The Tide is Turning in Nigeria

By Ayobami Olufadeji

The other day, a couple tears rolled down my cheek. Scratch that. The other day, I cried. It has been hard for me to come to terms with the fact that the current situation in Nigeria has been so devastating as to push me to tears, but this is the way things are . . . for now.

Ayo Olufadeji

A young Ayo (middle) with his family in Nigeria.

The unrest that has continued in Nigeria over the past two years culminated in the kidnapping of more than 300 teenage schoolgirls in Chibok on April 15, and in the early May bombings close to the capital city of Abuja. These attacks have been linked to Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist group that was founded in the early 2000s with the intention of imposing Sharia law. The group’s name, Boko Haram, is colloquially interpreted as “Western education is forbidden,” but it has a broader definition. “Haram” is Arabic for something sinful, or forbidden by Islam. “Boko” is a Hausa word that refers to an idea or object that involves fraud or deception. For example, during the British rule, Boko was used to refer to the values and ideas imposed by the expatriates. So “Boko Haram” could be translated to mean “Western ideas are forbidden by Islam” which might include the idea of a democratic government or that of educating girls.

I am by no means a political analyst but I feel the need to help people realize that the problem of Boko Haram is not just that of a religious clash; it is very much political. It stems from what people believe to be the British forcing the country boundaries of Nigeria and merging a very diverse group of people.

After many coups and a civil war, an “agreement” was reached that the presidency would rotate between the majority Muslim north and the majority Christian south. However, the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (from the Muslim north) before the end of his first term and his succession by the vice president at the time, President Goodluck Jonathan (from the Christian south), has left many of the northerners feeling like they have been denied their chance of having their president for the usual two terms. (Of the many articles I have read over the past few weeks, I think this piece from VOX does a good job of explaining the basics of the conflict.)

Effecting positive change in Nigeria has always been my goal. Medicine happens to be my means. When I saw the post-bombing pictures of dead bodies being heaped unto pick-up trucks by officials who seemed to be protected only by examination gloves, I cringed. I cringed the same way I do when I read reports about the mortality rate from diseases like malaria and polio in my country. Our health sector has made some advances in the past decade but there is always room for improvement—and it’s a room that can fit a blue whale, especially for a country with the largest GDP in Africa.

I commend the work of the team at Nigeria Health Watch (@nighealthwatch) for making people aware of the needs at the hospitals where the injured were transferred. A lot of people donated blood after the tragedy, helping the hospitals replenish their blood banks. However, it should not take a crisis to replenish blood banks at hospitals.

How do we equip our health-care system in Nigeria to handle emergencies? Even more fundamental, how do we provide quality health care in a country where 70% of the population lives in poverty? It is thinking about solutions to these kinds of problems that keeps me up at night.

The other day I cried for Nigeria not because all hope is lost, but because it was just a hard day. If anything, I am now even more determined to be a part of impacting positive change at home. I’m studying more about designing health-care systems, trying to better understand the ideas around improving population health, exchanging ideas with more like-minded individuals, and spending more time up at night thinking.

The last few weeks have reminded me of the resiliency of Nigerians. The work of Obiageli Ezekwesili (@obyezeks), Jennifer Pearse and her team, and many others raising awareness at home and abroad are showing the world that the citizens of Nigeria are ready to make a difference.

The tide is turning in Nigeria and I believe we are on the brink of change—I am working to make sure that I am ready to do my part.

Today is the 38th day since the girls have been abducted, but we Nigerians are not going to lose hope. #BringBackOurGirls

Ayobami “Ayo” Olufadeji is a third-year medical student at Geisel. Growing up in Nigeria, he learned firsthand what it means to live in a community without enough doctors—and he wants to change that. He dreams of returning to Nigeria, helping to improve lives and bring positive change.