FOR THE LOVE OF ‘BLACK’

A friend of mine was once asked, “If you had to add one more face to Mount Rushmore, whose would it be?”

For those of us still struggling to catch up, you might have seen the 2003 comedy, ‘Head of State’ starring Chris Rock. Nearing the end of the movie after Mays (Chris) had won the presidency, there was a shot of his face hewn into a massive stone structure beside the equally sculpted faces of four former American presidents. That is Mount Rushmore (picture below) – without Chris Rock of course. It is a historic structure in America forever remembering the feats of four great past American leaders – George Washington (1732–1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) and Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865).

Mount Richmore

So my friend thought for only a second before saying that the one face he would have added to Mount Rushmore is that of Nelson Mandela.

I completely agree with him. Nelson Mandela preached forgiveness, resilience and freedom to South Africans at a time when the ideals sounded hollow to them. And with love, determination and immense sacrifice, he showed his people how. As I read Timi‘s piece below, I wondered what emotions would be going through Mandela’s mind if he were alive now to witness the waves of xenophobic hostilities sweeping across his beloved South Africa.

I wondered and I came to a conclusion – shame.

FOR THE LOVE OF ‘BLACK’ – by Timilehin Osunde

Xenophobia

Okay, this is coming some days behind. But it has got me thinking for days on end, this South African issue of hostility and violence towards black foreigners – XENOPHOBIA, they call it.

This one video just leaves my stomach unsettled. You are walking home after a hard day’s work in a foreign country; someone walks up to you and hits you in the face without any prior altercation or exchange of words. That leaves you dazed for some minutes sitting on the hot tarred road with vehicles whizzing past. You’re still in confusion when another brings a building block meant for construction and hurls it at you and you hit the ground in shock, in pain. Then a young man still wearing his school uniform decides that your lying on the ground looks good for a trampoline practice and chooses to use you for his sport.

A man, a human being suffered this fate. One can only imagine what would have been racing through the mind of such a poor soul. He probably just ended a call to his wife back home in his country or even a sick parent back in his village. He probably just promised to send them a little out of what he struggles to earn in harsh, uncertain conditions.

I didn’t want to join the list of people who have had to remind South Africa of their dark times and how other African nations lent a helping hand. While these sibling African nations could have looked the other way, they did not because they identified with the South Africans on many levels of value. The first of these levels is the colour of the skin which I right now so want to believe goes beyond the surface covering.

There are a whole lot of others on this values’ list which we cherish as a people, a continent, and a ‘race’. Yet, for whatever reason, South Africa has subtly over time chosen to act the odd one out (personal observation) since the apartheid era ended. This nation has in so many tiny but significant ways sent subtle signals that they do NOT want other Africans. They could have voiced this stance a long time ago, and it would have made life easier for the many ‘foreign’ Africans who have continued pushing across their borders.

I know some Nigerians who have had the ‘poor luck’ of visiting South Africa and have not had anything good to say about the reception they get. Maybe this goes for some other African countries as well save a few but again, maybe this issue reaches far deeper than what is happening right now; maybe it is more of an African disease than a South African flaw. Maybe our leaders need to start working on the value system of each nation on this beautiful continent, maybe our ideologies are flawed in Africa, maybe that student in the school uniform on his way home needs to understand the value of life, be it that of an insect or a human.

Maybe the so many unions across the continent with the apex African Union need to re-strategize on workable, possible ways to avert future occurrences of such hostility in the many states that make up Africa. Some of the objectives of these unions have been written to include; achieving greater unity and solidarity between the member countries and its citizens, defending the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of member states, to accelerate the political and social-economic integration of the members amongst a whole lot of others. Maybe these objectives need to be effected before the whole issue spirals down the drain into a messy mass.

So many maybes…

Now it’s the turn of Nigerians to hold a rally on this xenophobia matter somewhere on the Island in Lagos soon and that leaves one with the question what next after that.

I would like to put a hold on my thoughts at this point to avoid going round in an unending cycle of heartbreak. As humans living in Africa, when we choose to leave our home country to either visit or do business in another African country, all we ask for is security and a sense of belonging. It really is as simple as that.

God bless Africa!

Timilehin is a journalist, a communications and social media expert with the Weed Science Centre at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

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…if we have a country

thinking man

Dear Suzzy,

Contrition overwhelms me as I pen these words. I am ashamed of myself because I lied to you and made a promise I knew would be hard to keep. On a second thought, I forgive myself because you pushed me. You pushed me when you kissed me the other night and made me promise to take you to Nigeria on Valentine’s Day.

I must have been hypnotized by that kiss or the food we ate afterwards.  I am certain that I wouldn’t have made such a weighty promise if I was in control of my senses.

I hate to disappoint you my dear but we have to cancel the arrangement. We cannot spend Valentine day in Nigeria because my country will be at war on that day.

I know how eager you are to visit Africa and Nigeria. I know how much you look forward to meeting the nice people and seeing the beautiful places you have read and heard about. But your curiosity can wait another year my dear.

If you don’t want to have Valentine memories tainted in tears and blood then we should remain here and cuddle on that day. With the super-fast internet at our disposal, we can watch the madness in my country from a distance. Our love is young and sweet but I fear it will never be the same if I take you home this Valentine.

Suzzy my dear, you are probably wondering why I am so scared when all that is happening is just an election to decide who will be president of my country. But you won’t understand. You have lived in these peaceful climes for too long and you think elections in other parts of the world are the same with what you have here.

But you are wrong my dear. In my own part of the world, elections are like war. We go to the polls afraid of what will happen when the results are announced. However it turns out, tears, blood and wanton destruction of property are normal features of elections in Nigeria.

You ask why it is like that?  It is because politics in my country smacks of desperation. Those who hold power sit tight even when they have performed below expectations and those who want it will throw everything including the kitchen sink to actualize their ambitions.

My dear Suzzy, we can’t make this visit to Nigeria because the forthcoming elections may be bloody. Everyone is afraid the country may go up in flames regardless of the outcome.

Have you forgotten what my friends in Berlin said when we visited for Christmas? I mean, you saw the trepidation in Timi’s eyes when he told us his parents were planning to relocate temporarily from their home in the Kaduna because they fear a riot might start when the results are announced.

