Godwin Ajala is often remembered and celebrated as an American national hero who laid his life for the sake of countless people who were escaping from the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001.
He is also the only Nigerian listed among the nearly 3,000 people who died due to the devastating attack.
Godwin Ajala was born in Nigeria on June 9, 1968. He was the son of a retailer from Ihenta, a small town in the Eastern state of Ebonyi. Ajala’s childhood was disrupted by the Biafra civil war as his region was part of the breakaway from the central Nigerian government. In the upcoming years, after the war had ended, Ajala pursued his dream of becoming a lawyer and served in the legal field. He lived in Ihenta with his wife and their three children. In 1995, in a bid to hustle overseas to better his life and that of his family, Godwin Ajala moved to the United States.
When Ajala arrived in the United States, he struggled to integrate into his newfound community. Moreover, he settled for poorly paid jobs before securing a steady position as a security guard or Access Control Officer at the New York World Trade Center towers at the ground floor level. This position gave Ajala unlimited access within the walls of the building. He rode elevators and walked floors of the 110-story tower at Two World Trade Center, securing the building and tending to small emergencies. While serving as security guard, Ajala was also preparing to take the New York State Bar Exam with plans to reunite with his family in the U.S. once he passed the exam.
His friends once recalled Ajala’s fatal constraint of working from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m, as a security guard and then coming home to study for another 6 to 8 hours every day.
THE BIRTH OF A HERO
On the tragic day of September 11, 2001, when two hijacked passenger airliners crashed into the North and South towers of the World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan, Godwin Ajala rose to the challenge and illustrated that “heroes do not wear capes.” Although that was his last day, he made sure that humanity took preeminence.
As per reports, when the second plane hit the building, Ajala helped to evacuate thousands of people from a street-level security post inside the lobby. He firmly held the door open for people who were escaping. Instead of running to safety, Godwin Ajala repeatedly went back inside to guide and direct more people out of the fiery tower.
Exhausted and struck with fatigue after guiding many people out of the building, Ajala reportedly went into coma and died the following Sunday.
Godwin Ajala died at age 33. He would become one of the 11 security guards who died following the incident and the only Nigerian listed in the overall death toll. While we remember those who lost their lives in that tragic ordeal, Ajala’s heroic stunt should always be recorded. He risked his dreams of becoming a lawyer and reuniting with his family so that others will live.