•Says govt officials collected $10,000 for surgeons, paid them $2,000
•`How I revived ex-Governor George Innih, but he later died’
By Dotun Ibiwoye
The first African winner of the World Health Organization (WHO) Gold Award, Brig. Gen. Oviemo Ovadje (retd.), is a medical doctor and an inventor who won the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) Gold Medal in 1995. That year, he also emerged as the best African scientist when he invented the emergency auto transfusion set called EAT-SET – an equipment that saves the lives of road traffic accident victims and pregnant women which gained global attention and won multiple international awards.
In this interview, Ovadje relives how the poor health of the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, was shrouded in secrecy and the poorly trained Filipino doctors that managed him. The retired military general speaks against the backdrop of the controversial ill-health of President Muhammadu Buhari. He also speaks on his EAT-SET invention which was patented and in use in several countries.
During the Gen. Sani Abacha administration, you were a serving general and a globally renowned surgeon. What contribution did you make to the health of the late President?
When the former Head of State took ill and was being managed by some Filipino doctors, he was said to be healthy. He was thought to have put on in weight as seen on television and pictures. The health status of Nigerian heads of state has always been shrouded in secrecy. Nobody can say exactly what Abacha’s problem was, but we know that Filipino doctors were managing his condition. What was Professor Wali, an obstetrician, and gynaecologist, who probably delivered Gen. Abacha’s last child, doing with the general as his personal physician? I knew there was a problem when the big man was placed on steroids. I warned those close to him, who knew that I had a global reach in medicine, when they heard me mention the issue of Filipino doctors. I told them of the problem of heavy steroid medication. Even though there was the claim that the former Head of State could have died from a cardiac arrest, the information that some cardiac enzymes (proteins), post mortem, were released into the blood by a dying heart muscle is suspect.
What could have happened should be the presence of a very high and massively raised cardiac enzymes, not just “some”. I condemned the secret mode of the treatment of our Head of State and remember saying, “Oga was retaining fluid and bloated”. I also remember saying: “One day” Oga will snap”. When he eventually snapped, nobody could do anything about it.
How do you see the fact that Filipino doctors were invited to manage the late president?
Filipino doctors are not seen as expatriates. I wonder why European German and English doctors were not invited. If the Presidency did not trust home grown doctors, why not even Nigerian doctors in Europe and America who are doing very well? The truth is that Filipino doctors were among the poorest paid medical doctors world over (earning $200 – $500/monthly at the time). Those working in public hospitals could earn very low wages; they rode bicycles in their countries. These doctors were brought in to attend to our Head of State as expatriates. I am aware that they were rated highly, about $10,000/monthly but received $2,000/monthly, while our corrupt government officials shared the difference, which is what was in it for them; being the only reason for going for poorly trained doctors. I have always tried to help and contribute to our health care delivery system, but those of us not only gifted but also selfless enough to help are often blocked and refused access. Filipino doctors are not better than Nigerian doctors.
A former military governor of Kwara State, General Agbazika Innih, had health issues and you managed him. What lessons can be learnt from your encounter with him?
The former military Governor of Kwara State, General George Agbazika Innih, was admitted to the National Hospital Abuja. I was called by one of the eminent Nigerians in government to see him on his sick bed. When I got to the hospital, after talking with the Chief Medical Director, I had access to him. You know the Nigerian thing; we take things to God even when we are doing the wrong thing. The two parents of a former First Lady, Catholics by faith, with the general, were saying the Holy Rosary by the bedside.
I observed that the general was tachypnic (breathing fast), sweaty and warm, which were signs of carbon dioxide retention (hypercapnia) and severe hypoxia (low oxygen). I hope you will understand why I am going into details. The presence of the parents of the First Lady was enough to distract, intimidate and prevent doctors and nurses from doing their work. I excused them very cautiously. All I did was to correct the general’s posture and allowed him to breathe properly. In about five minutes, his condition was reversed. All the rapid breathing and sweatiness stopped. I advised that the general be allowed to be stable before being flown abroad as planned. I requested to join him on the chartered flight to monitor his vital signs, prevent and manage any critical incidence that might occur during his flight to Germany. I flew back to Lagos to collect my international passport only to be informed the following day that we had lost him. He arrived Germany but died before he could be admitted to a hospital. This may have been due to the stress of air travel, which I warned against.