Joe my friend in Lagos, said some people were already planning to go to Ghana, Republic of Benin and other neighboring countries during the election. That’s what happens every time we go to the polls in my country. Those who have the means run away until the madness abates. The poor and innocent ones are always at the short end of the stick. Some die. Others lose their homes and means of livelihood while another group of survivors will spend the rest of their lives nursing physical and emotional wounds that will never heal.

Suzzy, do you know what is really annoying this time?  We are to choose between two men who probably don’t deserve to be president of any country in the world.

Unlike your own country where you have to choose from a pool of brilliant minds, with enviable track records, election in my country is based strictly on ethnic and religious sentiments.

My dear, do you know how difficult it is to choose between an incumbent president who has failed in many areas and a 72-year old retired General with a questionable past?  Joe says it is like standing between the devil and the deep blue sea.

You know another annoying thing as we prepare for this election? It is the fact that no one is asking the fundamental questions. On Facebook, Twitter and other social media platform, the re-packaged General is portrayed as our knight in shining amour.  To his teeming supporters, it is a sacrilege to express contrary opinions about him.

They sound as if this man who overthrew a democratic president some 32 years ago has the magic pills to cure all that ails Nigeria the moment he becomes president. As though voting for him will instantly mark the end of the epileptic power supply, equip hospitals without drugs, revamp universities of shallow knowledge, fix blood sucking expressways and better the lives of millions of impoverished citizens in one day.

As for the incumbent President, the cookies are crumbling around him with every passing day. They say he is weak and inept to rule a complex country like Nigeria and he is not doing much to change that opinion.

You know what is most funny about his re-election campaign? His followers compare him to Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela, Lee Kuan Yew and other famous leaders and then urge us to give him more time to transform our country.

So Suzzy, do you see why we can’t go to Nigeria for Valentine this year? Let’s just watch from here and pray God and the angels protect our loved ones who can’t get out of the country.

I know how disappointed you feel right now but I promise you in the name of our love that we will spend the next Valentine in Nigeria…if we have a country after 2015.

With love, now and forever

Veen

Vincent Nzemeke is a Nigerian currently studying in Germany

Roses and Angels III

roses and angels

…continued from here

Mama died on the second week of her mourning, and the villagers shouted hosanna. The gods had again shown their inestimable strength and had done justice to Papa.

Three weeks passed, and you joined Uncle Ofodili and his family to their house – a house which few weeks ago you shared with your parents alone. Your cousins took over your little fancy room, and you slept in the kitchen.  You hated the hardness of the floor, and the cold which could not be absorbed by the faded wrapper that had become your bed. But you were grateful for the privacy it afforded you. So, you spent the nights praying, dwelling on the life you had with your parents, and studying your old books with the hope that Uncle Ofodili will one day ask you to resume school again.

But even that was short-lived. Your privacy was cut short by Uncle Ofodili who sneaked in every night and persuaded you in his baritone voice to ‘open your legs’. You were not sure what he wanted with your open legs, but your instincts and that leer in his eyes told you that what he desired of you was bad, very bad.

A week passed, and Uncle Ofodili did not stop coming. He was even more forceful with every passing day. The last time, he struck you, and when Aunty offhandedly enquired the cause of your black-eye, you lied to her that you fell. You feared that the worse will happen if Aunty found out herself, so one morning, after Uncle left for work, and after you had bathed Chika and Ikem and made breakfast, and done the dishes and scrubbed the house and dropped the children off at school, you braced up, and confided in Aunty. 

At first, she was shocked. She struck you with the china ware in her hands, and further pummeled you with every item within her reach. You pleaded with her, you told her you were sorry, and you will not err again, but her beating and curses drowned your pleas. That night, she called you a cursed child, and sent you out of the house, wearing nothing but your open wounds and a broken spirit.

It was Madam Janet, your new neighbour who took you in for the night. You recounted your ordeals to her and she let you spend the night in her apartment. She cleaned your wounds and offered you her guest room. Though you could still feel the pains running through your body, though you were still shivering in fright, you saw a glimmer of hope in Madam Janet. Maybe she would take you in, you thought.

But the next day, she asked you to leave. She feared for her young marriage. You pleaded gently, tears flowing like a spring, she said no. So you left, dazed, weary and craving for death.

Years passed and something happened within you, strengthening you, and  drowning your past. Until today, you have not given a serious thought to your parent, home, poetry or music. But today, history has not only resurrected in your mind. Today, history has taken a bold step towards you, and Uncle Ofodili, who was only a figment of that history, had journeyed out of the past, and found his way to your bedside.

You are shaking. The lights are still off when Johnny walks in. He is seething with fury and with his eyes as red as palm oil. He has obviously drowned himself in Cocaine again. Chief must have told him, but you do not care.

“You,” he spits, “you’re such a pig”

You give him reasons, but he doesn’t hear. “He’s a dick,” Johnny retorts, “just as the rest. Uncle or not, since you had fucked him, you shudda got me my fucking balance”.

He is holding your neck with such force you think it might as well snap. You scream, desperately flailing your hands on his stoic face. Vexed, he lets go of you, but before that, strikes his heavy fists on your face. He has hit you many times before, but this time, your screams are louder and your thoughts are still hung on the past, refusing like your shadow, to let go of you.

That evening, you resolve to leave Johnny, and your wrecked existence.

You park your few decent cloths and tips you hid away in your old shoes, and you leave town. The taxi driver is running at dangerous speed like an angry cheetah. But you do not even notice, so you do not complain. Your thoughts wander again.

The very next morning, Madam Janet true to her decision, sent you packing. You were stranded, lonely, shivering and hopeless. You walked the streets until dusk came and you panicked, while hunger gnawed at the ligaments of your belly. Slowly, night drew its dark curtains over the firmaments, and full blown anxiety sank into your heart. You were a solitary figure, a poignant image under a rotting electric pole, watching the people walking back and forth to their waiting destinations. No one spoke to you. Their faces were straight, and their feet, eager with motion.

 Then it pulled over, a small gulf with tinted glasses.

to be continued next week

by Uche Anichebe

Roses and Angels II

roses and angels

For some seconds, you shut your eyes and then open them, but he is still there, that man you learnt to dread with all our life. A man you learnt to despise, the man who robbed you of those long ago childish care.

‘O god, oh my god, o god,’ you gasp.

