Abacha was managed by poorly trained Filipino doctors in his last days – Brigadier General Ovadje (retd.)
•Says govt officials collected $10,000 for surgeons, paid them $2,000
•`How I revived ex-Governor George Innih, but he later died’
By Dotun Ibiwoye
The first African winner of the World Health Organization (WHO) Gold Award, Brig. Gen. Oviemo Ovadje (retd.), is a medical doctor and an inventor who won the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) Gold Medal in 1995. That year, he also emerged as the best African scientist when he invented the emergency auto transfusion set called EAT-SET – an equipment that saves the lives of road traffic accident victims and pregnant women which gained global attention and won multiple international awards.
In this interview, Ovadje relives how the poor health of the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, was shrouded in secrecy and the poorly trained Filipino doctors that managed him. The retired military general speaks against the backdrop of the controversial ill-health of President Muhammadu Buhari. He also speaks on his EAT-SET invention which was patented and in use in several countries.
During the Gen. Sani Abacha administration, you were a serving general and a globally renowned surgeon. What contribution did you make to the health of the late President?
When the former Head of State took ill and was being managed by some Filipino doctors, he was said to be healthy. He was thought to have put on in weight as seen on television and pictures. The health status of Nigerian heads of state has always been shrouded in secrecy. Nobody can say exactly what Abacha’s problem was, but we know that Filipino doctors were managing his condition. What was Professor Wali, an obstetrician, and gynaecologist, who probably delivered Gen. Abacha’s last child, doing with the general as his personal physician? I knew there was a problem when the big man was placed on steroids. I warned those close to him, who knew that I had a global reach in medicine, when they heard me mention the issue of Filipino doctors. I told them of the problem of heavy steroid medication. Even though there was the claim that the former Head of State could have died from a cardiac arrest, the information that some cardiac enzymes (proteins), post mortem, were released into the blood by a dying heart muscle is suspect.
What could have happened should be the presence of a very high and massively raised cardiac enzymes, not just “some”. I condemned the secret mode of the treatment of our Head of State and remember saying, “Oga was retaining fluid and bloated”. I also remember saying: “One day” Oga will snap”. When he eventually snapped, nobody could do anything about it.
How do you see the fact that Filipino doctors were invited to manage the late president?
Filipino doctors are not seen as expatriates. I wonder why European German and English doctors were not invited. If the Presidency did not trust home grown doctors, why not even Nigerian doctors in Europe and America who are doing very well? The truth is that Filipino doctors were among the poorest paid medical doctors world over (earning $200 – $500/monthly at the time). Those working in public hospitals could earn very low wages; they rode bicycles in their countries. These doctors were brought in to attend to our Head of State as expatriates. I am aware that they were rated highly, about $10,000/monthly but received $2,000/monthly, while our corrupt government officials shared the difference, which is what was in it for them; being the only reason for going for poorly trained doctors. I have always tried to help and contribute to our health care delivery system, but those of us not only gifted but also selfless enough to help are often blocked and refused access. Filipino doctors are not better than Nigerian doctors.
A former military governor of Kwara State, General Agbazika Innih, had health issues and you managed him. What lessons can be learnt from your encounter with him?
The former military Governor of Kwara State, General George Agbazika Innih, was admitted to the National Hospital Abuja. I was called by one of the eminent Nigerians in government to see him on his sick bed. When I got to the hospital, after talking with the Chief Medical Director, I had access to him. You know the Nigerian thing; we take things to God even when we are doing the wrong thing. The two parents of a former First Lady, Catholics by faith, with the general, were saying the Holy Rosary by the bedside.
I observed that the general was tachypnic (breathing fast), sweaty and warm, which were signs of carbon dioxide retention (hypercapnia) and severe hypoxia (low oxygen). I hope you will understand why I am going into details. The presence of the parents of the First Lady was enough to distract, intimidate and prevent doctors and nurses from doing their work. I excused them very cautiously. All I did was to correct the general’s posture and allowed him to breathe properly. In about five minutes, his condition was reversed. All the rapid breathing and sweatiness stopped. I advised that the general be allowed to be stable before being flown abroad as planned. I requested to join him on the chartered flight to monitor his vital signs, prevent and manage any critical incidence that might occur during his flight to Germany. I flew back to Lagos to collect my international passport only to be informed the following day that we had lost him. He arrived Germany but died before he could be admitted to a hospital. This may have been due to the stress of air travel, which I warned against.
Failure to strengthen medical institutions and structures is one of the reasons government officials have no confidence in our hospitals. I have always criticized the Nigerian mentality that we can only get the best from foreign hospitals and doctors. Indeed, I discourage it if I can because of my personal experiences.
