'Medicare' and a Tribute to 'Baba Akeem'

At the begining of the three-day Bank holiday in Nigeria this week, what was on my mind wasn't the privilege of having a rare three-day Bank holiday at the beginning of the week (in reality a 5-day break when you include the preceding Saturday and Sunday). What was on my mind was the death last Tuesday week of ÔÇśBaba Akeem', real name Mohammed.

Baba Akeem was a guard in the estate where we live in Lagos. He was from the Northern State of Borno and had also worked in the house we live before we moved in. His third child was born earlier this year. Unlike many other guards in the area, he communicated very well in English and was a likeable person ÔÇô attributes of which became known to me in the last six to eight weeks before his death.

I noticed about two months ago that he looked different from his normal self, when I mentioned to my wife, she felt that he must have put on some weight around his face. A few days later, I sighted him again and questioned him about the puffiness of his face, he then informed me that he had been sick ever since he came back from a recent visit to his home town and he was unsure of what he ate or drank that made this happen. He also had sores all over his body. I suggested to him to visit the General Hospital and to let me know of the outcome.

When he came back to see me a few days later, he lamented that after waiting for a whole day, he was only given a consultation card with the instruction to come back on the 20th August. He went for the new appointment and on his return, he informed me that the hospital carried out a series of tests and eventually told him to go home and seek ÔÇśnative' medical attention.

At this juncture, I was a little bit confused, how could a hospital send a patient back home to seek native intervention? He was asked to buy some drugs as well. Needless to say that at this time, he was unable to work and take care of his wife and three children. Unfortunately, there is no social security system, no help whatsoever from the State, our much vaunted economic growth as a nation does not hold any water for the likes of Baba Akeem.

Three Saturdays ago, he came to say hello which meant his money had finished. We had a good chat, he also said his brother was going to take him to a military hospital in Yaba the following Monday. Things were looking up for him. A week later, on Monday 15th September, his wife came to see me for the first time and said her husband was very poorly and he had decided to go home to Maiduguri the following day. She wanted assistance with the transport fare. She also showed the medical notes from the Yaba hospital visit. I could make out ÔÇśRVD' from the notes which I googled. Unable to make a head or tail of this, I decided to make enquiries from medical practitioners the following day. When my wife came home that evening, I informed her about the visit from Baba Akeem's wife and his intention to go back home. The following day, as soon as we got up, my wife said we must go and look for where Baba Akeem lives to stop him from going home, as she felt that going to Maiduguri will almost certainly result in his death.

We got in the car and took descriptions from people around. When we got to where he lives with his family in an uncompleted building, we found a group of people, probably about twenty in front of the house opposite. No clue. I noticed his first son who had come with his mother to see me the previous day, I asked him for his father and where they lived, he replied ÔÇśmy daddy don die' meaning my dad is dead. We were led to a corner of a room in the uncompleted house where his wife was secluded from everyone else. Apparently, Baba Akeem died at 4.00am that morning and had just been taking away for burial. He was 36.

Anger and despair were the words that could express how I felt. I was devastated. I felt I had not helped enough, I felt the whole nation had failed him too. I also felt rather helpless and hoped that I would not become immune from the sufferings of people. I was hoping that Baba Akeem would recover, I never knew he would die so soon. With the benefit of hindsight, I now realise I was naïve, the puffiness and the body sores pointed at something serious all along.

Baba Akeem could not access medical care because he did not have the money, period. He probably knew he would die. Like many sick and poor Nigerians, he probably was waiting to die.

The lesson I learnt is to act faster in cases like this. I have therefore decided, in conjunction with others, to launch ÔÇśMedicare'. Medicare will do the following:

1. We will provide financial assistance towards medical care for those who are sick and unable to access medical care.
2. We will work with doctors and hospitals who want to help
3. We will accept financial support from those who wish to give
4. We will also have representatives and agencies in North America, Europe and in Nigeria,
5. We will use 100% of money donated for medical care.
6. We will also be transparent and publish the names of recipients and expenses on a regular basis

If you want to be involved in any way or give to this cause, please register your interest by contacting me or send an email to medicare@postcardfromlagos.com

A follow-up report shall be published in due course including the names and contact details of representatives around the world. Thank you.

Gbenga Badejo is the publisher of 'Postcard from Lagos' www.postcardfromlagos.com and also a Principal Partner at the ParkRoyalFinishingSchool www.lagosfinishingschool.com