I recall that crash, I recall reaching out to her briefly soon after the crash. Since then, she has been on the rise, picking herself and her little girl up daily. Her story inspires me daily and when I reached out to her a about a week ago, little did I know I would be publishing her interview on the 5th anniversary of the crash. Pls read, comment and kindly share. A lotta people need to read and be encouraged.
Please tell us a bit about yourself .
I am Onyinye Esther Okwuofu, third child of Dr & Mrs G.A Okwuofu. I am a lawyer turned entrepreneur . I am the Creative Director, Kairos Treats , a quintessential baking and catering company in Ilupeju, Lagos. I also engage in other businesses, I am a serial entrepreneur. I am also mother to an awesome princess.
I hitherto had a great life, I grew up in a loving family, went to good schools , was done with university and law school at age 23 and got married to my first love , Christopher Okocha also at 23 .
I was married to my best friend , my pastor, a true priest , lover , my no 1 cheerleader, confident and mentor. I was secure and happy in our love and contently took care of the home front. Our princess, Jessica soon came along and life was good. My darling was doing great professionally as a business development consultant while I tended the home front.
Can you recount how it happened; the episode that led to the loss of your husband?
Sunday June 3rd 2012 was a day I would never forget. I awoke with mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation. I was excited my darling was done with the MTN/Farrah Grey budding entrepreneur project and was coming home after 10days, well he had come home briefly on the night of 31st May and left for Abuja at dawn, but that was about the longest time apart in our years together. There was however this feeling I couldn’t seem to shake off, it was pretty difficult to get out of bed and pray. I finally managed to, had to get to church.
I prepared myself and my princess for church and spoke briefly with him before church; his flight was scheduled for 12noon.
I went through the motions in church, friends teased me saying “you are happy your twiny is coming home abi?’’ But for some reason I was edgy and even snapped at my bestie who was living with us then. We went home separately and I kept to myself and my princess when I got home.
At 2:50pm my phone rings and it is him, I excitedly pick the call asking him if they landed in Lagos and he responded in the negative.
I had never heard such tiredness in his voice in the seven years we had been together. I asked him why he sounded that way to which he replied ”Angel, I don’t know, I just know that I have to get to you girls urgently’’. I wished him a safe trip and decided to take a nap while awaiting his arrival.
I had only slept for a few minutes when I had a dream which was trance like, I saw a plane going through great turbulence, I awoke startled, I said a quick prayer and went back to sleep, a little while after I had another dream, this time I saw a plane that had crashed, it seemed like a flash back scene from a movie. I saw bodies being lifted out from the wreckage in a body sack, and I was watching it all and muttering to myself “This can’t be happening, I’m too young.”
I woke up with a start, my daughter also woke up crying hysterically, and she refused to be pacified. Just then a broadcast came into my phone: ‘’Dana plane crash in Iju…’’
I said to myself, wow! Is this what I saw? I was totally oblivious to the fact that my darling was in that flight, he was to board an Arik air flight. I later learnt that the flight was cancelled, so he and 4 of the other members of the team boarded Dana Air last minute.
Reality soon set it when some members of the agency that engaged him for the project called to ask if he was back as I was with his major phone number and began to stutter, when they heard me on the other side of the line. I put two and two together to know something must have happened especially as no one gave me any proper answer to my inquiry.
I quickly called my brother in-law to tell him my suspicion and he rushed to the airport to confirm. I was in a state of disbelief; I just sat in front of the television listening for positive news.
How long did it take you to come back to yourself?
My first reaction when my brother in-law confirmed that my husband indeed was on that flight was like that of most people who lose a loved one, one of shock and disbelief ,I refused to give in to the idea he was gone. I remembered that worship was the best response to any situation. It came to me like David and Job , and that is what I did.
For the first few days I refused to give in or release his spirit, sleep eluded me even after being heavily sedated. Finally, God and I had a frank chat, sequel to which I agreed to let God and let go but I asked for a final goodbye because he didn’t even get to say goodbye, this I got.
You know the Bible says if we ask anything in the name of Jesus, He hears us. I asked for my goodbye for a vision of heaven to be sure he was good and an assurance that God would take care of my princess and I and he answered me.
