Uzokwe's Searchlight

It is exceedingly important that this mission succeed and succeed mightily. The success of the mission will influence how others with similar plans, but waiting in the wings, would act in the future.
Monday, August 8, 2005

Alfred Obiora Uzokwe


lot of water has passed under the proverbial bridge of Anambra state. Those who have followed the story of the state, in the past few years, would remember how it was dogged by a chain of devastating incidents that ostensibly crippled the government of the day and hindered development. For a while, Nigerians watched, in horror, as a state that produced some of the best minds in the nation embarked on the path of self destruction.

The unfortunate script, which read like that of a horror movie, began to unfold soon after the 2003 elections. It started with the intransigence of a few elitist indigenes that arrogated power and dominion upon themselves. They ran roughshod over the citizens of the state without apology. Moving about in convoys protected by federally-supplied security details, they bludgeoned and bulldozed anything and any person that stood in their way. In the end, they left a trail of devastation, anarchy and lawlessness in a one-time serene state. That was then and this is now. Having been consigned to the dustbin of irrelevance, ad interim, these renegades seem to have retreated into their cocoons. The inevitable corollary is that tranquility is creeping back into the state albeit slowly.

While critics might see this writer's assessment of the situation in the state as too optimistic, because of the hiccups we hear about from time to time, it is one's renewed resolve to see the cup of peace, in the state, as half-full rather than half-empty.

The gradual return of tranquility in the state has been accompanied by other good things. For example, the governor of the state now seems to have time to fully attend to the business of the people instead of taking steps to checkmate the machinations of his detractors and erstwhile political godfathers. Road construction contracts are being awarded at an unprecedented pace in the state. Even the federal government seems to have slowly started coming around. The Niger Bridge, which has been neglected by a series of federal administrations in Nigeria, has finally started getting the attention it needs. Engineering crews have started the rehabilitation of the bridge. Also, talk about dredging the Niger River and constructing a second Niger Bridge has intensified again, although this writer will believe this when it actually happens.

The chain of good tidings, emanating from the state, has not stopped with the rehabilitation of the Niger Bridge or the construction of roads. Citizens of Anambra State, living in the United States, have apparently taken to President Kennedy's charge of "ask not what your country can do for you�" In the next few days, a mercy medical mission comprised of an 18-man medical team, with drugs and equipment worth over $250,000 or about 35 million naira, is leaving the United States with Anambra State as their final destination. In a telephone interview with this writer, the President of Anambra State Association of United States, Mr. Jimmy Asiegbu, stated that preventable and curable diseases were causing the demise of "our people" in the state. He noted that it was with this in mind that the Anambra State Association, also called ASA-USA, decided to embark on the medical mission to "deliver free medical services to the citizens of the state". The project has been in the minds of members of the association for a couple of years but the absence of peace, in the state, made it difficult for the plan to be executed. "That was why the association fought for peace in the state and now that peace has returned, we are ready to move in to help our people", Mr. Asiegbu said.

Asked how the drugs, equipment and funds for the trip were procured, the ASA-USA president stated that private individuals, many from Anambra state living in the Diaspora, as well as hospitals in the United States, generously donated to the cause.

The medical team will spend 10-hour days in three major towns in the state providing free medical services. The towns include Onitsha, Awka and Ekwulobia. According to Mr. Asiegbu, public announcements have already started in the state, urging citizens to go out and take advantage of the services. The medical team will also be joined by medical professionals living in the state to ensure the successful implementation of the program.

From this writer's perspective, this is a truly worthy cause. Nigerians living in Diaspora, including this writer, can shout themselves hoarse about the appalling living conditions in the country. If we are unable to contribute our widow's mite to the betterment of the situation, then we may gradually be losing our rights to criticize. The effort of ASA-USA is a commendable one that must be emulated by all and sundry.

There is no gainsaying the fact that many people in the state, and indeed in Nigeria, especially those in the lowest rung of the social and economic ladder, are dying daily from preventable and curable diseases. The problem is further exacerbated by ignorance. A medical mission, such as the one being undertaken by ASA-USA, while not a cure for all the maladies that ail the state medically, will have a far-reaching effect.

It is exceedingly important that this mission succeed and succeed mightily. The success of the mission will influence how others with similar plans, but waiting in the wings, would act in the future. The government of Anambra state must ensure that all logistics support, security and other needed aid are provided to the team. I read Dr Tonye David West's commentary captioned, "How many PhDs does Nigeria have?" In the article, he highlighted how several Diaspora Nigerians who went to Port Harcourt to help Nigerians ended up running into problems that put them in serious doubts as to whether they would ever want to help again. I am glad that my good friend pointed it out to readers. The ASA-USA medical team must not be allowed to run into such problems in Nigeria. During the interview with Mr. Asiegbu of ASA-USA, he noted that the medical mission was going to become a yearly affair. "During subsequent missions, we would dig into all nooks and crannies of the state, providing medical services to our people", he said. That is a noble goal that could easily die off if the team runs into serious problems this first time. The least the government of Anambra State can do is to ensure that the team would be back again and again.

A word of advice for the medical team: It should not only administer medicine. Through lectures, they should also help the people break the deadly and ingrain habit of assuming that all ailments emanate from witchcraft. It is not a secret that many have died from treatable diseases because they assumed that their ailment was manmade and so spent all their time with native doctors. There was a case of a young man that was grappling with a strange stomach ailment. Unbeknownst to him, he was suffering from stomach cancer but thought that his neighbor in the city had poisoned him because he was doing better in business. Instead of seeking proper medical care when the symptoms began to manifest, he went back to the village and his family took him to a native doctor. The native doctor diagnosed the ailment as "mbe afo" or 'turtle in the stomach". He told them that the hard tumor that had positioned itself inside the young man's stomach was a hard-shelled turtle that had been placed there, through diabolism, by his neighbor. With that, the native doctor started administering all manners of concoctions to the man but the situation never improved. It was after the man's death that it was discovered that he died from stomach cancer.

Many sad stories like the above one abound. There are cases of people being afflicted with the AIDS virus. Of course the AIDS virus comes with many opportunistic ailments that mimic other diseases. Out of ignorance, these people go to herbalists that do nothing but hasten their demise by administering unproven and toxic chemicals into their bodies. Hopefully, this medical team will organize lectures that would inculcate in the people of the state the habit of keeping away from herbalists and unproven concoctions.

One needs to reiterate, before concluding this piece, that this medical mission is a noble idea. In the future, ASA-USA should spread its tentacles and begin to include other professionals because the state needs help in every aspect. Pharmacists are needed. Software engineers and programmers are needed to help sensitize the people to the need for computers.

Finally, let it be known that Uzokwe's Searchlight will be trained on this medical mission and ground zero reports will be beamed to my readers as and when procured.

The previously promised commentary entitled, "Mr. President, whose names are on the list?" will come next week.