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Great grief as minister, wife, son die in auto crash




Buhari, APC, leaders mourn Ocholi, family

Shock and disbelief – the country could not have lost its minister, wife and son to a motor accident. But the grisly scene stared the nation in the face: on the road were the lifeless bodies of the victims and their mangled vehicle. The Minister of State for Labour, James Ocholi (SAN), his wife and son were killed in the crash on the Abuja-Kaduna road yesterday.

Ocholi and his son were said to have died on the spot while his wife who was rushed to a Doka clinic, a few kilometres from Kaduna, died later. A family source said the accident involved a Prado Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) and another Lexus SUV.

A witness, whose car was behind the minister’s when the accident occurred, said the late Ocholi’s vehicle had a burst tyre before somersaulting several times.

President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed sadness at the tragedy. In a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu in Abuja, Buhari described the minister’s death as untimely, regretting that Nigeria had lost a key component of the change agenda. The National Secretariat of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has said it received news of Ocholi’s death with great shock .

The Kogi government has declared three days of mourning for Ocholi whose death the governor Yahaya Bello described as a monumental loss to the state and Nigeria at large. The Kaduna State government also expressed grief and shocK.

Buhari said: “Barrister Ocholi was an accomplished and patriotic Nigerian, who was keen to accept the call to service at a time his country needed him.”

Buhari added that “in the few months he had been in office, the late minister of state had already begun to distinguish himself through his commitment and dedication to his portfolio. The entire country mourns the loss of this great man, who has sadly left us when we need him most.”

The APC National Secretary, Mai Mala Buni in a condolence message said the late Ocholi who was the party’s former Deputy National Legal Adviser would be remembered for his selfless service to his home state Kogi and the country.
While extending his condolences to the people and government of Kogi State, Buni prayed to the Almighty God to grant Ocholi’s immediate family the fortitude to bear the painful loss.

In a statement by the Special Adviser to Governor Bello on Media and Strategy, Mallam Abdulkarim Abdulmalik noted in Lokoja yesterday that the governor eulogised the late Ocholi as “a pragmatic, dynamic, humane and brilliant law officer, who was known around the world for his dexterous approach to legal and political issues. He was one of the most unswerving constitutional lawyers Nigeria has ever produced.”

In a statement, Mallam Samuel Aruwan , media aide to Governor Nasir El Rufai said: “The state government extends its heartfelt condolences to President Muhammadu Buhari and the Ocholi family.”

The government said that the minister died at a critical time of contributing his quota to ongoing national rebirth and the realisation of the change agenda.

The bodies of the crash victims were brought to the National Hospital, Abuja by officials of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC). The bodies  of the minister and his son were deposited at the mortuary at 6:48 p.m. with two FRSC vehicles, an ambulance with registration number A01 0637RS and an escort pick-up van with registration number A01 736RS. That of his wife was brought about one hour, thirty minutes later.

At the National Hospital, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir David Lawal, stated that the three family members were killed in the crash about 3:00 p.m.

He said: “I will like to confirm that about 3:00 p.m. today (yesterday), the Minister of State for Labour, James Ocholi (SAN), was involved in a motor accident along Kaduna-Abuja road. In this accident, the minister lost his life, his son also lost his life, and the wife also lost her life.

“It is a very sad day indeed for Nigeria, as this has never happened and President Muhammadu Buhari is in shock, all members of the Federal Executive Council are in shock and indeed all Nigerians are in shock.
“The president wants us to extend his condolence to Nigerians, the people of Kogi State and the immediate family of James Ocholi. Personally I have known Ocholi for more than 20 years, we have been friends, both in politics and in Christian service. And I am indeed personally saddened by this and cannot begin to express the grief that we all face.

“Now the bodies have been recovered and deposited in the mortuary and we are waiting for the immediate family and the government for the next line of action. May God comfort all of us Nigerians.”

In his reaction, the chairman, Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory, Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West), told journalists his last discussion with Ocholi yesterday morning.

He said: “I am shocked, I am still in shock and in pains. I spoke with him this morning and we agreed that we were going to have a chat when he came back from Kaduna. We have lost somebody, we have lost a great Nigerian, we have lost an intellectual and lawyer. We have lost a great Kogite. I am shocked.

“His death is a major setback for Nigeria because the intellectual sagacity and contribution of Ocholi cannot be quantified. It is painful. When we spoke, we discussed issues that related to the development of Kogi State. We discussed issues that related to the socio-economic development of our state. We discussed issues relating to the political development of Kogi State. It is unfortunate that we have lost a great son and Nigerian.”

Other dignitaries who were at the National Hospital included the Minister of Labour, Dr. Chris Ngige; Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole; Minister of State for Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire; Chief Medical Director of National Hospital, Dr. Jafaru Momoh; and spokesperson of the hospital, Dr. Tayo Haastrup

Others were Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN); Minister of Environment, Aisha Mohammed; legal practitioner, Festus Keyamo; and Commissioner of Police in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Wilson Inalegwu.

Ocholi who was born on November 26, 1960 to  the Momoh Odoh family of Idah, in present-day Kogi State. He graduated as a lawyer from the University of Jos in 1985 and was admitted to the Nigerian Bar in 1986.He who was appointed Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 2006 . He was the very first Minister of State for Labour and Productivity as the ministry had not had a junior minister before him.

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