Centenary Celebration: The Unforgettable Story of Nigeria’s First Test Tube Baby

by Alaba Yusuf

“There cannot be a bed of roses without thorns. Wherever there is a real focus and a sense of purpose for achieving higher heights, competing forces of distraction and temptation would as a matter of necessity also vie for time, space and attention.”

-Dr. Ibrahim Wada (on his IVF breakthrough with Baby Hannatu in 1998)

Perchance, I am one of those privileged to have attended a university in Nigeria when such places were called citadels of learning, and when undergraduates were seen as the best breed amongst the rest in society. It was an era when lecturers were held in awe and no one could boast of a private university – no matter how wealthy the personality.

In fact, there was neither a need nor a room for such a heresy! After all, admission into tertiary institutions then were announced on the pages of national newspapers; often preceded by the candidates having to first pass the compulsory Advanced Level (WASCE) examinations in flying colours.

My Alma Mater, the University of Lagos, Akoka-Yaba, UNILAG, (not MAU MAU as some want to call it), was an academic fortress with a rich history – full of heroes and heroines, cultivated people and world-class intellectual – all living in peace and harmony with nature. Many lecturers and students, of course, came from all over Africa and the world! What a blend? Of confidence, comportment, healthy rivalry and mentoring camaraderie! Alas, those were halcyon days.

How could one mention UNILAG without the heroic feats of Professor Ayodele Awojobi of blessed memory? This indefatigable social commentator did a lot in the Engineering Faculty, where his mechanical designs such as Autonov1 & 2 were being sought after the world over as template for mass transit locomotives. His achievements made every Akokite walk tall as a bundle of success.

Also the remarkable achievements of Professors Alaba Ogunsawo, Akin Osuntokun, Ade Adefuye (Nigeria’s Ambassador to USA), Dr Akin Olabode and so on; in Social Sciences, Arts and Law kept every student on the threshold of lofty reasoning and commendable ambition. These were days when expo (examination malpractices) and cultism were really curtailed and contained. Palm wine drinkers, Comrades as they were known, often engaged in high percussion gyrations and sonorous songs to the delight of all while Scripture Union members practice their faith without assault or harassment. Sad, how bad things have gone now! Hardly, do our young ones remember the history of our great country. Their elders haven’t done them a great service too.

Let’s shelve this digression and eat the meat of this meal – the celebration of Nigeria’s 100 years of ‘nationhood,’ somehow christened the Centenary Celebration by the Federal Government! For those who have ears for it, the drums of festivity are already loud and the dancers have busied themselves rehearsing for the D-Day. Many have castigated the proponents of this mega carnival and the megabucks attached to it. Some have questioned the billions earmarked to feast the day that Lord Lugard and his wife conjoined the nations around the River Niger (Niger-Area) and amalgamated the South and North Protectorate in 1914, to become a geographical expression now known as Nigeria. Why can’t we  use this fund for infrastructure or create jobs for the teeming unemployed, cynics ask? To all these, I have no comment.

However, the poser is: are we as a country celebrating the achievement of our conquerors, their colonial hegemony or marking the milestone of our accidental evolvement as a country with a bunch of strange bed fellows? Since 1914, what are our world class accomplishments?

It is along this corridor of thought that I venture to bring to our notice as a nation, one of the unsung epochs of the century: Nigeria’s breakthrough in In Vitro Fertilization, IVF, also known as Test Tube Baby procedure.  In 1998, through the private effort of pint-sized Dr. Ibrahim Iyoma Wada, a patriot who returned home from the Diaspora , to chip in his professional quota towards the task of nation building by producing the country’s first IVF baby.

Despite piles and tiles of frustration, envy and debilitating infrastructural deficits; Dr Wada rose among the thorns of human and bureaucracy, albeit the Nigerian Factor, to perfect the art of technology-assisted birth that he learnt from IVF pioneer, Professor Robert Edwards, in Cambridge United Kingdom. Earlier on in 1998, Prof Edward and Dr Patrick Steptoe had produced the world’s first test tube baby, Louis Brown, in Manchester, United Kingdom.

