It was a St. Valentine’s Day tragedy on Saturday in Rivers State when top female politicians from Bayelsa State were burnt to death in a ghastly motor accident along the East-west road while returning to Yenagoa from a political meeting with the First Lady, Patience Jonathan.
The tragic death of the 11 women leaders comprising a former member of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly from Brass Local Government Area and Special Adviser to the state governor, Mrs. Ruth Benjamin; a former Commissioner for Women Affairs in the administration of Governor Timipre Sylva, Hon. Gimbra Panowei; wife of the Secretary to the Bayelsa State Government, Mrs. Elizabeth Allison-Oguru; and a women’s leader from Otuoke community in Ogbia Local Government Area, Mrs. Consider Amadi, occurred at the Ahoada/Elele section of the East-West road in Rivers State.
Also killed in the accident was the wife of the owner of a popular Montessori school known as Ayakpo International School, Mrs. Inamamu Ayakpor.
However, mother luck was on the side of one of the women and former Bayelsa State Commissioner, Ebisinte Ayabowei, who survived the accident.
THISDAY gathered that the former Commissioner for Transport, Mrs. Marie Ebikake, who was recently sacked by Governor Seriake Dickson for belonging to the Patience Jonathan political faction in the state and was also in Okrika, the hometown of the first lady, on a private visit, but was reported to have driven back to Yenagoa in a separate vehicle and escaped the ill-fated journey.
The women were members of a non-governmental group known as Women for Change Initiatives and members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
They were said to have escorted the president's wife to the Port Harcourt airport before heading back to Yenagoa when they met their untimely death.
According to preliminary reports, the Bayelsa Commander of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Vincent Jack, said 29 passengers in three separate vehicles were involved in the accident.
Eighteen persons were reported injured while 11 others were burnt beyond recognition.
The three vehicles involved in the accident were identified as a Toyota Hiace bus with registration number GBB591FS, a Toyota Siena vehicle with registration number ABU640AE and a Toyota Highlander SUV with registration number YEN 371RJ.
The FRSC attributed the cause of the accident to burst tyre on one of the vehicles. “The injured were taken to Madonna Hospital in Elele by the police who were the first to arrive the scene of the accident. The corpse of one dead women was deposited at Oepdem Mortuary in Ahoada while police took another corpse to Rumuji.
Nine others were burnt beyond recognition,” the FRSC explained.
A top member of the women’s group, under condition of anonymity, also told journalists: “We met at Patience Jonathan’s home in Okrika community, and after the brief meeting with the first lady, they were supposed to go back on Friday.
“But when the first lady met them at the Port Harcourt airport the next day, she was surprised that they were still around.
“The women who were in a jolly mood replied the first lady that they had wanted to make sure that ‘mummy’ leave for Abuja before they returned to Yenagoa. That was the last we saw of them.”
Reacting to the incident, the Bayelsa governor expressed deep pains, shock and grief over the death of the wife of the Secretary to the State Government and a group of prominent Bayelsa women involved in the fatal road accident.
In a statement signed by his chief press secretary, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, Dickson described the incident as tragic, a monumental and painful loss to the state, calling the women who lost their lives “our mothers and sisters”.
The governor prayed to God to grant the bereaved families the courage and strength to bear the very painful and irreparable losses.
Meanwhile, a Government House statement added that all official engagements of the governor had been suspended for three days as a mark of honour and respect for the souls of the departed women.
The government statement was however silent on the relationship of the women with the first lady.
A political leader from Ogbia Local Government and the state assembly standard-bearer of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Tonye Okio, also expressed shock over the accident, describing it as a huge loss to the people of the state.
Also, members of the state chapter of the Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN) led by the former deputy governor of the state, Hon. Werinipre Seibarogu, were early callers to the bereaved families in the state capital.