Uchenna Ojiaku, the medical doctor son of Prof Mazi Okorojiaku is a wonderful fellow. There is a lot of striking things about him. Despite his determination to work as an emergency doctor in the United States, he is also interested to bring home the best hospital in Nigeria. All efforts he made in the past to actualize this dream failed as a result of the phenomenon of the Nigerian factor.
Uche as he is fondly called by close friends and family members has never lived in Igboland all through his life but he speaks and writes Igbo language to the surprise of many. All the times he called Umuaka Times on phone, the gentle Uche preferred Igbo language discussions. Umuaka Times was seriously astonished by this feat.
Last week, Dr Ojiaku granted an interview with Umuaka Times where he touched a lot of issues. It was Jacqueline (nee Okoro) Mbamara who facilitated the interview.
First of all, may we meet you. Tell us your name, where you come from in Umuaka and what you do for a living.
My name is Dr Uchenna Ojiaku, I am from Uba, Umuaka. I am an emergency room physician
Are you a specialist medical doctor?
Yes, in Emergency Medicine
Why are you practicing medicine in America, why not come home and practice?
I practice in the US because this is where I live. I have attempted in the past to establish a medical practice, however, it was fraught with a lot of difficulties.
Please explain further.
From 2007 – 2013, I must have made at least 25 trips to Nigeria to try to establish a state of the art hospital. I presented to private investors, senators in Abuja, ministers for states, among others. When the bombings of the embassy in Abuja happened in 2011, my team and I flew to Abuja to assist with the disaster management. Despite my best efforts, we did not get a receptive ear to our plight. In other instances, I approached banks for financing and their requirements were well beyond what I thought was reasonable. The cost of business is very high in Nigeria.
For real? But the Buhari government has claimed that it has institutionalized the ease of doing business in Nigeria by creating an enabling environment businessmen need. The Federal Government also claimed that it gives a lot of incentives. What is your take on that?
Incentives? You basically have to create the entire infrastructure from land, building, water, power, security, equipment, training and more. All these before seeing the first patient. In the US and most developed countries, the basic infrastructure is provided by the government.
What of banks?
The lending requirements by banks and other investors assist in moving your project forward.
What of the Nigerian situation?
In Nigeria on the other hand, finding capital to start your business is very difficult. These are just a few examples of some of the personal challenges that I experienced in my efforts to contribute to the Nigerian health care sector.
Did you receive any grant for all these?
No. All these came at incredible personal financial cost.
So what really inspired you to read medicine?
My inspiration to read was my cousin Dr Ifeanyi Hyppolite Amuzie. I saw him as a very smart and excellent surgeon.
Do you feel fulfilled as a medical doctor?
What is your assessment of some Nigerians living in America, especially those who have been involved in one crime or the other?
It is unfortunate that people participate in crime. It is not unique to Nigerians however. People from all parts of the world commit crime. It is sad but a fact of life. When Nigerians are involved, we feel bad.
But these Nigerians have always said that they are into crime because the government at home refused to take care of them. what is your take on that?
There is something to be said about that. There is some truth to that sentiment. Most of us in the Diaspora still feel that way. We feel that Nigeria makes it very difficult for those of us with a desire to come home. The lack of power, water and road infrastructure is a challenge for so many of us especially for our families. Crime and lack of security constitute a grave issue as well. These are some of the considerations that preclude people from packing up and moving back home.
When last were you in Nigeria?
I was in Nigeria late last year 2019.
Do you feel happy any time you want to visit Nigeria or you are scared?
I am mostly happy whenever I visit Nigeria. I am still always aware of the inherent insecurity in the country. I do my best to stay safe whenever I am in the country.
Some of you when you arrive Nigeria, you go with private security, why is it that you do not do the same in America, considering the fact that America is more of a gun country than Nigeria?
I have only had to use private security once. It is unfortunate but that’s the reality in Nigeria. It is an indictment of the Nigerian security situation. I have travelled all over the world often times with my family in tow and we have never had to use private security. Yes, America celebrates “gun culture” however, unlike what you see on TV, most of our daily interactions do not involve coming in contact with gun toting individuals. The security situation is far better than what is present in Nigeria.
Really? Pleas can you explain further?
We can move around freely at all times of day and night with very little concern that harm might come to us.
Let’s go back to medical practice again. Are you impressed with the quality of medical practice in Nigeria?
Medical practice leaves a lot to be desired in Nigeria. There is no well regulated standard of practice in Nigeria and there are no consequences for medical malpractice.
Considering the pictures you have painted, our medical doctors, have burnt themselves so hard that against all odds, they have saved a lot of lives from serious medical emergencies. How come?
Yes, it is just that. Nigerian doctors have saved a lot of lives despite their challenges. With a little government support, you can imagine that they would be able to do a lot more. Unfortunately, the massive corruption in the government makes it difficult to make progress. I read this morning that the government appropriated N27B for painting the National Assembly building however the amount allocated to health care for the entire country is N25.5billion and education was N51billion. The way you appropriate resources is a reflection of the priorities in the society. Nigerian leaders believe that the cost to paint a building is worth 1/3 of the entire national budget allocated to education and health. This is unheard of anywhere else in the world. It is no wonder that the country is ill prepared to handle a pandemic.
