Touching tributes for Nigerians abroad who died of COVID-19

THE PUNCH Newspaper-Afeez Hanafi

Death arising from coronavirus complications caught Chidinma Olajide unawares. The middle-aged nanny was a loving mother who wanted to be available for her three kids at all times. She never knew death was lurking in the shadows to take her away from Tolu, Anisa and Josiah so soon.

Few days before she succumbed to COVID-19 early April, Olajide, based in the United Kingdom, wrote of her experience on Facebook while isolating at home.

In her March 20 status update, she recalled that a postman delivered a parcel at her doorstep that day without having physical contact with each other.

“He dropped it on the floor by the door, pressed the bell and moved very far away from the door before I could open it. Apparently, they are not allowed to hand parcels directly to anyone now,” Olajide wrote.

The previous day, on March 19, she had urged everyone to be calm, prayerful and observe the guidelines to prevent contracting the dreaded virus which has killed thousands and infected millions.

“Fear is the wrong approach to coronavirus,” she advised. “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me,” she quoted Job 3:25.

The post later appeared as a veiled reference; she had been infected and some days later, the pandemic took her away.

The sad news came as a rude shock to her relations and friends who shared glowing memories of her on the Internet.

“Nanny, please come back,” one Ijeh Nwa-Njoku mourned, expressing her feelings in crying emoticons on Facebook. “It has to be unreal…You need to sing. We have duets to sing. This was not the plan,” she wailed.

Olajide from Imo State was one of the 13 Nigerians in the Diaspora who died of COVID-19, according to a short video recently released by the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission.

A health worker at Cherish Elderly Care in Manchester, Carol Jamabo, loved tendering to old people, a job she took up 25 years ago after she relocated to the United Kingdom from Nigeria.

At 56, the carer was full of zeal, ever willing to give her best to the job. Unfortunately, the virus dealt her a huge blow while laying her life for others to live.

“Carol was an amiable and humble individual,” her relation, Asito Jamabo, stated in a chat with Sunday PUNCH.

Well loved by family and friends, Carol was a dependable figure who dedicated her life to charity and community service, Asito said.

“She had her primary education in Port Harcourt (Rivers State). After she attended the Federal Government College, Abuloma, for a career in law, she studied at the University of Science and Technology (now Rivers State University).

“She travelled to the UK for better life prospects. She was a hard working mother of two with zeal to help charity and community service. She joined a medical outfit as an administrator,” Asito stated.

He said Carol’s role in the family was invaluable, adding that despite relocating abroad, she was always in touch with family members at home.

“I can’t talk more; I am sad,” Asito concluded mournfully.

Other Nigerians who died in the UK include a mental health practitioner, Bode Ajanlekoko, one Ugochukwu Erondu and a former medical director, Alfa Saadu.

Saadu, 68, died on Tuesday, March 31, at the Whittington Hospital in North London.

The doctor, who hailed from Kwara State, was a medical director at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Essex and Ealing NHS Trust. He also worked at many hospitals in London.

He was said to have shown symptoms of coronavirus two weeks to his death and immediately went into isolation.

His son, Dani Saadu, told the British Broadcasting Corporation that the family suggested he should go to hospital, but his father insisted he “did not want to take up a hospital bed because others would need it.”

“He was a passionate man who cared about saving people. As soon as you spoke to him about medicine or what was happening with the NHS, his eyes would light up – he was very passionate,” Dani remarked.

He added, “He was working part-time as a locum as he just could not fully retire. He just loved medicine so much. He worked for the NHS for nearly 40 years in different hospitals across London and he loved to lecture people in the world of medicine, he did so in the UK and Africa.”

Dani said he was pissed off few weeks earlier when Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked the British to “be prepared to lose loved ones” as coronavirus continued to wreak havocs on the country. He realised the import of Johnson’s statement after he lost his father to the virus.

He stated, “I got really angry and remember thinking, ‘why is he saying this? It is not the kind of thing you say on TV.’

“Now I understand what he means. People need to take this virus seriously. I have seen it first-hand – this virus kills people…we will miss him greatly.”

The Princess Alexandra Hospital, where Saadu worked until December 2017, also paid tribute. “Our condolences to you and your family; our thoughts are with you all,” the hospital said.

Former Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, also shared his condolences via Twitter, noting that Saadu provided leadership for Kwarans in the Diaspora, as Chairman, Kwara State Association of Nigeria (KWASANG UK).

