Nigerians Eulogize Nun Who Died Saving Others in Sunday Lagos Inferno

Late Sr. Henrietta Alokha,Ssh, Principal of Nigeria's Bethlehem Girls College who died while rescuing students after gas explosion in Abule Ado, Lagos, Monday, March 16, 2020.

The morning of Sunday, March 15 is one that residents of Nigeria’s Abule Ado town in the outskirts of the country’s largest city, Lagos, wish to forget. But for the Catholic Church in the West African country, it is a day that they will remember for the selfless act of a Catholic nun who gave her life while saving school girls in a fire that razed down at least 50 houses, injuring and killing residents in its wake.

Statistics on Monday, March 16, indicated that those who lost their lives in the Sunday inferno at Abule Ado town were 17, including Sr. Henrietta Alokha, the Principal of Bethlehem Girls High School, who died while rescuing girls at the school.

A statement by Archbishop Alfred Adewale Martins of the Archdiocese of Lagos seen by ACI Africa confirmed that a female security guard at the school perished in the fire, alongside Sr. Henrietta, a member of the Religious Congregation of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart (SSH).

“Yesterday, Sunday 15th March 2020, there was a massive explosion at the Abule Ado area of Lagos which led to the collapse of many structures in the affected areas … Unfortunately, the Administrator of the school, Rev. Sr. Dr. Henrietta Alokha SSH and one female security guard died in the process of ensuring that the students were safe,” said Archbishop Adewale in the statement dated Monday, March 16.

He added in reference to the nun who sacrificed her life in the morning inferno, “Sr. Henrietta Alokha SSH and other staff that died have paid the supreme price in their bid to lead all her students to safety. May their souls rest in peace.”


Reports have indicated that Sr, Henrietta rescued all the students that were trapped in one of the buildings at the school before the roof of the building caved in on her.

“She (Sr. Henrietta) had tried saving the children under her care, and went back to save more before the roof caved in on her. Most of the students have been accounted for, with minor cuts and injuries, whilst some whose injuries were more severe are at the Nigerian Navy Reference Hospital, Ojo,” reported Sunday, Match 15.

Archbishop Adewale said the fire incident occurred while students at the school were attending Holy Mass and that “the priest who was celebrating the Mass helped in rescuing the students and he himself is safe.”

According to the Nigerian Prelate, all the students were rescued and some that were injured were rushed to the hospitals.

He added, “The other students have been released to their parents and gone to their different homes. We want to state that all students of the school were reported safe.”

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He commended the government and non-government agencies that showed up at the fire scene “for their prompt response which ensured that the situation did not get worse.”

In his message of condolence to the families that had lost their loved one in the inferno, Bishop Adewale said, “We wish to commiserate with the families of all those who died in this sad incident.”

“We pray for the repose of the souls of the departed and the quick healing of those who were injured. We pray to the Lord to provide for the needs of all those who lost their properties, in the sad event,” he further said and added, “Our prayer at this period is that the Good Lord will grant eternal rest to the faithful departed and strengthen all of us with the fortitude to bear the effect of this disaster.”

Videos that were circulated widely on social media showed a big fire that was spreading fast and a dark cloud of smoke that rose above the town as by-standers cried helplessly for help during the Sunday inferno.

A group of young men were also filmed helping school-children that wore spotted brown uniforms jump over a wall that enclosed Bethlehem Girls High School. Inside the wall, Sr. Alokha helped the girls out of the building that was being razed down by the fire, which was caused by a suspected pipeline explosion.


The suspected 8 a.m. explosion that was reportedly heard up to 15 kilometers away, blowing away roofs of nearby buildings, is said to have occurred after a truck hit gas cylinders in a gas processing plant located in the populous town.

Archbishop Adewale said that the cause of the morning fire, which had caused devastating effects in its wake, is still to be ascertained.

“We do not have an official duly investigated explanation for the explosion yet,” the Nigerian Prelate said, and added, “All we know is that a truck accident was involved, the Pipeline going through the community was involved as well as a stack of gas cylinders. All these together by some series of cause and effect are said to be the cause of the devastating explosion which very badly affected our Bethlehem Girls College, Abule Ado as well as many other buildings in the vicinity.”

According to the Archbishop, the staff quarters at the school, the Administrative Building, the refectory and hostel buildings were levelled to the ground as a result of the impact of the explosion.

The only building that was left standing, he said, was the convent housing the nuns in charge of the school. 

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Those who claimed to have seen Sr. Henrietta a day before the fire accident described her as a hardworking nun who went on with her business, supervising students who were taking their exams in the school.

“I still saw sister Henrietta yesterday as she was hurrying about, trying to organize the students writing exams at the school and also trying to get the students ready for me to come for their writing workshop. I didn't know that was the last time I would see and talk to her,” Frank Banjo Twitted.

Banjo was responding to a tweet by Augustine Mario, MFV, who wrote, “Rev. Sr. Henrietta Alokha SSH, Principal of Bethlehem Girls College, Abúlé Ado… struggled to rescue her students in the pipeline fire explosion in the morning of March 15, 2020. The roof fell on her in the process.”

Sr. Henrietta who reportedly died while she was being taken to hospital has been praised as a heroin who put her life on the line to save girls who had been under her care.

“She used her life to save the lives of her students. Eternal rest grant unto her, let your light perpetual shine on her. May her gentle soul rest in peace,” said Ojo Odeleke in a comment on Facebook.

Ali Emmanuel Anezi Melchizedek, in another comment, wrote, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Sister, you have done well with a pure heart trying to save others. It takes only a good one who values others to lose his or her life for others.”

He added, “I weep for you sister but whenever I remember whom you have been serving with your pure heart, I feel relieved because I know you're already in the company of the saints. Goodbye Saint.”

Fr. A.N. Abiagom wrote, “(I) came online a while ago, the news of the explosion at Abule Odo near Festac flashed my eyes. Saddened at the report of another pipeline explosion as it is often assumed, the death notification of Sr. Henrietta moved me to putting down this note of appreciation to a beautiful soul.”

The Nigerian cleric described Sr. Henrietta as a nun who did not flee at the explosion “but remained to see to the safety of the students put under her motherly care… Report has it that she died after rescuing her students without being able to rescue herself. What kind of love was that? The love of the Gospel which lays down its life for others.”

Fr Abiagom eulogized, “Sr Henrietta, when you woke this morning, neither you nor your students saw the explosion coming. You could have all vacated the premises before Sunday became black on you. Life is filled with surprises that keeps us wondering either in joy or in sorrow.”

The Nigerian cleric further eulogized the late Sr. Henrietta, “That heart that thought first of the others before itself in the face of death, will ever be remembered from this day onward. Good night to a beautiful soul. Rest in peace.”

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.