By Onuwa Lucky Joseph
Year 2005 seemed like her beautiful beginnings and seeming upward trajectory had come to a screeching end. In a fiery inferno that engulfed the Sosoliso Airlines flight 1145 on December 10, 2011, she lost 59 of her schoolmates from Loyola Jesuit College, Abuja. En route Port Harcourt, that was the ill-fated flight that also saw the ‘premature’ heavenly ascent of Pastor Bimbo Odukoya as she died, after battling with the burns, one day later, on the 11th of December.
I remember being at the Service of Songs for Pastor Bimbo which took place at the Police College, Ikeja. Her old classmates from, if I remember correctly, Aunty Ayo Girls High School, Ikoyi, Lagos, including Nollywood Diva, Joke Silva, took time out to celebrate her illustrious life. Pastor Kris Okotie, who had also been pastor to Bimbo and her husband, Taiwo Odukoya, was also there to celebrate her. It was a colossal loss, and untimely, but what would you say of the yet burgeoning lives, 59 of them from the same school, that perished in that one flight? A national tragedy, it was, and still is.
However, from that burning plane, emerged two survivors, both of them women. The older one was Bunmi Amusan, Pastor Bimbo’s PA, and the other was Kechi Okwuchi, a 16 year old who, alongside her carefree schoolmates, was going home for the Christmas holidays. According to reports, a lightning bolt struck the plane which resulted in it going up in flames and coming down in a ball of fire.
Kechi, after some initial treatment in Nigeria, was quickly airlifted to Milpark Hospital, in Johannesburg, South Africa. She was thereafter taken to Shriners Hospitals for Children in Galveston, Texas, a network of 22 non-profit medical facilities across North America, where children with orthopaedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries, and cleft lip and palate are eligible for care and receive all services in a family-centered environment, regardless of the patients’ ability to pay.
To Shell Nigeria belongs kudos for being the responsible organisation that covered the cost and logistics for these initial treatments. Kechi’s recovery and trajectory so far has made worthwhile that investment many times over. The plucky lady who has since undergone more than 100 reconstructive surgeries (which show all over her) is clearly a miracle; gone through hell and back and is still boisterous about life. She’s made peace with everything that happened in the past, and is content with the life she now has. All she is about right now is how to make something deeply meaningful of her time here on earth.
Her appearance on America’s Got Talent in 2017 made everyone, including the supremely cynical Simon Cowell, to take notice, stand up applaud her effulgent talent and guts. Her singing voice is really good and anyone who hasn’t watched it ought to make time out to YouTube her performances. It’s tough not to tear up just watching her display incredible poise, courage, and sheer talent. And while at it, her scars are in your face. She seeks neither pity nor sentimental affirmation. All she wants is to excel, having put in the work required to do that.
Kechi is the embodiment of strong womanhood. No longer for her the traditional feminine preoccupation with appearance. She seeks, and succeeds, in projecting something deeper, more meaningful. To be seen, scars and all, and appreciated for the hard work she puts in, which, no doubt was the reason she made a first class in Economics and was commencement speaker at the University of Saint Thomas in Houston Texas when she graduated in 2015. She is also, even while attending to many other things occasioned by her burgeoning fame, currently an MBA student in her alma mater.
Because of the long detour her life took, she’s still trying to make up her mind about things she would like to do. While her singing talent is not in contest, she also says she would like to work in some mega institution like UNFPA, The World Bank, etc. She wants to do it all, if possible, no need circumscribing herself. She’ll just do the dabble and maybe find that she can do it all.
Kechi Okwuchi has that remarkable sage presence that’s noticeable with wise young women who have been blessed with wisdom beyond their years, like you have with Chimamanda Adichie and Malala Yousafzai. But they don’t have her scars – over 65% of her body – even Malala doesn’t.
Three years since her America’s Got Talent performance, and subsequent appearances in other places, plus the jagged reality of her life’s trajectory,(yes, pun fully intended), one would expect that by now, a Nigerian corporate organisation in need of an authentic brand ambassador would have snapped her up. But that has not been the case, at least that’s the presupposition of this write-up. We don’t know as yet if she is in discussion with any organisation for that role.
To have Kechi as brand ambassador, as spokesperson, would bring so much to any organisation that can ‘brave’ it. She brings so much authenticity and positivity which she radiates and articulates so persuasively. Maybe the reason it’s yet to happen is because she’s not ‘wholesome’ in a traditional way. And despite many a corporate’s protestation to the contrary, they still define women traditionally. They must look a certain way, and if there are flaws, they should cover them up. That’s why all of the make-up industry exists, isn’t it? But this Kechi person is just so in your face, her scars don’t scare her. She doesn’t cover up much. And she’s brilliant and confident and so full of spunk.
Kechi ought to be the validation for all those entities shouting gender equality, for all those organisations that dish out politically correct blandishments about going beyond stereotypes. She is their opportunity to make a telling statement that goes beyond mere intent. For sure, she’ll make you uncomfortable, but she’ll also make your product remarkable and hopefully, unforgettable. Plus, the money that comes from the effort will help her other efforts as she navigates her way around the rest of her life. Kechi maybe 30, but she’s still our child.
A few takeaways from some Kechi interviews:
- Anybody can do whatever they set their mind to do
- Believe in yourself more. Give yourself more credit
- The only thing holding you back is yourself
- My scars do not define who I am
- My personality shines through whatever the vessel looks like
- I like that I can be my authentic self
- People should see me and feel better about themselves.