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Femi Owolabi: Recounting our woes: What’s the worth of a Nigerian life?


Femi Owolabi: Recounting our woes: What’s the worth of a Nigerian life?

By Femi Owolabi

One sunny afternoon, at the University of Minna, Nigeria, Istifanus, a final-year student of the Department of Electrical/Computer Engineering — after the usual rigorous series of lectures — was returning to his hostel. As he walked past the gate of the Admin Building, a lecturer recklessly sped out from the gate and knocked Istifanus.

There was a collective scream from the students who were also passing by. The lecturer had frozen on the steering. Istifanus’s books had been flung out of his arm, as he now rolled on the ground. Two students rushed to lift Istifanus. The school clinic, luckily, was a few steps away. Istifanus seemed to have suffered many cuts and was bleeding, profusely.

Sadly, there were no medical personnel to attend to this emergency. The General Hospital was immediately suggested and the clinic’s ambulance was made available. And, of course, no medical personnel on board the ambulance—that would give first aid service, or even attempt to manage the bleeding– only the students who had brought Istifanus to the clinic, and a security man. Unsure of how to stabilize an accident victim, the students and the security man, could only, helplessly, watch Istifanus as he became unconscious.

The ambulance arrived at the rowdy government-owned hospital, and the students and the security man brought Istifanus out of the ambulance, and cleared their way through to the reception. They had expected some nurses to rush out with a gurney and wheel the accident victim to an emergency ward. They, however, remained calm when they saw that there were other accident victims—who had come before them– lying on the floor, waiting to be attended to. The code of conduct here seemed anomalous. Gently, the students laid Istifanus on that bare floor, and waited, too. They waited, and waited, and waited. And when a doctor would eventually attend to them, what remained of Istifanus was a lifeless body. The doctor only came to pronounce him dead.  The students who brought Istifanus watched appalled; the end of the ambition of a young Nigerian who had spent more than seven semesters in the university, training to become an Electrical/Computer engineer.

Last month, my friend, Bayo Adeyinka, in an outrage on his Facebook wall asked: What kind of country do we live in and what kind of emergency services do we have? What kind of land swallows its inhabitants just like that?
What got Bayo devastated?

Hear him:

He started as a driver but ended up as my brother. I have never met a more careful and experienced driver. Ayo drove me for many years while I worked with Standard Chartered. Very humble, easy-going and unassuming, he was a man of few words but absolutely dedicated. He was as honest as honest can be. Ayo will never pinch money from fuel vouchers and absolutely everyone at work trusted him. Even other colleagues ‘borrowed’ Ayo and sent him on errands. When he wanted to buy a car for private cab operations after work hours, I know some colleagues who loaned him money just so he wouldn’t miss that opportunity. And Ayo never defaulted.

About an hour ago, I was told AY as we popularly called him, is dead. He died sequel to an accident last Saturday on his return from a trip to attend the burial of his landlady’s mother. He lost a tyre on Lagos-Ibadan expressway and ran under a trailer. He died with three other occupants in the car. He didn’t die on the spot though. He was moved to a hospital where they were told there was no oxygen. How can there be a hospital without cylinders of oxygen? What kind of emergency services do we have that there is no trauma management? Why can’t the government have at least two major hospitals on Lagos-Ibadan expressway to handle issues like this– seeing the quantum of accidents on that road?

So, they moved him to OSUTH. By the time they got there, he had lost a lot of blood. And so he died. He left behind a pregnant wife, two children and an aged mother.

What if there had been oxygen at that hospital, wouldn’t that just be enough to sustain AY’s breath?

In an interview with Vanguard Newspaper, Dennis Akagha, the fiancé to the late Justina Ejelonu, a nurse at the First Consultants Hospital in Lagos who was among the healthcare workers who treated the first Ebola patient in Nigeria, argues that his wife, who, however had tested positive to the virus, wouldn’t have died if things were properly done.

Laments Akagha:

Initially, I was seeing her through the window and she would say I should take her out of the hospital. She complained of lack of care.

Perhaps, Justina would have survived the virus, if not for the state she was in. Her immune system was down because she was pregnant. Along the line, she had a miscarriage and lost the baby due to the Ebola virus disease.

The doctors, who were supposed to do an evacuation on her couldn’t do it because they claimed that an evacuation was too risky as she was heavily infected and may pass on the virus to another person.

Since nothing was done even after the bleeding had stopped, it led to more complications for her because the already dead foetus somehow got rotten in the womb and started a damaging process which led to further complication.

Meanwhile, she was still stooling and vomiting and since nobody could dare to touch her, she was left on top of her excretions even when she couldn’t do much for herself due to her weak state. She was given her incisions and other drugs. I believe if some people survived, Justina should have been one of them. At a point, I wished I was a doctor myself; I would have taken the risk of doing the evacuation because it really affected her.