Amazingly, Wada waded back into the murky waters of Nigeria in 1996 as a world-acclaimed IVF consultant; one being sought after in Europe, Canada, America and the Middle East with fat pay cheques. But he was soon confronted by the stark reality of how Nigerians love to under-develop Nigeria. For nearly two years, he met a stone wall before going solo.

In his biography, edited by yours truly, Ibrahim Wada, A Second Chance: Lessons in Infertility and IVF Treatment, the amiable doctor stated: “I left UK with my wife and two toddler daughters, and I spent the 6,000 pounds on me to purchase IVF equipment with the sole aim of setting up an IVF clinic for the Nigerian Government at the Gwagwalada Specialist Hospital where I had agreed to work as a public doctor. I came to the country without a car, a house or any property. But I was shocked that I was not given the room to operate for nearly two years. In fact, I was becoming brain dead despite my acquisition of the latest skill in gynaecology.

“I later had to source funds privately to rent a bys quarter to set up my own hospital called Nisa Premier. I began to practice but to my utter surprise the first batch of IVF trial we attempted failed woefully because the pharmacists who supplied us medications brought in fake drugs. The second attempt in 1998 also nearly went fatal. Not because of drugs, but as a result of power outage and electricity surge that burnt our two incubators. It was by a stroke of luck and God’s help that we manage to one live birth – Baby Hannatu, born 11 February 1998. She happens to be Nigeria’s first publicly probed and certified Test Tube baby.  The odds I faced were numerous, but we thank God for his grace,” the humble Igalaman from Kogi State stressed.

Today Baby Hannatu is alive, radiant, brilliant and elegant at 16; and preparing for a University education. The joy of her happy parents, who waited 13 solid years for the blessing of the womb, is best imagined. In line with this made the family and Nisa Hopsital to set up a charity to celebrate the wonder-child and Nigeria’s ability to grow itself.  Aptly named as Baby Hannatu Foundation, BHF has the motto of giving ‘Hope to the Childless’. An advert by BHF in the Guardian, dated 17 February 2014, page 38, partly read: ..to mark the 16th birthday of Miss Hannatu, the foundation has agreed to bear up to 70% of the cost of the procedures for needy couples…www.babyhannatu.org”

Unlike Awojobi, Barrister Alao Aka Bashorun, the Ransome Kutis, Tai Solarin, Gani Fawehinmi most of whom died with their dreams of a just, fair and free country; Dr Wada has remained a silent medical crusader and achiever. His practice knows no religion, tribe or class. Nisa alone has to its credit over 10, 000 IVF babies. Wada has since established affordable IVF departments at the National Hospital and the Garki District Hospital both in Abuja. Aside, Wada has trained so many medics in the art which gave the Chinese an edge in 1988. Today, IVF births would no doubt have accounted for about a quarter of a million bundles of joy – twins, triplets and even quadruplets!

Therefore, what is Centenary Celebration in a land where people die in hundreds in the hands of a mere rag-tag army of insurgent foot soldiers? If Boko Haram is not tamed and unemployment addressed squarely; the giant of Africa shall definitely remain a colossus with a feet of clay.

Let’s celebrate our diverse accomplishments since the Amalgamation of the peoples of the Niger Area in 1914 by British colonialist, Lord Lugard. It is also high time that we reached out and tap from the gains of brain drain, by buying into the fountain of ideas and ideals inherent in Nigerians in Diaspora. Trying to dampen their enthusiasm or prevent their contributions can only have a loser: Nigeria. So, all hands must be on the deck to build a safe, secure, equitable, united and prosperous nation once and for all.


* Alaba Yusuf, is an International Publicist, Strategist and Commentator based in Abuja.


Author: NewsAdmin

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