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Minutes before he died , the Minister of State for Labour and Productivity, James Ocholi, had mounted the pulpit at the Restoration Bible Church, UngwarRomi in Kaduna State, where he warned the congregation of “the evils of end-time period” and admonished them to be consistent with God.
Ocholi died in the automobile accident that also claimed the lives of his wife and son, 57 kilometers outside Kaduna on his trip back to Abuja last Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige says the burial has been fixed for between Wednesday and Friday, next week. It was learnt that Ngige will present the burial plan to President Muhammadu Buhari and that the decision may be informed by the fact that Ocholi died quite young. A family source also expressed the hope that Easter celebrations would not affect the burial.
Ocholi was said to have also canvassed support for the government at the podium from members of the church, under the leadership of Reverend TundeBolanta, saying :” We should all give this government under President Muhammadu Buhari the opportunity to turn the country around for better and also put the nation on development track.”
At the late Ocholi’s home village of Udanebiomi in Ogbadebe District of Dekina Local Council of Kogi State, complaints that the minister’s death had elements of foul play rent the air when The Guardian visited yesterday with calls by members of his immediate family for an investigation into how the driver of the vehicle was recruited.
The minister who addressed the congregation for about eight minutes at the Sunday service organised to end a seven-day special prayer programme with members of his family, embarked on the ill-fated journey from the premises of the church with his wife and son.
When the unfortunate news, which met some members of the congregation still on the premises, broke, pain and grief took over the entire area ,most of the members breaking down in tears. When The Guardian visited the church yesterday, a pall of grief hung heavily in the air .The place was deserted, as none of the pastors and leaders was anywhere to be found.
But a member of the church who was at the service but pleaded anonymity while speaking with The Guardiansaid : “The church service had started before the minister and his family members came into the church and he gave about eight minutes exultation to the congregation.
“The minister who was on the pulpit said we should be consistent with God, because we are in the end-time.
He also advised us to support government programmes.”
Besides, when The Guardian visited the permanent site of the church which is still under construction at Ungwar Romi, few people were seen loitering around, while all church workers and pastors were no where to be found.
A security man at the main entrance of the church said: “The seven-day programme of the church took place here last Sunday and the minister worshiped here.
“Right now pastors are not in their offices and you cannot find anybody around. Maybe you come back much later within the week to speak with any of them.”
The Guardian ,however, spoke on telephone with one of the church ministers, Pastor Ellis who said he had not been authorised by the leadership of the church to speak on the late minister’s visit last Sunday, saying only Reverend Bolanta could address the media.
He explained: “Well, I don’t think I am in a position to talk to you in respect of the minister’s visit to the church. You know this is an official matter and I am not the right person to talk about it.”
A cousin to the late minister,Mr. Jonah Paul, who spoke to reporters in the village, said the circumstances of Ocholi’s death were beyond the ordinary.
He, however, said as Christians, they as family members had resolved to take the development as divine. According to him, the minister died just one week to his thanksgiving service over his recent appointment as a minister by President Buhari.
Paul said: “It is unfortunate that this has happened to us in this family. We had expected that we would join him in praising God for his appointment as a minister but that is not to be. He had earlier fixed the programme for last Sunday but had to shift it to next Sunday because he said the president wanted to see him last Friday.
“His death is a great loss to us, we lack words to express our feelings over his death. He was very good to the family, he didn’t discriminate and he carried everybody along. The entire community was thrown into mourning when the news broke. His death is a setback to us, not only to this village but the entire country”.
Paul, however, said the family had already commenced meetings on the burial arrangements, adding that such a decision would be taken with due consultations with government.
The traditional ruler of his community, the Onu Abocho, Dr. Tijani Okutachi, reporters that the entire community was thrown into confusion on hearing the news of the Ocholis’ death.
Also , the Onu of Abuchi, who is the paramount ruler of Biraidu, said the death of Ocholi was shocking to the community, describing it as a disaster.
He said: “The death came to us as a rude shock, it is very unfortunate that he died like that, the minister was a man of his words. He is always on his feet. He participated in all the activities of the community.”
Former governor of Kogi State, Idris Wada, in a condolence message signed by his media aide, Mr. Jacob Edi, and made available to The Guardian in Lokoja yesterday, described the death as a big loss to the Igala nation in particular and humanity in general.