Yesterday, Nigerians were plunged into deep grief following the sudden death of Barrister James Ocholi, the minister of state for labour, in a car crash on his way to Kaduna, after taking off with his family from Abuja.
None of his family members survived the accident that occurred some 45km away from Kaduna, as his son and wife also died with him.
Ordinarily, such death would have passed as one of those daily occurrences, especially on Nigerian highways, but given the fact that the person involved was a serving minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the news went viral. Kogi State is yet to fully recover from the sudden death of Prince Abubakar Audu who died recently on the verge of winning the governorship seat.
Of course, even as a minister, Nigerians would still have put his demise behind them in matter of days, because his was probably not the first of its kind. Many other top government and public officers had passed on in similar manner.
But Ocholi’s death brings to fore a very disturbing trend in Kogi State politics – sudden deaths of politicians – mostly in car crashes.
No one questions nature when it comes to life and death, but in this context, especially as it relates to unfolding political developments in the Confluence State, craves deeper reflection.
Since the return of democracy in 1999, Kogi’s checkered political history has been dotted with cases of sudden deaths of politicians, especially those with their eyes on bigger public offices in the state.
Barrister Ocholi, now of blessed memory, who became a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 2007, was a governorship aspirant in Kogi State in 2011 on the platform of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).
He later became deputy national legal adviser of the new All Progressives Congress (APC). He renewed his ambition of becoming a governor of his state in the last general election but lost the bid at the APC gubernatorial primary election, to the now late Abubakar Audu.
President Buhari appointed him minister in 2015, a position held till yesterday.
Ocholi’s demise came barely three months after the death of Late Prince Abubakar Audu, his arch-rival at the Kogi State APC gubernatorial primary, who gave up ghost on the brink of winning the last governorship election, which resulted in the emergence of the current of Governor Yahaya Bello as a replacement.
Audu’s death was a huge shock to Nigerians and the people of Kogi State in particular. Many of his admirers are yet to get over the tremor of the unusual way he departed this world. The former governor Audu was somehow the face of Kogi State politics and leader of the Igalas.
Before Audu’s death, Kogi had mourned several other deaths of prominent politicians in various motor accidents.
One of the prominent Kogi figures also killed in an auto crash was a political heavy weight in the person of the late Steven Achema who died in a ghastly car crash near Murtala Bridge along Lokoja- Abuja road on November 16, 1999.
Achema was a known political adversary of the late Prince Audu during the 1991 general elections.
Audu was of the defunct NRC while late Achema was the defunct SDP’s governorship candidate in the state.
Another prominent politician in Kogi State whose life was extinguished in a car accident was Late Senator Ahmed Tijjani Ahmed – popular known as A.T. Ahmed. He was elected Senator in a short-lived democratic experience in 1991 under the platform of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP), before it was later truncated by the military.
With the return of democracy in 1998, the late A.T. Ahmed aspired to become the PDP governorship candidate for Kogi State. Ahmed competed with the late Achema, and Steve Oloruntoba but lost the ambition to Oloruntoba.
However, the late Prince Audu of the defunct ANPP defeated the PDP candidate. A.T. Ahmed later ran for the Senate in the same election and won for his party, PDP.
Late Ahmed sustained his quest to become governor of Kogi State all through the 2003 elections but without success. He later died in a car accident in June 2006 while he was leading the campaign for power shift in the state.
In October 2006, the then Speaker of Kogi State House of Assembly, Muhammed Shaaba, was reported to have suddenly died after a brief stomach upset. Shaaba, who could not make it to the hospital before he gave up ghost, was billed to contest a House of Reps’ seat in the state. As a matter of fact, the 42-year-old speaker was expected to flag off his campaign in his Kupa Ward on the day he died.
Another Kogi Prominent female politician, Nana Ojeba, who made history as the only female legislator in the state House of Assembly, died in a road accident in 2004.
Another state lawmaker in Kogi who was taken by road accident in 2006 was Hon Mohammed Onusagba. The Ebira-born politician was aspiring to become governor of the state when he met his sudden death on the highway while traveling between Lokoja and Kano.
Also, the late Rapheal Adegbola, a then shining political star from Ogori-Magongo local government, died in a ghastly accident along Okene-Lokoja road in November 1998.
Other known politicians killed by car accident were a House of Representatives aspirant, Samuel Bagudu; chairman, Bassa local government area, Luke Shigaba, and a Commissioner for Commerce and Industry in the state, Hon Dan Kadiri.
LEADERSHIP recalls that two governors of the state, Idris Wada and Ibrahim Idris, had at different times, during their tenures, escaped death via car accident.
The immediate past Governor of Kogi State, Idris Wada suffered a ghastly accident that claimed the life of his Aide De Camp (ADC) while he was left with major fracture in his leg. His predecessor, Ibrahim Idris, had a terrific accident during the last election near Oshagbamu on his way to Ida.
The accident that claimed the lives of Barrister James Ocholi and that of his son and wife has rekindled the concerns of Nigerian who are asking – what exactly is happening in Kogi State?
Death, according to popular beliefs, is inevitable. But when its trend becomes serial, there are raised eyebrows.
Kogi is the most central state in the geography of Nigeria. It is the closest state to Abuja when traveling south. The state is amongst few states of Nigeria that do not have an airport, a reason why most of the politicians from the state travel by road each time they have to go out of the state.