Omotola like all other teenage girls said she always planned to raise a daughter, but she never planned to do this by roaming the streets of Abaji as a mentally deranged woman for over 6 years. Strapped behind her back or hanging loosely around her arm, her baby always remained with her, even residents of Abaji Local government, a community well over 100km from the heart of the FCT had become accustomed to seeing the duo regularly.
Sometimes they were seen sitting together outside during heavy rainfall, other times simply walking around hand in hand, but most of the time both of them sit in front of the Abaji General Hospital where residents passing by occasionally hand them food or money.
It was at this exact spot that Dr. Maruf Mustapha, a resident doctor at the Abaji General Hospital stopped over three months ago and decided to do something about Omotolas condition. In June 2014 Dr. Mustapha was able to convince his colleagues as well as the Chief Medical Director at the hospital that some form of intervention was required for Omotola. Afterwards an intervention team was set up by the hospital and they were able to restrain, sedate and transfer Omotola and her daughter into the hospital to commence treatment for the two. After an initial examination by a resident doctor, Omotola was referred for transfer to a psychiatric hospital.
The intervention paid off considerably, Omotola though still under treatment at the Federal Neuropsychiatric hospital in Barnawa Kaduna where she was referred to from Abaji is now able to hold lengthy conversations, carry out little tasks, and has developed an optimistic attitude towards living.
However, like many who come out of these situations Omotola has not been able to give any information about her baby’s father or whether she had been married before. She also does not remember much about her past, except that she hails from Ogidi in Anambra state, and says she spent a large portion of her adolescent years in Port Harcourt, Rivers state. Dr, Mustapha explains that this condition known as Temporary Amnesia is typical among those facing mental health challenges adding that to protect the patients from the images of whatever traumatic experience they have faced, the human brain is known to occasionally respond in such a way.
Sophie & Welfare Officer Ahmed Dikko.
For Omotolas daughter, who like her mother was found naked, unkempt, restless and aggressive; life has taken a different turn. Her new identity as a resident of the FCT Unity Children’s Home, Gwako in Gwagwalada is a different turn from the years roaming the streets, deprived of proper food, shelter, healthcare and education with a mentally challenged mother. Her current care-taker Mal Ahmed Dikko who works simultaneously as a Welfare Officer at Abaji Local Government Area and the Accident and Emergency Unit of the Abaji General Hospital says he feels fulfilled seeing Sophie re-adjust rapidly. Dikko was among the intervention team under the supervision of Dr. Mustapha handling the mother and child. At the orphanage, Sophie as she is called has begun to make new friends and is slowly learning how to interact and live with others.
Dr. Mustapha who has been at the Abaji General Hospital for three years decided to specialize in Mental Health and began a career in that line by receiving training in India on Mental Health from several non-governmental organizations. Mustapha says conscience, as well as the need to change community perception about mental health was the driving force behind his decision to specialize in the field as well as seek intervention for Omotola.
“When I spoke with Omotola, she was seriously abusive and aggressive and could not hold a logical train of thought; after a physical examination, I discovered she had no external injuries or abnormalities and concluded that her problem could be purely psychological and perhaps induced by trauma. My initial diagnosis showed she suffered from Schizophrenia, and this made me hopeful she would come through”
Omotola who has been a patient of the neuropsychiatric hospital for over 90 days says she feels grateful to the hospital and is looking forward to a life beyond her current state. But she is also eager to re-introduce herself to normal society. The Principal Nursing Officer at the Federal Neuropsychiatric hospital Mrs *** says Omotola is getting ready to be introduced to the society and that she is being prepared for discharge.
Efforts by Dr. Mustapha as well as the intervention team to contact anyone related to Omotola has not been fruitful and the on-going strike by the Nigerian Medical Association may leave Omotola in a condition which Dr. Mustapha says could precipitate a relapse. The doctor is also faced with the problem of continuous funding, the intervention taken to ensure Omotolas return to normalcy was personally funded by him with donations from his colleagues and the Abaji General Hospital and this has begun to take its toll.
“We have been able to restore her reasonably but she is going to need someone who will be continuously responsible for her and this is where we are facing problems. Every day she spends at the hospital receiving treatment we try to locate her family so we can hand her back over and if we cannot do that anytime soon, then we are going to face a new problem of creating an environment for her where she can sustain herself.”
Families and institutions burdened with the responsibility of taking care of patients suffering from mental illness in different parts of Nigeria have been known to respond poorly to these cases. In most instances some try to avoid the piling medical bills for treatment and abandon the patients at places from where they hope the patients would never return.
Sophie in April 2014
Mentally challenged patients who roam the streets often have to deal with problems beyond what to eat and where to sleep. Some are run over by vehicles and die of severe injuries, others are gang raped and at any point of time a majority of them are lured and killed by organ harvesters. Most suffer from severe cases of memory lapse. But remembering her past isn’t Omotolas most pressing need. Getting back on her feet and taking a proper care of her daughter she says is what is most important to her now. Asked if she wanted to be re-united with her family, Omotola stated that she had no family; that anyone who was allowed to roam the streets for over six years does not have a family.