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15.02.2024 Featured SPECIAL REPORT: In Igbokofi Border Community, Pregnant Women and Infants Are Dying — And Ogun Gov’t Is to Blame

Published 15th Feb, 2024

By Tola Owoyele

In 2021, Igbokofi, a relatively obscure border community in the Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State, became a household name when news emerged that the government of Benin Republic, in a bid to illegally take over the territory from Nigeria, was harassing and indiscriminately arresting its inhabitants.

The inhabitants, through Kunle Garb, a missionary, resisted Benin Republic’s illegal attempts and succeeded in helping Nigeria retain the community as part of its territory.

The inhabitants’ exploits later forced the federal government, through the National Boundary Commission (NBC), to clearly mark off settlements and lands belonging to Nigeria in the region, and this helped in fending off the Beninese government from further encroachment attempts.

READ ALSO: Kunle Garb Resisted Benin Republic’s Encroachment on Nigeria’s Land. For that Reason, he was Jailed

Sadly, the only success story that could be attributed to Igbokofi remained the attention it received from the federal government during Nigeria’s territorial battle with Benin Republic.

Garb Receiving a Merit Award From Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s Former president, in 2021

Nothing was done by the authorities to further meet the people of the community at their points of need, especially in the area of a well-equipped health care facility, and this has led to a serious issue – the deaths of pregnant women, infants and people with mild health challenges.

FOLAKE OLANIYI LOST HER WOMB

Folake Olaniyi

Folake Olaniyi, 35, told FIJ that she lost her womb while trying to give birth to her fifth child in early 2017.

“One day in early 2017, my water broke, and because there was no proper or available health care centre or medical facility in Igbokofi, I was taken to a quack doctor within the community for the birthing of my child,” Olaniyi told FIJ.

“I went into labour around 11 am on that day and the quack doctor kept telling me to ‘push’ for close to four hours, but the baby would not come out.

“When he later realised that he would not be able to help me with the baby’s delivery, he asked me to leave his place.”

When FIJ asked Olaniyi to shed more light on what she meant by the doctor asking her to leave his place, she responded by saying that he literally asked her to leave his place without referring her to a well-equipped clinic or hospital for help.

“Around 3 pm, I was forced to return to the same doctor because I knew it would be impossible for me to give birth to the child on my own,” Olaniyi said.

“At this point, I had almost passed out from trying to ‘push’ so that the baby could be delivered. This was when the doctor started calling his other untrained colleagues on the phone for advice on how I could give birth to the baby.

“While he continued to make calls, I was fighting for my life because I no longer had any strength left in me. The doctor kept on doing trial and error on me until around 9 pm when he finally felt he would not be able to assist with the delivery.

“At this point, the baby had already stuck its head out of my body but the rest of its body was still inside me. I was now half-awake and half-unconscious. I thought I was about to die.”

READ ALSO: Buhari Honours Nigerian Pastor Jailed in Benin Republic for Defending Nigeria’s Sovereignty

When it became clear to the ‘doctor’ and Olaniyi’s relatives that she might die if she was not taken to a well-equipped medical facility, they resolved to taking her on a motorcycle owned by her brother-in-law to Ijoun, a much bigger town about 15 kilometres from Igbokofi.

“When we got to a private hospital in Ijoun, the medical officials rejected me after their assessment and subsequently referred me to the general hospital in Aiyetoro, a town that was another 25 kilometres away from Ijoun,” Olaniyi said.

“My brother-in-law yet again took me to the general hospital in Aiyetoro on his bike, but unfortunately, the doctors there were on strike by the time we got there.

“Luckily for me, however, one of the doctors that came visiting saw my condition at the general hospital, took pity on me and decided to drive me to Abeokuta himself.”

Olaniyi told FIJ that at that point, she had been in labour for close to 24 hours.

“When we got to Sacred Heart Hospital in Lantoro, Abeokuta, the doctors that attended to me had to urgently carry out a caesarean section on me to save me from dying,” said a now teary-eyed Olaniyi.

“While carrying out the surgery, the baby had already died, so, they removed it from my body. After this, they also discovered that my womb had been ruptured.

“With this, they had to also remove my womb so I could stay alive. This was how I lost the baby and my womb. I, however, thank God that I am still alive.

