The residents of Oleg’oke in Ikobi community of Apa LGA of Benue State had yet to come to terms with the tragic death of 12 members of a family all of who died allegedly after they consumed a meal of sesame (beniseed) soup. Daily Trust on Sunday reports.
Medics are also battling to unravel the cause of the tragedy which befell a Benue community, particularly the families of Ayigoche and Ayigoga which lost 12 loved ones.
Our correspondent gathered that the first five persons—a grandmother, her two adult children, a grandson and daughter-in-law—died on September 5 while the remaining seven, bringing the number to 12, died on November 14.
It was learnt that the first incident occurred after the five deceased ate a chicken-baked meal while the second incident happened after Mary, a grand-daughter of the deceased grandmother, took beniseed from that same house to cook for the seven people, including herself, who all died after eating the food.
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The 12 deceased excluding the grandmother are; Adi Ale, Ochefije Ojo, Maria Ojo, Aipu Ochefije, Aboyi Ngbede Ochefije, Mary Ochoyoda, Ehi Abu, Blessing Abu, Peace Ochoyoda, Ojochono Daniel and Favour Edoh.
Luckily, five people survived the second incident which claimed seven lives because they were taken from the village to the Benue State University Teaching Hospital (BSUTH) in Makurdi where they received treatment.
The survivors are; Ibrahim Elaigwu (husband), Joseph Ibrahim (teenager), Ojifioyi Ibrahim (teenager), Rose Ibrahim and Ojima Ibrahim who is the wife of Ibrahim Elaigwu.
There is also Ochoyoda Abu who is said to be the only survivor from the family of seven that died after he lost his wife (Mary), two sisters (Ehi and Blessing) and a daughter (Peace).
A relation of the survivors, Otache Jacob, told our correspondent in Makurdi, that Mary’s – grandmother, mother, father, sister and brother – had died in September. It was from same house she (Mary) got the beniseed.
In that instance, the first casualties were suspected to have died from eating a poisoned chicken meal. But, the second incident occurred after the consumption of a beniseed soup.
The contention, therefore, is that though they ate different meals within the space of three months, the alleged instruments of their death was from the same house so, according to Jacob, that’s why people are suspecting that the entire environment might have been poisoned by someone.
“It’s a devilish thing and nothing may show up in the course of investigation. Four of the survivors include my cousins and their mother,” Jacob said.
Narrating the incident, Ibrahim Elaigwu, a survivor, who said he is now perfectly well, admitted to have eaten the alleged poisoned food and was among those taken to the hospital in Makurdi where he received treatment.
He said, “But, the person (Mary) who cooked the food also died. We live together; so when the deceased woman cooked, she gave my wife some portion which I ate and immediately became ill.
“We are all well now. Some doctors came from Makurdi yesterday (Wednesday) and removed all the poisonous substance (food items) from the house which they took along with them and said they were going to do tests. Nobody lives in that house now.”
Ojima, his wife, explained that they were brought to the hospital after the meal they ate made them unwell but that they have now all recovered.
“It was the daughter of a deceased grandmother who fetched beniseed from the late women’s house, cooked it and gave to us. All those that ate the meal fell ill.
“We are back home as you can see. Seven people died as a result of the food but five of us survived it because we were brought to the teaching hospital in Makurdi on time and treated.
“We are all members of the same households; we do things together like communal eating so that was what affected us. God, however, had mercy on us and kept us alive while the others died. We are still pained by their deaths,” she said.
In the same vein, Jacob, a relative to four of the survivors stressed that the incident which happened in September and November could be likened to a tale of two villages in one community with close ties.
Jacob said, “A grandmother of the lady who cooked the ‘meal of death’ had died in September alongside four others in same house making them five.
“The said lady, Mary who was married to a man in the adjourning village of the same community, went there to check her late grandmother’s farm and on her way back went to the late woman’s house to clean it because it was deserted after the deaths which occurred there.
“She was in custody of the keys to the house so after the sanitation, she discovered a beniseed in one closed bucket which she carried to her husband’s house to prepare soup with and served same to people to eat.
“All 12 of them including herself who cooked ate the meal – seven of them from the same compound including the cook died. The survivors, who are my uncle’s household, were neighbours of the deceased family but ate part of the same meal.