If you are given the opportunity to make recommendation to the Federal Government of Nigeria in the areas of medical practice, tell us what you will recommend.
My first recommendation would be to invest heavily in medical education and research. Invest in the existing universities by bringing in more professors and scientists. I would also suggest that they spend a lot of time and energy in institutionalizing “standards of care”, medical ethics and severe punishments including withdrawal of medical licenses for those who violate these standards.
What about the organized private medical sector?
Once implemented on a federal level, these policies would then be applied to the private sector as well. The intent is to build a national standard for care and practice. In fact, there is so much else to do but these would be first steps in upgrading the standard in Nigeria.
Umuaka Times learnt that you have never lived in Igboland before. Is it true?
That is true that I never lived in Igbo land.
How come you speak and write Igbo?
Fortunately in my childhood, my parents made every effort to bring my sisters and I home often. Neither of my grandparents had a formal education, as such, we communicated in Igbo.
My parents would speak in Igbo to us when we got in trouble and they were upset. Being a rowdy child, that was often. As I got older, I began to place a premium on speaking Igbo. Most of my fluency came in my adulthood and I have continued to read Igbo texts. This has helped in my writing as well.
This is absolutely amazing. Does it give you any form of concern that America and Europe have robbed many Igbo people of their “Igboness” and ability to speak the language?
I don’t quite see it that way. One is not compelled by force anymore to accept or reject one’s culture or belief system. I don’t think the West robbed anyone of their “Igboness”. People in Nigeria are guilty of the same negligence. Many Igbo families in Nigeria who live outside of the South East do not emphasize visiting home as much anymore or insist on speaking in Igbo in their homes or to their relatives. There is a number of reasons for this one which we touched on earlier being the bad security situation at home. The problem is not just isolated to those in the Diaspora.
How do you relate this Igbotrotic consciousness to your family?
In my household, we place a lot of importance on our culture, language and customs. I spend a lot of time educating myself on Igbo culture and customs. Each individual is responsible for passing on the tradition, language and customs to their progeny.
Someone said that many Igbo parents feel so elitist to the extent that they intentionally refuse to teach their children the language, unlike the Yoruba and Hausa who insist that their children must speak their languages first. What is your take on that?
I have no real opinion on that. I haven’t studied it closely. Anecdotally I will say, I have Yoruba and Hausa friends who don’t speak their native tongues also.
What do you think is the solution for this problem?
Like I said, In my household, we spend a lot of time educating ourselves on the Igbo customs, language and culture.
What are the Igbo or Nigerian organizations both in Nigeria and America that you belong to?
I am a member of the Umuaka Family Union.
What of professional bodies?
ANPA (Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas) and a host of others.
There is a lot of claims of conspiracy theories concerning Coronavirus, which one strikes you as the truth?
I do not ascribe to conspiracy theories. (General laughter).
What is your reason for the answer you gave?
I am a scientist by training. I believe in evidence based research. I do not spend anytime pursuing conspiracy theories.
Why is it that Blacks in America
have died in their high hundreds quite unlike blacks in Africa. Someone said that it is because Coronavirus is a Whiteman’s disease as Ebola is a Blackman’s disease.
I think the framing of your question is wrong. There is no good data comparing deaths of African Americans to deaths of Nigerians. The data collection and collation in Nigeria is grossly inadequate as such reporting is flawed. Secondly, there isn’t widespread testing in Nigeria due to lack of infrastructure. In the US, there is a disparate increase in deaths of blacks relative to the white population for a myriad of structural reasons too many for me to detail in this response. A lot of them do not apply in Nigeria so I shall limit my responses to factors that a germane to Nigeria. For the sake of answering your question, racism, lack of investment in black communities, American domestic policy and a host of others are key factors in the increased death of African Americans relative to the general population.
What about the second leg of the question?
Corona virus is not a Whiteman’s disease and Ebola is not a Blackman’s disease. There are certain diseases that predominate in different ethnic groups. Those tend to be genetically transmitted. Viruses on the other hand do not fit into any of those categories. Viruses are not particular to any race. They are equal opportunity offenders.
Can you commend Nigerian doctors on how they have so far handled the Covid19 emergency?
I commend all who are trying to help out in the management of the COVID pandemic.
In a private chat with you, you said you read Umuaka Times, what is your impression of the online newspaper?
I have read a few of the personal profiles. They are interesting. I commend you on the effort. I am always impressed with individuals who are “self starters”. I believe that you will do well and wish you much future success. I would encourage you to broaden your scope of research and read widely. This will help improve the quality of your product.
Dr Ojiaku, you are a very smart doctor, practicing smart science in a smart country. Thanks a lot for your smart answers.
Thanks for your smart questions too.