All the while you’re wishing it was one of those dreams whose details you forget almost as soon as you awoke. Your mouth is dry, your lips are limp, you try to scream, but all you can feel is stiffness around your throat. A long limp sound escapes you and just then Chief moves a little, but does not rouse. The tears take form and travel down your face. The memories start to come, those memories you have sealed in the closet of history. You are shaking. You are sobbing. You are weakened by your past. You find your clothing, hastily put them on. Chief is still sprawled out like a small child on the expansive bed when you dash out of the room.

It all started when you were only twelve. That was ten years ago. Like a newly sprouted leaf in the raining season, the details are again fresh in your mind.

You were the apple of your parent’s eye, an only child. Your father called you Angel and nurtured your dream of becoming a world acclaimed singer. He always told you that you had a voice that could move mountains and encouraged you to join the church’s choir. Every Christmas, he watched you rehearse for Christmas carol, and eventually perform at the children Christmas carol. Every Christmas until that cursed Christmas.

The harmattan gale was fiercest that year, and the house seemed mirthless without Papa’s voice. He had left on a business trip but promised to return to watch you sing. He never returned. You never sang. Papa died in a plane crash, and the next week after his demise, Mama received a call from the village. She said it had to do with tradition. She assured you it was going to be alright and you both went to your country-home to perform Papa’s burial rite.

Things took a different shape when you got to the village. Your relatives seemed to have grown hostile over-night. They had occupied your country-home, and would not let you or Mama into the house. You were taken to your paternal granny’s house, which was on the next street. She did not smile up at you as she usually did, and when you asked her why, she gave you a stern look, and called you the daughter of a witch who had succeeded in killing her only son with voodoo. She swore that Mama must undergo some ‘omenala’, customary practices to proof her claim of innocence.

Your mother’s hair was shaved to the scalp so that you could hardly recognize her. A bevy of old women gathered around spiting and mocking and accusing her, while she cried in agony. The next day, you saw the same women leading her out of the garage that had become her room, and you thought it was all over. But it was not.

They made her kneel, repeat some words that you did not hear, and forced her to drink the content of a small wooden calabash. She was hesitant, but the women slapped her face and forced the content of the ugly calabash down her throat.  Granny later told you that it contained the bath water of your father’s corpse. You threw up and refused to eat all day long. You missed your home at the city and the near perfect life you had with your parents. You wished Mama’s travail would come to an abrupt end, so you can return home with Mama, and with considered effort, put your lives back together.  But the women had different thoughts. Mama, they said, must remain in the garage, stripped of all her raiment for a month. She must come out only once a day, when she heard the first cock crow at dawn, and whether she liked it or not, she must wail to the hearing of the entire neighbourhood.

Mama’s mother came to see Mama and in your innocent confusion, you asked her why life has taken a new turn. She told you that it is a path that all widows must thread. You pressed on, and enquired why Uncle Ofodili, Papa’s cousin and his family have taken over your country home. She cast you a sad look which lingered for some seconds, and said, ‘you should have been a boy you know’. 

Her voice seemed distant and accusatorial as she continued, ‘girls are such vain treasures. They come and go, but the man stays, and must be succeeded by another man. Ofodili is the new man!’                           

 Mama died on the second week of her mourning, and the villagers shouted hosanna.

…to be continued next week

By Uche Anichebe

The Mind Factor: ‘Nigeria-Ebola’ play in perspective

The proprietress of the secondary school I attended in Aba had this saying she was very fond of and made sure we never stopped hearing. On many occasions while we were in class, or standing on the hard-clay assembly grounds behind the main school building, or seated in the large auditorium, she would face us in one of her uniform loose, short-sleeved blouses, knee-length cotton skirts and black flats. Her slouched shoulders would straighten a fraction of an inch, her amply dimpled chin would incline at a determined angle and set in her dark brown face, her black eyes would burn strength and hope into ours, while she said, “I can do it! You can do it! If I set my mind to it!”

Often she would ask us to repeat after her and most of us would attempt humorous mimicries of her American accent – I cain duweht…you cain duweht…if I set my mind tuweht! We would covertly snicker among ourselves and exchange low high-fives; and a number of our teachers would even crack tiny smiles at our juvenile mischief, but not Mrs Zoe. She would stand stern while we repeated those words and like her, gesticulated accordingly with our index fingers. And it worked because they stuck. The words didn’t just stick in our hearts and minds, they have rung true for me in all the years since then.

I CAN DO IT! YOU CAN DO IT! IF I SET MY MIND TO IT!

The best example that comes to mind is with respect to the emergence of the Ebola virus in Nigeria few months ago. The manner in which EVD was battled into containment in Nigeria reeks of ardent resolve, especially on the part of the health officials and government. The facts that follow establish this as concisely as possible:

Nigeria’s first reported case of Ebola was an imported one, borne by the 40-year old Patrick Sawyer into Lagos via a flight from Monrovia, Liberia. Fortunately, he was suspected of having the virus and was hospitalized on arrival in Nigeria at the First Consultant Hospital, Obalende. Mr. Sawyer died 25 July having infected healthcare staff that had had close, unprotected contact with him prior to realizing he was infected. It was imperative then to initiate containment action against the virus and Nigerian health officials promptly swung into action.

By the 17th of September, records showed the total number of confirmed cases to be 19 with 7 deaths. There were 4 contacts still under surveillance in Lagos and 344 in Rivers State. Over 520 contacts had been discharged from surveillance following a symptom-free 21-day observation window. And by the 1st of October, these numbers remained except for additional two cases – one infection and one death, both marked as ‘probable’.

As impressive as they are, these numbers barely scratch the top of how much work went into the fight to contain Ebola. A doctor’s strike that had been underway for more than a month was temporarily suspended in early August to enable medical personnel help with the outbreak. A State of Emergency was declared, discouraging large gatherings and asking schools to extend summer holidays. As the outbreak continued, the doctor’s strike was cancelled (instead of suspended) and school closures were extended through mid-October. Isolation facilities and centers were established in different parts of the country – one 40-bed facility in Lagos, one 26-bed centre in Rivers state, seven hospitals in Delta state, a quarantine centre in Niger state – along with elaborate plans ongoing to expand on the infrastructure. Volunteers were raised and trained to become primary screeners while physicians underwent training to become secondary screeners, and to distinguish suspected cases of Ebola from other diseases. Thousands of people were screened per day per point of entry – land, sea and air.