Failure to strengthen medical institutions and structures is one of the reasons government officials have no confidence in our hospitals. I have always criticized the Nigerian mentality that we can only get the best from foreign hospitals and doctors. Indeed, I discourage it if I can because of my personal experiences.
I once managed two elder statesmen in a Lagos private hospital for prostate cancer. One of them was 80 years old. He was just comfortable while the second, who was actually very close to me, was 76 years old and a multi-millionaire. After the preliminary surgery – orchidoplexy (removal of the testicles), they were put on drugs and sent home. The 76 years old multi-millionaire opted for treatment in a London hospital. Within a month of his hospitalization, I was called to London because his condition had deteriorated. I barely managed to secure his discharge and fly him home. He died exactly seven days of his arrival. The 80 year old died five years later at 85 years. The doctors in London were not committed. They had given up when they could not secure the peripheral veins. When I arrived, I was visibly angry and demanded that they perform a sub-clavian procedure to transfuse him. That gave him strength and we were able to fly back.
I observed them looking into my complimentary card. They insisted I should be in the operating theatre (draped) just to observe the procedure. I am suspicious of what these expatriates can do behind the scenes such as giving unusually high doses of drugs, and testing black patients with novo drugs that are still undergoing clinical trials. These are some indications of medical dishonesty and discriminatory practices among foreign doctors. I was more comfortable during President Yar Adua’s experience. I tried to reach out but failed. I was less worried because he was being managed in Saudi Arabia. His problem, like many others, were that they did not trust home-grown doctors. They never had competent doctors around them because they engaged doctors from the same state, tribe, religion or family. During the past government of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, I fought very hard to suggest to his government of the need to depoliticize the health care system in Nigeria by creating the Office of the Surgeon General of the Federation, which was inherited from the colonial government at the time of Sir, Dr. Samuel Manuwa (OBE), the first Chief Medical Officer and Surgeon General of the Federation. The Minister of Health, as seen in Nigeria, is at best an adviser to government and the President of the Federal Republic. He is a politician and cannot perform the professional role of a practitioner. He needs a competent medical professional on the ground to manage the institutions and resources that the minister can canvas from government. The Surgeon General is responsive to the Honourable Minister. I was encouraged to push this through the office of Mr. President using my colleagues who were around him until he left office. I got assurances that my proposal was on Mr. President’s table. I was always in the Villa. I saw recommendations from his principal staff officers. One of them, an ambassador, was sympathetic to my proposal. We thought the president should have pushed it to the National Assembly. I was even led to believe that he was still giving approval and sending same to the National Assembly after his defeat, because what I was asking for would need the approval of a Health Council or Commission by the National Assembly. I was made to show my face at informal occasions for him to see me and remember that I have an unfinished task on his table. I was at his daughter’s wedding before his defeat and thanksgiving service after his defeat. Despite all these efforts, the proposal did not see the light of day.
Have you been involved in medical research since you left the army?
Yes. I am committed to the search for the cure of intractable diseases such as cancers, etc. As a life member of the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States of America and that of the Federal Republic of Austria, I maintain ties and communication with research works. I have been invited once by a professor from Drexel University in Philadelphia to conduct a study on the use of medical ozone in the management of HIV. I am into a new field of medicine that deals with anti-ageing and disease reversal. I am one of those who believe that the cure for intractable diseases will come from tropical Africa and I promote herbal screening. My daughter has encouraged me through her success and contributions to cancer therapy, using herbal screening techniques.
The current Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, an NTA broadcaster then, reported your EATSET invention recognized by the World Health Organisation. How far has it gone since over 20 years ago?
