A day with other victims of Abuja NAF jet crash
Elizabeth Elijah, 15, lives in a room with her family in Jikoko, a community in Bwari Area Council, Abuja. The first of five children of a farmer and food vendor has been out of school for two years due to the inability of the parents to raise N36,000 school fees. She now supports her parents and cares for her siblings, including a oneyear-old. At least twice in a week, she goes to distant forests to fetch firewood which her mother uses to cook the rice and beans she sells.
Friday, September 28 2018, Elizabeth had gone to fetch wood, when two Nigerian Air Force (NAF) jets crashed, leaving one of the pilots dead. She told Daily Trust Saturday that it happened in the company of her brother James and a neighbour. She said they initially thought the parachutes were balloons, and while they watched, the explosion from one of the jets crashing pushed them down with force. They got up, afraid, and as they ran, a fragment of the jet’s fuselage struck the teen.
Elizabeth, in Pidgin English, narrated: “There was something like fire inside my leg, and the iron that hit me was very hot. Nobody fit hold am.” She cried, and shouted for help. “Some children now came, and one girl then tried removing the iron but it was very hot so she could not touch it. She used a wrapper, a rag on my body to hold the iron before she removed it from my leg,” she said, but she could not walk the long distance home.
One of the youngsters who rushed to Elizabeth’s aid, Favour John-Paul, said after they ran in different directions, she ran back to Elizabeth when she shouted for help. “I saw Elizabeth crying and crawling, and I saw a piece of metal in her leg. Flesh was showing, and there was blood on her leg,” she said.
Elizabeth continued, that as a small crowd gathered, a man came and said he knew her father, so he took her home. But the pain did not end, as her mother could only afford treatment at the primary healthcare centre in the community. When done there, a man came, that the Bwari Area Council chairman, Musa Dikko, had ordered her to be treated. She said she was returned to the primary healthcare centre, where she was treated better in the evening, and health workers prescribed some drugs.
Her mother, Mrs. Victoria Elijah, said she had no money when the drugs were prescribed, and had to sell food the next day with the hope of raising some. She told Saturday that her daughter could hardly sleep at night due to pain.
Mrs. Victoria was able to realise N3,000 the next day, but was left with the dilemma of buying the drugs or letting her other four children go hungry. She stood confused, with five children, and her husband had travelled. Then someone came knocking at midnight. “I was afraid,” she said. “When I opened the door, I was so confused that I didn’t know when I collapsed. They carried me, telling me not to be afraid. They came with an ambulance, took the girl to the hospital in the night, and the doctors attended to her till after 5am before she slept.”
Mrs Victoria said she later got to know that a man who collected her number earlier where she was selling food had contacted the FCT Call Centre and Brekete Family program at Human Rights Station, who in turn had contacted the FCT Minister, Muhammad Musa Bello. She said the minister ordered for the treatment at Maitama District Hospital.
The Medical Director of Maitama District Hospital, Dr. Suleiman Ahmed said the patient has been responding to treatment and would be discharged soon, “The minister gave me a blank cheque to treat her,” he said.
Though still on hospital bed, Elizabeth, originally from Kaduna State, told Saturday that after being out of school for two years, she was given a scholarship up to university level by the FCT minister. “When I was out of school, I prayed to God to bless my mother so that I will return to school. I never thought of getting all this before the incident, but I am so happy now,” she said, underscoring the irony in the situation. She added that her ambition is to become a medical doctor.
While Elizabeth Elijah recuperates, Favour, who ran to her aid, remains shaken. She has been unable to leave her house since then, and is said to be psychologically unstable, according to her mother, Mrs. Mary Joy John-Paul. She said her child could not attend school on the fateful day because there was no transport fare. “Since that day, she has not gone to school. But thank God, she has recovered. This morning, she was the one cheering me up. But I will never allow her to pick firewood again,” she said.
Saturday discovered that there are several children in the community who are out of school, including Kauna Habila, who left school when she was in primary three earlier in the year. The 10-year-old girl’s dream of becoming a teacher heads for a rock, barring intervention from the government, or philanthropists. She said the left school because there was nobody to pay her school fees as such she spent more than four hours daily on the farm assisting her parents. She feared that she could end up like her elder brother, a secondary school dropout who has never returned.
Also, Nehemiah Haruna, 14, has joined an apprenticeship with a welder in the community as his parents could not pay his school fees after he wrote the junior secondary school examination. He has been at home, helping them on the farm in the morning and joining the welders in the evening. “I feel sad about not going to school because I like going to school. But there is nothing I could do than stay at home and help my parents to raise the money,” he said.