Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that in taking his own life, Dr. Allwell Oji, a young practicing doctor, brought to the fore unintended implications not just for his family, but for the medical community and the society at large
Doctors are supposed to be invincible. They are also supposed to be all knowing, especially when it comes to cures for all manner of illnesses. So the question that has continually bugged people’s minds was what could have made a man, a medical doctor nonetheless, who gave no prior signs of depression, to commit suicide?
Dr. Allwell Chiawolamoke Oji, had previously lived a life under the radar of Nigerians until Sunday, March 19, 2017 when he gained national wide attention after he committed suicide. Until his tragic death, Oji was a medical doctor attached to Mount Sinai Hospital, Papa Ajao, Mushin.
The middle-aged unmarried medical, had jumped into the lagoon at Third Mainland Bridge after he ordered his driver to park his car, a Nissan Sports Utility Vehicle with registration number LND476EE.
His suicide mission has unleashed series of events that has sucked not just his driver in but his family and emergency workers involved in the case as well.
An Alleged Tale of Sickle Cell Trauma
After days of people wondering what might have caused such a passionate man to end his life, those who were purportedly close to him said he was battling with Sickle Cell Anaemia, which was often accompanied by incessant seizures.
It was also gathered in a post by the Nigeria Medical Association, Taraba Branch, that the doctor was battling with Sickle Cell Anaemia.
This was further supported by a post on Instagram by one Nkechi Oji, who said he also battled depression because of what the ailment had continually denied him; practicing medicine to the fullest.
Also, in another post by one Ruth Okija on Instagram, Oji was said to be a 2008 student of College of Medicine, University of Lagos. He was a locum medical officer with Mount Sinai Hospital.
The report also stated that the fair doctor was born on May 21 and loves reading in his spare time, adding that he found the practice sessions on respiratory and cardiovascular examinations very interesting.
Due to his passion for surgery, he was said to have written the exam for his residency in surgery so he could become a consultant and passed but due to his ailment, he was turned down. The hospital was said to have turned him down because they felt his ailment, which was accompanied by seizure, could be a deterrent to performing his duties.
It was also gathered that the family got him a driver because of the seizures and had just employed this present one, Ita, who is presently cooling his heels at the police cell.
The Hospital’s Disposition
When THISDAY visited St. Sinai Hospital at 35, Olanibi Street, Papa Ajao, Mushin, activities were going on in the hospital as usual, with the staff attending to the patients on ground. A member of staff, who had refused to disclose his identity referred THISDAY to their head office at Falolu Street, Surulere.
According to him, although they have branches scattered around Lagos, they run a central administration system, which gives the headquarter the sole discretion to handle administrative issues. His colleagues who worked with him last week Friday, disclosed that he wasn’t in any way suicidal in any way.
However at the headquarters, THISDAY was first directed to a nurse, who left to call the Chief Medical Director (CMD), and came back minutes later to say the CMD wasn’t on seat. Whilst the back and forth talk was going on, a medical personnel decked in grey trousers and white and blue stripe shirt, walked up and interceded.
On gaining audience with him, questions on the disposition of the doctor, his medical health, his state of mind and his last appearance in the hospital was asked but got no answer. The personnel who also declined to reveal his identity parried every question with ‘no comment’, except when he was asked if the doctor was indeed sacked and he replied in the affirmative.
A Family’s Hope
As expected, THISDAY had gone to No. 3, Odunnuku Street, Abule Ijesha, Yaba, where the doctor resides with his mother and sibling, but attempts to access the green and lime two-storey building, proved abortive when two family members accosted THISDAY at the gate.
According to them, the doctor’s mother, a retired banker and a member of Deeper Life Bible Church, was not favourably disposed to talk to the press. Refusing to accept the death of her son, she was said to be in her room despite the presence of her church members, who had come to condole her.
According to the family members, she was holding on to her faith that he was not dead, merely missing, given that he showed no signs of depression prior to the incident.
A family member who spoke on anonymity said the media should give them space to deal with the issue in peace, adding that the 35-year-old was not such an introvert that he would be depressed without anyone noticing.
The family said the deceased was the first son of three kids; two boys and a girl, adding that the father of the family was late.
A Tale of Mixed Emotions
It was mixed emotions for the Oji family on Tuesday, three days after the suicide, at the Marine Police Division, when they were called in to identify the body of a young man recovered from the Lagos lagoon by the police.
Although the recovered body later turned out not to be that of the medical doctor, it was a mixture of relief and sadness for the family for two reasons; the family, especially the mother, had against all odds still held on to the belief that her son was not dead, but alive.
The devout Christian, who attends Deeper Life Bible Church, was said to have been hoping for a miracle after emergency workers failed to recover the body in two days. This is because, in a typical situation where one drowns in a large body of water, it usually takes two days for the body to resurface.
On the other hand, had the recovered body been that of the doctor, it would helped the family deal with the closure sooner, as it would speed up the processing of their healing. The body, who for now is being referred to as a ‘John Doe’, was recovered after people found the body floating around the Marina on Lagos Island.
They called the attention of the Marine Police led by the Officer-in-Charge of the Marine Police, SP Chinedu Iwuozo, who in turn mustered their patrol boats to the area, and recovered the body. The body, whose identity is still unknown, was dressed in a blue jean trouser, and a neutral-colour T-shirt and he had no shoes on.
Although the water had changed the colour of his skin, it was obvious that he was a young man, even with his bloated body peeling and decomposing.
Given that the body was recovered by the Marine wing of the Nigerian Police, at about 10.30am, the identity of the deceased had remained unknown until the family came in late in the afternoon and clarified issues.
When THISDAY had contacted the police at that point, it was gathered that the mother of the doctor, Mrs. Chinyere Oji, a retired banker, was already heading to the police station alongside other family members to identify the body.