EATSET was an idea that has since gone viral. I created an idea that the world accepted. It was beyond Nigeria. It was over 20 years today and is now in the public domain. Anyone can now copy it and it has been copied. What is there for me is that I remain the inventor no matter what happens. Nigeria has no capacity to convert an idea into a workable practical product from the experimental laboratory phase to the developmental market place and to a functional workable form in hospital.
Those who have the capacity to, are doing so already – you may wish to Google an American company (names withheld) in the city of Baltimore, USA, where I stayed for 12 days after my Face of Hope Award in New Jersey. 20 years after I popularized the EATSET principle of emergency auto transfusion, which is the simplest idea to the world, this company is claiming that they have discovered a 4 billion dollar business in Sub-Sahara Africa. From their website, they are describing and plagiarizing the EATSET verbatim. This was in 2015 when I had been honoured in almost all the continents of the world. Over 15 global awards, mostly from all the agencies of the United Nations, such as the World Health Organisation, the World Intellectual Property Organisation, the World Bank Institute and the United Nations Development Programme have given me awards. Other private sector organisations such as Tech Museum, JP Morgan in San Jose, California, which is the Silicon Valley in America, the Arco Petro Award at the Dorchester in London, England and the Promex Award in Geneva, Switzerland.
How come SISU Global Health.com is being promoted from the United States, which is similar product to your EATSET, is it a new creativity or related to yours?
They have cleverly avoided the mention of Nigeria, where it all started and their work is in Ghana. If it is a multi-billion dollar business, Ghana is certainly not the target. What is the population of Ghana? Nigeria is the target. Nigeria is the market. They are just trying clinical trials in Ghana and Zimbabwe. We launched the EATSET in 1995 when we concluded the clinical trials at the University of Geneva Cantonal Hospital. They are soliciting for Bill Gates and the World Bank Sponsorship. They are getting good support because they are white Americans.
This was discovered in 2015 while I was on holidays in North America and I petitioned the American Patent Office, not to deny them a patent right of any improvement or inventive step on the EATSET If any, but to demand that my contribution to this work be acknowledged in their write ups and publications
My attorneys in America were prepared to sue them. When I returned to Nigeria, the God of my wisdom, Jehovah God Almighty, intervened. The Holy Spirit in me asked me, “Why I created EATSET and what I wanted from it? I was asked if I did it for material gain. I said, “No”. The Holy Spirit demanded from me the reason why the life-saving idea, EATSET, was revealed through me. I answered, “TO SAVE LIVES”. What then was your problem? I was asked. If I and my environment cannot bring EATSET to the operating table worldwide, the principle will not die. He assured me not to be worried about acknowledgement, since the world has heard of me, even after my death. I was asked if I knew why God took one of my daughters to North America to discover the cure for acute leukemia (cancer of the blood), for which the Canadian National Mitac’s Award was given. I cannot remember my answer to the question. Finally, I was asked to forget riches. EATSET is being manufactured in India and now the Americans say they have stumbled on a 4 billion dollar business, using the idea in Sub-Sahara Africa.
I have been contacted and sometimes via my email from Germany by a concerned fellow (not Nigerian) informing me of EATSET being copied in Germany and an unnamed Asian country. EATSET has been globalized as a concept. When I have enough money to do business, I will import the finished product from the manufacturers in India and bring it in as a complete product for our hospitals and compete with those who are helping me to popularize and globalize the concept.
What is the status of your factory that produces EATSET and syringes somewhere in Calabar?
The best we have done is to bring it in as a CKD (Components Knocked Down) parts. What I mean is that, we set up a medical manufacturing factory The EATSET Limited at Calabar Free Trade Zone,with well over one billion US dollars as far back as 2002 duly registered at the Corporate Affairs Commission. This company metamorphosed into the First Medical and Sterile Products. We brought in the EATSET as component parts with the idea to couple and sterilize the products as well as market it in Nigeria. We could not put the factory to maximum use because of the erratic electrical supply to the Free Trade Zone and the company. There were also other intrigues in doing business in Nigeria which I will not discourse on the pages of Newspaper. We met several obstacles on our path inspite of our perceived closeness to international agencies and organs of government like the Federal Ministry of Health, Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration (NAFDAC), Federal Ministry of Information when Prof. Dora Akinyuli became Minister.