“All I can do now is continue to do my best to ensure that the other four children are well looked after. The truth is that I would have successfully given birth to the child and also kept my womb if there was a good health care centre in Igbokofi.

“We have been through hell in this community; the Beninese government, through their police, constantly harassed and brutalised us until that recently came to an end.

“This health centre issue has also been an issue we have been battling with for a very long time. The government should please come to our aid.”

READ ALSO: INVESTIGATION: Farmer-Herder Clashes in Nasarawa Through the Eyes of the Victims

LIFE AFTER WOMB REMOVAL

After Olaniyi’s womb was removed, she spent four months in the hospital recuperating.

“I spent close to N400,000 settling the hospital bills. The truth is, if the footing of the bill had been left to me alone, I would not have been able to come up with any money,” said Olaniyi.

“I have our pastor, my brother-in-law, and other members of Igbokofi community to thank for coming to my aid financially during that difficult moment.”

Olaniyi told FIJ that while she was still pregnant with the child, her husband fled from their home to an unknown place.

“He left me with our four daughters and fled to an unknown place. We do not know where he fled to. I have been the one fending for my children all by myself,” Olaniyi said.

“Presently, I work on other people’s farms to feed my children. I get paid N1,500 once the job is completed, and it usually takes me more than one day before this happens.

“More importantly, I would like the government to assist us with a good health care facility. We have continued to lose people, especially women, in Igbokofi because we do not have access to good medical care.

“Do you know what the quack doctors we have around here do? When you tell them how you feel in terms of the illness you’re battling, they don’t carry out any tests. They only treat you using what is mostly believed to be the wrong prescription based on the interactions they have with patients.

“You may have a high blood pressure and they would end up treating you for malaria.”

LITTLE DARASIMI’S STORY

Little Darasimi Sanya

In 2020, Toyin Sanya, a heavily-pregnant woman in labour, was taken to a quack doctor in Igbokofi with the hope that she would be delivered of her baby.

After labouring for hours, she eventually gave birth to a baby girl. A few hours after giving birth, however, she developed complications, and her relatives, who were already celebrating the birth of her child, looked up to the doctor for answers.

READ ALSO: EXPOSED: How E-Tranzact Stole N450m in 10 Months From Federal Civil Servants

Unfortunately, “the doctor” did not know what to do to save Sanya, and she died in the process.

The baby she gave birth to was subsequently named Oluwadarisimi, a Yoruba expression for ‘the Lord is good to me’.

Darasimi, who will soon turn four, strongly believes, Comfort Odeyemi, the 45-year-old woman who has been raising her since birth, is her biological mother.

“The truth is, if Darasimi’s mother had had access to a good health care system, she would not have died after giving birth to her,” Odeyemi told FIJ.

Comfort Odeyemi

“When Darasimi’s mother died, her father was in tears. He was dejected and people in the community rallied around him. After a brief consultation with my husband, we decided to take her in and raise her alongside our five biological children.

“Now, Darasimi is a part of our family, and you know, when she comes of age, one will still have to tell her the truth concerning what happened to her mother.

“She is a good girl, and we have never at any time regretted taking her in.”

Just like Olaniyi, Odeyemi also works on other people’s farms to take care of Darasimi and her five biological children. The slight difference, however, is that she does this with the support of her husband, who is a peasant farmer.

“Darasimi’s father also regularly supports her upkeep with the little he has,” added Odeyemi.

READ ALSO: From Real Estate Fraud to Land Grabbing, Ooni Ogunwusi’s Scandals

QUACK DOCTOR ABANDONS WOMAN IN LABOUR FOR BENIN REPUBLIC PARTY

A resident of Igbokofi, who asked not to be named, told FIJ how another pregnant woman recently lost her life in the community.

“Recently, a pregnant woman, whose name I would not like to mention, approached a quack doctor to ensure she was safely delivered of her baby,” said the resident.

“While the woman was in labour, the so-called doctor suddenly told her that he was coming. The woman initially thought he went into the other room to get the equipment he needed during the delivery.

