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Oluwafunmike Ani: We Need Indians Initiatives to Salvage The Health Sector

Oluwafunmike Ani, a dedicated community ophthalmologist, whose area of specialisation is on the prevention of avoidable blindness. She runs a non-governmental organisation; MISSION TO SAVE SIGHT AFRICA FOUNDATION whose theme for a programme recently packaged is tagged the VISION 2020: THE RIGHT TO SIGHT initiative in sub-Sahara Africa. The founder and CEO, Oluwafunke is a friend to the un-reached masses in rural areas, just waiting for help and services that are inaccessible, unaffordable which her NGO took up as a challenge to bring succor and hope to the hopeless.
Happily married to Sqn Leader Dr Ani Moses Onyebuchi, a retired NAF officer from Enugu State, her marriage is blessed with beautiful and handsome children. Her surname Ani is popular in Enugu just as Bello is popular in Ilorin, Kwara State.
This rare gem public health ophthalmologist recently turned 60 in January and she also retired from government health sector in the same month of January. She was Head of Department, Eye Center, at Ministry of Defence/NAF 661 Hospital, Ikeja, Lagos State.

She attended Baptist Grammar School, Elenusonso, Ibadan. She also studied Health Planning & Management at University of Ilorin, Kwara State and holds MBBS from Nigeria’s Premier University, where she studied Medicine and Surgery at College of Medicine, University of Ibadan. She played host to Creekvibes Oludaniels in her Festac office, Lagos.

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How was growing up like?
I was born by Yoruba parents in Oyo State, I grew up in Eruwa Oyo State, I spent part of my life in Abeokuta before I later moved to Ibadan, from there I left for Ede, in Osun State, on transfer to Baptist High School, Abepe Heights and finally returned to Ibadan for tertiary education where I graduated with flying colours from the nation’s premier University, University of Ibadan with (MBBS) Medicine and Surgery degree in 1986.

Since 1988 where have you worked and how have you impacted your hard earned knowledge?
When you graduate from medical school you will be told that, ‘You have now received licensed to study medicine’ in other words study is a life time thing so, when I got to Lagos, I was like someone who just finished her internship that is just going in for NYSC, not too long I got married to my husband who was as at that time a flying office, he took me to Kaduna, his first military posting where we lived for a while.
In 1988 when I came to Lagos, I did my NYSC with Lagos State Health Management Board as they were being called then, and there were several other private hospitals springing up to survive then.
Incidentally the way the country is now, was how it was then because it was the same man that was at the helm of affairs, then that is still ruling now. I actually wanted to travel out of the country, as at that time, 70 per cent of my set were brain drained to diaspora, immediately after graduation, but I got married and started raising a family together with my husband at a time I was getting frustrated because there was no job. Then I went before the Lord and told him about my desire to leave the country but, the reply I got was that I shouldn’t leave, I said; “Ok o, if I’m not going to leave, then You have to settle me.”
As at that time, the job I had in a private hospital demand that I visit three other branches within Lagos, (1) Eko market (2) Ilupeju (3) Apapa and (4) Ogba their schedule was so tight, as I was given time that was just enough to commute to my next place of work.
It was an herculean task to keep up the tempo. I became a skillful ‘Molue’ hopper and I became more familiar with Lagos Mainland and Island.
Later, with God’s help, I got a job at the Federal Civil Service Commission in Dec 1989 of which I retired last month (January 2021) after 32 active years.
I served at the Nigeria Air force Eye Clinic, Ikeja and grew in ranks from Medical Officer to Director and also served as the Head of Department at the Eye Clinic.

As someone who has been in the health sector for over 3 decades, what do you think the sector lacks?
What is lacking in the health sector is not just one thing, and it is the same thing troubling the whole nation, the whole nation lack proper working system. There is no system of operation therefore, there is no framework that anyone can pick; duplicate and improve upon, so anybody that comes does his/her thing the way it pleases him/her.

The system ruins what others have invented because the people that are supposed to improve on what has been invented do not have any idea of what it is all about, the guts with which you invented it will never be appreciated.
I have worked with a particular boss (name withheld) who tagged me a saboteur, because I was trying to ensure that the operation room became a better place.

What was his reason, for tagging you a saboteur?
People lead by different patterns, if something is not properly done; I will suggest to ‘Oga’ to do it the other way which could be better but, the improper way was what some people were earning from.
One of the reasons Nigeria is like this, is because people are earning from mediocrity, whenever I insisted for some things to be functional the person that is benefiting from the mediocrity will apparently go behind me and misreport the indident, and since oga wasn’t there and so wasn’t able to hear me directly, I could now be tagged a saboteur.

