Eki is of "blue blood." He had been sent to England by his dad, who reigned in a famous rich section of Nigeria, to study Law, even prior to the "oil-boom." In West Africa, Nigeria and Ghana especially, had many prominent lawyers, most of whom had studied in England during the pre-colonial era. One good reason had been that "you never would be poor as a lawyer, and from your law practice, you could become a politician, if for some reason, retiring as a judge did attract you.
Remember I am talking of the epoch post World War II, and the colonies, wherever they were, had all realised Hitler had dished out to them a kind of "Santa Claus," and the name was, "none sustainability of colonies, after Hitler's war." Eki, however, wasn't interested in Law, or in politics. He did not want, at any time, to become King where his father reigned, and that could otherwise be a reality. "How about a Doctor?" he kept asking himself in a dream, which kept coming to him nights-on-end. "Meticulous white shirts, a stethoscope strapped around his neck, and wherever he passed-by people would steal a look at him, more than just once. At an instant decision, Eki grabbed his suitcases.
He would buy a train- ticket, and head towards Germany, where he heard medical schools had been refurbished, and new ones built, and he would more easily get admission, than in England. Another problem was that he had to learn German, but he was willing. Altogether, in almost a year, he was in a German medical school, where his path and mine would meet. Eki had dragged himself around in Britain for almost four years before coming to think of changing from his father's recommended course, and hence, moving on to the continent for a new exploration. He left Germany after completing his course in medicine, at some stage, to return home to practice medicine. I had visited him some twenty-five years later in Nigeria, and thereafter, contact between us had been broken that long, until two weeks ago, when I received a long-distance phone call from 'Nigeria', quite unexpectedly. The first person I spoke to was Eki's compatriot, who had become a close friend to us both in Germany.
Then, there was another colleague I would describe as an acquaintance. Eki came on the line with a voice so faint 'I wouldn't have recognised him' if the circumstances had been different. My friend Eki had two years ago "been flown to Germany for an operation named PROSTATECTOMY." It is a procedure which entails removal of the gland which only men are endowed with by nature, the prostate, which is being so talked about world-wide these days that I won't waste my readers' time in attempting to play a broken record. Nigeria has had a medical school in Ibadan, about twenty years ahead of Ghana, which had one inaugurated in the early 60s. An Urologist, able to operate on a colleague with prostatic hypertrophy, or even cancer, seemed a problem in Nigeria, as late as two years ago. Equally so, his colleagues had been competent enough to treat a Nigerian Head of State, around the same time. Students of Nigerian specialists in a rich Middle East country had to undertake that assignment.
Or is it important at all that African Doctors (including highly qualified ones), like their counterparts such as Chinese, Europeans, or Arabs, be capable of handling complicated health problems? Or, what would prevent them? At the time the Nigerian Head of State had the sword of Damocles dangling over his neck, the joke emerged; 'Saudi young doctors at the King Faisal Specialists' Hospital in Riyadh jesting; 'What indeed has happened to our teachers after they had returned home? They taught us everything. Let them cure their boss now! "Nawaoo, oo!" A Nigerian expression, apparently, Yoruba, meaning something like "for heaven's sake! So, what had happened to the Nigerian super brains in medicine?" A couple of things, probably, or perhaps, nothing! It all has something to with the pot of political evolution, or revolution, since "World War Two". Nobody would guess what might have happened to the economies of Nigeria, or Ghana, or Uganda, just to name a couple, who inherited an economy from the British, which the citizens themselves, one generation, came to admit, "they were better off under the British." "Blasphemy, right?" In Ghana, the trains worked, in Nigeria, they worked even better. Unemployment started in Ghana en masse, after the take-overs, starting in 1966.
Private sector engagement ceased, with the government being the 'biggest employer.' People became pushed into the corner, whereby they kept quiet and survived, or... In some instances, they fled and died in exile (Siaw, and a few others from Ghana). Or had we lost self-confidence? Quickly, the 'pathological neologism' emerged, home-second-hand!! Whereas state-owned vehicles like Mercedes Benzs would be replaced at whatever cost before they would truly age, not so x-ray machines or operating theater equipment. On a conferencing tour to the Far East a generation ago, it was amazing, just as amusing, to find Korean hospitals, which you won't only mistake for German University Hospitals, because the writings telling you of which departments or wards were done so in Korean. Japan sat on top of them all, by size and beauty. But, in Singapore the birds would chirp around reminding you of the "Afram Plains." You won't mistake it all for "Donkorkrom." The Emperor Akihito would be brought to the same hospital, where the hand-worker with Nissan-Motors would be treated. Both would stand very good chances of surviving, no matter the ailment.
The Japanese doesn't die until he has reached the 10th Decennium. I understand it fully, but I am at the same time browbeaten with sarcasm, when I am told, statistically that 70% of our population is 30 years old, and below. For the umpteenth time, I have been told the part of New York called Bronx is run healthcare-wise by Ghanaian Doctors. In America, I am told, just like in Saudi Arabia or Papua New Guinea, losing a patient in your medical practice isn't accepted matter-of-factly. No wonder so many of Africans, the "prominent ones included", prefer America as a safety valve, if one's chances in featuring favorably in the statistics should truly be when one is young. How else could one attain it? 'Eki", just like "Jonnie", would not risk it in Nigeria or in Ghana under any circumstances!
Kofi Dankyi Beeko, MD