughed the loudest.
And Chidinma Okafor who would never let anyone dull her shine. A master of organisation and leadership, I would have asked to help me be like her.
It is a pity that this all we have left of who they were: clips of lives that we once shared. In my year most of us were 15 going on 16. We lost ten. All of them too young. All of them too good to have died so cruelly. All are loved. All are missed. All are remembered fondly.
I spent six years at Loyola Jesuit College, Abuja. I studied there between 11 and 17. When I was 15 a Sosoliso flight from Abuja to Port Harcourt crashed and killed sixty of my peers. This was in 2005. Today in London, we had a memorial service for the sixty and I was the class of 2007's representative. The above is what I wrote and read. I was more shaky and emotional than I thought I'd be but that is neither here nor there. I didn't read the line about Onyeka's balls on the field. We were in a church. It was not the time or the place.
I would be remiss if I didn't say a word about Kechi, the sole survivor from Loyola.
In the years since, she has been a bastion of strength. I do not know that many would have had the strength to go through the ordeal that her recovery was and come out as resilient. Her courage should be an inspiration to all. She is without a doubt, the strongest person I know.
I wrote this in 2015 to mark the tenth year since that tragic day. It’ll be 15 years since that terrible day in December soon.
Sometimes words are not enough to truly explain. What can I say? That I think of them everyday? That I’d give anything to not have had to experience it the way I did? Too far from the story to have died in the incident, but too close to it to have experienced it the way most of you did: looking from the outside in.
The thing is I’m not alone here. Too many Nigerians have lived through tragedies like this: Completely preventable incidents of chaotic madness.
It’s been 15 years, but every day I think of that disgusting day, I reel. My mind struggles to imagine everything that must have gone wrong for that day to happen. Do you know that as my friends burned in the wreckage A fire truck arrived to bear witness. The truck had no water with which to put out the flames - a very Nigerian tragedy.
The saddest thing about that day is that it changed nothing. Their deaths counted for nothing. The country is just as rotten now as it was then. It is still commonplace for the fire service to arrive on the scene with nothing to offer but the very human innate ability to bear witness.
It is the 12th of June today. My bank’s sent me greetings. Happy Democracy day it said. Forgive me if I don’t say it back.
I’m Nigerian, it’s a fact. My parents are Nigerian, that too is a fact. I wear the country on my sleeve. It is a responsibility. It is a challenge. Living here is very often more curse than blessing. I have nothing to be happy about. Tell me honestly, how different is our democracy from our history from military rule? Is it different enough? Is this version of Nigeria the Nigeria we want? I hope not. Happiness implies some level of contentment. I am not content.