The EATSET development was well received at the Presidency, State Governments and non-government agencies, yet the environment remained unfavorable. Government’s promise to ban and discourage the use of re-usable syringes did not work. The plan to introduce the ‘autodestruct’ AD syringe by legislation did not take off. We proceeded to import the product as CKD to sterilize the product. As I said earlier, lack and poor electricity supply became our bane. We were spending over one million naira monthly then for diesel purchases, when the cost of diesel was still low. Where do we get such money to do business? What will be the final cost of production and what does the end user pay for it? Mind you, we intended to produce a low cost and affordable technology.
The level of recession, which is now receding has been attributed to several factors. what do you feel is the major cause and what is the way out?
This is not a medical question. However, corruption is the major cause of recession in Nigeria. If you know how much naira was converted in the purchase of dollars in the tail end of President Jonathan’s government then you will understand why the economy collapsed leading to recession. First, the dollar that was bought using the naira was not available in the system; they not stored in the banks but were stored in houses, farmlands, cemeteries and sewage tanks. As a result, there was no money to run the economy, hence the recession.
The Nigerian military has successfully chased the terrorist group – boko haram out of Sambisa forest and have drastically reduced their power. What is your advice for further conquest of insurgency?
The military has tried hard to suppress Boko Haram activities in spite of the politicization of the war itself. However, the war has entered another phase of suicide bombing, guerilla wars and internal security operations. We are not even sure of the relationship between the Boko Haram and the group of wondering herdsmen. Are these herdsmen Nigerians? Who approved that they should carry arms?
As a boy, I grew up to see herdsmen guarding their cattle with sticks. Who approved and signed that they should carry the weapon of war – AK47 guns meant for soldiers and our battle-tried police men only. Are the herdsmen at war with the rest of Nigerians? Why do we prosecute other Nigerians who carry even less lethal weapons for illegal possession of arms and leave these ones to roam menacingly in our bushes to maim, kill and rape farmers who produce food? Are we sure that some people are not invading the country? I do not understand why the arrest in communities is limited to only the locals, as was the case of Ubulu Uku in Delta State, where the king was brutally killed.
Former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, instructed you to represent Nigeria at the World Military Congress in America to give your lecture and you received a lot of ovation, what was the experience like?
General Abdusalam Abubarkar, former Head of State, nominated and approved my participation at the World Congress of Military Medicine in June 1994. This led to my representation sometimes as Chief of Delegation for over a period of 10 years (1994 – 2004). He contributed immensely to the success of EATSET, beginning from when he was Chief of Defense Staff, when he became president and paid the counterpart funding of $200,000 for the EATSET studies and Beta clinical trials. He indeed gave me the leap to international medicine, in 1994 when he sent me. I was elected Chairman, Special Scientific Session of the United Nations Deployment of Troops on Blue Helmet Missions (Peace Keeping) in Augsburg, Germany. In 1996, in Beijing, China, I was elected into the membership of the Technical Working Group to represent Africa, Asia and the Pacific.
In 2003, I was elected into the Special Scientific Planning Committee of the United States hosting of the World Congress of Medicine by the International Committee of Military Medicine (ICMM). In 2004, I was elected the Chairman, Finance and Audit Committee of the World Congress in Arlington, Virginia, USA.
In 1995, you were the best African Scientist and EAT-SET is patented and in use in 9 countries and also the invention attracted financial support from the United Nations Development Programme. What is its status now?
I have discussed this in the first two paragraphs of this discussion. The status of the EATSET today is its global acceptance. It was a huge success. The EATSET project was executed by the World Health Organisation which is the highest level of censorship of medical technology. I am not thinking of it in the sense of material success but of global acceptance. The concept of emergency intra-operative auto transfusion has been accepted and adopted globally. The World Health Organisation christened the EATSET as Nigeria’s contribution to global blood safety. What else do I want?