Tuesday, 9 October 2012



“-...Margaret is a chartered accountant. She was never able to concieve chidren but has a wonderful husband that dotes on her. Eary this year, Margaret was offered a fabulous new accounting job in Kaduna, to start at the end of the year. Discussing the appointment with her husband, they decided that the appointment would be a great opportunity for her.
With no family history of breast cancer and no reason to believe her life was about to change for the worse, Margaret started getting dressed for the interview with her prospective employers. As she was getting dressed, she discovered a hard lump about the size of a small bean, just above her right breast. Margaret worried about it for a few days before she realised it wasn’t going away and she should really consult a doctor. She was apprehensive because she knew the lump might mean something was terribly wrong. The first doctor she saw diagnosed the lump as a subcutaneous cyst and declared it was nothing to worry about. Not fully satisfied, Margaret went for a second opinion. The second doctor insisted on carrying out a Mammogram and the test confirmed all of Margaret’s worst fears. The biopsy report showed that the lump was a malignant tumour in the advanced stage... Margaret Audu, the brilliant chartered accountant, wife, and a woman with so much to look forward to was diagnosed with breast cancer...!”

“-...Laraba is a hard working kola-nut seller. She has four children, 9 grandchildren and a caring husband. For the last 26 years, Laraba has not eaten meat and she lives on a diet, mainly consisting of fruit and vegetables. On a daily basis Laraba walks about 15 km from her house to the market where she sells her kola. She may not identify it as such, but Laraba is an extremely healthy and fit 59 year old. Early this year, Laraba was asked to supply 500 bags of kola for the wedding of a Chief in Lagos. Elated that the proceeds of the supply would allow her to set up a kiosk to sell her kola nearer her house, Laraba saw this as a great opportunity for her.
With no tales of a history of disease within her lineage and no reason to believe her life was about to change for the worse, Laraba started getting ready for the trip to Lagos to deliver the kola. As she was geting ready, Laraba noticed some yellow puss-like liquid oozing out of her left nipple. For sometime, she kept wiping away the liquid, but when it persisted, she decided to visit a herbalist. The herbalist told her it was only an infection and gave her some balm to spread on the breast and beverage to drink at night. However, when the puss started turning into blood, Laraba made the decision to go to the General Hospital. At the General Hospital, Laraba was given an Ultrasoud Scan, which eventually showed the growth of an aggresive form of cancer in its advanced stage... Laraba Olusore, the hardworking mother, grandmother and wife. A woman excitedly looking at the prospect of an easier life, was diagnosed with breast cancer...!”

In the year 2012, experts predict that at least 1.5 million people will learn that they have breast cancer. Of all the different forms of cancer, breast cancer is said to be the most prevalent and one of the principal causes of female mortality in the world. As we mark Breast Cancer Awearness month this October, every woman and some men must take seriously the prospect that any one of us could be suseptible to this dreadful disease.

The story of Margaret and Laraba, two women looking forward to a positive stage in their lives, is tragic, but it is not dissimilar to the tales of millions of women who suffer from breast cancer. For the last ten years that I have been writing, I have tried to address the subject of breast cancer anually because the message of awareness for this dreadful ailment can never overstated. Too often have I witnessed with dispare my friends and relations suffer and succumb to breast cancer. Some years back a very close friend of mine was diagnosed with the disease. I was obviously devastated becuase this is a beautiful-spirited woman with a young family and, as they say, her whole life ahead of her. But what was most disturbing about her diagnosis was the fact that she didnt fit the stereotype of a woman within the risk bracket. Being in her twenties and the healthy mother of two babies, whom she had both breast-fed, on paper she did not belong to the category of women at risk from breast cancer. But regardless of what the text books say about the pre-disposing factors of having breast cancer, despite the theories science throws out at us, the reality is that every woman, whether she is age sixteen or seventy, whether she eats healthy and exercises, whether she is overweight or whether she has breastfed or not, could be told that she has breast cancer today.

The subject of breast cancer is rarely discussed in Nigeria and the gravity of it is largely underrated. This lack of discussion has led to vast ignorance and misconceptions of the disease. As women, we need to talk about breast cancer to other women so that we can be aware of the factors surrounding it; so that we dont have continue detecting it accidently; so that we dont find out too late. In this country we urgently need established national screening programs. Without early detection, the sufferers of breast cancer have a smaller chance of survival, without early detection women like my friend face a long and tedious uphill struggle to beat this vicious and unforgiving disease. Without early detection, Margaret and Laraba have no hope and their story will end as follows...

