•Two years after death of only son
By Tony Ogaga Erhariefe
It was a grey and wet morning. It had been drizzling and ominous dark clouds hung on the horizon threatening to unleash a deluge. I kept praying and hoping against hope that Mother Nature would hold back its watery fury until I made it to the home of the Ezeonos’ located in Irepodun Estate, Igando, Lagos.
However, as I knocked on the massive black gates, the rain began its watery dance and I could have been soaked to my underwear but for providence.
For months I had repeatedly heard the inspiring story of the Ezeonos’ at St. John Catholic Church, Igando, Lagos. Only a couple of weeks earlier, in a thanksgiving ceremony that included a massive reception for the entire parish tagged “The Fabulous Four”, the family had celebrated the one year anniversary of their bundles of joy. Somebody had taken an advert in the church bulletin with a picture of the couple cuddling their infants, and guess what? The bulletins were sold out: a rare feat at the parish.
It was a smiling Ezeono who ushered me into his home, a two-storey duplex painted in cream. As I made myself comfortable, I couldn’t help but notice the Sacred Heart altar, which dominated a section of the living room with the perpetual candle light burning.
I was anxious for the interview to kick off and the exchange of pleasantries seemed to last forever. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Ezeono cleared his throat and began to speak, his baritone voice reverberating, holding me spellbound.
“I don’t know how much you know about us at the parish, but it all began in 2010. We were returning from the village…”
Three months earlier…
At St. John Catholic Church, Igando, the Ezeonos’ are the poster family. Blessed with two kids and relatively successful, they belonged to most of the societies and never hesitated to make monetary donations whenever an opportunity sprang up.
So, three months earlier, when the parish priest summoned Ezeono to a meeting prior to the family’s departure for the village, he probably thought it was church business as usual!
“I thought the priest wanted to discuss parish issues but what he asked me was, ‘must you travel this December?’ I told him it was important, but if God says no, who am I to travel?” Ezeono recalled.
However, justifying reasons why he had to travel, he explained to his parish priest that in the immediate past month he had been elected General Chairman of his village meeting and his first assignment was to organise a dinner so they could raise funds for pressing projects, and the dinner was slated for the Christmas season when most sons and daughters of Akpo would come home. Also, his age grade group, Ofuobi, was marking its 20th anniversary and he was chairman of the organizing and planning committee.
“I had too many projects for that December, so I told the Rev Fr, ‘this is what is taking us to the village.’ And he replied, ‘somebody said he had a dream about your family and that people from the church were coming to commiserate with you and you were not crying.’
“So, I said, ‘father, this is a dream. You can pray for me.’ Father said he had started praying and he gave us prayers to say.”
However, something strange happened on the Saturday preceding their journey to the village. Ezeono had a dramatic fall that shocked him out of his wits!
“We had attended morning mass as usual. The floor was obviously slippery and as I stepped out of the door I slipped and fell. It was so dramatic! Within a couple of seconds, a crowd had gathered around me. I was so shaken and embarrassed!
“It was my son, Chude, who lifted me up. I related it to the dream Rev Fr had revealed to me earlier. So, we kept praying and thought that it was all over.”
January 7, 2010
The journey from the village that morning of January 7 had been without any incident. Mrs. Ezeono was looking forward to resuming her job as a school teacher in Lagos, while her husband was looking forward to returning to his business after achieving so much in the village and, of course, Chudi was dreaming of his masters in the UK.
As they hit Agbor, home was just a few hours away. Little did they know what was in store, stalking and waiting to pounce. And as they cruised on the ever busy highway en route Umunede, hell finally let loose on them!
The scene that followed could be described as one from a James Bond thriller. The only difference was that the ‘actors’ were real!
Though, the whole thing did not last longer than 20 seconds, it left a trail of what the late Afro-beat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, would describe as ‘sorrow, tears and blood’.
For some strange reason, a policeman dashed across the road and began waving at them frantically, forcing the vehicle in front of Mr. Ezeono’s SUV to screech to a halt. Ezeono only had a few seconds to decide whether to ram into it and probably kill everyone on board the SUV, or to swerve off the road. He chose the latter, believing he could pull it off!
However, as he stepped on his brakes to begin the hair-raising maneouvre, his back tyre busted and he lost control of the wheels as the SUV swerved and somersaulted, rolling over four times before coming to rest (belly up) in the bush!
Valley of the shadow of death
Thanks to seat belts; they could have been flung out of the windows like the others, but Ezeono and his wife were trapped in the front seats of the mangled vehicle. Luckily, passers-by and fellow road users came to their rescue. While the others with Chudi were soon found and rescued with minor injuries, Chudi was nowhere to be found!
However, a search party soon found him seriously injured, but there was no vehicle to quickly convey him to the hospital.
