By Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
Mayowa Ahmed is dead. The cancer sufferer passed away in the early hours of Sunday. She was a victim of the state-sponsored genocide that is silently decimating the Nigerian poor.
Mayowa would have lived longer or even beat the disease if the circumstances of her birth were different. She would still be alive today had she been born in a country that works for all its citizens and guarantees them access to quality healthcare. She would still be here if she was born into the class of Nigeria’s 1%, those who have the luxury of escaping Nigeria for a foreign address whenever they fall sick.
Mayowa died the death that is the lot of the ordinary Nigerian. She died without dignity; in slow, debilitating, daily installments. She died a skeleton.
Still, she could be said to have been lucky. According to the lay of the Nigerian land, she was supposed to die as a non-statistic, unknown and unsung. She was the daughter of a nobody. She wouldn’t have made the list of Nigerian rich kids, the exceptional breed eligible to be secretly employed by Godwin Emefiele’s Central Bank of Nigeria and Tunde Fowler’s Federal Inland Revenue Service on account of the sheer weight of their fathers’ name and affluence.
Mayowa Ahmed became known to many Nigerians outside the circle of her family and friends because a Nollywood actress, Toyin Aimakhu, and Miss Aramide Kasumu, the director of Lifestake Foundation, met her, by some stroke of fate, empathized with her and brought her plight to light. The two Good Samaritans made Mayowa a celebrity of sort. They made her trend on Nigerian Twitter. They popularized her story and launched a fundraising bid for her treatment abroad.
The charity venture grossed 80 million naira and $100,000 in donations. A hoax would later interpose and see the Nigerian Police freeze the gofundme account opened for Mayowa’s cause. But after the distraction was determined to be what it was, she was flown, on August 10, to a South African hospital where she eventually died.
Mayowa arrived too late, nonetheless. The cancer in her body metastasized and spread beyond the organ of origin while she waited an eternity to have a meaningful medical intervention. The space of time between the diagnosis that confirmed her case as cancer and the moment Nigerians of goodwill contributed enough widow’s mites to fund her treatment severely diminished the probability of her survival and made her death a fait accompli.
Nigeria records 250,000 new cancer cases yearly and 10,000 cancer related deaths annually. That makes Nigeria the country with the highest cancer death rate in Africa. But Nigeria does not have a standard cancer treatment facility. Not even one to serve as a well-intentioned caricature of a world class cancer treatment centre. And, yes, Nigeria has no plan either to build one or to equip its existing hospitals for the purpose!
Cancer is a deadly disease. Early detection and treatment increases the odds of the patient experiencing long term survival. Nigeria has few cancer diagnostic centers. And they charge prohibitive fees for screening.
In the event that a poor Nigerian manages to secure a correct diagnosis, if it’s cancer, there is no hope. It’s a death sentence. He goes home and dies. Killed, not by the disease itself, but by the gnawing regret that he is too poor to fly abroad and rescue himself.
In a country where citizens have to buy a generator or stay without power till kingdom comes, in a nation where citizens have to dig their own boreholes or die of thirst, in a land where the lifeline of the sick is a witch doctor’s concoction, an Imam’s prayer or a pastor’s ‘holy water’, to have cancer as a member of Nigeria’s 99% is to be reminded that you matter as an voting entity but not as a human being.
Nigeria loses its thousands of its medical doctors and nurses to work emigration. The health professionals leave in waves because of the frustration of working in a hostile space. The politicians that pay themselves the highest salaries in the world would not pay medics that heal the people reasonable remuneration. Neither would they furnish Nigerian hospitals to run well and save lives.
Last week, PUNCH reported that the State House Clinic had no drugs. It had no medical supplies to conduct dialysis. It had no paracetamol. That’s the facility that is meant to serve as the hospital of the President of Nigeria, his vice and other top officials of the Nigerian government!