The result? There have been no new cases of Ebola in Nigeria since August 31, a strong indication that the virus has been contained.

While the aid of foreign institutions like the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) cannot be discounted, most of the praise has reserved for Nigerian physicians like the late Dr. Stella Adadevoh and the Nigerian Ministry of Health headed by Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu. In the words of a doctor with the Atlanta-based CDC, Dr Aileen Marty, “”The Nigerian government was wholeheartedly into the process of trying to solve the problem”

Dr AdadevohProf Onyebuchi Chukwu

While the encomiums on the ebullient Dr. Adadevoh, who paid the ultimate price in the fight, and her colleagues are without suspect, much of those heaped on the Nigerian government are perhaps more in shock than anything else. Many have wondered at the energy that was mustered by the government in procuring and unleashing resources to fight Ebola; ‘the Nigerian government is incapable of such efficiency’, the disbelieving public has declared.

But is it really?

Dr. Marty of the CDC identified reasons which she thought aided the Nigerian battle against Ebola, and one such reason was that the disease was mostly limited to the wealthier population of Nigeria. “The person who brought the infection was a diplomat,” Marty said. “He was brought to one of the best hospitals in Nigeria, and the people who were infected were individuals who quickly comprehended the importance of following our recommendations.”

This train of thought was shared by a Nigerian who for the purposes of this piece, chose to remain anonymous. In his opinion, Ebola was battled so methodically and decisively because it struck at the heart of the upper social class of the society. “Otherwise why are lower class members of the society still dying daily from malaria and child labor?” he finished emphatically. Some other schools of thought would rather remain grateful – for the containment of Ebola – and hopeful – for the rest.

Whichever school of thought you choose to align with, one truth we can all agree on is that the Nigerian government has shown itself capable of excellence. Whether it was due process or a case of necessity mothering invention matters not at the moment; the country’s leaders have shown that if they put their mind to a task, they can achieve it. Much like the tortoise who claimed he couldn’t dance but was caught gyrating in the inner chambers of his hut to the beats of the moonlight drum, the Nigerian leaders must now dance the music of the gods in the market place. They must now answer a burdened people’s call to accountability par excellence.

But will they? Can they?

“I can do it! You can do it! If we put our minds to it!”

 

 

Extracts from:

How Nigeria contained its Ebola outbreak by Mark Gollom, MSN news.

International SOS report, October 2014.

I am @ojukwu_martin on twitter

 

DEATH IN T.B. JOSHUA’S CATHEDRAL

TBJoshua TBJoshua02

The risk in commenting on issues such as the tragedy that occurred at the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos last week is that one is likely to draw the ire of religious fanatics who can’t see beyond their noses.

In a country where people follow sheepishly and ‘men of God’ are seen as super-humans who can do no wrong, I expect that someone somewhere would read this and label the writer and whoever agrees with him as a bunch of unbelievers.

Some will even take it a step further by reminding us of the biblical caveat of “touch not my anointed” that forbids carnal beings like us who only see things from the prism of the flesh from criticizing highly spiritual beings such as Pastor T.B Joshua and others in his ilk when they err.

But it is hard to suppress the anger that comes with a tragedy of this magnitude. It is surreal and almost inhuman to keep quiet and move on as if nothing happened when scores of people died in church which they thought was a safe haven.

A large number of the over 70 Nigerians and foreigners who lost their lives in that tragedy were at the Synagogue in search of miracles. They sought miracles to make their lives better but they found death in a most cruel manner.

But their death is not the real tragedy. The real tragedy is that like Boko Haram and other problems assailing Nigeria today, this was another man- made disaster.

A building collapse is no tidal wave or any other form of natural catastrophe. It is something that happens when fundamental rules are not adhered to. This is what you get when people circumvent due process and cut corners for selfish ends.

There are different versions of the story but one point stands out. It is the fact that Pastor Joshua was trying to convert an existing structure (a 2 or 3 storey) into a six storey building.

You don’t have to be a building engineer to understand what we are talking about here. The ‘man of God’ was simply erecting four additional floors on a foundation that was originally meant for a two storey structure. He was trying to be clever by half!

Death comes when it will but these ones could have been prevented if Pastor Joshua has taken some precautionary measures.

What is more appalling is the fact that rather than show remorse, this ‘man of God’ and his acolytes mock the dead by making up hare-brained excuses aimed at absolving himself of culpability.

In other climes, T.B Joshua, the contractors, engineers and other people spreading that conspiracy theory of a plane hovering around the building before it collapsed should be sleeping in police cells by now.

But because we never learn and pastors are gods in human form, T.B Joshua’s members are ready to lay down their lives in his defence. Boko Haram not their pastor is the reason why over 70 miracles seekers and construction workers perished under the rubble of collapsed building. Rubbish!

Sad as it, this Synagogue tragedy is just another manifestation of our failings as a nation. While Pastor Joshua remains the prime suspect in this case, the contractors handling the project and the officials who approved the plan for the building are equally culpable.

Foreigners reading the story over the internet must be wondering how in Mars Pastor Joshua got approval to raise that structure in a country that has an urban planning agency.

But in a country of endless possibilities – where you can get a driver’s license without ever driving a car – it must have been easy for ‘the man of God’ to secure an approval to convert an archaic two storey structure into a modern edifice by just oiling a few palms at the government office responsible for such. We are that bad!

Now that the worst has happened, the least we can do is to ensure justice for the departed souls. To achieve that, we must call on the relevant authorities to invite Pastor Joshua, the contractor and those who approved the plan for questioning.

Will that ever happen in Nigeria? Your guess is as good as mine.

 

By Vincent Nzemeke (@)

 

EBOLA SURVIVAL STORY OF DR. ADA IGONOH

Originally published on Bellanaija.com

As Nigeria battles with the outbreak of Ebola, we consistently commend the dedication and selflessness of the doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals.

Lives have been lost, and families have had to undergo the trauma of isolation. The fear of the unknown even very crippling. We read about the numbers in the news, but when we put a face to the news reports, it brings it home. Dr. Ada Igonoh of First Consultants Hospital is one of the doctors who attended to Patrick Sawyer. She was infected by the virus and miraculously, she survives to share her story.

It is a long read but definitely worth reading as Dr. Ada details her experience. It’s a really gripping read which shows the story of strength, faith and dedication.

***

Dr Ada Igonoh

On the night of Sunday July 20, 2014, Patrick Sawyer was wheeled into the Emergency Room at First Consultants Medical Centre, Obalende, Lagos, with complaints of fever and body weakness. The male doctor on call admitted him as a case of malaria and took a full history. Knowing that Mr. Sawyer had recently arrived from Liberia, the doctor asked if he had been in contact with an Ebola patient in the last couple of weeks, and Mr. Sawyer denied any such contact. He also denied attending any funeral ceremony recently. Blood samples were taken for full blood count, malaria parasites, liver function test and other baseline investigations. He was admitted into a private room and started on antimalarial drugs and analgesics. That night, the full blood count result came back as normal and not indicative of infection.

The following day however, his condition worsened. He barely ate any of his meals. His liver function test result showed his liver enzymes were markedly elevated. We then took samples for HIV and hepatitis screening.

At about 5.00pm, he requested to see a doctor. I was the doctor on call that night so I went in to see him. He was lying in bed with his intravenous (I.V.) fluid bag removed from its metal stand and placed beside him. He complained that he had stooled about five times that evening and that he wanted to use the bathroom again. I picked up the I.V. bag from his bed and hung it back on the stand. I told him I would inform a nurse to come and disconnect the I.V. so he could conveniently go to the bathroom. I walked out of his room and went straight to the nurses’ station where I told the nurse on duty to disconnect his I.V. I then informed my Consultant, Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh about the patient’s condition and she asked that he be placed on some medications.

The following day, the results for HIV and hepatitis screening came out negative. As we were preparing for the early morning ward rounds, I was approached by an ECOWAS official who informed me that Patrick Sawyer had to catch an 11 o’clock flight to Calabar for a retreat that morning. He wanted to know if it would be possible. I told him it wasn’t, as he was acutely ill. Dr. Adadevoh also told him the patient could certainly not leave the hospital in his condition. She then instructed me to write very boldly on his chart that on no account should Patrick Sawyer be allowed out of the hospital premises without the permission of Dr. Ohiaeri, our Chief Medical Consultant. All nurses and doctors were duly informed.

During our early morning ward round with Dr. Adadevoh, we concluded that this was not malaria and that the patient needed to be screened for Ebola Viral Disease. She immediately started calling laboratories to find out where the test could be carried out. She was eventually referred to Professor Omilabu of the LUTH Virology Reference Lab in Idi-Araba whom she called immediately. Prof. Omilabu told her to send blood and urine samples to LUTH straight away. She tried to reach the Lagos State Commissioner for Health but was unable to contact him at the time. She also put calls across to officials of the Federal Ministry of Health and National Centre for Disease Control.

Dr. Adadevoh at this time was in a pensive mood. Patrick Sawyer was now a suspected case of Ebola, perhaps the first in the country. He was quarantined, and strict barrier nursing was applied with all the precautionary measures we could muster. Dr. Adadevoh went online, downloaded information on Ebola and printed copies which were distributed to the nurses, doctors and ward maids. Blood and urine samples were sent to LUTH that morning. Protective gear, gloves, shoe covers and facemasks were provided for the staff. A wooden barricade was placed at the entrance of the door to keep visitors and unauthorized personnel away from the patient.

Despite the medications prescribed earlier, the vomiting and diarrhea persisted. The fever escalated from 38c to 40c.

On the morning of Wednesday 23rd July, the tests carried out in LUTH showed a signal for Ebola. Samples were then sent to Dakar, Senegal for a confirmatory test. Dr. Adadevoh went for several meetings with the Lagos State Ministry of Health. Thereafter, officials from Lagos State came to inspect the hospital and the protective measures we had put in place.

The following day, Thursday 24th July, I was again on call. At about 10.00pm Mr. Sawyer requested to see me. I went into the newly created dressing room, donned my protective gear and went in to see him. He had not been cooperating with the nurses and had refused any additional treatment. He sounded confused and said he received a call from Liberia asking for a detailed medical report to be sent to them. He also said he had to travel back to Liberia on a 5.00am flight the following morning and that he didn’t want to miss his flight. I told him that I would inform Dr. Adadevoh. As I was leaving the room, I met Dr. Adadevoh dressed in her protective gear along with a nurse and another doctor. They went into his room to have a discussion with him and as I heard later to reset his I.V. line which he had deliberately removed after my visit to his room.

At 6:30am, Friday 25th July, I got a call from the nurse that Patrick Sawyer was completely unresponsive. Again I put on the protective gear and headed to his room. I found him slumped in the bathroom. I examined him and observed that there was no respiratory movement. I felt for his pulse; it was absent. We had lost him. It was I who certified Patrick Sawyer dead. I informed Dr. Adadevoh immediately and she instructed that no one was to be allowed to go into his room for any reason at all. Later that day, officials from W.H.O came and took his body away. The test in Dakar later came out positive for Zaire strain of the Ebola virus. We now had the first official case of Ebola virus disease in Nigeria.

It was a sobering day. We all began to go over all that happened in the last few days, wondering just how much physical contact we had individually made with Patrick Sawyer. Every patient on admission was discharged that day and decontamination began in the hospital. We were now managing a crisis situation. The next day, Saturday 26th July, all staff of First Consultants attended a meeting with Prof. Nasidi of the National Centre for Disease Control, Prof Omilabu of LUTH Virology Reference Lab, and some officials of W.H.O. They congratulated us on the actions we had taken and enlightened us further about the Ebola Virus Disease. They said we were going to be grouped into high risk and low risk categories based on our individual level of exposure to Patrick Sawyer, the “index” case. Each person would receive a temperature chart and a thermometer to record temperatures in the morning and night for the next 21 days. We were all officially under surveillance. We were asked to report to them at the first sign of a fever for further blood tests to be done. We were reassured that we would all be given adequate care. The anxiety in the air was palpable.

The frenetic pace of life in Lagos, coupled with the demanding nature of my job as a doctor, means that I occasionally need a change of environment. As such, one week before Patrick Sawyer died, I had gone to my parents’ home for a retreat. I was still staying with them when I received my temperature chart and thermometer on Tuesday 29th of July. I could not contain my anxiety. People were talking Ebola everywhere – on television, online, everywhere. I soon started experiencing joint and muscle aches and a sore throat, which I quickly attributed to stress and anxiety. I decided to take malaria tablets. I also started taking antibiotics for the sore throat. The first couple of temperature readings were normal. Every day I would attempt to recall the period Patrick Sawyer was on admission – just how much direct and indirect contact did I have with him? I reassured myself that my contact with him was quite minimal. I completed the anti-malarials but the aches and pains persisted. I had loss of appetite and felt very tired.

On Friday 1st of August, my temperature read a high 38.7c. As I type this, I recall the anxiety I felt that morning. I could not believe what I saw on the thermometer. I ran to my mother’s room and told her. I did not go to work that day. I cautiously started using a separate set of utensils and cups from the ones my family members were using.

On Saturday 2nd of August, the fever worsened. It was now at 39c and would not be reduced by taking paracetamol. This was now my second day of fever. I couldn’t eat. The sore throat was getting worse. That was when I called the helpline and an ambulance was sent with W.H.O doctors who came and took a sample of my blood. Later that day, I started stooling and vomiting. I stayed away from my family. I started washing my plates and spoons myself. My parents meanwhile, were convinced that I could not have Ebola.

The following day, Sunday 3rd of August, I got a call from one of the doctors who came to take my sample the day before. He told me that the sample which was they had taken was not confirmatory, and that they needed another sample. He did not sound very coherent and I became worried. They came with the ambulance that afternoon and told me that I had to go with them to Yaba. I was confused. Couldn’t the second sample be taken in the ambulance like the previous one? He said a better-qualified person at the Yaba centre would take the sample. I asked if they would bring me back. He said “yes.” Even with the symptoms I did not believe I had Ebola. After all, my contact with Sawyer was minimal. I only touched his I.V. fluid bag just that once without gloves. The only time I actually touched him was when I checked his pulse and confirmed him dead, and I wore double gloves and felt adequately protected.

I told my parents I had to go with the officials to Yaba and that I would be back that evening. I wore a white top and a pair of jeans, and I put my iPad and phones in my bag.

A man opened the ambulance door for me and moved away from me rather swiftly. Strange behavior, I thought. They were friendly with me the day before, but that day, not so. No pleasantries, no smiles. I looked up and saw my mother watching through her bedroom window.

We soon got to Yaba. I really had no clue where I was. I knew it was a hospital. I was left alone in the back of the ambulance for over four hours. My mind was in a whirl. I didn’t know what to think. I was offered food to eat but I could barely eat the rice.

The ambulance door opened and a Caucasian gentleman approached me but kept a little distance. He said to me, “I have to inform you that your blood tested positive for Ebola. I am sorry.” I had no reaction. I think I must have been in shock. He then told me to open my mouth and he looked at my tongue. He said it was the typical Ebola tongue. I took out my mirror from my bag and took a look and I was shocked at what I saw. My whole tongue had a white coating, looked furry and had a long, deep ridge right in the middle. I then started to look at my whole body, searching for Ebola rashes and other signs as we had been recently instructed. I called my mother immediately and said, “Mummy, they said I have Ebola, but don’t worry, I will survive it. Please, go and lock my room now; don’t let anyone inside and don’t touch anything.” She was silent. I cut the line.

I was taken to the female ward. I was shocked at the environment. It looked like an abandoned building. I suspected it had not been in use for quite a while. As I walked in, I immediately recognized one of the ward maids from our hospital. She always had a smile for me but not this time. She was ill and she looked it. She had been stooling a lot too. I soon settled into my corner and looked around the room. It smelled of faeces and vomit. It also had a characteristic Ebola smell to which I became accustomed. Dinner was served – rice and stew. The pepper stung my mouth and tongue. I dropped the spoon. No dinner that night.

Dr. David, the Caucasian man who had met me at the ambulance on my arrival, came in wearing his full protective ‘hazmat’ suit and goggles. It was fascinating seeing one live. I had only seen them online. He brought bottles of water and ORS, the oral fluid therapy which he dropped by my bedside. He told me that 90 percent of the treatment depended on me. He said I had to drink at least 4.5 litres of ORS daily to replace fluids lost in stooling and vomiting. I told him I had stooled three times earlier and taken Imodium tablets to stop the stooling. He said it was not advisable, as the virus would replicate the more inside of me. It was better he said to let it out. He said good night and left.

My parents called. My uncle called. My husband called crying. He could not believe the news. My parents had informed him, as I didn’t even know how to break the news to him.

As I lay on my bed in that isolation ward, strangely, I did not fear for my life. I was confident that I would leave that ward some day. There was an inner sense of calm. I did not for a second think I would be consumed by the disease. That evening, the symptoms fully kicked in. I was stooling almost every two hours. 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.

On occasion I would run to the toilet with a bottle of ORS, so that as I was stooling, I was drinking.

The next day Monday 4th of August, I began to notice red rashes on my skin particularly on my arms. I had developed sores all over my mouth. My head was pounding so badly. The sore throat was so severe I could not eat. I could only drink the ORS. I took paracetamol for the pain. The ward maid across from me wasn’t doing so well. She had stopped speaking. I couldn’t even brush my teeth; the sores in my mouth were so bad. This was a battle for my life but I was determined I would not die.

Every morning, I began the day with reading and meditating on Psalm 91. The sanitary condition in the ward left much to be desired. The whole Ebola thing had caught everyone by surprise. Lagos State Ministry of Health was doing its best to contain the situation but competent hands were few. The sheets were not changed for days. The floor was stained with greenish vomitus and excrement. Dr. David would come in once or twice a day and help clean up the ward after chatting with us. He was the only doctor who attended to us. There was no one else at that time. The matrons would leave our food outside the door; we had to go get the food ourselves. They hardly entered in the initial days. Everyone was being careful. This was all so new. I could understand, was this not how we ourselves had contracted the disease? Mosquitoes were our roommates until they brought us mosquito nets.