I once managed two elder statesmen in a Lagos private hospital for prostate cancer. One of them was 80 years old. He was just comfortable while the second, who was actually very close to me, was 76 years old and a multi-millionaire. After the preliminary surgery – orchidoplexy (removal of the testicles), they were put on drugs and sent home. The 76 years old multi-millionaire opted for treatment in a London hospital. Within a month of his hospitalization, I was called to London because his condition had deteriorated. I barely managed to secure his discharge and fly him home. He died exactly seven days of his arrival. The 80 year old died five years later at 85 years. The doctors in London were not committed. They had given up when they could not secure the peripheral veins. When I arrived, I was visibly angry and demanded that they perform a sub-clavian procedure to transfuse him. That gave him strength and we were able to fly back.
I observed them looking into my complimentary card. They insisted I should be in the operating theatre (draped) just to observe the procedure. I am suspicious of what these expatriates can do behind the scenes such as giving unusually high doses of drugs, and testing black patients with novo drugs that are still undergoing clinical trials. These are some indications of medical dishonesty and discriminatory practices among foreign doctors. I was more comfortable during President Yar Adua’s experience. I tried to reach out but failed. I was less worried because he was being managed in Saudi Arabia. His problem, like many others, were that they did not trust home-grown doctors. They never had competent doctors around them because they engaged doctors from the same state, tribe, religion or family. During the past government of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, I fought very hard to suggest to his government of the need to depoliticize the health care system in Nigeria by creating the Office of the Surgeon General of the Federation, which was inherited from the colonial government at the time of Sir, Dr. Samuel Manuwa (OBE), the first Chief Medical Officer and Surgeon General of the Federation. The Minister of Health, as seen in Nigeria, is at best an adviser to government and the President of the Federal Republic. He is a politician and cannot perform the professional role of a practitioner. He needs a competent medical professional on the ground to manage the institutions and resources that the minister can canvas from government. The Surgeon General is responsive to the Honourable Minister. I was encouraged to push this through the office of Mr. President using my colleagues who were around him until he left office. I got assurances that my proposal was on Mr. President’s table. I was always in the Villa. I saw recommendations from his principal staff officers. One of them, an ambassador, was sympathetic to my proposal. We thought the president should have pushed it to the National Assembly. I was even led to believe that he was still giving approval and sending same to the National Assembly after his defeat, because what I was asking for would need the approval of a Health Council or Commission by the National Assembly. I was made to show my face at informal occasions for him to see me and remember that I have an unfinished task on his table. I was at his daughter’s wedding before his defeat and thanksgiving service after his defeat. Despite all these efforts, the proposal did not see the light of day.
Have you been involved in medical research since you left the army?
Yes. I am committed to the search for the cure of intractable diseases such as cancers, etc. As a life member of the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States of America and that of the Federal Republic of Austria, I maintain ties and communication with research works. I have been invited once by a professor from Drexel University in Philadelphia to conduct a study on the use of medical ozone in the management of HIV. I am into a new field of medicine that deals with anti-ageing and disease reversal. I am one of those who believe that the cure for intractable diseases will come from tropical Africa and I promote herbal screening. My daughter has encouraged me through her success and contributions to cancer therapy, using herbal screening techniques.
The current Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, an NTA broadcaster then, reported your EATSET invention recognized by the World Health Organisation. How far has it gone since over 20 years ago?
EATSET was an idea that has since gone viral. I created an idea that the world accepted. It was beyond Nigeria. It was over 20 years today and is now in the public domain. Anyone can now copy it and it has been copied. What is there for me is that I remain the inventor no matter what happens. Nigeria has no capacity to convert an idea into a workable practical product from the experimental laboratory phase to the developmental market place and to a functional workable form in hospital.
Those who have the capacity to, are doing so already – you may wish to Google an American company (names withheld) in the city of Baltimore, USA, where I stayed for 12 days after my Face of Hope Award in New Jersey. 20 years after I popularized the EATSET principle of emergency auto transfusion, which is the simplest idea to the world, this company is claiming that they have discovered a 4 billion dollar business in Sub-Sahara Africa. From their website, they are describing and plagiarizing the EATSET verbatim. This was in 2015 when I had been honoured in almost all the continents of the world. Over 15 global awards, mostly from all the agencies of the United Nations, such as the World Health Organisation, the World Intellectual Property Organisation, the World Bank Institute and the United Nations Development Programme have given me awards. Other private sector organisations such as Tech Museum, JP Morgan in San Jose, California, which is the Silicon Valley in America, the Arco Petro Award at the Dorchester in London, England and the Promex Award in Geneva, Switzerland.