The scandal is a reality because the State House Clinic can exist without drugs. It would have been inconceivable if the lives of Nigerian leaders depended on it. But it doesn’t. If President Buhari had a health scare today, he would not be rushed to that mockery of a clinic. He would be flown abroad in a twinkling of an eye. A Nigerian leader would rather be ferried to the farthest hospital abroad than taken to the nearest Nigerian hospital.
In 2007, President Olusegun Obasanjo flew then Governor Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to Germany because the presidential nominee of the Peoples Democratic Party caught a cold. Obasanjo had earlier lost his wife, Stella, in a Spanish hospital. The First Lady died while undergoing a tummy tuck surgery she didn’t need.
President Yar’Adua would later spend more than six months in a Saudi hospital. He traveled without handing over to VP Goodluck Jonathan, precipitating a constitutional crisis that pushed Nigeria to the brink of anarchy. In the last days of his terminal illness, Yar’Adua was smuggled into Nigeria in the dead of the night. He died thereafter.
In November 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan checked into a London hospital for “acute abdominal pains“. There were rumours he provoked the condition by overindulging in a birthday party. The state media celebrated his discharge.
Earlier, in February 2013, Jonathan’s wife, Patience, returned from her treatment in a German hospital. She held a ‘thanksgiving service’ in which she testified that she experienced a Lazarus resurrection. She had 9 surgeries in one month and “died… for more than one week.”
As a presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, promised to ‘end medical tourism.’ He said it was a shame that Nigerians hospitals were empty shells that Nigerian leaders were loath to enter. If elected, he swore, he would put an end to the spectacle of a Nigerian president going overseas for treatments and medical checkups. He would raise the standards of Nigerian hospitals and save us a lot of foreign exchange.
Buhari was elected president in May 29, 2015. He broke that promise. He travelled to London few months ago and spent a whole week to treat a supposedly “persistent ear infection.” His media aides tried to sell the trip as a holiday getaway befitting a 73-year-old hard worker!
As recently as April 2016, Buhari bemoaned the oddity of Nigeria spending $1 billion annually on medical tourism. He had vowed that taxpayer’s money would not be wasted on treating officials overseas when Nigeria has the expertise.
Nigeria had 250 ENT specialists and a National Ear Center in June 2016, when Buhari went for his own medical tourism!
And when he returned to Nigeria from his medical pilgrimage, Buhari didn’t walk into his residence quietly. He had a festival and a ceremonial parade. A band dressed in ridiculous splendor played him welcome tunes!
In Nigeria today, the sick person is literally hopeless. There is no universal health insurance for the poor. The minimum wage earner cannot pay hospital bills. Only wealthy individuals and corrupt politicians can survive cancer.
The immediate past petroleum minister of Nigeria is a cancer patient. She relocated to the United Kingdom to take care of her condition. She would have long died if she wasn’t a woman of privilege. If she was in the trap of poverty, she would have died like my neighbor –a petty trader and a mother of five.
Mayowa died as a stage IV ovarian cancer patient. That’s the last stage of cancer. The cancer had spread beyond her ovaries, to fluid around her lungs or beyond her abdominal organs. Had she been diagnosed early and subjected to surgery, chemotherapy and humane care considerably sooner than before she landed in South Africa, the lady would not be due for burial this soon.
Mayowa died the deaths many Nigerians die every day. Nigerians of humble birth die of terminal sicknesses that can be expertly managed. They also die of ‘simple’ diseases like malaria. 300,000 Nigerians die of malaria every year. That’s the highest malaria death rate in the world!
Nigeria is killing off the most vulnerable of her people. Nigeria has put the Nigerian poor at the mercy of hospitals that Nigerian leaders themselves detest. Africa’s most populous country is executing a cynical population control policy that amounts to crime against humanity!
To mourn Mayowa is to mourn her company. She died along with other unknown Nigerians whose obituaries will not make it to the pages of our newspapers. Men and women who didn’t attract get-well tweets from strangers. People whose diseases could have been cured or properly managed if the government of their country cared.
Other Mayowas will die today. And tomorrow…until the day the Nigerian people choose for themselves cadres of leadership that believe that the lives of Nigeria’s 99% matter!
This article is written by Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu