NIGERIA, our dear nation, was 60 yesterday. The day also marked the eighth anniversary of the death of my father. Also, my sophomore literary output, ‘Vaults of Secrets’, was released to the public on this special Independence Day, which the government says we will celebrate for one year. Cynics say there is nothing to celebrate. I disagree. We have so much to celebrate: uninterrupted power supply, refineries working at full capacity, a fantastic healthcare sector, one-in-the-world education sector, the world’s best road network, an exceptional civil service, the best currency in the universe and brain gain.
Our fantastic healthcare sector could not save my father, Alhaji Olukayode Yishau, who died October 1, 2012. Besides the day being the nation’s 52nd independence anniversary, it was also exactly 42 years since my father and mother had lived together as husband and wife.
He was 68. Before his death, he was up and down for about three weeks. The last thing that ever came to our mind was that he was going to die with what we thought was one of his small illnesses.
According to our mother, the last time he was terribly sick was 41 years before his death. Then they had only my elder sister, Funke, who works as an Education Officer with the Onigbongbo Local Council Development Area. Then, he took a photograph, which occupied a prime position in his sitting room in his Orile-Agege home, and gave to my mother to use for his obituary. He did not die then, but also lived to sire seven more children. One, Olusola, died painfully in 2001 after years of sickness that medical science could really not explain to us.
His death made me wonder what could have gone wrong. Could he have lived longer if he had checked his health status very well and took necessary precautions? What made me feel this way was the doctor’s discovery that his heart was not functioning well. Could that have happened suddenly? Or had it been there all along undiscovered? Anything is possible with misdiagnosis popular in our healthcare sector.
The late Chief Gani Fawehinmi had a bitter experience before he died. A popular radio presenter, ChazB, narrated how a supposed expert in a Magodo hospital told him a man was a match for his kidney transplant, only for doctors in India to discover he was wrong. He almost lost his life in the process before his wife readily gave her kidney to keep him alive. Sadly, he died later.
Maybe the story of how we discovered what was wrong can help understand my inquisitiveness. Early morning on October 1, 2012, I had called him to explain something. When he picked the call, his voice scared me. He at a point urged me to come and see him if I had time. Even without him asking, I would have gone hearing him speak that way.
On getting to the house, he told me a doctor asked him to do ECG. He also showed me the left side of his neck, which appeared abnormal. Two of my uncles were with him. We arranged and got him to go for the ECG. I left for work after making this arrangement.
In the afternoon, my elder brother, Muyiwa, called me and said the doctor said he had heart-related problem and that it was critical. The doctor, a cardiologist (who has also since died), suggested we either allow him care for our father or take him to LUTH. We ruled out LUTH, which always had issues with bed space and all that. I understand our father even told the doctor that if it was about money, his children would pay. Of course, we paid some money, including for a test he never did. The only thing he waited for was the reading of his heart with a machine my brother, Jide, told me was always writing: “time out”.
The doctor could just not get his pulse. Exactly 7.43pm that day he mistakenly called asking me to buy him ointment. He was feeling pains on his neck. He got the ointment through my younger brother, but some minutes to 9pm, his time was up. It was God that saw me drive safely from Fatai Atere to Agege that night.
Sympathisers said we should thank God that he died a grandfather and all that. But all that did not answer my question: Could he have lived longer if there was proper system through which citizens from time to time check on their health at no killing cost?
I have been told that in advanced economies, such as the UK and the United States, there are medical insurance in place that ensures citizens check their health status regularly. Even when you don’t know it is time, you are duly informed.
Here we have the National Health Insurance, which has been crawling for decades and working as though bugs are in its system. Hospitals, especially government-owned ones, are glorified dispensaries. There are no members of staff to go round the patients. A friend once told me that his then one-year-old daughter needed a simple corrective heart surgery and one of the General Hospitals in Lagos gave him appointment for March of the following year. Yet, the poor girl was sleeping with difficulty every day, with the parents unable to sleep soundly too. Another friend lost his first child to such lackadaisical approach to healthcare. When are we going to ever get it right?
I believe that if the secrets about why Nigeria has not fulfilled its destiny are revealed, many of the people who have had the opportunity to be in positions of authorities will die of shame and, perhaps, the people’s wrath.
Interestingly, secrets are the concerns of my sophomore literary output. Secrets are vital information we keep for one reason or the other; it can be because we want our privacy or because we are ashamed of what we have done.
My collection deals with the two variables: secrets kept for privacy and secrets kept to avoid shame and public ridicule, but the bulk of the stories are about the latter. There is a story about a boy who found out that his grandfather was also his father. There is also a sad and hilarious story about a man who has the special gift of walking in on people’s secrets and has perfected the art of keeping these secrets, but he kept one that he regretted keeping because it led to the end of the marriage of his best friend. There is also the story about a married woman whose conscience decided to tell the story of how all her children were for his lover, whose wife also brought in her lover’s kids as his. And there is also a story about a different kind of secret: A woman sees a man who looks exactly like her dead husband and before she can find out the reason for the semblance, he has an accident and dies. She believes there is a secret behind the resemblance but death robs her of the right to find out whether or not there is really a secret.
My final take: Nigeria needs to get to the root of where the rain began to beat us because without digging out the secrets behind our backwardness, moving forward will be Herculean. We need to do far better than we have done.