“Back at home, he was a community leader and traditional office holder as Galadima of Pategi. He will be sorely missed,” Saraki added.

Saadu’s colleague, Dr Charles Cayley, who worked with him at London North West University NHS Trust, described him as a “pleasure to work with.”

In a poetic tribute to Erondu, a Nigerian who also died of coronavirus in the UK, the deceased’s friend, Michael Onwunali, said he could not imagine Erondu wasn’t around anymore.

He said losing his childhood friend was like a bitter wine and contaminated water forced down his throat.

“Grief is now my companion; it takes me by the hand and walks along beside me in a dark and barren land,” Onwunali wrote on Facebook.

At 64, Nmaete Greg, a retired police officer in London, lived every day heartily, savouring all the good times with her family.

The native of Ikot Nya in the Nsit Ibom Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State still hoped to enjoy many more fruitful years with her husband and their four children but coronavirus denied her of living that dream. She died on Monday, March 6.

“Goodbye Aunty Maette Mercy, may you be our first and last coronavirus sacrifice in our family. I pray your husband and children come out of this sad situation. I feel for Janet, Wendy, Albert and your beloved Cherish. I feel for your husband Greg,” her niece, Edoamaowo Udeme, wrote on Facebook.

Udeme’s elder brother, Nkere Philip, had told The PUNCH that the family was hopeful Maette would recover from the virus.

Philip had said, “She was not in the hospital for long….When I spoke with the husband over the phone, he was still perplexed because everything happened so suddenly and he and the children did not expect that she was not going to be back home from the hospital.”

In another heartbreaking loss caused by COVID-19, a Nigerian-American student, Bassey Offiong, was few weeks away from his graduation at the Western Michigan University when he died after being reportedly denied test several times in Michigan. The 25-year-old was studying Chemical Engineering.

His cousin, Rosalyn Afiong, in a tribute on Facebook, described him as a “shining light.”

Afiong wrote, “My dear sweet cousin, this is unreal. I don’t even know where to begin. May your soul rest in eternal peace. You did everything and more with your time on earth, and although you weren’t anywhere near done in your purpose. You’ve been called for a higher purpose bigger than us all. I love you so much and I pray you to keep that same light shining on us from above.”

The Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Department also shared condolences in a statement, saying “it was saddened to learn of the death of a Western Michigan University student due to COVID-19.”

“Our thoughts are with the student’s family and WMU as they grieve the loss of a loved one. We know this student was not a Kalamazoo County resident; however, this virus has no borders when it comes to who it affects and how it is spread….

“Stay home and if you must go out for essential items, stay safe by taking preventative measures,” the statement added.

Offiong was among three Nigerians confirmed to have died of coronavirus in the United States by the Consul General of Nigeria in New York, Mr Benaoyagha Okoyen.

The envoy in a statement on Saturday, April 4, identified the two other victims as a doctor from Abia State, Caleb Anya, who contracted the virus while on duty in New York, and one Hajia Laila Abubakar Ali from Kano State.

Okoyen had said, “It is regrettable to announce that three Nigerians have died of COVID-19 in the United States of America.

“The first case was a 60-year-old lady, Hajia Laila Abubakar Ali of Kano descent, who died on March 25, while receiving treatment at the Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, New York.

“Secondly, 25-year-old Bassey Offiong from Calabar, a final year Chemical Engineering student of Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, died on Saturday, March 28, at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.

“Unfortunately, the last case was a medical practitioner, Dr Caleb Anya, from Ohafia in Abia State. He died while rendering service to humanity on the forefront of the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic in New York on April 1.

“On behalf of the Consulate General of Nigeria in New York, I wish to extend our condolences to the families of the deceased Nigerians in this tragic circumstance.’’

In a press briefing in Abuja on March 16, the Minister of State for Health, Adeleke Mamora, also announced that a Nigerian doctor based in Italy, Olumide Okunuga, died in Canada after contracting coronavirus.

For 20 years, 55-year-old Esther Akinsanya worked with the National Health Service, United Kingdom, rising through the ranks from being a cleaner to a health care assistant.

But as a frontline worker, she fell ill recently after exposure to COVID-19 patients. She eventually died of the disease at the same hospital where she worked for two decades.

In an interview with a London-based ITV News, Esther’s son, Samuel, described his mother as an outgoing and warm person who was always helping others. “She did the best she could,” he said.

While efforts to get vaccines gathers momentum with some light at the end of the tunnel, COVID-19 has globally disrupted living patterns, economies, sports, and education, among other critical sectors.


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