Remembering the Tragic Death of John “Baba” Angulu
by: Deji Yesufu
The year was 1994. Life had showed up some sunny side for me. I was seventeen years old and I had already gained admission to read Electrical Engineering at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. A couple of my mates at the University’s Secondary school, the “Demonstration” School, also enjoyed this great privilege which Providence had bestowed upon us. It was a privilege that we were extremely proud of and we used to strut around the university then with our heads high. It was not until the end of our first year, when a lot of us were given some very humbling carry-overs did we realize that university education was serious business.
I did practically all my schooling on campus because my father worked with the university – primary, secondary and university education. I however joined the University Staff School (the primary section) in primary five. It was in primary five, in 1986, that I first met John Angulu. John, like many of us, was the son of a university don. I believe his father was already a Professor at that time (I’ve been informed that the father was a PhD holder). He was also a privileged child like many of us but he added to his privilege – brilliance.
Having transferred from another school to the new school, I never got my bearings regarding school work until my common entrance exams. I would however marvel at how folks like John, and another classmate of mine, Opeyemi (after whom I named my son), did exceedingly well in class. What I appreciated about John the most was that he never allowed the fact of his intelligence or being the child of a professor get into his head. I often had to approach him to help me with sums and he gladly did. But the place where John let off all his guard was at the playground. John will play football and the whole field will shake.
John Angulu did not follow us into primary six. He wrote the entrance examinations into the Nigerian Military School (NMS) Zaria in primary five and was taken. This was how John went on to become a year our senior in school. I hardly saw John again, except at few occasions when we met at the ABU basket ball court. I should mention that John was also a pretty good basketballer. He was not particularly tall but he dunked the ball effortlessly. John completed his secondary school with the Nigerian military and returned to ABU to read Chemical Engineering. So in 1994 when my other mates and I were entering 100 level, John was already our senior – he was in 200 level Chemical Engineering. This was the year tragedy struck.
John Angulu had a younger brother called Andy. I understand that Andy was in a boarding school, somewhere in Niger State (Andy was a student of Adesoye College in Offa, Kwara State). One faithful day, at the completion of the school term, John Angulu and the family driver went to Andy’s school to bring him back home for the holidays. Till today no one is sure of what exactly happened but I was told that John and the driver had reached the school, picked up Andy and they were already on their way home. It was getting dark and I think they may have been instructed to pass the night somewhere along the way and continue the journey home in the morning. Niger State to Zaria will take no less than five hours – despite the fact that the two places are situated in Northern Nigeria. I think the young boys and the driver simply braved the situation and decided to take the risk of returning home that night.
(After John and the driver had picked up Andy in Offa, they stopped very briefly at Bida, Niger State, to say hello to their grandmother. The Angulu’s are from Niger State. Grandma pleaded with them to spend the night as it was getting late but the boys insisted on continuing the trip to Zaria.)
In those days, there were no mobile phones and it was practically impossible to monitor a travelling relative on a GSM line. About midnight when it became apparent to the Angulus that the boys ought to have returned but they had not, their father took another vehicle and headed out to find his children. I believe he had driven a little past Kaduna when he saw an automobile accident. On close observation, he realized that it was the family 504 Peugeot vehicle that had rammed into a truck. The story has it that it was Dr. Angulu himself that pulled his two boys out of the accident scene and brought the three bodies home. John and the driver had died almost immediately after impact because they were seated in front. Andy died of obvious suffocation from the fumes emerging from the wreckage.
Those deaths threw the whole university family in mourning. I did not know the Angulus well but I understand that the boys were the two youngest sons of the Angulus, besides their two older sisters. I made it to the wake-keep at their home and was also at the burial service that held at the Chapel of Redemption, the university chapel of ABU. Whatever height some of us might have been exalted to because we were now university students – we were momentarily humbled and we saw before our eyes the brevity of life and how easily men can perish on this side of heaven.
I do not know what might have become of the Angulus. As much as I could, because I was not so much of a person of religion then, I prayed for them. I remember returning to the department after the burial and meeting with one of my teachers then – Mr. Bamgbelu (now late too). He asked me: “where are you coming from?” I told him that I had just attended the burial service of my friend John Angulu. I would never forget what he said to me that day. He said: “… what a tragic situation”. Bamgbelu himself had also been a recipient of such a harsh providence. His only son, that his white wife had for him, had plunged to his death while sitting at the window seal of his four storey hostel at the then University of Ife. Bamgbelu understood very well what the Angulus might have been going through.
I write this essay in honor of the memory of my friend John Angulu. He died when he was just 18 years old and with his death went such a promising young man. I also write this essay with the hope that members of his family who may see it, might realize that despite John dying some 27 years ago – he still remains in the heart of some people who were his friends. I sincerely pray that God continues to give them the fortitude to bear the loss of those young boys.
Finally, I write this essay to remind all of us of the brevity of life. No holy book has promised anyone an endless life on this side of heaven. Death is about the only sure thing that this life has to offer and no one knows when it will be their turn. Children die at infancy; people die in their teenage years; and others die after a life fully spent. It is not how holy we are that determines how long we will live. The greatest human beings die in their twenties – like David Bernard who died at 29. The worst of infidels die sometimes in their 80s. What is most important in this life is that one is sure of where one is going in the after life.
I am a Christian man and I rejoice in the fact that even if I were to die today, I will open my eyes to see Jesus Christ – my Lord and my Savior – in heaven. The reason is because Christ died and rose again, in the process he paid the penalty for my sins – which should have earned me the wrath of God in an eternal hell. If you are reading this essay and you do not have a certainty of a hope for eternal life, after death, I appeal to you to repent of your sins, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
Thank you for reading.
After publishing this story on my website a little over a week ago, someone sent it to one of the Angulus. I’ve since been in touch with the family and they corrected some of the details in my story. The corrections are in bracket. They also gave me the clearest photo of John Baba Angulu they still have. Attached to this article, therefore, is the picture of my late friend.