Sunday, May 27, 2012

Back from the dead :This corps member resurrected in mortuary, but is now blind

His world turned upside down when he got involved in a car crash that claimed the lives of 16 of his fellow corps members while travelling to Damaturu, the place of their primary assignment. The young man tells his heart-rending tale of abandonment by the government. Excerpts…

When did you go for your NYSC programme and where? I went for my NYSC in 2010 and was posted to Yobe State in the North East. I spent three weeks in Fika camp for the orientation after which I was posted to Damaturu to teach at TD GSS Dindin-gari. During the festive period of 2010, we had a short break in the school I was teaching as a youth corps member. So I travelled to Enugu on December 24. I had actually wanted to spend the time with my family back home in Kogi but my Head of Department, who is from Enugu, had always wanted me to spend the Yuletide with them.
So I decided to visit them. While I was in Enugu, I got a call that corps members should register online to work with INEC during the 2011 election. Thereafter, another call came from the Christian Corpers Family House, of which I am a member. (I am also a member of the Redeemed Christian Church of God). This time it was our landlord who informed me about an advertisement in the papers that corps members should report to their place of primary assignment before January 4, 2011. So, on January 3, I left Enugu for Damaturu. Unfortunately, I could not get a direct bus to Damaturu, a route that is usually plied by Young Shall Grow Motors and GUO Motors. That day many corps members returning to their places of service were stranded. We had to board a type of bus known in Igbo parlance as akpuruka (that is a long distance bus that has become old), which took us to Jos so that we could link up from there to our different destinations.

We got to Jos around 5.30 a.m on January 4. The Plateau Riders Park in Jos where we disembarked was filled with about 5,000 stranded corps members. So everybody was jostling for the few vehicles available. Eventually I succeeded in getting a Borno Express vehicle, a 14-seater Toyota Hiace that was to take me and other corps members to Damaturu. Instead of taking the usual 14 passengers, the driver ‘stuffed’ 18 corps members out of greed and the luggage was equally much. The weight of the load was more than combined weight of the corps members. During the orientation programme, we had been warned to be cautious about polythene bags on the roads, especially black ones because Boko Haram was known to use them to conceal bombs.

As we were approaching Damaturu town, we saw one in the middle of the road and cautioned the driver about it, telling him to be careful. He said in Hausa ba komi, which means no problem. As we were getting close to the bag we still reminded the driver to avoid it by all means, and it was later discovered to be a bomb. Actually, when he got to the spot he swerved to avoid it. He succeeded but unfortunately he could not return his steering in time and so lost control of the vehicle and it somersaulted eight times. The accident happened about 2.43p.m.

What happened thereafter? I could not remember. It was even reported in the paper that 18 corps members died in an auto crash. We were all taken to the General Sani Abacha hospital mortuary in Damaturu. But out of the 18 two of us came back to life – myself and a lady called Odinakachukwu (which means everything is in God’s hands). The rest died. What happened was that after several hours in the mortuary they discovered that I was shedding tears because there was no light and Odinaka was sweating seriously. Because these things were so unusual, the medical personnel decided to withdraw us that night and took us to the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, which is an hour from Damaturu. After intensive medical attention, I came back to life at 2.43a.m the following day and Odinaka came back to life after a month and two weeks.

She was in coma for more than two weeks. At the hospital, doctors discovered that my brain had shifted within the skull; Odinaka’s brain also shifted. Her case was even more serious. She was not behaving normal again. If you gave her food instead of putting it in her mouth she put it on her head. She was behaving strangely. It was just like she was psychologically disturbed. All through my stay there, one Professor Yawe headed a team of nine consultants that took care of me. I left the hospital in March. I left Maiduguri because of the tension generated by the 2011 election that was approaching. I demanded to be referred to a hospital where my people would be close to me. For this reason, I was referred to Ogun State University Teaching Hospital (OSUTH) Shagamu.

Who paid your medical bills? Was it your family or the NYSC? When I was in Maiduguri, they came from Yobe and paid N50,000 for my magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test and took the receipt along with them. After that if I called the NYSC for anything, they did not respond. Instead they handed me over to a man from Wetland Health Services, a company they said insured corps members, especially those from our set, Batch C. They said the company was contracted by the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to insure corps members. Unfortunately, they handed me over to the man and gave me his number, and said that I should be calling him. Each time I called the man, he would tell me to go and see my State Coordinator and if called coordinator he would tell me a different thing. Since I could not continue like that because I didn’t want to waste my life, I just spent my money to pay for my care. I spent N93,000 in Maiduguri to care for myself. I also spent money on fibre calf to treat my fractured hands and it was very expensive. At OSUTH, the doctors said that I might have to amputate the hand, but somehow with prayer and faith, God intervened and something was done. Now, my right hand is shorter than the left hand and I now have iron in it. And as I am talking to you now I am almost blind because I can only see faintly and my right ear is impaired.

When I left Maiduguri, I threatened to sue the Wetland Health Services. What I learnt was that the contract they had with NYSC was to take care of corps member subject to a maximum cost of N50,000. When I left OSUTH to return to Damaturu in October 2011 to collect my discharge certificate, the NYSC said I should file the receipt of my expenses in Maiduguri and bring to them. I did and took them to the Abuja national headquarters of the NYSC. Would you believe that all through my ordeal the State Coordinator never informed the Abuja headquarters about my situation? They said they were not aware of my case at all. But then the story about the accident was published in newspapers. Does it mean they don’t read papers? They later said they would pay me the expenses but till now even my state allowance has not been paid, Some of my federal allowances were also not paid. There was this woman called Funke, who I was calling until she said I should stop calling her.

What happened to the other lady, Odinaka? She had surgery recently in January, this year, in Lagos.

Who took care of her? Her family. From Maiduguri to OSUTH, how much have you spent so far to take care of yourself? The money I have spent is over N300,000. How did you get the money? The money came from family and friends. For instance, friends and fans of Wazobia FM radio station paid my bill at OSUTH because Yaw and K. Baba, two of their popular presenters, mentioned my case on their radio. What is the state of your health now? Financial handicap forced me to stop taking treatment. If I had continued using the drug my sight would have improved a little bit. The last time I took the drug was in October 2011, that’s about eight months ago. So I am not taking any treatment for now. But some people have suggested that I should go to India, where it is believed that something can be done about my condition. What do you want the NYSC and government to do for you? The fact is that I was on national assignment when the accident occurred. I expect that the Federal Government should give me proper attention.
I lost my sight while serving my nation. If I have been in my father’s house probably this unfortunate thing would not have happened to me. I expect them to rehabilitate me and compensate me because I don’t want to be a loafer. There is so much I can still give to the society. I went this far to get my Bachelor’s degree. I sponsored myself throughout my studies in the university. I don’t want to sit at home just because I lost my sight. I want to be useful to myself and to my country.

The fact that I lost my sight does mean I have lost my intellect and my capability. I need a job. I am just 28 years old. As I talk with you I am a destitute; I have no home. I live on hospital premises. The canteen where I used to sleep at OSUTH has been privatized. I cannot sleep there again. For sometime now I have been sleeping with the Hausa man that sells sundry items outside the hospital premises. My father is late and my mother is 63. She is no longer economically engaged to be able to support me. I need urgent medical and financial help.

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