My name is Chidi Okereke, and about 9 years ago, I almost killed two kids; siblings. One was 4 and the other was 7.
It was in 2009, and I was a 2nd year student of the University of Port Harcourt. I had gone to my uncle’s house to spend the weekend, as was customary and before I returned to school, they had asked me to buy fuel for their power-generating plant. They had given me money for a cab, but since no one was at home, I decided to use my uncle’s car. Now, here’s the problem. That car was out of bounds to us. My uncle didn’t have faith in my driving skills so I had no business driving the car. But, I was a headstrong boy and all I wanted to do was drive the car, play loud music, maybe holla at a few girls … you know, the things precocious kids do.
So, I called my neighbors, Ugo and Godwin, put the fuel gallon in the car and we drove off. Music was loud, and I was doing 80 on a 60km road. I had no patience for slow cars – which was generally everyone. I overtook the first one, overtook the second one with reckless abandon and … my life changed when I tried overtaking the third vehicle.
As I charged into oncoming traffic, a motorcycle was coming in the opposite direction. I had two choices; run him over, or swerve out of the road. I swerved out of the road, and crashed into a block of road-side stores. It all happened in a split second. I don’t know how my friends and I got out of the vehicle, but we did, and for our safety we abandoned the car, with our phones and all; left the place as a crowd gathered to see what had happened. This was because, PH was notorious for mob/jungle justice then, and our fear was that in the heat of the moment, we may have been lynched.
Disoriented, I walked and walked through unfamiliar streets, till I got to a major road. Thankfully, I had some money in my pocket, so I took a bus back to school. I went straight to my best friend’s apartment and that was when the tears came. I wailed as I narrated what happened. He gave me sedatives so I would sleep, then went to the place to see what was happening. When I finally woke up, he had a barrage of information waiting for me. Two kids were playing in front of one of the affected stores, and they had to be dug out of blocks and metal. They were in the hospital and he didn’t know how bad it was. I became hysteric. While I was wondering how I’d face my uncle whose car I had totaled, I did not consider any human injuries. Hearing that two kids were victims of my recklessness broke me. That is the only time I have ever felt suicidal. But other friends were around to calm me down, and I was sedated again.
When I woke up, I was told the kids were responding to treatment. That’s basically a ‘they will be fine’ statement. The car had also been towed to a safe place, and my uncle had been told about it. I had to go home to face him. That is still one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. One look at his face, and I started crying. This is a man who had sacrificed a lot to be supportive, and I could see the utter disgust and disappointment on his face.
I spent the next few days working with masons to rebuild the stores, visit the kids in the hospital and work with mechanics to fix the car. I also did a lot of reflecting and learnt a lot of lessons that have shaped my life over the years.
- Discipline – I learnt how to check my impulses and take only very calculated risks.
- Never overrating myself – I know what I know, and when I am not sure, I do not assume. Before I drove a car again, I made sure I knew how to drive. And since then, before I do/say anything, I make sure I am not making a mistake. And if I do find out I have made a mistake, I retract statement. The fact that I also ran, without checking to see if anyone was hurt in the accident – even though I consider myself unselfish means, anything is possible. While I make a conscious effort to put others first, I admit anything is possible indeed. I do not overrate my humanity.
- Human behavior – Human beings are good. Human beings are bad. Someone stole my phone from the car, while another kept my wallet – that had money in it. The family of the kids I crashed into made us pay more than 10 times the medical fee – basically monetized the situation.
- Kindness – While we were rebuilding the stores, the owner of one of the stores called me aside and gave me money for some of the materials we were using. She also told me to reach out to her if I needed anything. Now, here was a woman who was losing revenue from my recklessness, still being supportive. I will never forget that.
- Forgiveness – Sometimes I put myself in my uncle’s shoes and I know I would have reacted differently if someone did that to me. But my uncle forgave me and remained very supportive, even after I wrecked his car. I will never forget that.