By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South

LIFE, they say begins at 40, but, at 42, just two years after a long life is supposed to have started for him and a time that the intellectual dimension of the Niger-Delta struggle, which he has been preaching, over the years, is beginning to manifest, Okoroba in Bayelsa state born intellectual militant, lawyer and environmental activist, Oronto Douglas, who was one of those who took the Niger-Delta struggle beyond the confines of Nigeria has been knocked down.

But even though he has been knocked down, he is not out. There is still life and once there is life, there is hope. That hope is what he is clinging on today.

A Bayelsa state-based journalist who saw him, late, last year, at the marriage ceremony of a former President of the Ijaw Youth Council, Mr. Felix Tuodolor in Port Harcourt said the Special Adviser to the Vice President looked frail and told some journalists and close friends that he was travelling out of the country soon after for medical treatment.

At a ceremony in which he represented his boss, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, sometime, last year, it was unmistakable that there was something wrong with Douglas inside.

And so , is, perhaps, no longer news to many as at now that that young and sturdily-built dark-complexioned Douglas who was among those who internationalised the Niger-delta struggle more than any other person in the region in the past 12 -15 years is down with cancer of the stomach and needs urgent help from well-meaning Niger-deltans and Nigerians to survive. This is the debilitating situation the Niger-Delta advocate has found himself today and he also requires divine intervention to live and continue with the struggle.

Anybody who knows Oronto, also the Deputy Director of the Environmental Rights Action (ERA) would understand that he bears a strong pain inside his frame for the Niger-Delta, particularly, the devastation of its environment, but, ironically, his abdomen is being eaten up at the moment by cancer.

American doctors said the exact causes of stomach cancer were not known but research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop stomach cancer. A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of developing a disease, such as age. Most people with this disease are 72 years and above.

But Douglas is only 42, going to 43, this year and so it could not been because of his age.

Another risk factor is that men are more likely than women to develop stomach cancer and the ailment is common to people to Asian, Pacific Islander, Hispanic, and African Americans than in non-Hispanic white Americans.

The studies suggest that people who eat a diet high in foods that are smoked, salted, or pickled may be at increased risk for stomach cancer. On the other hand, eating fresh fruits and vegetables may protect against this disease.

Latest reports said the cancer was spreading round his stomach and a worried national coordinator of the Ijaw Monitoring Group (IMG), Comrade Joseph Evah raised alarm during the week that there has been no concerted effort by Ijaw people to save him since he went out the country, last year, for treatment.

His words, "The issue of Oronto's sickness has dominated the internet, especially the Ijaw Nation website since last year. Yet, there has not been any concerted effort by Ijaw people to save him. I think we need the help of the Sultan of Sokoto to talk to the conscience of our political leaders to do something over Oronto's health if the Ijaw nation has not been able to raise a team to visit him in hospital abroad after two months of his sojourn there".

It said it had made several efforts to alert the region's public office holders over the activist's ill health even through text messages, but regretted that those who managed to reply claimed ignorance of the situation.

"Oronto Douglas symbolises the Niger-Delta outside the region. He was the first Niger-Delta activist to be hosted by an American President - Bill Clinton to present the Niger-Delta struggle at the White House. He has presented papers in over 200 international conferences and has visited over 50 countries for the sake of our struggle.

The oratory of Douglas can only be compared to Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe of Africa", he said.

On December 27, 2008, an electronic mail message was sent by an American group asking friends of Douglas to re-unite with him and a reminder was sent on January 10, 2009, but, no mention was made of his illness. It is not immediately clear whether the re-union call was for the friends to ask questions about Oronto and possibly come to the knowledge that he is ill and needs assistance or it is just a re-union call, pure and simple.

But the question now is not that Oronto Douglas is sick and needs help. The issue is what help is coming to him. Ijaws in America are unhappy that some people waited for Joseph Evah to raise alarm before they started doing something.

The Ijaw Foundation in America has already launched an appeal fund for Oronto. "It is gratifying that all Ijaws are extremely concerned about the health and welfare of our dear brother and champion of our Ijaw/Niger Delta Struggle, Oronto Douglas who is currently hospitalized in the United States. We commend the willingness and readiness of each of us to contribute financially to help defray Oronto Douglas' healthcare costs", the group said in an electronic message, signed by its president, Ebipamone Nanakumo.

"Ijaw Foundation wishes to inform all of us that efforts have been made behind the scenes to offer Oronto Douglas all the help he needs. Thankfully, those efforts are bearing fruit. However, our dear compatriot needs support on a continuing basis.

Accordingly, Ijaw Foundation hereby establishes a Fund to help defray Oronto Douglas' current medical care costs and requests all Ijaws to forward their generous donations, in check or money order..."

