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The Aristocratic Background Of Nigeria’s Ebola Heroine And Why She Should Be Immortalized

July 20, 2014, a Liberian-American diplomat, Oliver Patrick Sawyer, flew to Nigeria’s most populous city, Lagos, for an ECOWAS conference in Calabar. Having been declared “terribly ill”  before leaving his home country, Sawyer collapsed at Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Ikeja on arrival and was quickly driven to First Consultant Hospital, Lagos by an ECOWAS protocol officer attached to him.

Oliver Sawyer

Sawyer became Nigeria’s Ebola index case after a diagnosis. And with tension running deep that his situation could become a national disaster, Dr Stella Adadevoh, First Consultant’s Lead Physician, who attended to the diplomat, kept him in the hospital, despite his insistence to leave. A lot of pressure also came from Liberia and other diplomatic sources, but this mother of one stood her ground for what she called, ‘public good’. That singular act limited the incidence of the virus to the hospital at Obalende and prevented a nationwide spread. Her bravery could also get a different colouration of appreciation if we consider the fact that Nigerian doctors were on strike at the time, and a widespread attack would have been a great disaster.

Adadevoh became a victim of the same virus she was trying to prevent. Unconfirmed reports had it that a stubborn Mr Sawyer attempted to take off the drip administered on him by First Consultants' doctors but was forcefully restricted to his sick bed by Dr Adadevoh. This and other probable exposures within the period, explains how she got infected by the deadly virus and of course, her death on Tuesday, August 19, 2014. But of special interest to me was not just her professionalism in making available relevant information about the virus (she was also the first to alert the Nigerian government when H1N1 broke into the country in 2012), or her selflessness in purchasing protective kits and reaching out to relevant authorities which made the Nigerian government declare a public health emergency and created Ebola Emergency Operation Centre. I was wowed by her leadership qualities, which, of course, could be an innate inheritance from her rich aristocratic background.

Bishop Ajayi Crowther

For those who do not know, Adadevoh came from the lineage of prominent Nigerians, starting from Alaafin Abiodun, down to the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos. These people’s contributions to their respective pre-colonial, colonial and post colonial communities were monumental.

After the Fulani Jihadists raided Osoogun in Lanlate area of Oyo around 1821, the entire family of Ajayi Crowther was captured and sold by the invading forces to Portuguese slave traders. Please note, Ajayi’s mother, Afala, was a direct daughter of Alaafin Abiodun, the powerful king of the Old Oyo Empire. It was he that also ended the terror of Bashorun Gaha, who before then had supervised the removal of three Alaafins.

As fate would have it, Ajayi and other captured slaves were released by a British Royal Navy. Thanks to British government, who outlawed trans-Atlantic importation of slaves. Ajayi, like many other freed slaves, were resettled in Freetown, Sierra Leone, where he got educated at the newly opened Forah Bay College and later got married to a schoolmistress, Asano.

They both had a few kids, one of who was Abigail Ajayi Crowther. Abigail later got married to a junior associate of her father, Thomas Babington Macaulay, who was the father of that fierce Nigerian nationalist, Hebert Macaulay. This great Nigerian statesman in turn had a beautiful girl called Sarah Abigail Idowu Macaulay, who went on to marry a Lagos-based Ghanaian, Julius Gordon Kwasi Adadevoh. The union of Sarah and Julius produced Babatunde Kwaku Adadevoh, a prominent chemical pathologist, one-time Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos and the lucky father of Dr. Stella Ameyo Adadevoh. Who says greatness doesn’t run in the blood?

Professor Babatunde Adadevoh

Looking back now, it is very disheartening to note that despite the tremendous contributions of this great woman during the notorious Ebola crisis, a period her heroics literally ensured there were only 20 confirmed cases of the virus and 8 deaths resulting from it, the Nigerian government is yet to do the needful by immortalizing her. Apart from National Open University, who gave her a Honourary Doctorate Degree in 2015 and Security and Exchange Commission, whose appreciation came in form of SEC Integrity Award in 2014, most of the honours and awards that came her way were from her medical constituency, private organizations and NGOs. The question now is, where is Nigerian government in all of this?

I’ve seen some questionable figures with monuments and federal institutions named after them. I’ve seen national awards given, even posthumously, to very unworthy individuals, whose only qualification for such recognition was holding a public or private office. This was a woman who singlehandedly fought the spread of a deadly virus at a time many of us were still oblivious of its existence. She did this, fully aware of the fatal consequences and didn’t mind anyways, as long as you and I were safe. Imagine the catastrophic effect of the spread if Sawyer had attended the crowded conference in Calabar. Not only would everyone at the event be at risk from the deadly infection, tracing all potential victims would be absolutely impossible. There is the possibility that the virus would be exported to many African countries too because that event was an international gathering. And all Dr Stella Adadevoh got was a skeletal mention here and there in the records of our national health history. Without doubt, this woman’s memory shouldn’t die with the Ebola Virus she fought to banish from our land.

Naming the National Hospital, Abuja after her won’t be a bad idea. What about a befitting posthumous national award? Streets and notable roads in Abuja, Kano, Lagos and other places bearing her name will be good too. I won’t even mind her image adorning any of our national currencies. After all, we have a woman, a notable pot maker, whose image elegantly stares at us from the back of one of those bills. Adadevoh, in her own way, molded lives too and prevented many of such from breaking by her heroics and selflessness.

She belongs to the clique of Mary Slesssor, who stopped the killing of twins in Calabar and has a school in Arochukwu, a road in Calabar, a street in Glasgow, a female hostel in Nsukka, a garden in Dundee, and a girls’ house in Achimota school, all named after her. In fact, if Slessor was honoured by Clydesdale Bank of Scotland by featuring her on the side of the bank’s ₤10 note, Dr Stella Adedavoh deserves to be on our own naira note!

Let’s assume that those concerned are reading this too. She definitely deserves more than she has gotten so far. May her gentle soul rest in perfect peace.

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