However, due to the circumstance surrounding the death, the post-crash fire, long process of DNA testing to ascertain the identity of bodies, we did not get to receive his body till August 13th, burial followed on the 15th. It still seemed like a bad dream to me, I never got to see his body, we were advised to not open the body sack, my brother in-law, taught it wise for me to preserve the memory I had and not be horrified by the effect the fire had on his body.
That kind of left me sometimes feeling and hoping he would someday walk in through the door and say he somehow escaped and was in a remote place been taken care off by a stranger till he recovered. Hmmm!
I am one who doesn’t show negative emotions publicly, so I put up a brave front for a long time, confessing God’s word, worshipping him even in the midst of confusion and the future seemed so uncertain. I had built my world around my husband and I sincerely didn’t know how I was going to raise my daughter, I didn’t even have a source of income as I was hitherto a domestic engineer.
Yet again the power of praise came through and so many people were praying for me.
I moved from a state of shock to acceptance and questioning why it had to happen to almost almost giving in to anger and fear, but the knowledge of God’s infinite love and mercy kept me.
I knew for certain that God has my back and everything irrespective of how it seem to my natural senses everything indeed works together for my good and my life is a testimony of the faithfulness of God.
I purposed in my heart not to mourn the way the world mourns because I have a hope, JESUS!.
The truth is one never totally gets out of it, but it gets better with time and God’s grace is available. There have been moments when it seems the world is caving in, but I always choose to remember God’s got my back and holding my hands.
We are Africans and there are certain traditions that come to play in situations like this. Can you share your experience?
I would say God blessed me, my in-laws were pretty kind and understanding with respect to the burial arrangements and practices. We buried him in Lagos so I did not go through any of the gruesome widowhood practises like is prevalent in this part of the world .
The burial went smoothly, we were one big family trying to comfort each other, but issues soon began to crop up that shook our relationship. I am precluded from sharing exact details because the day I said ‘’I do’’ I covenanted to be a member of that family and family don’t wash their linens publicly.
Suffice to say everyone was hurting, tempers flared, insinuations, accusations and counter accusations. There were also external bodies who worked overtime to break the unity we had, the solicitors representing Dana Air did not help matters, coupled with the announcement of the compensation that was statutorily due , my unapologetic disposition to grieve my own way and make the best decisions for myself and my daughter, irrespective of family pressures. Things began to fall apart and it became obvious that I was on my own. But I knew I had God, my loving birth family, awesome church family and friends.
I must say at this point I have come to realise that a lot of this things occurred not so much because anyone sets out to make things difficult for me, but like I said previously, I guess everyone was hurting and we often take out our hurt on the spouse in this kind of situation and of course God’s name alone has to be glorified. It ended up bringing out the best in me.
How did you begin to shoulder the responsibilities in the home alone? What was the turning point for you?
I would say I had a soft landing. When God gives you his word to take care of you, he does just that. I prayed and told God I didn’t want to be a burden to anyone, I wanted to be able to hold my head high and wanted my daughter to be proud of me, have a good life, and attend the best of schools. To say that prayer works is an understatement; though we have to play our path.
I moved into my parents place after the crash and stayed for six months. My church family Covenant Capital, the department my husband belonged to in church paid me a salary to help me get back on my feet. That helped a great deal, as I used part of it for our upkeep and some I plunged into a shoe importing business, I proposed in my heart not to be a burden to anymore, I chose to defy the statistics and make widowhood look good. So I told myself I had to do something to generate money to maintain my daughter and I, I told myself, there is only so much people can do for you and everyone has their own issues .
That business I, however, soon discovered wasn’t for me. I decided I needed to move to a new apartment, but sure didn’t have the funds to do so. God yet again showed up for me, a friend paid for our accommodation, yes God came through.
My daughter was 15months when her father passed on so, as the reality of schooling responsibility dawn on me, I asked my new “husband” to yet again sort it out, we received a partial scholarship from her present school.so our fees is rebated.
