ELIZABETH was only four when death forcefully took her from the hold of her ageing parents, Mr and Mrs Patrick. She had suddenly developed typhoid. But as they rushed her to the nearest hospital in Benin, which was miles away, the young girl passed on, leaving her loved ones and the entire community with deep sorrow.
In March, Raphael Pamonghan, a 34-year-old timber farmer also unexpectedly bade his wife and children goodbye. While felling trees on his farm, he had an accident and fell unconscious. His breath ceased during the long, bumpy ride to a healthcare facility.
Precious Oweduette, a 17-year-old boy, was in primary six when he also died in similar circumstances after sustaining a cutlass injury.
Like Elizabeth, Raphael and Precious, many residents of Ikoro community, both young and old, have died unexpectedly. From 2-year-old Blessing Patrick who died of measles to 30-year-old trader, Bibi Moses, who died during childbirth — it is estimated that over thirty persons have died since 2014 directly as a result of lack of prompt medical attention.
Some of these deaths could have been prevented had the Primary Healthcare Centre (PHC) in the community been functioning. Constructed by the Edo State Oil and Gas Producing Area Development Commission (EDSOGPADEC) in 2014 up to the level of roofing, the facility has been abandoned ever since.
There is no longer an access road to the major clinic located at Ikoro, a community in Ovia Northeast Local Government, Edo State— and with each passing day, it is fast becoming a wasted facility.
Segun Sero, a native of the community who also serves as its secretary, told The ICIR that EDSOGPADEC only built the centre halfway and then abandoned it. As a result, he said, women in the community mostly give birth using the traditional method which has in some cases led to the loss of life.
There are cases of women falling into labour, and giving up the ghost before they are rushed to the nearest hospital in Benin — about an hour away. “Not only is the distance very far, but the road is also in deplorable conditions.”
He added that, as palm-wine tapping is a popular occupation in the area, it is common to see tappers sustain injuries after a fall, “and before we rush them to the hospital, they are gone.”
Abandoned Primary, Secondary Schools
The abandoned Primary Healthcare Centre is not the only representation of the government neglect in the community. The Ikoro Primary School, founded in 1917, and the public secondary school in the community are also in a deplorable condition. At the former, the floors are broken, the ceilings are sagging, the furniture items are shaky, therefore confining the school authorities, staff and students to only one block of classrooms.
The schools serve about thirty-two smaller communities in the riverine area of Ikoro, which are estimated to have a population running into tens of thousands.
Sero, who also teaches at Ikoro Primary School, told The ICIR that even the classrooms which are in use are not conducive for learning. He thinks the community is marginalised because natives are “from the Ijaw extraction” while the Binis make up the majority in the senatorial district.
“They just come to campaign and gather our votes,” he lamented. “Once they are successfully elected, that is all.”
He explained that the school is in desperate need of furniture as well as a means of transportation, such as motorbikes to swiftly convey teachers who mostly live in surrounding urban areas and speedboats for the students. Children have to paddle canoes from their various locations to the school everyday, and this delays academic activities.
The only government staff member posted to the secondary school is the principal, and so the community has had to find means of employing more hands to support him. They have in the past raised funds to pay new teachers, but they soon discovered that the approach is unsustainable.
“There was a time we even engaged the services of NYSC members,” Sero said. “But after they left, they’ve not given us a new batch of corps members.”
Peter Edenwa, the community vice chairman told The ICIR that not only is “the building of classrooms in a sorry state”, the primary school in fact “looks like a place where you train mad people.”
According to a compilation of contracts awarded by the commission as at September 2015, EDSOGPADEC supplied 120 double-unit school chairs and desks to the primary school in July 2014. This was confirmed by Sero though he added that the items they received were no more than 100.
The document also states that a contract for the renovation of the Ikoro Primary Health Centre was awarded in April 2012, and construction was 25% completed at the time of the report.
Rot, crisis in EDSOGPADEC
The Edo State Oil and Gas Producing Area Development Commission (EDSOGPADEC) was established to address the needs of oil-producing communities in the state, including Ovia Northeast Local Government.
The board was first constituted in February 2012 and had its tenure extended in 2015. Its activities have however been marred by irregularities. In December, following a request from Godwin Obaseki, Edo State governor, the commission’s board was dissolved by the state assembly over allegations of gross misconduct.
“The board members have failed in their responsibilities to the people in the oil producing communities. The board has not deemed it fit to submit the commission’s financial report to the house since they were constituted,’’ Roland Asoro, the houses’ majority leader had said.
On Friday, Obaseki inaugurated a new set of board members and chairman for the commission, at a ceremony conducted at the government house.
PHC deficiencies responsible for infant, maternal mortality — expert
Primary healthcare is the cornerstone of healthcare systems all over the world and cannot afford to be deficient. It must be made accessible and affordable to all individuals, families and communities, regardless of location. This was the submission of Greg Oko Oboh, a public health physician, biostatistician and epidemiology specialist.
“It is particularly important for Africa, specifically for Nigeria and Edo State because the healthcare system we are operating right now is not functioning across board,” he said.
“And the main factor making it not to function is basically human resource for health. As we speak now in Edo State, there are no doctors manning PHCs. The only doctors at the local government level are the administrative doctors. We also have middle or intermediate-trained healthcare workers known as the CHEWS (Community Health Extension Workers), or midwives.”
The lack of qualified healthcare workers and the resort to traditional healing methods, he said, has led to the increasing infant and maternal mortality rates in the country. Many of these deaths, he added, are not documented, “so even the figures we have at the state level are underestimated”.
Oboh also lamented the politicisation of establishing healthcare centres. According to him, politicians especially in Edo state site centres in their localities, not considering whether such facilities already exist in the place.
“So we have five PHCs in some local governments, while others have nothing. For instance, in Egor Local Government, we have an uneven concentration of PHCs close to the Local Government Headquarters in Uselu and its environs, while in the very remote parts there are no PHCs.”
Government needs to cease further loss of lives
Dotun Olutoke, Project Lead of Amplify, a civic organisation that advocates for sustainable development in rural, underserved Nigerian communities, has urged the Edo State government to pay attention to the Ikoro community. His organisation paid a visit to the community in July to train residents on tracking project implementation and ensuring effective service delivery.
“We heard from the community that many emergency cases that could have been attended to by first aid care of little medical attention have led to death in the community,” Olutoke told The ICIR.
This is worrisome, he said, “not only that the absence of a PHC in this community is cutting short the lives of people, but it is also affecting the life expectancy of the general populace in the community.”
He noted that, in the 2018 state budget, N60 million was allocated for the construction of a maternity in the community alongside other projects. Work is however yet to commence though it’s being nine months since the budget was signed.
“We are urging the Edo State government to complete this centre so that people in Ikoro community can have easy access to basic and affordable healthcare services, and the spate of avoidable death that has become a norm in this community can be avoided.”
Meanwhile, Obaseki, in January, announced that his government had arranged to remodel 200 Primary Healthcare Centres across the state, 25 of which would be rebuilt by the end of April. The project was proposed to take up to 24 months, but it is not clear if the Ikoro health centre is part of the 200 centres set for remodelling.
The Edo State government could however not be reached by The ICIR for comments. Messages sent through the social media were ignored, and enquiries mailed to the governor have likewise not been replied.
This report received the support of TrustAfrica and Amplify, a civic tech organisation projecting the voices of rural underserved people and advocating for sustainable development in Nigeria’s forgotten communities.