The leadership of St. John’s Anglican Church, Agbarho in Ughelli North Local Government Area of Delta State was thrown into confusion when the church vicar, scheduled to lead a team of ministers at a funeral service, suddenly died after he was rushed to hospital.
Venerable Stephen Eseteru Ogue, JP, 53, author of several Christian books, including ‘Escathology: The rapture of the Saints’, ‘Foundation for marital bliss’ and ‘The potential power of the Holy Spirit’, died at about 7.45 a.m. on Friday, December 11, 2015, two hours before he was billed to officiate at a funeral service. Until his sudden death of cardiac arrest at Lily Hospital, Deco Road, Warri, the Anglican venerable, according to his first daughter, Oghenenyoreme Ogue, was suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure.
The hearse conveying the remains of the woman whose burial the pastor was supposed to preside at, mourners, including a large delegation of the church’s Women Guild as well as members of the Anglican Fasting and Prayer Society, had gathered in front of the church building as early as 9.25 a.m. for the service billed for 10.00 a.m.
Unaware of the tragedy that had occurred, the mourners, who had been warned the previous night against lateness to the funeral service, waited patiently for the officiating ministers to receive the body at the West Door (entrance of the church) in accordance with Anglican doctrine but no pastor was in sight. Meanwhile, other members of the church and visitors kept trooping into the church premises for the funeral service.
Worried by the development, members of the mourning family began to call the vicar’s phone line and a voice answering to urge them to be patient. The calls to Reverend Friday Erutere, billed to assist the venerable at the funeral service, were initially ignored until he answered to similarly sue for patience, saying he was on his way to the church.
Erutere, who conducted the service of songs with Rev. Wisdom Eghagha, the previous night, had warned against lateness, stressing that, in Anglican Church, such lapse attracts a fine of N10,000.
After about 45 minutes delay, a Toyota car, said to be owned by the vicar/archdeacon, hurried into the church premises and made its way straight to the staff quarters, to the relief of those waiting outside the church. Immediately, people started regrouping around the hearse with the hope that the service would soon begin. But, the relief soon turned to despair when the regrouping band of mourners discovered that the occupants of the car were only two female members of the family and the pastor’s driver.
The waiting had just begun. In the anxiety, nobody observed that the car, which was later learnt to have taken the venerable out of the church premises that early morning, did not bring him back. The only occupants of the car at that moment besides the driver, were his wife, Felicia and his eldest daughter, Oghenenyoreme.
Eventually, 60 minutes after the scheduled time of service, Erutere, accompanied by two others, arrived at the West Door to officially receive the corpse and proceeded with the funeral service.
Despite the commencement of proceedings, anxiety was still palpable as church members continued to ask after the whereabouts of the venerable, who had, on several occasions, enjoined members of the Women’s Guild to be punctual for that particular service and had promised to lead the church delegation to Okpara Inland for the interment. Nobody was providing answers to questions. Not even his assistant who, some observed later, appeared agitated and confused to the extent that, for the first time in a funeral service, there was no communion and there was no offertory. By far, the most worrisome was the treatment accorded the National President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, who took time off his church’s three -day crusade at the Warri Township Stadium, as a mark of honour for the fallen mother.
As the mourners departed the church for Okpara Inland, venue of the interment, there was no word about the sudden death of the vicar of the Agbarho church where another Anglican canon, Rev. Benedict Akpoguma, took over proceedings. Put simply, neither the mourners nor well wishers, who had travelled from long distances, including Mr. John Salubi of the NNPC, Dr. Francis Eghwubare of Delta State University, Mr. Joshua Onoronimighwu of Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Victor Onogagamue of Delta State Sports Commission, Barrister Joseph Ogedegbe, and a former NBA Chairman of Ughelli Local Government, were briefed on the reason for the funeral’s delay.
When a Vanguard correspondent visited the home of the vicar, the wife [Felicia] was lying on the bed despondent with a few church members shielding her and making sure her health condition did not degenerate. Only the first daughter, Oghenenyoreme, could volunteer comments, although, she was unable to explain the mystery behind the death of her father, as, according to her, they were trained to submit to the will of God in all circumstances.
However, the daughter said they had prayed together that morning in accordance with family tradition, without any visible signs of danger, and the ebullient father retired to the couch in the sitting room apparently to relax.
“After a while, I noticed that daddy was no longer breathing normally and I raised the alarm to draw my mum’s attention. She quickly called the driver and we carried him to the car and drove straight to the hospital in Warri. That is all I can tell you, because nobody told us anything about his state of health until the bishop came later that day to break the sad news to us,” she tearfully narrated.