“-...After her diagnosis, with the chances of survival for such an advanced form of cancer very thin, Margaret religiously tried every option money could buy. But the cancer had already spread. Within a very short time, the cancer devoured Margaret’s body. Her hair began to fall out, she bore rippling pain, her skin become ashen, she had become emaciated, she could barely speak and was bedridden. Within a very short time, Margaret succumed to the cancer. And on one dreary morning, with her husband by her side, death finally claimed her... Margaret Audu died of breast cancer...”
“-...At the time of Laraba’s diagnosis, her family didnt have the kind of money required for the treatment she would need. With few options, Laraba continued to take the concoction the herbalist had given her. As the cancer ate at Laraba’s body, she became bloated, her body developed sores, her skin became very dark and her left breast became green in colour. The puss easing out of Laraba’s nipple had become so constant and so pungent that her husband was almost repulsed at the thought of being near her. Almost as quickly as it began, with her daughters next to her, the desease that had laid claim to her life, finnaly came to collect and Laraba gave up the ghost... Laraba Olusore died of breast cancer...!”

Laraba and Margaret were two women with very different lives. Two women who had every reason to fight for their lives but started their fight against breast cancer too late. While not all women can be saved from breast cancer, not all cases of this desease have to end the way Margaret and Laraba’s did either.

We have a unique chance to reverse the incidence of breast cancer in Nigeria by creating general awareness. Our National, General and University Teaching hospitals should put up posters, train nurses and enlighten patients on how to determine their breast status for early detection of cancer. Our governments have a duty to provide new and modern screening equipment for hospitals all over the country. They should provide hospitals with Mammogram, Ultrasound scan and Magnetic Resonance Imaging apparatus.

Knowledge is power, and every woman should be equipped with the knowledge to examine her breasts for evidence of cancer, at least once every month, just around the week she finishes her menstrual cycle. Knowing the early detection signs of breast cancer is the surest way to beat the disease. If they had detected the cancer early, Margret and Laraba could have had a chance to beat the disease. If they had detected it early, Margret and Laraba’s life might not have ended in the tragic manner it did. Instead, it could have ended as follows...

“-...Margaret detected the tiny lump during one of the breast screening examinations she gives herself monthly. She was lucky becuase the breast cancer was in its early stage. And eventhough, she went through a brief bout of Chemotherapy, became very ill and lost all her body hair, Margaret gave breast cancer a good beating and she overcame it. Slowly, she regained her strength, prospective on life and her hair! Today, because of early detection, Margaret is a survivor of breast cancer...!”

“-...Laraba recognised the swelling in her breast, the purites and constant feaver as early warning signs of breast cancer because the women in the market often spoke about the symptoms. When the doctor told her that it had been detected early, Laraba was overjoyed. And although, she had to have both breasts removed, Laraba’s husband and children continued to love and admire her. Today, because of early detection, Laraba is a survivor of breast cancer...!”

For our two fictitious heroines, Laraba and Margaret, their story could have had an encouraging ending had they detected their breast cancer early. I hope that the difficult journey my friend and so many women out there are embarking on will conclude with them being ‘survivors of breast cancer’. I urge every woman reading this article to take some time to consider the message I have tried to relay and become breast cancer aware. Even if it is not something that has been of concern to you before, let this Breast Cancer Awareness Month be the start of you taking control and becoming aware. Let women consider enquiring into ways to examine themselves, let women know their breast cancer status, let women save their own lives. While nothing can truely be fool-proof against breat cancer, it is a fact that early detection can save a life.