“Everybody fell out. It was only my wife and I that were left in the car, because we were wearing seat belts. After they rescued us, I expected they would take us to the hospital because my boy was bleeding. I kept shouting for someone to help me with a car, but nobody responded. By the time policemen went to do a U-turn and rushed us to the hospital, he had started foaming in the mouth and ears.
“In my time, I have rescued more than five accident victims, who were bleeding after ghastly accidents, and they all survived,” Ezeono’s baritone voice reverberated, bouncing off the walls with a soft painful ring, “now I was watching my own son as he was bleeding. I was scared he was going to die. I kept shouting and shouting for people to please help me with a vehicle so I could convey him to hospital, but all they kept saying was, ‘baba, no worry, nothing go do your pikin.’”
Hospital, at last
As they approached Agbor General Hospital, Mr. Ezeono obviously became hopeful; at last, Chudi would be treated. However, in shock Ezeono listened as the doctor on duty explained that there was nothing he could do because the hospital had neither drugs nor equipment to handle accident emergencies!
“But, I think he could have done something if they had oxygen, but that hospital had nothing! It was sad because it is strategically located. A lot of accidents happen on that road, so it should have been equipped to handle such emergencies,” lamented Ezeono.
Consequently, he was forced to watch helplessly as life slowly ebbed out of his only son and heir apparent. He cradled his dying son in his arms and wept, praying, hoping for a miracle, but Alas! The shining star of the family, Chudi, soon breathed his last and gave up the ghost.
Losing a 22-year-old son is traumatic, but what happens when that son is an only heir around whom you have built your life around? Ezeono was distraught, his wife was inconsolable.
“He was a promising boy,” he said, pausing for a while. The room was so silent you could hear a pin drop. “He was to resume for his masters at London Metropolitan University on January 26 and he died on January 7 in my arms. I was in total shock!
“I informed the doctors that I was hypertensive. They took measurements and were alarmed with the results and instantly recommended drugs. I had to part with N3,000 to purchase drugs and bandages because the hospital had neither.”
Mother in sorrow
“I do not know where the grace and strength to pull through came from. I won’t call it courage because I have never been a courageous person; it was only God’s grace. My husband held him in his arms as he bled to death,” Mrs. Ezeono said, recounting her agony as she watched her only son die.
“I sustained serious injury. Everything around me was spinning. They had to bring me down from the hospital bed and lay me on the ground. It was so numbing. For a long while after the accident I kept asking my husband, ‘where is Chudi?’ I was in denial; I just couldn’t believe he was dead! We tried to cry, but tears wouldn’t come. I tried to sing mournful songs, but only praises would come out of my mouth.
“I clung unto my rosary. I consoled myself by asking, ‘what did Our Lady do the day Jesus Christ died?’ I told myself that, at least, God still left a daughter for me, but Our Lady had nobody and that was why Jesus handed her over to St. John. I took consolation from that. I said, ‘God, you have been so nice to me. If this is a little test, give me the grace not to fail.”
A couple of weeks later, family, friends and well-wishers came together to bid Chudi goodbye. Indeed, it was a tearful ceremony. Sons and daughters wept, while fathers and mothers reminisced on Chudi’s person. A dark cloud had descended; St. John Catholic Church, Igando, was in mourning.
Chudi was a kid who loved Gospel music, rather than sing mournful dirges, the parents had given strict instructions that nobody was to cry or sing mournful songs. And so his funeral turned out to be a praise worship ceremony!
However, as the days rolled by, the memories continued to haunt the family and they began to ask questions. How could God allow such a misfortune befall them? How could God abandon them? Why?
In public they refused to cry and kept up a courageous front by being cheerful. However, when the Ezeonos’ got back home every night, they collapsed into each other’s arms and wept.
If the Ezeonos thought with the burial of their son their challenges were over, they were wrong! They were still battling to come to terms with the sudden passage of the star of the family when something fresh began to happen.
It began with just a small discussion about what Ezeono described as ‘mischief makers’, but spread like wildfire, and within a couple of days, rumour began flying around that the elder Ezeono had used his only child for money rituals!
While this was going on, Ezeono went about his business as usual in the church oblivious of the ‘wicked’ rumours around him. It was weeks later that he finally got wind of it, and when he did, he went berserk!
“I was so angry. How could people be so destructive and malicious? I was going about the church doing my own bit. Little did I know that people were saying all kinds of terrible things about me! Mischief makers originated the story and they started spreading it. They said I had used my son, my only son, for money rituals!
“I heard the parish priest was even aware and I was disappointed, because I felt he should have asked or informed me. I confronted him and he admitted hearing the rumour, but said he asked the lady who whispered the wicked rumour to him to get out of his car immediately she told him!
“Wouldn’t it be stupid if I killed my only son to make money?” Ezeono queries rhetorically, “who will I keep the money for? Who will inherit the money? Probably, I killed him to dash them (rumour mongers) my wealth.