I knew I had to generate income to foot our bills, as a matter of utmost necessity, I soon decided to go back to my first love make up artistry. The mobile nature of that industry caused me to be dissatisfied with it, my daughter needed me, so I could not afford to constantly be on the road. I went back to God to direct me on what exactly to do.
I decided to get entrepreneurial training, so I attended Aspiring Entrepreneurs Programme at Fate Foundation.
Towards the end of my program in Fate Foundation I got clear cut directions to enrol in a catering school. Thus began my journey into the cake baking and catering industry.
Business was slow in the beginning, but God soon opened up strategic collaborations for me and patronage got better.
I, however, have been one to make the best of every situation, God has been so good to me, my daughter and I have not lacked things we really need, we have even had a lot of luxuries. Somehow God always comes through for us.
How did you transition into making successful business in cakes from being a make up artist? Would you have made the transition if you were not bereaved?
Like I mentioned previously my transition from makeup artistry to cake making can say was divinely inspired. The whole process shows the hand of God in it all. From the instructions to attend a catering school, I was a month behind and my first class was on cakes, I simply feel in love with cakes, I began business immediately I graduated.
I must say it was pretty tough at the beginning, trying to jump start the business ,get customers, when orders came in having to handle it all alone, sometime work overnight, attend to my daughter, do school runs, effect deliveries, do school pick up, clean up etc and I still had personal , family and legal issues to deal with.
I was determined to succeed, God backed me up and carried me, he brought strategic relationships my way that helped me improve my skills and generate more clientele. Omobolanle Akinosun of Teelash cake and Ezinne Okonkwo of Dewdrops cake mentored and gave me further trainings for free.
I learnt to eat, think, pray the business to success and God faithfully honours his word. And we are just starting.
I can safely say I stumbled into destiny; my bereavement propelled me to my cake empire.
What word of advice and encouragement do you have for other young women who may have lost their spouse? What about men?
To everyone that has lost a spouse, especially women, the odds are more against women. Hmmm, I know it can be tough, we go through a process that difficult to put into words, society has written out a script where it seems that your life has come to a halt, on a personal level you have so much to grapple with from having to train the children alone, to working overtime to generate income to pick bills, dealing with societal prejudices, unscrupulous elements constantly trying to take advantage of you, the loneliness, hurt and some times depression. The list can be endless;
I however say to you, dare to defy the statistics , dare to rise above all the odds and make a success of yourself, fight the good faith of keeping your joy and peace irrespective of what life hauls at you, refuse to throw a pity party. Hey, God has got your back, there would be tough days ,there would be days you may fall short, forgive yourself and move on, there would be days you feel inadequate, its ok, really, God has got you.
Do not fall under the pressure of trying to double as a mother and father, because you cannot, just be a good mother or father, God would do the rest and feel the void.
Learn to live again, do what makes you happy as long as it is with a good conscience do not feel pressured to live by the standards of others.
Forgive! Unforgiveness and bitterness I have found is the root cause of a lot of bereaved people not forging ahead. Yes, a lot of people may have hurt you really bad , but do not give anyone so much power over your life that they inhibit your progress with unforgiveness and its twin, bitterness. Rather, turn to God, allow his love to flood your heart .
Most of all fight back by taking charge of your destiny.
Can you say any thing good has come out of the situation?
I can boldly say God has given me beauty in place of ashes, gladness instead of mourning. My loss has made me stronger, wiser and better. I am fulfilling destiny doing things I probably wouldn’t have done, I learnt to live beyond myself , it is not just about me. I have learnt to reach out to others, I have come into a walk with God I probably wouldn’t have known. Kairos Treats wouldn’t have been in existence but for how things played out. I have grown up and learnt about the world as against my hereto sheltered life. I have learnt to trust God and exercise my faith in dimensions I probably may not have, most of all I have seen the express love of Jesus.
What’s next for you? A new family perhaps?
On what’s next , hmmm, am building a business empire, raising a genius and just living my life, another family… God is definitely going to perfect all that concerns me,loll.
Interview conducted by Ayodotun
Kairos Treats offers sumptuous cakes & treats, find them on IG & Facebook @kairostreats or call 08029431828 to order.