Later that evening, Dr. David brought another lady into the ward. I recognized her immediately as Justina Ejelonu, a nurse who had started working at First Consultants on the 21st of July, a day after Patrick Sawyer was admitted. She was on duty on the day Patrick reported that he was stooling. While she was attending to him that night, he had yanked off his drip, letting his blood flow almost like a tap onto her hands. Justina was pregnant and was brought into our ward bleeding from a suspected miscarriage. She had been told she was there only on observation. The news that she had contracted Ebola was broken to her the following day after results of her blood test came out positive. Justina was devastated and wept profusely – she had contracted Ebola on her first day at work.

My husband started visiting but was not allowed to come close to me. He could only see me from a window at a distance. He visited so many times. It was he who brought me a change of clothes and toiletries and other things I needed because I had not even packed a bag. I was grateful I was not with him at home when I fell ill or he would most certainly have contracted the disease. My retreat at my parents’ home turned out to be the instrumentality God used to shield and save him.

I drank the ORS fluid like my life depended on it. Then I got a call from my pastor. He had been informed about my predicament. He called me every single day morning and night and would pray with me over the phone. He later sent me a CD player, CDs of messages on faith and healing, and Holy Communion packs through my husband. My pastor, who also happens to be a medical doctor, encouraged me to monitor how many times I had stooled and vomited each day and how many bottles of ORS I had consumed. We would then discuss the disease and pray together. He asked me to do my research on Ebola since I had my iPad with me and told me that he was also doing his study. He wanted us to use all relevant information on Ebola to our advantage. So I researched and found out all I could about the strange disease that has been in existence for 38 years. My research, my faith, my positive view of life, the extended times of prayer, study and listening to encouraging messages boosted my belief that I would survive the Ebola scourge.

There are five strains of the virus and the deadliest of them is the Zaire strain, which was what I had. But that did not matter. I believed I would overcome even the deadliest of strains. Infected patients who succumb to the disease usually die between 6 to 16 days after the onset of the disease from multiple organ failure and shock caused by dehydration. I was counting the days and keeping myself well hydrated. I didn’t intend to die in that ward.

My research gave me ammunition. I read that as soon as the virus gets into the body, it begins to replicate really fast. It enters the blood cells, destroys them and uses those same blood cells to aggressively invade other organs where they further multiply. Ideally, the body’s immune system should immediately mount up a response by producing antibodies to fight the virus. If the person is strong enough, and that strength is sustained long enough for the immune system to kill off the viruses, the patient is likely to survive. If the virus replicates faster than the antibodies can handle however, further damage is done to the organs. Ebola can be likened to a multi-level, multi-organ attack but I had no intention of letting the deadly virus destroy my system. I drank more ORS. I remember saying to myself repeatedly, “I am a survivor, I am a survivor.”

I also found out that a patient with Ebola cannot be re-infected and they cannot relapse back into the disease as there is some immunity conferred on survivors. My pastor and I would discuss these findings, interpret them as it related to my situation and pray together. I looked forward to his calls. They were times of encouragement and strengthening. I continued to meditate on the Word of God. It was my daily bread.

Shortly after Justina came into the ward, the ward maid, Mrs Ukoh passed on. The disease had gotten into her central nervous system. We stared at her lifeless body in shock. It was a whole 12 hours before officials of W.H.O came and took her body away. The ward had become the house of death. The whole area surrounding her bed was disinfected with bleach. Her mattress was taken and burned.

To contain the frequent diarrhea, I had started wearing adult diapers, as running to the toilet was no longer convenient for me. The indignity was quite overwhelming, but I did not have a choice. My faith was being severely tested. The situation was desperate enough to break anyone psychologically. Dr. Ohiaeri also called us day and night, enquiring about our health and the progress we were making. He sent provisions, extra drugs, vitamins, Lucozade, towels, tissue paper; everything we needed to be more comfortable in that dark hole we found ourselves. Some of my male colleagues had also been admitted to the male ward two rooms away, but there was no interaction with them.

We were saddened by the news that Jato, the ECOWAS protocol officer to Patrick Sawyer who had also tested positive, had passed on days after he was admitted.

Two more females joined us in the ward; a nurse from our hospital and a patient from another hospital. The mood in the ward was solemn. There were times we would be awakened by the sudden, loud cry from one of the women. It was either from fear, pain mixed with the distress or just the sheer oppression of our isolation.

I kept encouraging myself. This could not be the end for me. Five days after I was admitted, the vomiting stopped. A day after that, the diarrhea ceased. I was overwhelmed with joy. It happened at a time I thought I could no longer stand the ORS. Drinking that fluid had stretched my endurance greatly.

I knew countless numbers of people were praying for me. Prayer meetings were being held on my behalf. My family was praying day and night. Text messages of prayers flooded my phones from family members and friends. I was encouraged to press on. With the encouragement I was receiving I began to encourage the others in the ward. We decided to speak life and focus on the positive. I then graduated from drinking only the ORS fluid to eating only bananas, to drinking pap and then bland foods. Just when I thought I had the victory, I suddenly developed a severe fever. The initial fever had subsided four days after I was admitted, and then suddenly it showed up again. I thought it was the Ebola. I enquired from Dr. David who said fever was sometimes the last thing to go, but he expressed surprise that it had stopped only to come back on again. I was perplexed.

I discussed it with my pastor who said it could be a separate pathology and possibly a symptom of malaria. He promised he would research if indeed this was Ebola or something else. That night as I stared at the dirty ceiling, I felt a strong impression that the new fever I had developed was not as a result of Ebola but malaria. I was relieved. The following morning, Dr. Ohiaeri sent me antimalarial medication which I took for three days. Before the end of the treatment, the fever had disappeared.

I began to think about my mother. She was under surveillance along with my other family members. I was worried. She had touched my sweat. I couldn’t get the thought off my mind. I prayed for her. Hours later on Twitter I came across a tweet by W.H.O saying that the sweat of an Ebola patient cannot transmit the virus at the early stage of the infection. The sweat could only transmit it at the late stage.

That settled it for me. It calmed the storms that were raging within me concerning my parents. I knew right away it was divine guidance that caused me to see that tweet. I could cope with having Ebola, but I was not prepared to deal with a member of my family contracting it from me.