By Hannatu Musawa
Twitter- @hanneymusawa

Hard View (We’ve Still Not Learned From Our Journey

We’ve Still Not Learned From Our Journey

Usually, people celebrate anniversaries when they feel a sense of achievement and self-discovery in their pursuit of something. In that journey, it is a pertinent rule of life that mistakes would be made. Mistakes are acceptable as long as one learns from them and use them to make improved decisions for the future. In our journey since Independence, we as a nation have made mistakes. But what did we do with the mistakes? Did we learn from them or just repeat them over and over again, oblivious of what was to come?
 All my life, I’ve seen my country struggle to attain that she should be: the giant of Africa, the pivot point for Africa’s political and economic excellence, a shinning example of a vibrant black nation. It seems to me that I have been watching, hearing and reading about the failure of this struggle for as long as I can recall. What is it about Nigeria that seems to defy any kind of modern governance or civilized behaviour by government? Could it be that we hadn’t made mistakes or, if we had, we were unable to learn from them?
 Nigeria formally achieved independence in 1960 with Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as the republic’s first president. However, on January 15, 1966, junior officers calling for radical reforms triggered by alleged corruption attempted a coup. The coup failed but the federal cabinet surrendered power to General  JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi. In July 1966, Operation Araba was exercised when army officers killed Ironsi and overthrew the government; as a result, Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu Gowon became head of state. Triggered by violence in the north, Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu proclaimed that the eastern part of Nigeria was now the independent Republic of Biafra in May 1967. On July 6, a civil war between Biafran secessionists and the federal government broke out. The war ended in January 1970. “No victor, no vanquished” was affirmed by General Gowon with a promise to return Nigeria to civilian rule in 1976. However, on October 1, 1974, General Gowon announced that the 1976 date for handing over power was not practical. Complaints about corruption and government inefficiency surfaced and led to a bloodless coup on July 29, 1975, when Brigadier General Murtala took over. He reinstated the promise to return to civilian and constitutional rule in 1979 but, six months later, he was assassinated while in a traffic jam. There was public outrage and the chief of general staff, General Obasanjo, reluctantly took over in February 1976. Over the next three years, a new constitution was drafted and an American-style presidency was adopted.
Nigeria was returned to civilian rule in 1979 with Alhaji Shehu Shagari as president. Public disillusionment rapidly set in as the politicians began to pilfer. When the elections in 1983 appeared to be inconsistent, the military took over power again in a popular coup led by General Muhammadu Buhari on December 31, 1983. The government promised to crack down on corruption and introduced a heavy-handed War Against Indiscipline (WAI) in an effort to reorient the social order. However, this was not to be as, in another bloodless coup, General Babangida ousted General Buhari with a promise to vacate office by October 1990. The government again pushed the date for handover back to October 1992, but on April 22, 1990, middle-ranking army officers attempt to overthrow Babangida. General Sani Abacha, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and chief of army staff, reaffirmed the military’s loyalty to Babangida.
The coup leader, Major Gideon Okar, and 42 of the soldiers were executed in July with 27 more executed in September. Presidential elections were conducted on June 12, 1993, and Chief Moshood Abiola ostensibly won. Observers and the vast majority of Nigerians agreed that it was the fairest election Nigeria had ever held. The military government annulled the election, called for a new election and banned Chief Abiola from participating. Protests and controversy followed, forcing General Babangida to step down on August 26, 1993. Power was handed over to Chief Ernest Shonekan, head of an Interim National Government(ING). General Abacha overthrew Shonekan’s ING on November 17, 1993. However, pressure for Abiola to form a government continued and he was obdurate. On June 23, 1994, he was arrested, charged with sedition and jailed. Implicated in a phantom coup, General Olusengun Obasanjo was also  jailed in 1995. Unexpectedly, Abacha died on June 8, 1998; ambiguity surrounded his death but the official cause given was a heart attack! Abiola was to be released but in the course of meeting with a US delegation on July 7, he died after drinking tea; the official cause given was a heart attack! After the death of Abacha and Abiola, General Abdulsalami Abubakar took over and began a transition to civilian rule. On February 19, 1999, Obasanjo won election to the presidency in a relatively free and fair election. However, in the 2003 elections, INEC declared that he won a second term amidst widespread controversy and suspicion.
Apart from my brief recap of Nigeria’s history being a mouthful, the mistakes are quite evident. Many believe that ,if there is any good coming out of the bad years of military dictatorship and ineffective civilian governance, it’s that we have made enough mistakes to learn meaningful lessons from them. It appears that all the time the government has failed, it has been either due to massive looting and corruption, outrageous rigging at elections, extensive tribal marginalisation or an unnecessary and unfair extension of the agreed period of rule by the government. Obviously fraudulent elections and chaotic economies are some of the excuses used for takeovers.
 If those were reasons for governmental invasions, it could be argued that all our past governments were in the throes of death almost straight after their inception. If the theory still is correct, then military takeovers become a kind of euthanasia because, in nearly all the cases of the breakdown of government, there was a repeated pattern of corruption and cheating. Our governments never seemed to learn from the past mistakes, yet always ended up with the same fate - failure!
 I, for one, saw this Fourth Republic as a clean slate given to Nigeria despite our past misdeeds so that we can start our quest for greatness afresh. We had the opportunity to right the wrongs of the past and break the vicious circle of pre-doomed governments. General Abdulsalami, in his speech made in 1999 during the inauguration, most appropriately described it when he said, “To us all beckons the historic opportunity to break, once and for all, the cycle of instability and mistrust that have wracked our political life since independence”. That seems a lifetime ago as Nigerians realise that these new breed of politicians have rapidly adopted the old ways of patronage, rigging and corruption, and the mistakes of the past are being reenacted all over again with a vengeance, meaning that we haven’t learned anything from the past.
 It seems all the trauma and hardship this nation has gone through has not taught us anything. If we choose to turn a blind eye to the effect of misrule and cheating, then, that is a serious indication that we are still not ready for that greatness we were destined for; our forefathers struggled and died for absolutely nothing. This is an even more serious threat to Nigeria’s democratic experiment and development.
We must start all over again – never to move forth until we reflect on our blunders and apply it in a positive way to the betterment of this land. This is one of my wishes for Nigeria. Therefore, as we conclude our 52nd year celebration after colonial rule, I hope to be around to celebrate, at least, the first year of the rebirth of a corruption-free, rigging-free, power-hungry-free Nigeria, fresh from the lessons of the past. If those that have the power choose to drive our homeland to the brinks of death or even kill her, then, we shall one day celebrate the first year of her recuperation or reincarnation. Either way, one day we shall celebrate for motherland. It will be then and only then that we shall truly have a free and independent nation to celebrate for.
Twitter -@hanneymusawa