Lagos STATE has history with conjoined twins and their separation. Fourteen years ago, a set of conjoined twins – Favour and Faithful Shobowale-Davies – was born in Lagos and the State government facilitated their pro-bono separation at the John Hopkins Medical Centre, in the USA, and also contributed to their rehabilitation on return to Nigeria.
In 2015, another set of conjoined twins – Miracle and Testimony Ayeni – was born in Enugu, and brought to Lagos, from where the journey to separation at the LeBonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, USA, was facilitated. The State government also played a role.
In this interview with SOLA OGUNDIPE, Dr. Leke Pitan, who was the Commissioner for Health in Lagos State in 2003 goes down memory lane about the role of the State government on the Shobowale-Davies twins – from birth to separation.
Pitan who spoke to Good Health Weekly on telephone from the United States of America where he currently resides, avowed that government must always show concern about the people and be responsible for their welfare at all times. Excerpts:
How it all began
As part of my daily routine, I paid an unscheduled visit to the Lagos Island Maternity Hospital. I was going from the labour room, to the Emergency Room to the Theartre, etc., when I was told that there was an unusual delivery. It was conjoined twins.
Immediately I took it up. I telephoned the Governor (Asiwaju Bola Tinubu) and we decided to play the role that government was supposed to play, which was to take responsibility.
So we took up the responsibility of assisting. It wasn’t as if we felt that we had the capacity or money but simply accepted it was government’s responsibility to lead the way in getting the solution.
That was important.
It was that sole commitment of service delivery that turned out to be the first thing it took to achieve the success that was eventually acheived.
It emphasises the fact that government is there for the people to solve their problems.
Don’t get me wrong, money was important, but it was secondary at that point in time, rather, it was the commitment and acceptance of responsibility that mattered.
Free health policy
By virtue of the fact that we were offering free health to children of 12 years and below and to pregnant women, there was no way the Shobowale-Davies family could have been expected to solve the problem of their conjoined twins on their own.
Even though government didn’t have the personnel or facilities in the whole of Nigeria and neither was money available, we had to be committed.
We didn’t even know where to go or where the situation could be solved or how it could be solved, but we had to play our role. That was key. Afterwards, we contacted some of our people in the Ministries – directors and friends.
At about that time, Dr Ade Tinubu had just come back to Nigeria from the US and was consulting for us in the Ministry of Health on some other services like open heart surgery. Now this conjoined twins issue came up and we started talking.
“It wasn’t a procedure that could even be done in just any hospital abroad. There were only specific hospitals that had the competence and even the track record of success with such separation. Fortunately we were able to locate one hospital and appealed to the management through Dr Tinubu and they accepted to help.
Unanimity of purpose
We contacted the airlines, and got promises for donation of air tickets. The Lagos State Government put down its Commissioners for Finance, Budget, Information and Strategy, etc., and they all rallied around the Ministry of Health.
We sent Protocol Officers from the State to go along with the family to the Embassies. They had written letters to the Embassies, after they had already been introduced. We helped them get International passports. We went to the Passport Office with them, and they were able to do those things with confidence.
We did it step-by-step and they had the confidence, it was not a matter of go-and-solve-your-problem-yourself, we accepted the responsibility even though we did not have the facilities or finances. That is the way government must always be for the people. That was our own contribution. Even the First Lady of the State was active in all this. All hands were on deck.
We had people who were competent and responsible and ready to solve problems with unanimity of purpose. Those were the things it took to solve that problem.
By the time the family and the twins arrived the US, even Nigerians in Diaspora were offering to house the parents free of charge apart from the hospital separating them free of charge.
Nigerians at home and in the US were very supportive, but one thing that stood out clear was the government’s determination and commitment to help. People rallied round and we solved the problem.
It wasn’t just a matter of the Commissioner of Health or Ministry of Health. It was the government as a whole including non-members of government and Nigerians abroad.
By the time the twins were safely separated and were to come back to Nigeria, the idea of rehabilitation came up.
A brand new flat was donated to the family by the LSDPC under the State’s Executive Council. The idea was to help rehabilitate and raise the separated twins in a proper environment. All these came together with one purpose which is to serve the people
We were always on the look out for problems of people to solve. It is not the same thing as saying government had all the resources or adequate resources, but it was about the confidence that government was able to generate in the people that it will always be there for them.
Role of government
Imagine a situation where there is need to provide assistance in the community, and government would be at the forefront.
The Lagos State government went to ask for assistance from the hospital and also from Nigerians in the diaspora.
It wasn’t really the headache of the Shobowale- Davies but that of government. That was what was significant about role of government,
Lessons from the experience is that the community learnt that if tit votes for a competent government, it would have rest of mind and if it stands by that government, the community would get service delivery and can hold the government responsible and accountable
Government learned that that it is important to accept responsibility helping the masses, that it exists solely for the welfare of the people. Government also learned that regardless of the little amount or paucity of resources that may be at its disposal, it must never shirk responsibility.
No family should run helter-skelter
The point is that there should be no reason why any family should be running helter-skelter because of this kind of problem. If a family is running helter-skelter, it means government is failing because government should be there for the people.
Government must always provide support. It is easier for a Director from the Ministry to enter the Federal Ministry of External Affairs and call the Embassy of the country in question.
When that happens, what looks like impossibility for the ordinary citizen, would be possible for a Director or Assistant Director to push through the Federal Ministry of External Affairs. With that, validation becomes possible immediately. The process becomes fast-tracked and urgency of the situation becomes clear.
People must be encouraged to approach the government for help and those being approached must be responsive. They must go out of their way to pamper the people. It should start from the Head of Service to the Civil Servant, and once there is leadership the Civil Servants will fall in line.
I can tell you that from experience. There should be no red tape or bureaucracy. That is what governance is to remove. As soon as you notice red tapism, remove it. People must have seamless interaction with the government and there must be seamless solution to their problems.
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