“Guess what? Seconds turned into minutes, minutes turned into hours and hours nearly turned into a whole day before it was later discovered that he (the doctor) had abandoned the woman in her state to attend a party in the neighbouring Benin Republic.

“Before a passer-by, who had heard the woman’s noise, could intervene, she had already died. It was later revealed that she died of tetanus.

“Such things always happen around here because we, as a people, lack access to basic medical facilities and care. We are also always at the mercy of quack doctors and have not learned enough to plan ahead of time when the delivery period is fast approaching.”

THE HEALTH CARE CENTRES IN IGBOKOFI

The First Health Care Centre in Igbokofi

During the reign of Ibrahim Babangida, a one-time Nigerian military head of state, the then leadership of Yewa North Local Government built a health care centre containing a few wards in Igbokofi.

Pictures Showing the Dilapidated Interior of the Old Health centre in Igbokofi

The centre served residents for close to 10 years before it stopped functioning in 2000.

Presently, the centre is surrounded by thick bushes, debris, reptiles and other dangerous animals.

The building now also houses a dilapidated roof, cracked walls and a few rusty cradles and beds.

A thorough assessment showed the health centre can only be useful if it is pulled down and rebuilt.

“The funny thing is, we have politicians who claim they represent the people of Igbokofi at the national and state assemblies. The unfortunate part is that none of them ever deem it fit to pay visits to the people to know what they are going through or the challenges they are facing,” said Kunle Garb in an interview with FIJ.

“They only come around during election periods to campaign, make funny and outrageous promises and then leave. They then only show up again once it’s time for another election.

“On election day, they get their foot soldiers to clear the bushes around what is left of the centre and then paste potential voters’ information on the wall for the exercise.

“They never get bothered about the sorry state of the centre; they only want to conduct elections there, get voted in and move on with their political lives, ambitions and careers. It is quite pathetic.”

READ ALSO: TIMELINE: Ooni Ogunwusi Adeyeye’s Failed Marriages

Just as Garb had described, the entrance wall into the centre had several voters’ information, including pictures and names, pasted on it.

Abandoned health care centre donated by the NBC

The second health care centre in the community was the one donated by the National Boundary Commission (NBC) in 2010.

Just like the first health centre, the recently-built facility is also no longer functional. FIJ gathered that the mismanagement of the health care centre started after it was handed over to the Ogun State government by the NBC for continued maintenance.

What is left of it are empty wards, missing window louvres and burglar-proofs, and dirty floors and walls.

The ambulance that NBC donated to the hospital is also nowhere to be found.

The good thing about the NBC-donated centre, however, is that it can still be renovated and put back to use for the benefit of the inhabitants of the community.

THE BENIN REPUBLIC PART OF THE SITUATION

In the course of interviewing residents on the issue of health care facilities in Igbokofi, a middle-aged resident, who simply asked to be called Matthew, spoke to FIJ about the inhabitants’ experience when they resorted to crossing the border into Benin Republic for medical attention.

“When it was clear we could no longer make use of our health centres in Igbokofi, people started visiting the hospitals in the neighbouring Benin Republic for medical attention,” said Matthew.

“I won’t lie; Benin Republic has better health care centres than what we have here.

“And you know, because of the long-standing border disputes we have always had with them, they would scrutinise people and sometimes turn them back.

“Later, it became a money-making venture for Beninese health officials. Whenever people from Igbokofi visit their health care centres for treatment, they charge triple what they would normally charge an average Beninese patient.

“If a Beninese is paying 1,000 CFA for drugs, expect someone from Igbokofi to pay 3,000 CFA for the same. This would not have been the situation if we had a functional health care centre in this community.

“We have been through a lot in this community. We need the government to please come to our aid and get things running once more. They should please start with our medical facilities.”

READ ALSO: REPORTER’S DIARY: Mass of No Return: Aftermath of the Owo Catholic Church Attack

THE VISIT BY OGUN STATE HEALTH CARE OFFICIALS

Health care officials meeting with the people of Igbokofi

While this reporter was still on the ground, a remarkable incident occurred: some Ogun State health officials visited to assess the state of the health care centres in Igbokofi.

The delegation was led by Dr. Ogunsanya, the state’s medical officer for Yewa North Local Government Area.

