Lady Ifeoma Okeke, the first Nigerian nurse to graduate with a BSN degree as a metaphor

It is interesting how everything one touches becomes a hammer in the desperate attempt to drive in a nail. Until the nail arrives at its final destination, many people keep using whatever ‘hammer’ they find.

I found a special kind of ‘hammer’ in Enugu and Mbanagu, Otolo-Nnewi, Anambra State, last week during the funeral ceremony for Lady Ifeoma Okeke, the first Nigerian nurse to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Tributes poured in from diverse quarters about her remarkable life of care and compassion for all. As I processed the contents of the tributes, an idea began to form in my head about the need for the rest of Nigeria to fully appropriate the symbolic representation of the remarkable woman as the nation begins another round of selecting new political leaders. The life which Lady Ifeoma Okeke led provides Nigerians with a clear road map on the dominant characteristics those aspiring to lead the country in the next dispensation must possess.

There is no question about the fact that Nigeria is currently in dire straits. The country has all kinds of wounds and sores with various levels of putrefaction. There is a huge and gaping need to have qualified and experienced nurses with heart and compassion. Leaders with compassion are the biggest need in Nigeria at the moment. Leaders who are not put away by the level of decay or the unnerving smell. Leaders who would treat the conditions, like Lady Ifeoma Okeke did for much of her life. She was there in the trenches of the Civil War, unafraid and undeterred by the unsettling war situation, while steadfastly providing care for many of the wounded. She did not turn her eyes away from the wounds, neither did she look away from the suffering people. She cleaned, wrapped, touched and nursed many people back to health while cheering their hearts with hope. She did not know that we would hold up her example some day and point aspiring political leaders to emulate her standards and transfer the template to public governance. Today, Nigeria needs political leaders that can nurse her back to health from the many life-threatening conditions that loom over her continued existence. Leaders who are ready to endanger their lives, like Lady Ifeoma Okeke, just to bring care and comfort to persons who have suffered one devastation or another.

Lady Ifeoma Okeke cared deeply about family (her family and the families of other people); devoting considerable time, attention and resources to the healthy development of its members. Does Nigeria desperately need leaders today who care deeply about the many massive dislocations affecting the health of many families? Do Nigerian families need compassionate and effective leaders?

Lady Ifeoma Okeke lived to be 96years old yet her funeral was dominated by young people. She cared deeply about young people and was a constant feature in their lives. She loved to give many young people opportunities to learn, grow and excel. Do Nigerian youths require leaders of compassion who will motivate them to learn, grow and excel?

When her beloved husband of many years, Dr Nlogha Okeke, founder of Eastern Nigerian Medical Centre, Enugu, died in 2007, many people feared for her because of the close bond they shared but she accepted the challenge of the moment. Driven still by a heart of compassion and faith, she ‘rallied the troops at the hospital’ and kept the place, improving and growing its services. Many precious persons have died in Nigeria, which has amplified the level of desperation and need in the land. And only persons driven by compassion; persons willing to set aside their personal comfort and convenience, to mercifully rally the proverbial troops and get them to administer the cure on the heavily afflicted nation, are really needed at this moment.

Lady Ifeoma Okeke was a firm believer in the role and capabilities of small and medium scale industries as transformative instruments in any society. She played her part in nurturing several small and medium scale industries into successful enterprises. Does Nigeria need leaders who can truly unlock the huge capabilities embedded in our small and medium scale enterprises?

And not leaders who prefer highfalutin speeches to actual, effective and truly transformative policies?

For aspiring political leaders who wonder what will be their lot after they give of their heart and compassion to nurse Nigeria back to health, the answer is not difficult to fathom. The children of Nigeria will rise, remember and honour their actions in many profound, tangible and intangible ways. Much like Lady Ifeoma Okeke’s children – Emeka, Ona, Nnanyelugo, Ifeoma, Nkechi – did to the admiration of everyone present. The children, grandchildren, great-grand- children, her only surviving sibling, relations, associates, employees, admirers and other persons gathered together in different venues to celebrate her incredible life. Songs of praises filled the air as her remains were put in a grave beside that of her beloved husband, like she had specifically requested of her children many years before her passing. Her children honoured her wish. Is there any question as to the fact that the children of Nigeria will rise up some day and honour the memory of those who will decide at this season to rise up with hearts filled with compassion and join the train to bind and heal the obvious and not-so-obvious wounds, setting her on an irreversible course towards good health? And what will the children of Nigeria do to many who jostle for and capture political power in the next dispensation but refuse to be moved by compassion to heal the terrible sores oozing out of her body?


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