The last day I saw her, I had to go inside the ward because she was so unkempt as nobody attended to her. At that time, the quarantined patients were in the former facility where there was no water and she had messed up herself again. I had to look for water to clean her up, change her pampers and arrange her bedding. Since I was aware of what I was dealing with, I got myself protected while cleaning up the place. I made sure she looked better than when I saw her. Justina was shivering the last day I saw her, one side of her stomach was already swollen, and her legs were also swollen. I prayed for her. At a point, she needed oxygen and the hospital couldn’t provide it. That was the last day I saw her.

We are treating an emergency case that is Ebola, and the hospital couldn’t provide oxygen? This, unfortunately, is the reality in Nigeria.

A friend of mine always warns me to stop comparing our system here with that in America. But I choose to offend my friend again.

On August 2nd, 2014, an American medical missionary, Kent Brantly, who had contracted the Ebola virus while treating Ebola victims in Liberia, was airlifted inside an airtight plastic pod to Georgia military base and then by ground ambulance to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. I watched it live on CNN. One began to marvel at what the life of just one American could worth, that even CNN would suspend its lined-up shows to cover the ambulance taking Brantly from Georgia to Emory. Not because it’s an Ebola case.

Comparing the worth of the Nigerian and the American lives, last year after the Boston bombings, I shared a witty post on my Facebook wall:

Bomb explosions in Boston, America. On-going CNN show placed on hold. Senior CNN correspondents assemble at the situation room, reporting live. Security officers and medical teams running, rescuing, and securing the perimeter. Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts comes on to talk. He invites E.D Davis, the Boston police commissioner to brief the people about the situation. Mayor of Boston also speaks on the matter.

On the other hand, President Obama is seen receiving a telephone call from the FBI director- briefing him on the Boston bombings- as the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Chief of Staff watch him in sobriety.

Members of the House of Representatives, witnesses, and analysts are calling in, worried and showing sincere concerns. Americans are rushing to the hospital to donate blood to the explosion victims.

Soon, as expected, President Obama comes up to make his statement. He looks furious. “…..Make no mistake, we will find out who did this… Anyone, any group behind this will feel the weight of justice,” he says.

Bomb explosions somewhere in Nigeria. NTA is showing Information Minister Labaran Maku’s good governance tour in Delta State. AIT is showing Tinsel. MITV is showing Baba Ajasco. Silverbird is showing Whiz Kid’s I love my baby. Channels TV has the breaking news scrolling under an on-going political show. Nobody is reporting live, nobody is following the updates. Nevertheless, Nigerians around the explosion scene are taking pictures and updating their BBM statuses ‘Bombing Things.’ Reuben Abati- President Jonathan’s spokesman releases his statement on behalf of his principal. He says, the president has condemned the bomb attacks at so so place.

The President? He is in Equatorial Guinea kissing the arse of the bloody President Nguema Mbasogo. When he returns, smiling, he says, “Terrorism is a global phenomenon … In fact, I can be bombed anytime, too.”

Ha! I should sue my mother for refusing to marry that America man who promised to take her to Washington to live with him. There’s no value on human lives here. No value!

For America, my condolence. May the souls of those who died in the Boston bombings rest in peace. For Nigeria, I am singing shey na like this we go dey dey?…

My focus, however, in this piece, is on the health sector. Recall, at the isolation hospital in Nigeria, Justina lacked care that she begged the fiancé to take her out of the place. One of Justina’s colleagues who also attended to the Nigeria’s Ebola index case, and had miraculously survived Ebola, Ada Igonoh, told her story about the isolation centre:

I was taken to the female ward. I was shocked at the environment. It looked like an abandoned building. It smelled of faeces and vomit. The toilets did not flush so I had to fetch water in a bucket from the bathroom each time I used the toilet. I then placed another bucket beneath my bed for the vomiting. Competent hands were few. The sheets were not changed for days. The floor was stained with greenish vomitus and excrement. Mosquitoes were our roommates.

One of Nigeria’s talented choreographers, Kemi Omotoyinbo, few days ago, died during child birth. One of Kemi’s friends was quoted in a report: Kemi wouldn’t have died if the doctors did pay attention to her.

So I ask again: What is wrong here? What is a Nigerian life worth? Why can’t our hospitals have, at least, cylinders of oxygen on standby? Why are mosquitoes the companions of the sick while they are left to exist in their own waste?

Politicians will soon return to ask for our votes. Some of them will repeat the same promises they mouthed the last time they wanted our votes, the same promises they failed to keep. And we will vote for them again. No questions will be asked, bags of rice and gallons of kerosene and odourless fufu will be shared. Then, more men like Istifanus will die due to lack of oxygen, more Justinas will have swollen bellies and feet, more and more of this. Because nobody – neither the politician nor the electorate – knows truly what a Nigerian life is worth. That’s so sad.

– Follow this writer on Twitter: @fEMIoWOLABI

Thinker|Writer|Engineer|Art&Culture Critic|Father|Lover|Socio-Political Commentator|Deacon|Believes that a life without beans&dodo is a miserable existence.

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