“As you can see, I have just a boy and a girl. How could I kill my only boy after training him to university level? How could I use my heir apparent for money rituals? That tells you how unreasonable people can be.
…And more trials
Meanwhile, in the village, a new problem was brewing. Mrs. Ezeono disclosed that her husband’s relatives and friends had surreptitiously approached him, offering him another wife because, as they put it, ‘your wife is too old to bear children.’ They argued that because of his achievements and role in his family, he needed a worthy male heir to carry on the family’s name.
“We were still in the village after Chudi’s burial when people started calling. They told my husband not to worry about me because I was already too old to have babies. They said they would get him an under-16 girl that would deliver beautiful boys for him. All he had to do was rent an apartment for her.
“When my husband rebuffed them because of his Christian beliefs, some said, ‘listen, I am also a knight in the church. Don’t you know that your position in the family is important? We love your wife, but what can you do? She is old. You can rent or buy a house for a small girl and keep her there and your wife wouldn’t be the wiser, while she makes baby boys for you. Are you the only one who is a Christian?”
She disclosed that virtually everything under the sun was suggested to her husband, including using juju to reclaim his ‘lost possessions’.
“Another set said, ‘come, we will take you to a herbalist that would help you. Everything you have lost would be restored to you. The shocking thing was that some of these men were knights in the church! And that’s the reason I can’t stop thanking my husband for standing by me! I wanted to replace our lost son. I was 50 already, way beyond child-bearing age. What was I to do?
“People were sending me all kinds of nasty text messages and I took them to the Blessed Sacrament and said, ‘Daddy, you can see, people are already calling You names, so Daddy, protect your name. I have no name to protect. I told you on that day, ‘wake this boy up or else people are going to call you names.’ Now, see the names they are calling You. They are saying that I have used Your son for money rituals.’ We felt so bad by the betrayal and decided to withdraw from church activities.”
However, it was during this period that the Sacred Heart Society whose membership comprised staunch believers, held an event.
“Somehow, my husband and I found ourselves there again when the society anchored an event; a fund raiser. Members were called to come put and pick an item and tell God whatever they wanted and it shall be granted to them. So, my husband went, donated a sum and picked an apple after which he picked a piece of paper and on it was written, Luke 18 Verse 27, which says: ‘That which is impossible for man is possible for God, I will restore you.’ We came back and used it as our prayer point and prayed over it.”
Later, while cleaning the store of her home, she saw a picture of Jesus Christ with five children around him. In excitement she dusted it up and placed it in the living room next to the Sacred Heart altar and joked with her husband that the children with Jesus in the picture are the kids God had promised her.
“Each time we prayed I told my husband, ‘look at our kids. God is going to give us five children.’ The kids in the picture were so lovely I kept praying that God should give me such beautiful children.”
Baby, and more babies
Faced with the vacuum created by Chudi’s exit, the family considered adoption. After extensive debate, they resorted to fertility treatment. However, they were advised that because of her age she did not stand a chance, but they remained resolute and determined. Eventually, a miracle happened. At the age of 51, a year after the tragedy, in a move that baffled her doctors, Mrs. Ezeono got pregnant, 22 years after she had her last baby!
Mr. Ezeono captured the joy of the moment thus: “The doctor that treated her said it was the miracle of the millennium. Nobody gave her a chance! We were overwhelmed with joy. After the first scan, they said it was only one child and we were told to come back a week later. When we went back, they did another scan and said there were twins, with instructions to come back a week later.
“A week later we were back and they said they were triplets! They said we should go and come back in a week’s time, and when we did, they said it was quadruplets! However, they said they could hear a fifth heartbeat. They could be five! A week later we did another scan and it was confirmed that my wife had five babies growing in her womb!
“Five babies?” Ezeono asks rhetorically, as a smile plays on his features. “We couldn’t believe this was happening! At best, we were hoping for a child. With luck and a lot of prayers, twins, but five babies were beyond our wildest imagination!”
Reduce or die
However, their joy was threatened! The doctors disclosed that because of age, Mrs. Ezeono wouldn’t be able to bring the pregnancy to term. The only way forward was to abort three of the fetuses!
“We were still rejoicing at the hospital when we noticed that the doctors were wearing long faces. We had expected they would be rejoicing and congratulating us, but the reverse was the case and I started wondering, ‘what was wrong?’”
Mrs. Ezeono continued: “They said, ‘madam, it is five. At this age you can’t make it. You may lose all the babies and even lose your own life! The only way you can make it is to go through reduction. You have to terminate three fetuses!’”