Let’s digress a little, while you were in the high school, were you a star girl, and which secondary school was that?
I started with Baptist School in Ibadan, I grew up in a strong Baptist home, my CV has Baptist here and there to the extent someone teased me by saying; ‘thank God there was no Baptist University I would have attended it.’

Which Baptist School was that?
There is this Baptist Grammar School at Elenusonso, it is located somewhere after Jericho, I was very quiet because I grew up as someone who was very, very reserved, yet a very brilliant student, one of the teachers while I was in Baptist Girls School, Idi Aba, in Abeokuta, eventually got married to my uncle, she is now a family member, she lives in the US, incidentaly she also attended same school so, we both are in Alumni of Idi Aba Old Girls Association, she was fond of me, often, she will remind me of how brilliant I was in the school.

What funny prank did you play while in school?
I remember in Idi Aba (laughs), some girls won’t read and they will clinch to me to write my answers during exams. I did one thing to them that taught them a lesson which made them never to come to me again, I got two answers sheet, I wrote rubbish and give to them.

(General laughter), did they copy the rubbish, hook line and sinker?
Laughs, when result came, they compared and then come and see fight, I’ll ask them to come and fight me, they will say; ‘That girl is a very wicked girl.’
While I was in Elenusonso, I had some health challenge which made my parents to move me to Baptist High School Ede, It was when I got to Ede I became a star girl; I was very popular and at some point my Chemistry teacher won’t want to teach if I wasn’t in the class, he will send other students to go and fetch me, his reason was that, I will be the only one that will understand him when he start teaching so, you can imagine how the other students will feel.

Sometimes my classmate thought that I use talisman so, usually when exam is approaching, some of them will hop for my pen and other mathematical set instruments assuming it does the magic, with all that, I will still come first.
In 1975 there was an epidemic of Hepatitis that killed a lot of people, I never knew I had been infected before going back to boarding school, I was sick for 5-month (January to May), I had to go back home, an uncle referred to me as; ‘Eni Olorun opa,’ meaning… he that the Lord spared, my survival was a miracle, it was that May that the doctors told my parents to allow me to start a normal life again.

So I was exempted from domestic chores, that was how my brothers became more domesticated than I was, they were told not to allow me to do domestic jobs because it could stair up the jaundice again.
When I became fine, I went back to school, the school told me not to bother about the exams they had wanted me to be promoted to the next class but I insisted to write the exam, so scripts were given and I cleared all; I came first.
I was the school magazine editor and I represented the school in so many fronts, I was also a member of the school cultural group.

I woke up in a school that were no teachers for Science subjects so, when WAEC was approaching, I picked up a copy of the syllabus, and I started preparing for the Exams by myself with all my books.
I and one other girl, we were virtually living in the classroom, so I had aggregate 18, A3 X 6, though, I had bad grade in Maths that made me to re-sit for my Maths the following year.
If it was now, where parents can call for remark, my parents would’ve done that for me, because there is no way you scored P7 in Maths and had A3 in Physics.
But quite unfortunate I was not the Senior Girl, nor Social Prefect, but that really helped me to study.

While you were growing up you like dancing, is any of your child bitten by this dance-bug?
In my family we love singing, two of my daughters love singing, my last daughter; I call her a ‘music minister.’ She was one of the lead vocalists in my church before she gained admission into the university.
Like my son will say; ‘Mummy wait any day they will start Maltina Sing All, we all will go and show them.’

What is your take on Nigerians seeking greener pastures in Europe?
To be sincere with you, it is difficult to blame them, like I said earlier, I had wanted to leave, what I was planning to do then was what many officers wives where doing then to make ends meet.
I don’t blame anyone going to Europe; the economy has failed every one.

A question was raised in one of my groups, after #EndSARS did you still feel like living in Nigeria?
The question inside me was “no” because God gave me a clear vision not to leave and promised He was going to sort me and I must be an ingrate if I say he had not sorted me, I had travelled; I had lived in the US with some families and saw how easy life could be, that didn’t make me to want to stay there, if God grant you grace in Nigeria you will be fine, if you are not lazy.

Some of the problems with young people is that they are lazy to think, if not for pride some young Nigerians in the US are suppose to return home, they’ve become lay about in the white man’s country, because they went through wrong ways.
For my colleagues that went, there was a demand for them, they did their exams passed it and they were accommodated by the working system over there.
Even now for those going into Canada that has demand for them, they will still be fine.

