Godwin Ajala, a 33-year-old man who died saving others at the United States 9/11 (September 11, 2001) World Trade Center terrorist attacks. He was the only Nigerian officially listed among the deceased.
Today marks the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Families, friends, colleagues and others worldwide have in various ways been remembering the victims of the incident.
Ajala, a lawyer in his native Nigeria, came to the U.S. in 1995, during a time of political unrest in his country. His goal was to pass the New York state bar exam and practice law in New York City. It was against great odds. He was a stranger in a strange land with no money. But he rose to the challenge with grit and determination. He did odd jobs to pay for his legal studies while supporting his wife and three children in Nigeria. Ajala eventually found steady work as a Manhattan security guard. But fortune turned to tragedy on Sept. 11 when 33-year-old Ajala became one of 11 guards, who died at the World Trade Center.
Though untrained in U.S. law, Ajala bet his knowledge of Commonwealth Law would help him bridge the gap. After relentless effort, he was close to proving himself right. By day, Ajala rode elevators and walked floors of the 110-story tower at Two World Trade Center, helping secure the building and attending to small emergencies.
Christopher Onuoha, his roommate said, “He worked as a guard from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the afternoon. Then he came back and studied late into the night. Outside class, Ajala spent his nights in study, grappling with legal terms and principles. He mastered the vagaries of contract and criminal law, with hours of reading and note taking.”
“Ajala accepted without complaint that he had to pay his dues, despite already having been a lawyer in Nigeria. Ajala flunked the New York bar exam three times, common in a state where the exam is especially tough. But he never gave up. He was hoping to pass it in February when the Trade Center happened. He had nothing. But he kept trying. He made sure he spent less money on himself so he could send money back home,” said Onuoha.
Security guard Christopher Iwuanyanwa, a close friend, also said: “Ajala was helping evacuate thousands of people from a street-level security post inside the lobby of Two World Trade Center when the second plane hit the building. He was on the ground floor. He could easily have run away. Ajala didn’t run. He came out of the burning tower only once before it fell, to hold the door open for people running out. Then he went back inside to guide more people out of the blazing structure. Apparently exhausted after helping to guide many out of the attacked building, Ajala reportedly first went into a coma and did not die until the following Sunday.
But for the economic situation in Nigeria which has forced many professionals to seek greener pastures abroad, Ajala might not have been anywhere near the scene of the attack. He would have been practicing as a lawyer in Nigeria.
At first he bounced between jobs, but ultimately he landed a steady position as a security guard at the World Trade Center. Still, he was frustrated, and he began pursuing his dream of becoming a lawyer in America, setting his sights on passing the New York State Bar Exam.
Every September, Mr. Ajala visited Nigeria, and he was planning to travel there again this past September to visit his wife, Victoria, and their three children, Onyinyechi, 7, Uchechukwu, 5, and Ugochi, 1. His friends said he was planning to apply for visas to bring them to the United States.
In a world where so many people are looking out for their selves, this man risked his life for others.