Tobi Soniyi, Paul Obi in Abuja and John Shiklam in Kaduna
The leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) including President Muhammadu Buhari, sunday were thrown into mourning over the deaths of the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Mr. James Ocholi (SAN), his wife and first son, who perished yesterday in a ghastly motor accident along the Kaduna-Abuja expressway.
Ocholi and his son were said to have later died on the spot when one of the rear tyre of the Lexus SUV he was travelling in burst, causing the vehicle to summersault several times after the security escort car had rammed into them.
His wife who sustained fatal injuries was said to have died at the Doka Government Hospital, Kaduna, where she and other aides who were injured were rushed to.
The Kaduna State sector commander of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Mr. Francis Udoma told THISDAY in a phone interview that the accident occurred 57 kilometres away from Kaduna.
According to him, “The rear tyre burst and the vehicle summersaulted. The minister and his son died on the spot, the wife died in the government hospital in Doka, Kaduna.
“The driver, the chief detail, the orderly and the PA (personal assistant) were injured,” Udoma said.
It could not however be established why the minister had travelled to Kaduna, but source said he was departing the state for Abuja.
Reacting to demise of the minister and members of his family, Buhari, in a statement by his media aide, Mr. Garba Shehu described Ocholi’s death as untimely, regretting that Nigeria had lost a key component of the change agenda.
“Mr. Ocholi was an accomplished and patriotic Nigerian, who was keen to accept the call to service at a time his country needed him,” Buhari said, adding 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 late Ocholi was an old associate of Buhari. Buhari also condoled with the government and people of Kogi State, whom said had lost a distinguished and irreplaceable son.
He prayed that God would comfort them and grant them the grace to bear the loss.
“The entire country mourns the loss of this great man, who has sadly left us when we need him most,” he said.
Buhari has also sent the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. David Babachir to formally convey the unfortunate news to members of the deceased family as well as parishioners in his place of worship.
Also, the Kaduna State government expressed deep shock over the incident. A statement by the spokesman to the governor, Mr. Samuel Aruwan said the incident was devastating.
“The state government extends its heartfelt condolences to President Mohammadu Buhari and the Ocholi family.
“Our condolences go to members of the Federal Executive Council and the entire nation, the minister died at a critical time when his contributions in the ongoing national rebirth and realisation of the change mantra were needed.
“May the almighty God grant their souls eternal rest,” the statement said.
In its statement, the APC said that it received the news of the death of Ocholi, his wife and son with great shock and sadness.
The APC National Secretary, Mai Mala Buni, in a condolence message, described the deaths as a monumental loss.
Buni prayed for the recovery of other occupants of the ghastly accident including the late minister’s driver who reportedly sustained serious injuries.
The APC National Secretary said the late Ocholi who was the party’s former deputy national legal adviser will be remembered for his selfless service to the country as minister, party, legal profession and his home state, Kogi.
In the same vein, the people of Kogi State received the news of the death of the late minister who hailed from Ogbabede-Abocho in Dekina Local Government Area of the state with great shock.
State governor, Mr. Yahaya Bello expressed shock and devastation at the death of Ocholi and remembered him as a pragmatic, dynamic, humane and brilliant law officer, “who was known around the world for his dexterous approach to legal and political issues an as one of the most unswerving constitutional lawyers Nigeria has ever produced”.
Bello recollected with nostalgia, how Ocholi joined other progressive minded individuals around the country to drive the intellectual pillars of the APC, describing him as a complete gentleman who was irrevocably committed to the advancement of Nigeria.
In his condolence message, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar also expressed profound shock and sadness at the untimely and sudden death of the of Ocholi and members of his family
A statement by his media office remembered him as a erudite lawyer, gentleman and seasoned politician.
“He was a wise and brilliant man, who was expected to impact significantly on the Buhari administration and the lives of Nigerians in many positive ways,” the statement said.
Atiku lamented that the nation had lost a committed professional whose place in his profession, political party and the budding administration in place today, would be hard to fill.
The statement urged those who knew the deceased and his colleagues in FEC and the generality of Nigerians to take heart and bear the irreparable lose.
Atiku also prayed for the repose of his soul and for the quick recovery of his driver and other aides who survived the accident.
Similarly, a colleague of the late Ocholi, Mr. Sebastine Hon (SAN) who said the late minister was his good friend, said: “It is simply unbelievable that my good friend James Ocholi is dead. Worse is that he died with his beloved wife and child. This is most tragic. This is most shocking.”
Before his untimely death, late minister was on the verge of brokering peace between the Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) and the federal government.
The meeting between JOHESU and government last Wednesday was the last official engagement by the Kogi-born legal luminary.
Confirming Ocholi’s last public function with JOHESU, the union’s president, Mr. Biobelemoye Josiah said the meeting proceeded smoothly. Josiah praised the negotiating skills of Ocholi who he said was already close to resolving the crisis between the union and government.
Ocholi was also said to have held a meeting last week with officials of the Nigerian Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) to address complaints by the union.
Ocholi became a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 2007. He was also the Chairman, Disciplinary Committee of the Abuja chapter of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA).
In 2011, he was governorship aspirant in Kogi State on the platform of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (NBA).
Between 2013 and 2014, he was the deputy national legal adviser of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Last year, he sought the APC gubernatorial ticket at the party’s primary election, losing to the late Abubakar Audu. He was appointed minister in 2015.
Ocholi attended Ochaja Secondary School and the University of Jos. He graduated from the Nigerian Law School in 1986 and was admitted to the Nigerian bar the same year.
After his appointment as Minister of State for Labour, Ocholi had led several federal government delegations to broker peace with warring labour unions in the country.