Manchester University
Oak Leaves

April 22, 2016
Professor Benson Onyeji

Professor Onyeji Visits Families of Fallen Students

Sarah Farnam

In March, Professor Benson Onyeji travelled to Jos, Nigeria, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to visit the families of the three Manchester University students who died in a car accident in February: Nerad Grace Mangai, Brook M. Dagnew and Kirubel Alemayehu Hailu.

Onyeji spent approximately five days with each family in order to express Manchester University’s sympathy and offer condolence. “I had to bring closure for them to accept that it happened,” he said. “But it also helped in sending Manchester University’s message—which is that we care. We are much more than a faculty, and we are much more than a staff and students. We are family.”

Onyeji says that the message he brought was well received by each family. The roles that he took on during the trip included “being with (the families), grieving with them, becoming part of the family—understanding that the traditional cultural practices will vary from one location to the other, and being part of them.”

The extended amount of time that he spent in each location allowed him to immerse himself into each household. “(The goal of) my presence was to contribute to their healing,” he explained. “For that to happen, you have to mesh yourself into their lives.”

He acknowledges that, although his trip helped in providing support, there is still a long way to go. “I’m hopeful that we will heal, but we are not going to forget them,” he said.

Onyeji spent a total of 16 days on his journey. He took 10 flights and spent time in four different continents. “It was challenging, and by the time I came back it took me about two weeks to recover,” he said. “But it was worth it. I’m glad I went.”

Not only did Onyeji’s journey affect the families of the fallen students, but the process had an emotional effect on him as well. “Two of the students that died in the accident were my students,” he said.

The weekend before the accident, Onyeji took 21 students, including Brook and Nerad, on a trip to attend the Model United Nations Conference. He cherishes this time. “Little did I know that would be (my) last supper with them,” he said.

Both Brook and Nerad won participation awards for taking part in the conference, but he was never able to pass these awards along to them. He presented the awards to their families on his trip.

In addition to honoring these three lives, Onyeji recognized the losses of Manchester University student Tony Loera and Assistant Vice President Chris Garber, which also took place during this academic year. “This year has been very, very challenging,” he said. “The healing process will take a long time. We’ll come out of it, but we won’t forget them. They have become part of the history of our college.”