However, at about 1pm, five male relatives without the doctor’s mother and without further ado were shown the body and they said it was not theirs.
Meanwhile, fishermen at the sawmill at the Okobaba area, near the scene of the incident, said they were not aware of anyone falling into the water recently except the case of the doctor.
They however, did not rule out the possibility of anyone falling overboard, as according to them, they get a lot of bodies floating on the lagoon.
Encomiums from Colleagues
Also, one of his former colleagues back at the university, one Dr. Attah Essien, indeed confirmed on his Facebook wall that the doctor attended UNILAG.
He wrote, “Dr. Oji Allwell was my junior and also a graduate of College of Medicine, University of Lagos.”
Meanwhile, after scouring the internet for details about the deceased, THISDAY stumbled on a post by one Mrs. Chi Ude, who said the doctor lost his father two years ago, adding that the family was still coming to terms with that.
Another commenter who went anonymous also wrote, “Allwell Oji was my classmate too and he was an A student. If I remember correctly, he was very light skinned with some type of mouth. During exams, we all wanted to sit near him. He was so brilliant.”
A Nightmare for Emergency Workers
More than five days, after the medical doctor jumped into the lagoon at Third Mainland Bridge, his body was yet to be found, a nightmare for emergency workers. This kind of case is one that emergency workers dread as the manpower used is often exhausting.
From the day the incident happened, emergency workers and local divers have been at the scene, with different patrol boats searching tirelessly to recover the body of the 35-year-old.
According to the General Manager, Lagos State Emergency Management (LASEMA), Mr. Adesina Tiamiyu, who was at the scene of the suicide for three days, they are still searching the waterways.
He said, “We have expanded our search to go further (more than 10 miles) than where it happened. We engaged local fishermen and divers. Also to assist are the Lagos Ferry Services and the Lagos Waterways Agency patrol boats, which were deployed to the waterways. We have informed the residents to look out for floating bodies.”
A LASTMA official also at the scene of the incident said at this point, they were no longer looking at the incident as a rescue mission rather a recovery mission.
According to her, the distance from where he dived into the lagoon was very far and since he dived in first with his head, there was every possibility that he hit his head first before his body followed.
She explained that jumping into the water from that distance, the water will likely feel like a stone when it connects with the head, leading to unconsciousness.
Apart from local divers, fishermen and patrol boats from the Lagos State Emergency Management (LASEMA), Lagos State Ferry Services and Lagos Waterways agency, were at site to help.
Meanwhile, with the false alarm on Tuesday, the emergency workers who had called off the search earlier in the day, however, resumed again after the family’s identification process failed. Thus, emergency workers from Lagos State Emergency Management (LASEMA), Lagos Ferry Services, the Lagos Waterways Agency and Marine Patrol have since resumed search as at press time.
According to the General Manager, LASEMA, Tiamiyu, they will continue searching the waterways until it yields results.
Finally, Police Recovers Body of Late Dr. Oji
After three days of being underwater, the body of Dr. Oji was recovered at about 4pm on Wednesday by the operatives of the Marine Police and his identity was confirmed by his family at about 5.25pm.
Confirming the incident, the General Manager, LASEMA, Mr. Tiamiyu, said, “At about 4pm, the body of Dr. Oji was recovered by the Marine Police and the body was identified by some of his family including the driver in the presence of the Commissioner of Police Lagos State, Mr. Fatai Owoseni.
“The body will be handed over to the family while investigation continues. I met with the family members to express condenlences on behalf of the Lagos State Government and therefore declared the search closed.”
The Main Victim of Oji’s Suicide
After all said and done, the main victim of the doctor’s suicide mission was his driver, one Henry Ita, who is still in police detention. His only crime was carrying the doctor to his destination.
When he purportedly resumed work three months ago as the Oji’s family driver, Ita probably had no inkling that months down the line, he would be spending nights upon nights in police detention.
Due to the doctor’s alleged Sickle Cell Anaemia, accompanied by repeated seizures, he was said to have always been driven by a driver. No one knows if the family intimated him on the peculiarities of his boss’ medical condition.
On the said day, he was said to have driven Oji from home and they were heading towards Marina on the island when he was instructed to park the car. When he reportedly queried his boss, he was told that he wanted to urinate. That obedience has since cost him his freedom.
To his horror, his boss got down from the car, walked to the driver’s side and jumped clean into the lagoon headlong.
When THISDAY also visited the Adeniji Adele Police Division where the driver, Henry Ita, was being held, it was gathered that preliminary investigations were still on.
Also when THISDAY visited the Divisional Police Officer, Adeniji Adele Police Division, SP Ayodele Umujose, he debunked claims that the doctor left behind a suicide note.
He said, “From our preliminary interrogation of the driver, he said his boss received no prior phone call, from the time they left home till when they got to the bridge. He said their destination was the Marina, where his boss told him they were going. However, when they got to the bridge, he claimed his boss insisted that he parks the car.
“According to him, he had told his boss that the area was too dangerous to park but he insisted, claiming that he was pressed and needed to urinate. The driver told us that immediately his boss got done, he moved to the other side of the bridge as if he wanted to urinate and then dived in.”
On the driver of the medical doctor, Henry Ita, who is still in detention, he said, “The driver has given us his statement. He is still helping us in our investigation. He will he be released at the appropriate time.”
Also contacted, Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, Olarinde Famous-Cole, said the driver was not arrested, rather he was taken in for questioning, adding that investigations were ongoing.
Thus, whilst the police widen the scope of their investigation, and the body of the medical doctor finally recovered after three day’s intensive search, the suicide mission of Dr. Oji is one the society and the family won’t be too in a hurry to forget. However, the implication of this suicide for the society spells grave danger, as it sends a negative signal.