While addressing a gathering of Igbokofi people, Ogunsanya told them he had to pay the visit because Dr. Tomi Coker, the state’s commissioner for health, instructed him to do so.

This was after Garb had written four SOS letters concerning the community’s health centre issues to the Ogun State government.

Before addressing the crowd, Ogunsanya had a private conversation (which this reporter was privy to) with Garb, who said his letters seemed like direct attacks on the state’s ministry of health.

He went on to say, “Perhaps things would not have escalated to a point that forced the missionary to write many letters and articles if there had been constant dialoguing’ between the stakeholders.”

The state’s representative, who is himself a doctor, used the word ‘dialogue’ several times in his comments.

“I have written about four formal complaints in the form of letters on the same subject,” Garb said in his response to Ogunsanya.

“This is not even about me. It is about the people of Igbokofi having access to adequate and basic health care facilities. People, especially women, die almost on a quarterly basis in Igbokofi because they don’t have access to good medical care.

“If my letters and articles have affected your ministry in any way, it is nothing personal. This is about the welfare of the people and how we can find a lasting solution to the considerably alarming mortality rate we keep witnessing here.

“Politicians can not only be coming here during election periods to get people to vote them into office. That is the only time they even remember that Igbokofi is a part of their state, district and constituency.

Voters’ information pasted in front of the abandoned health centre in Igbokofi

“They can do better by seeing to it that people have access to things like basic health care facilities,” he said.

After their interaction, Ogunsanya promised to submit his report to the board of the state’s ministry of health as soon as possible.

This was when this reporter asked Ogunsanya if he could assist the gathering with a timeline of when he thought the ministry would start working on making a new and functional health care centre available to the people of the community.

READ ALSO: REPORTER’S DIARY: In Ibadan, I Met Scarred, Limping Political Thugs Who Wanted More Violence

“I honestly do not have an answer to that at the moment. Everything would depend on when the board gets the report, goes through it, and then deliberates on the way forward,” Ogunsanya said in his response.

IGBOKOFI IN A NUTSHELL

A padlocked police post

Igbokofi is a Nigerian community that lies at longitude 6.628475 north and latitude 3.0712378 east of the equator.

It is an agrarian community that is home to more than 19 settlements and villages, and nine polling units.

Some of the villages under Igbokofi are Bode-Igbokofi, Oke Eyo-Igbokofi, Omilende-Igbokofi, Asaga-Igbokofi, Idigbo-Igbokofi, Owode-Igbokofi, Ipinle-Igbokofi, Igbonla-Igbokofi, Osada-Igbokofi, Baginiwo and Ori Oke.

The settlement is home to more than 14,000 residents, who are mostly farmers and have little or no educational background.

It is also said to be home to huge limestone deposits.

The community has continued to battle with issues like bad road networks, a lack of power supply and drinkable water, and a poor health care system.

However, if an average resident of the community is asked to pick an issue that requires an urgent solution out of the four, it will be the health care system.

Between 2021 and 2023, childbirth complications in Igbokofi resulted in the deaths of five pregnant women. During the same period, more than 20 children under the age of five also died due to a lack of access to timely medical care.

Now, the town either records the death of a pregnant woman or of an infant every quarter.

Igbokofi’s health crisis no longer requires dialogue; it requires immediate action.

The Unmotorable Road From Ijoun to Igbokofi

The road leading to Igbokofi from Ijoun, the closest community to it, is tortuous and unmotorable. The over-an-hour dusty motorcycle ride that this reporter embarked on from Ijoun to Igbokofi could be described as ‘a bumpy and treacherous ride’. The 15-kilometre-long narrow road was full of deep and deadly potholes, capable of causing fatal accidents.

READ ALSO: REPORTER’S DIARY: At Ogun APC Ward Meeting, a PVC Can Earn You ‘Good Money’

It is the same road that pregnant women and other inhabitants of the community who are in need of urgent medical care take to places like Ijoun and Aiyetoro for medical attention.

An almost-lifeless Folake Olaniyi, with an infant’s head protruding from her body, also took to the same road to Aiyetoro while trying to save her own life and that of her now deceased baby.

This report was produced with support from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA)

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Published 15th Feb, 2024

By Tola Owoyele

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