“They were my uncle’s wife and three of their children – a boy and two girls – who however didn’t eat much. Also, a seven-year-old boy in the compound survived.
“They survived because they were rushed to BSUTH and treated. Some tests were also carried out on the said meal by medical personnel but we are yet to know the results.
“But, there are suspicion that someone used them (the five who died in September) for ritual purpose.”
On his part, the youth leader of Ikobi community, Ofu Alaidu, said when the incident first happened in September, they were all confused and didn’t know the cause.
He said when it happened again in November, it became clear to them that something more than meets the ordinary eyes. He recalled that the first incident involved a mother, her son, daughter-in-law, granddaughter and grandson – all whom died in the same house.
“All the villagers, therefore, came together and agreed to take an oath as our tradition demanded so as to fish out any suspicious character in the event it was the handiwork of someone and if no one was involved, we will leave the matter to the gods to unravel.
“However, the house where the latest incident happened did not turn up for the oath. Now, what happened where the fresh incident occurred was that, a grandmother had died in that house. After a while, the granddaughter of the deceased on her way back from farm entered the house of her deceased granny and collected sesame (beniseed) to prepare soup with in her own husband’s compound which was not far away.
“All the people that ate the soup died except five of others who were rushed to BSUTH, Makurdi who survived the ordeal after treatment.
“It was a deliberate act of food poisoning by somebody. We suspected that someone may have poisoned the food items in that particular household where the first incident had taken place and unknown to the woman who fetched beniseed from that same house to cook for others who later ate it and also died.
“We believe it was the hand of somebody because food cannot poison itself and the doer must be within the same family, in that same house where the genesis of the problem lies.
“Initially, there was no suspicion but the attitude of the people in that family raised villagers’ suspicions that they may know something about the matter. And their attitude showed at the first incident when elders of the community made all the villagers to gather to brainstorm on the root of the matter because such thing had never happened in the village before.
“At the meeting, it was agreed that an oath be taken to forestall future occurrence and the oath taking would begin with the family where the incident occurred and followed by the whole village members.
“So, the eldest man of the family was summoned to bring forward all people of his household because the oath taking will begin from their family since the incident occurred in their house but they refused to come,” he narrated.
The youth leader, while commenting on the house being burnt, said it was around 2am – 3am that they noticed a fire at the compound but that they did not know the cause of the fire.
“It was in the midnight that we saw the fire just like that. Nobody knew the cause. I’m not from that side of the village so I don’t know,” Alaidu said.
Our correspondent reports that the news of the incident spread wide when a former commissioner for Youth and Sports Development in the state, Comrade Ojotu Ojema, visited the bereaved families at Oleg’oke last Sunday to condole with them.
Ojema had in his condolence message to the Ayigoche and Ayigoga families urged them to take solace in God.
An acting beaded Chief of Ikobi, Chief Musa Audi through the secretary, Ikobi Traditional Council, Abogonye Ochola John, thanked Ojema for coming as he narrated the calamity that befell the community.
He said that the incident remained a mystery, noting however that except for God’s intervention, there could have been a total turmoil as the situation degenerated to suspicion, hatred and a blame game among families in the community.
Professor Mohammed Adah, the traditional ruler of Ikobi community in Apa LGA told our correspondent by phone that the incident was being investigated, noting that suspicion about alleged poisoning heightened when five of the deceased died at the same time in the community.
He said experts had been invited from the state’s ministry of health to investigate the causes leading to the multiple deaths and that the results of the investigations were yet to be made available to the community.
Adah added that the locals are tackling the matter because there were those who also took ill and have recovered after they were taken to the government hospital and have since returned home.
State Epidemiologist, Dr Sam Ngishe, also told our correspondent on the phone that investigation into the matter was ongoing and that the results would be made available publicly when the tests are completed.
He confirmed that five persons who ate the suspected meal recovered after treatment at the teaching hospital.
Meanwhile, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), SP Catherine Anene, said the family members died on Monday, November 14, adding that seven of the victims were confirmed dead on the same day.
Anene said, “About three months ago, somebody died in that particular house so on the 14th day of this month, a woman went to the house, cleaned the house and removed the foodstuffs from there which she prepared and 12 people ate and suffered stomach ache.
“Seven people died that same day and five were taken to the hospital and they survived. Investigation is ongoing.”