St. Mary's Catholic Eye Hospital
Run by St. Mary Catholic Church Ijebu Ode Diocese

What kind of people are you Nigerians?

YOU AND EYE Publications By Dr B.G.K AJAYI -- Published on 3:00pm - Thursday, 17 September 2015

In 1985, a colleague of mine from an East African country, who had shared an apartment with me when I was in USA, visited Nigeria for the first time. Looking pensive, he asked, “What kind of people are you?” I drew blank. So he repeated the question, “What kind of people are you Nigerians?”

As I was trying to figure out where he was going, he volunteered the answer. “Ben, I can’t understand you Nigerians. When we were in Baltimore, you were always complaining about your country. You complained about everything and everyone. I arrived at the airport in Lagos a few days ago, it wasn’t particularly impressive but I made one remarkable observation.” “What’s it Dave?” I asked, now all ears and anxious to hear what he had to say. “From the moment my plane taxied to a stop to the time I arrived at my hotel, I did not see any foreigner directing the affairs, pushing Nigerians here and there. Then I arrived here at the University College Hospital, Ibadan (UCH), the administrators, doctors, nurses, laboratory scientists and all those directing the affairs of this huge and beautiful edifice are all Nigerians. For the first time in my life, I am in an African country where Africans are in charge of their affairs.” He said almost breathless and added, “Come to my country, we are the cleaners, messengers, stewards and housekeepers. The airport bosses, hotel managers, doctors, nurses and those directing the affairs are all foreigners. You may not be doing it right now but you have started and one day you will do it right.” Tears welled up in his eyes as he lamented, “In my country we are yet to begin.”

He had stirred up my memory. I remembered vividly that whenever we Nigerians in US met, all we did was to tell stories about how rotten our country was – the corrupt leaders; bribe taking policemen and custom officers, NEPA, the poor state of our roads, etc. We criticised everything and everybody as Dave had said. I was still ruminating over this, when Dave asked again, “Ben, what is the driving distance from Lagos to Ibadan?” “It’s about 120km,” I answered, wondering what he was going to say next. “That distance would take just a little over one hour on an express road in USA. It took us over 4hours owing to severe traffic congestion. Your government needs to do something urgently about it. I would suggest the provision of parallel service roads at all exit and entry points along the road. In addition it is imperative that alternative means of transportation such as a fast train service be provided.” I couldn’t but agree with him.

It is distressing that 30 years after Dave’s visit and suggested remedies, the gridlock has continued and even worse! Travel time is about 3hours occasionally but most times uncertain and could between 4 to 6 hours! The road is now being rebuilt with more lanes but without the parallel service roads at entry and exit points. And more importantly, no alternative to road transportation has been provided. Goods, passengers and all have to take to this road which is perhaps the busiest in Africa and one of the busiest in the world. It is clearly obvious that just rebuilding the road as is being done is not a solution to the perennial gridlock.

Now it is my turn to ask, “What kind of people are we? Why should we have a problem for over 40years and cannot think of innovative ways of solving it? Why do we continue to use yesterday’s solutions to solve today’s problem?

These questions are equally pertinent to health care in Nigeria today. Nigerian is blessed with skilled experts in all fields of endeavour yet we continue to wallow in abject poverty of mind and body. If we are doing exactly the same thing, in exactly the same way as we did yesterday we are certainly not doing well. We must begin to think outside the box and train appropriate health care workers who will meet the challenges of today. If need be, we must break down professional barriers and rebuild the entire health sector. Faced with dwindling resources, we cannot afford the luxury of the compartmentalisation of healthcare professions of the developed countries and must adapt new technology to find solutions to the challenges we are facing.

Finally, I ask, “What kind of person are you? Have you had a comprehensive eye examination in the last one year? We are still seeing patients who are nearly blind from glaucoma who felt all was well with their eyes. If you are seeing very well and you haven’t had an eye examination in over a year, you could be one of them. Please visit an ophthalmologist today for a comprehensive eye examination. Keep what you have. The eye is not yet replaceable!