"Alternatively, you may make your generous donations using the PayPal Electronic Money Transfer Mechanism at our website: www. ijawfoundation. org. Please specify that the donation is for the "Oronto Douglas Fund". We thank and commend Brother Joseph Maclayton for suggesting the establishment of the Oronto Douglas Fund and for pledging to jump start the Fund with a donation of five hundred dollars ($500.00)", he said. Though, some people expressed reservation over the manner Comrade Evah condemned the attitude of some Niger-Delta leaders towards the Douglas health affair with a Committee of Friends of the former Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Bayelsa state taking him to the cleaners, but, the method was already yielding results with more people showing interest.

Saturday Vanguard learnt that the Bayelsa State Government may have sent N32 million to Douglas after the veiled attack on some Niger-Delta leaders by the IMG leader, while the Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan is believed to have asked his Commissioner for Information, Mr. Omah Djebah to proceed to America soon with some assistance for Douglas.

Other Niger-Delta Governors were at press time said to be considering the level of assistance they would send to this great ambassador of the region. It was, however, learnt that the Vice President did not abandon Oronto in America hospital, as some people may have erroneously thought.
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"How can he? Both of them are from the same Ogbia axis in Bayelsa state and it is because of his intellectual sagacity, principle and courage that the Vice President specially requested that Oronto should work with him as a Special Adviser in the Presidency. Both of them have come a long way, he cannot abandon him, he has made his contributions and it is not a thing he will be shouting about.

"It took Oronto time before he agreed to work with the Vice President in Aso Villa because of his pedigree. Remember that Oronto resigned his appointment as Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Bayelsa state when the former governor, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, who appointed him, was sacked from office and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, who was then his deputy, took over on principles. Dr. Jonathan knew the stuff Oronto is made; it is not because he does not like him (Jonathan), but, that is Oronto for you. So he is an asset to the Vice President and there is no way he will abandon him", our source stated.
It was not only the Oronto Committee of Friends that railed on Evah for his attack, Ijaw national leader, Chief Edwin Clark also called him on phone, wondering why he went that far, but, as soon as he knew the reasons for Evah's outburst, he simmered down.

However, Evah, who spoke to Saturday Vanguard on phone, Thursday, took exception to the diatribe on him by the so-called Oronto Committee of Friends, saying they should not limit the personality of Oronto to their social club or committee.

His words, "Oronto's personality transcends a mere committee of friends or social club, In fact, saying that I should take permission from them before speaking on Oronto' s health debacle shows that they don't even know the person they call their friend. Oronto is an international figure. You cannot limit him to your social club.

It is like us talking about President Umaru Yar'Adua's health and somebody coming out to say that it is a family matter, we should not talk about it, who told you that Yar'Adua's matter is a family matter or that the state of Oronto's health is for his committee of friends, that is arrant rubbish and who says I am not Oronto's friend".

He said that he knew that some people may have made one or two contributions before his outburst, but, obviously, it was not enough and that was why Ijaws in America had to start raising funds for him.

"Imagine, people asking for kobo, kobo donation to assist Oronto, which is disgraceful for a personality of his standard. What are our leaders doing and watching the symbol of our struggle outside Nigeria die. The other day, a state governor in one of the Eastern states collapsed on the podium at a public function and I think, a top military chief in the country also collapsed recently, we don't know the nature of their illnesses in this country and anything can happen.

Is Oronto not working at the Presidency, why should the Presidency not mobilize funds for his treatment, why should they wait for Ijaw people in America to launch appeal fund", he queried.

Comrade Evah said, "As a person, I have no moral justification to keep quiet when Oronto is sick because during my recent ailment from which God saved me, he was by my bedside and did everything to assist me, why should I keep quiet, all those who are saying I should have kept quiet don't know what they are saying, I will keep saying it if they don't do what they are supposed to do because this is a man who life is all about Niger-Delta struggle and I tell you, if they have not responded the way I hear they have started doing now, I would have dragged them to court to compel them to assist Oronto because we all know what he stands for".
Reports said Douglas has been "in and out of intensive care twice in the past two weeks at a hospital in San Francisco" and has reportedly incurred a bill of nearly or more than $300,000.00 while the hospital was insisting that a deposit of at least $150,000.00 be made for treatment.

Cancer does not have clear-cut symptoms but as it grows, there is discomfort in the stomach area, feeling full or bloated after a small meal, nausea and vomiting as well as weight loss. What was evident in Douglas's case is that he lost weigh, looked older than his age and fragile. "Most often, these symptoms are not due to cancer.

Other health problems, such as an ulcer or infection, can cause the same symptoms. Anyone with these symptoms should tell the doctor so that problems can be found and treated as early as possible", Medicine-Net experts advised.


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