Soon, volunteer doctors started coming to help Dr. David take care of us. They had learned how to protect themselves. Among the volunteer doctors was Dr. Badmus, my consultant in LUTH during my housemanship days. It was good to see a familiar face among the care-givers. I soon understood the important role these brave volunteers were playing. As they increased in number, so did the number of shifts increase and subsequently the number of times the patients could access a doctor in one day. This allowed for more frequent patient monitoring and treatment. It also reduced care-giver fatigue. It was clear that Lagos State was working hard to contain the crisis

Sadly, Justina succumbed to the disease on the 12th of August. It was a great blow and my faith was greatly shaken as a result. I commenced daily Bible study with the other two female patients and we would encourage one another to stay positive in our outlook though in the natural it was grim and very depressing. My communion sessions with the other women were very special moments for us all.

On my 10th day in the ward, the doctors having noted that I had stopped vomiting and stooling and was no longer running a fever, decided it was time to take my blood sample to test if the virus had cleared from my system. They took the sample and told me that I shouldn’t be worried if it comes out positive as the virus takes a while before it is cleared completely. I prayed that I didn’t want any more samples collected from me. I wanted that to be the first and last sample to be tested for the absence of the virus in my system. I called my pastor. He encouraged me and we prayed again about the test.

On the evening of the day Justina passed on, we were moved to the new isolation centre. We felt like we were leaving hell and going to heaven.

We were conveyed to the new place in an ambulance. It was just behind the old building. Time would not permit me to recount the drama involved with the dynamics of our relocation. It was like a script from a science fiction movie. The new building was cleaner and much better than the old building. Towels and nightwear were provided on each bed. The environment was serene.

The following night, Dr. Adadevoh was moved to our isolation ward from her private room where she had previously been receiving treatment. She had also tested positive for Ebola and was now in a coma. She was receiving I.V. fluids and oxygen support and was being monitored closely by the W.H.O doctors. We all hoped and prayed that she would come out of it. It was so difficult seeing her in that state. I could not bear it. She was my consultant, my boss, my teacher and my mentor. She was the imperial lady of First Consultants, full of passion, energy and competence. I imagined she would wake up soon and see that she was surrounded by her First Consultants family but sadly it was not to be.

I continued listening to my healing messages. They gave me life. I literarily played them hours on end. Two days later, on Saturday the 16th of August, the W.H.O doctors came with some papers. I was informed that the result of my blood test was negative for Ebola virus. If I could somersault, I would have but my joints were still slightly painful. I was free to go home after being in isolation for exactly 14 days. I was so full of thanks and praise to God. I called my mother to get fresh clothes and slippers and come pick me. My husband couldn’t stop shouting when I called him. He was completely overwhelmed with joy.

I was told however that I could not leave the ward with anything I came in with. I glanced one last time at my CD player, my valuable messages, my research assistant aka my iPad, my phones and other items. I remember saying to myself, “I have life; I can always replace these items.”

I went for a chlorine bath, which was necessary to disinfect my skin from my head to my toes. It felt like I was being baptized into a new life as Dr. Carolina, a W.H.O doctor from Argentina poured the bucket of chlorinated water all over me. I wore a new set of clothes, following the strict instructions that no part of the clothes must touch the floor and the walls. Dr. Carolina looked on, making sure I did as instructed.

I was led out of the bathroom and straight to the lawn to be united with my family, but first I had to cut the red ribbon that served as a barrier. It was a symbolic expression of my freedom. Everyone cheered and clapped. It was a little but very important ceremony for me. I was free from Ebola! I hugged my family as one who had been liberated after many years of incarceration. I was like someone who had fought death face to face and come back to the land of the living.

We had to pass through several stations of disinfection before we reached the car. Bleach and chlorinated water were sprayed on everyone’s legs at each station. As we made our way to the car, we walked past the old isolation building. I could hardly recognize it. I could not believe I slept in that building for 10 days. I was free! Free of Ebola. Free to live again. Free to interact with humanity again. Free from the sentence of death.

My parents and two brothers were under surveillance for 21 days and they completed the surveillance successfully. None of them came down with a fever. The house had been disinfected by Lagos State Ministry of Health soon after I was taken to the isolation centre. I thank God for shielding them from the plague.

My recovery after discharge has been gradual but progressive. I thank God for the support of family and friends. I remember my colleagues who we lost in this battle. Dr. Adadevoh my boss, Nurse Justina Ejelonu, and the ward maid, Mrs. Ukoh were heroines who lost their lives in the cause to protect Nigeria. They will never be forgotten.

I commend the dedication of the W.H.O doctors, Dr. David from Virginia, USA, who tried several times to convince me to specialize in infectious diseases, Dr. Carolina from Argentina who spoke so calmly and encouragingly, Mr. Mauricio from Italy who always offered me apples and gave us novels to read. I especially thank the volunteer Nigerian doctors, matrons and cleaners who risked their lives to take care of us. I must also commend the Lagos State government, and the state and federal ministries of health for their swift efforts to contain the virus. To all those prayed for me, I cannot thank you enough. And to my First Consultants family, I say a heartfelt thank you for your dedication and for your support throughout this very difficult period.

I still believe in miracles. None of us in the isolation ward was given any experimental drugs or so-called immune boosters. I was full of faith yet pragmatic enough to consume as much ORS as I could even when I wanted to give up and throw the bottles away. I researched on the disease extensively and read accounts of the survivors. I believed that even if the mortality rate was 99%, I would be part of the 1% who survive.

Early detection and reporting to hospital is key to patient survival. Please do not hide yourself if you have been in contact with an Ebola patient and have developed the symptoms. Regardless of any grim stories one may have heard about the treatment of patients in the isolation centre, it is still better to be in the isolation ward with specialist care, than at home where you and others will be at risk.

I read that Dr. Kent Brantly, the American doctor who contracted Ebola in Liberia and was flown out to the United States for treatment was being criticized for attributing his healing to God when he was given the experimental drug, Zmapp. I don’t claim to have all the answers to the nagging questions of life. Why do some die and some survive? Why do bad things happen to good people? Where is God in the midst of pain and suffering? Where does science end and God begin? These are issues we may never fully comprehend on this side of eternity. All I know is that I walked through the valley of the shadow of death and came out unscathed.

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We’d like to thank Dr. Ada Igonoh for sharing her inspirational story with BellaNaija.

We’re hoping the spread of Ebola Virus is curbed soon, and we’re thankful for all the health workers and medical researchers around the world, who are working tirelessly to achieve this goal.