It was supposed to be harmless childhood banter: I will chase you around the yard until I get what I want from you. But for eight-year-old Desmond Achia and 16-year-old Sonia Olia, their innocent repartee ended tragically.
At about 6pm on July 5, Olia had pursued her little cousin, Achia to have a bite of cucumber which was part of the family meal for that evening.
Olia possibly did not envisage that the cucumber was deadly, as she struggled to take a bite of it from her little cousin.
Soon after they ate the cucumber, both Olia and Achia started complaining of stomach pains; they slumped and died few hours later.
The cucumber, which was later suspected to be poisoned, was also shared by Olia’s four other cousins identified as John Agbor (15), Grace Apuwe (15), Happiness Akor (eight) and Kenneth Isheli (10). The four of them also died soon after the meal.
The six children all died at different times in the space of four hours.
The sad incident, which happened in the remote village of Amana in Becheve ward of Obanliku Local Government Area of Cross River State, also led to the death of their 65-year-old grandmother, Susan Agbor, who collapsed and died upon hearing about the shocking news.
Agbor, who was not at home at the time of the incident, only returned to meet her grandchildren dying one after the other.
Amana is one of the villages located beneath the popular Obudu Cattle Ranch — an international tourist resort known for its cold climate all year round and a former host to the now defunct Obudu Mountain Race. The ill-fated incident has since left the whole community in shock as cucumber is one of the staple fruits consumed by people in the village.
The dead children were said to be under the custody of their grandmother, while their parents, who are the direct children of the late Agbor, are said to be engaged in agricultural activities in other villages.
A close friend to one of the deceased, Faustina Utanga, said her late friend, Olia, had just finished taking the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination and was waiting for her result when the incident happened.
She said, “The cucumber was alleged to have been sold to the grandmother by an unidentified person. My friend was inside the room in the compound when the grandmother shared it among her younger ones. When she came out, she asked one of the younger ones to allow her have a bite, but the young boy ran away and she (Sonia) pursued him and took the cucumber by force. She had a bite and gave it back to him, saying that it was too bitter.
“Shortly after eating it, the children started showing signs of discomfort and some went into a coma and died. She was the one who later revealed before she died in a local health centre in the community that it was the cucumber meal that caused the deaths.”
Apart from the grandmother and two other children that were buried in Amana, others were taken by their various parents to other villages for burial.
Most residents in the sparsely populated community have not stopped wondering over the mysterious deaths when SUNDAY PUNCH visited the village on Wednesday.
They have yet to understand why the children could die from eating cucumber which is a popular fruit among residents in the community.
Many of residents, however, believe that the cucumber that killed the six children could have been poisoned. One of them is the father of one of the deceased, Grace, Mr. William Apuwe, who alleged that the said poison might have been the handiwork of farm thieves that recently invaded some farms in the community.
Apuwe said farmers in the community had, in recent time, raised the alarm over the continued harvesting of their produce by unknown persons.
Pointing towards the grave where his daughter was buried, Apuwe, who was soaked in grief, swore that the perpetuators of the disaster would soon be caught.
“Those who cultivate cucumbers in the village have recently been raising the alarm that their vegetables were disappearing from the farm. They had actually warned that they will deal with those behind it,” he said.
Apuwe further said he suspected that one of the thieves might have gone to poison the cucumber with a dangerous chemical, noting that the harvested cucumber found its way into his family compound and was consumed by the children.
Despite the tragedy, the heartbroken father said cucumber was one of the most cherished fruits by residents in the community.
“In short, when you combine it with groundnut, you will enjoy it and this year, we were blessed with enough of it here in our community,” he sobbed as he cast a glance at his daughter’s grave, who was buried in the bush according to tradition.
Another close relation, Mr. Isaiah Vincent, said, “Mama Susan Agbor died as a result of shock after the news broke out. She was too fond of her grandchildren. She was caring, loving and never joked with them. She collapsed and died because she had high blood pressure.”
The clan head of Becheve, Chief Christopher Akor, also expressed shock over the incident, adding that such evil had never been witnessed in the history of the clan.
Akor, who vowed to unmask the persons who perpetrated the act, said he had already summoned the farmers to a meeting in a bid to deepen investigation and ensure that justice was served.
“I have directed that everyone should vacate the compound. Nobody should visit the compound until the cause of the death is known,” he said.
He, however, lamented that the lack of telecommunication network in the area did not help matters in time of distress. He, therefore, appealed to relevant authorities to erect a mobile telephone mast in the area for inclusive coverage.
Similarly, the village head of Amana, Chief Sunday Ayuwa, said it was unfortunate that the once peaceful family that was law-abiding for many years had been wiped out by evil persons.
“The family came to Amana to settle down many years ago and they have been law-abiding. They enjoyed peaceful relationship and co-existence with their host community. All measures would be put in place to prevent further occurrence,” he said.
Although no arrest has been made, a policeman from Obudu who spoke on condition of anonymity, lamented that apart from the matter not being officially reported, no proper autopsy was done before the deceased were buried.
The state Police Public Relations Officer, Irene Ugbo, also confirmed that no arrest had been made in connection with the mysterious deaths.
The Director-General of the Cross River State Primary Healthcare Development Agency, Dr. Beta Edu, told our correspondent that it was still unclear if it was the cucumber meal that killed the six children.
She said, “It is a very sad situation. However, from our investigations, it is still unclear whether they actually died of cucumber or some food which the family ate earlier. Cucumber does not kill. It is not poisonous.
“On the contrary, if they actually ate cucumbers, it could have been intentionally poisoned by someone who had vendetta on their mind. We are working closely with security agents there to fully investigate the matter and we will update you as we proceed.” SHARE THIS STORY USING ANY OF THE BUTTON BELOW ⬇ PLACE YOUR TEXT ADVERT BELOW ⬇⬇⬇