Since you did not go, will you encourage any of your children to leave Nigeria?
Yes, my daughter schools in the United Kingdom, what I don’t support is the idea of crossing the Atlantic Ocean to get to Europe by all means.

Buhari then and Buhari now, do you think there could be light at the end of the tunnel?
Buhari then had some level of intelligence because of the Idiagbon’s appendage but now, it is only God that knows o, ‘if you ask me, na who I go ask?.’
General laughter… she borrowed a line from Omawuni’s song.

On the Health sector, what do you think the government can do to salvage the sector?
If we wait for government, we may wait for ages, in my own opinion, we have to have the attitude that the Indians have, in India the private sector organized themselves, I am talking of Eye Health as an Ophthalmologists, the government was alleged to be corrupt but the private sector realised that things has to be done to cater for the masses, so they organised themselves and started dragging government in little by little until the government realised that they were doing the right thing.

They were able to gag government to do what the authorities should do and in the process the common man is catered for.
Can the private sector emulate such act since they have a body?
We must adopt the Indian initiative to salvage the Health sector; though, it may be very difficult in Nigeria.
Why? The level at which corruption has eaten deep into our body polity is worst than cancer. The day I knew this was on one of my trips to Enugu, there was this pretty girl between the ages of five or six with her mother on the trip, we eventually got to a police check point and the police were like asking some questions, could you imagine what the little girl said?

‘Mummy give this man N50 and let us go.’ But, we will never give up on anything, have you heard of “the Stockdale Paradox”?
Stockdale Paradox states that you need to face the brutal fact and not lose hope, actually Stockdale was a General in the US Army (I don’t know if he is still alive), who was captured during one of US and Vietnam’s wars and he became a prisoner of war for many years yet he did not die and he did not lose hope, Stockdale said, ‘The prisoners of war that died are the ones that had a day to their release.’

He was a paradoxical person among the prisoners who had a strong believe that he will not die and eventually he did not die.
So, the brutal fact about Nigeria is that the situation is worse than a terminal cancer.
Several nations who got to where we are now made radical choices that could be seen as if God mysteriously sorted them out, all those European countries people are fleeing to today got to this bus stop, what they did not do is to have turned their nations into burial grounds permanently. Something happened somewhere and they had a turning point.

That is why I am not losing hope in Nigeria, I know that, it may take more than it took for great nations but surely we must have our turning point.
I belong to a circle where we are have plans to start orientating through informal educational systems to turn them into responsible and responsive Nigerian citizens. The truth is this; an average Nigerian does not know what citizenship is all about and therefore, he does not know his or her rights.
People grew up with an identity of “I am powerless, anything they do to me will be as a matter of course that is the norm.

In 2019 we had youth camp in my church where we showed them some of the movies we used from ‘Calling us to Reason’ to wake our mind up to think critically. The impact was great on the children.
I heard them during that weekend saying; ‘This Nigeria belongs to us.’ I heard children who came on holiday from abroad saying; ‘We are not staying back we will come back and do something even in that Diaspora we will tell all our friends and we must do something.’
It is just that we have to be ready to face the brutal fact and suffer for it, like Stockdale did.

How many awards do you have to your credits?
I don’t count them. I’ve got a lot of them. I am not doing what I do to attract awards.

What do you want to be remembered for?

I have a deep longing to leave behind for my generations born and unborn a nation that is orderly. That is why I pay attention when they are talking about revamping the ruins, the nation is in ruins. I also want to be known as somebody who feels for the less privileged. I founded Mission to Save Sight African Foundation since 2001, I have been running it.

I have taken several actions to care for the less privileged in the area of eye health. I have produced a movie to educate people on it. As a public health ophthalmologist, when you understand public health, there are two factors that make diseases to spread, ignorance and poverty, ignorance worsens poverty while poverty worsens ignorance and as long as both of them keep on fuelling each other diseases and death will keep rising.
What we do is giving education to people because he or she does not know that with education, their minds will gradually be changing. It is called Behavior Change Communication.

That was why we produced the ‘Avoidable Blunder’ movie and we will still produce more though, we are constraint financially due to COVID-19 shake up, but we will still do what we need to do because the feed back I got were more than impressive.
Let the sounds of time tell people that I passed through here, when I will be no more.

Borrowing a leaf from the Indian’s attitude, the Nigerian Eye Health technocrats have been able to achieve the signing into law our own Eye Health Policy,
Those who changed UK innnovated around it.

I am concerned about the Nation; poverty and concerned about the fact that people are not cared for.