Act of faith
The news hit the couple like a ton of bricks, shattering their dreams. But moved by a firm belief that whatever God has started, the same He would bring to a happy ending, Mr. Ezeono queried the doctors: “Which one would you terminate? Did you put them there? Are you going to terminate the reverend father or the reverend sister? Are you going to terminate the doctor, governor or president? The doctors were looking at me; they couldn’t give me an answer. My wife told them point blank, ‘I am not going to terminate anyone of my babies. We are Catholics; we don’t believe in abortion.’
“So, eventually, we were told that we should come and get referral letter to go and reduce. They warned that I would lose all the babies if I didn’t reduce. They showed us the size of my uterus and explained that because of my age, the children would slowly die because I would not be able to supply them enough oxygen.
“They insisted that if per chance I survived, the babies were going to be born deformed and die. They put so much pressure on us, but we kept reminding them that we were Catholics. They even argued that the Pope would grant us a dispensation, so we said ‘okay, we are going to think about it.’”
“They made an appointment that we should go to India for reduction. They warned that if the pregnancy exceeded 12 weeks, it couldn’t be done again and that would put me in mortal danger, so we purposely stayed away until it was 14 weeks.
“We came back home and went before the altar and called on Jesus: ‘is it true that anything you start you complete? The doctors marvelled when I conceived and declared it ‘the miracle of the millennium,’ so why is this happening? What type of malformed and deformed miracle is this?”
Mrs. Ezeono said her next ante-natal was at Marian Shrine, Maryland, where she spent her entire birthday, praying and beseeching God for a miracle.
“I knew the strength to carry the babies were not mine but our Lady’s. I only begged her that while I would be the one people would see carrying the pregnancy; she would be the one that would actually carry it. Sometimes, when it rained, I would lay in the pool of water, open my belly and cry unto Mother Mary, ‘there is nothing one would sincerely request from the Trinity that will not be granted.”
Fears of a husband
Despite the faith they displayed, Ezeono still had his fears: “My fears were mostly for my wife’s health. If anything happened to her, I would be sad for the rest of my life. People would blame me and say, ‘what was he looking for after 23 years.’”
India, at last
Finally, it dawned on the doctors that the Ezeonos were not interested in reduction and were determined to put God to the test, and so they gave up. However, they recommended a hospital in India where they believed that if ever it was possible, the babies could be hopefully delivered.
The Ezeonos departed Nigeria on February 21, 2011. The plan had been for Mr. Ezeono to be by her side until she stabilizes and then he would return to Nigeria to face his business. However, he abandoned his business and remained by her side, praying, fasting and visiting the Blessed Sacrament.
Finally, against all odds, the children were delivered at Bombay Hospital, Mumbai, on May 3. Though they were born at 32 weeks, miraculously they were all in good shape. At age 52, Mrs. Ezeono was delivered of five healthy babies; two boys and three girls!
A mum’s joy at 52
“If you were in my shoes,” Mrs. Ezeono asks, “what would you do?” Tears of joy streamed down her cheeks as she speaks. “Up till now, it is still like a dream. My husband was by me all the way. They came out of incubator and they asked us to go. The calculation was that they will spend one month in the incubator, but they spent only two weeks. So, when we got to the hotel room, we couldn’t believe it! We were counting them and dancing.”
So popular was the story of the 52-year-old Nigerian woman who gave birth to quintuplets, the hospital became a tourist site as people came from far and wide to witness firsthand the miracle and the parish priest and the community gave them a lot of gifts, including a bust of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
In gratitude to her husband, Mrs. Ezeono says: “My husband was everything to me; my stomach was so big he cleaned me up, fed me and washed me. When the babies came, I was so tired I couldn’t feed them, but he would put the breasts in their mouths.”
How does it feel having five kids at the age of 52?
“My dear, from the names we gave to these children you should know my strength came from nowhere but God. The first child is a boy, so we gave him our late son’s name, Chukwudi Ebere Emeka. The second boy’s name was Onyelukachukwu, which means who performs like God, but he later died. He was followed by Rosary, because the Rosary was our only weapon. It was in India that they came to appreciate my Thank You Jesus rosary. Next was Azanam, and finally Nnechukwu.”
Like in tradition, the Ezeonos received a lot of gifts on their return to Nigeria. But the one that made the greatest impact was the quantity of diapers they got. It was so much they had to clear a whole room to store them and it was more than 12 months after that they had need to purchase diapers.
A year after
Today, the four surviving kids are waxing stronger and the Ezeonos are amazed at their growth.
“These kids are healthy. None of them is physically or mentally challenged. I never cease to be amazed at what they do. When we wanted to introduce them to cereals, we bought Cerelac, but none of them accepted it. They were contented with akamu, so the cost of feeding was slashed.
“Now they eat ewedu, spinach, semovita and noodles. I have three nannies plus my mother. My husband has an office; I don’t know when last he was there,” says Mrs. Ezeono, as the couple laughed joyfully