Ambode and his wife, Bolanle (middle) with the NSE President, Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede; members of CECP-Nigeria, Dr. Michael Omolayole; Convener, Mrs. Tutu Adeleke; Dr. Christopher Kolade; Publisher, Guardian Newspapers, Maiden Alex Ibru and Mrs. Kemi Nelson, at the anti-cancer campaign at Lagos House, Ikeja…recently

Recently, captains of industry converged on Lagos House, Alausa, to mark the 53rd birthday of the state governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode. Rather than celebrating the governor himself, the occasion was staged to launch a big war against cancer and other related killer diseases in the country. Gboyega Akinsanmi writes

Precisely on June 14, dignitaries walked into Lagos House, Alausa one after the other. One obvious reason that brought them together was to honour the state governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, who turned 53 on the same day. But little did they know that the occasion was designed to fight what former Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Dr. Christopher Kolade called a big war.

Initially, the concept of a big war was not perhaps clear to the dignitaries; neither did they categorically understand what it actually entailed to prosecute the war. But the idea became quite obvious after the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP-Nigeria), a non-governmental organisation, made a pitiful presentation on the disturbing scourge of cancer and other allied diseases in Nigeria.

Kolade, anchor of CECP-Nigeria, provided diverse reasons for the need to prosecute a big war against cancer. His reasons were founded on some empirical and statistical evidence, which showed the death records of different killer diseases globally. In 2014, according to a CECP-Nigeria report, cancer killed 8.2 million worldwide, which called for concern among the critical stakeholders.

When compared with other killer diseases worldwide, the report showed that cancer and its associated diseases killed far more than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria put together. In 2014, as CECP-Nigeria presentation shows, only 1.2 million died of HIV/AIDS, 1.1 million to tuberculosis and 438,000 to malaria. But cancer only killed 8.2 million within the same timeframe globally.

On the national scale, the report grimly painted a gory picture of Nigeria’s cancer status in terms of preparedness and infrastructure. It thus said over 100,000 Nigerians “are diagnosed with cancer every year and about 80,000 die from the disease. The Nigerian cancer death ratio of 4 in 5 is one of the worst in the whole world. Cancer and the 10 related diseases kill more people than all other causes of death in Nigeria.”

But as the CECP-Nigeria presentation revealed, what was disheartening was the way people lost their lives to preventable death and suffering. It cited the example of cervical cancer which “is virtually 100 per cent preventable. Yet, it kills one woman every hour in Nigeria. Also, the survival rate for early-stage breast cancer is virtually 100 per cent. Yet, breast cancer now kills 40 Nigerians daily compared to 30 daily in 2008.”

Likewise, the report put survival rate for early-stage prostate cancer at100 per cent. Despite the high chance of surviving the disease, the report disclosed that prostate cancer “kills 26 daily in Nigeria compared 14 daily in 2008. On this ground, Kolade came to a conclusion that cancer “is a big war that the private, social and public sectors should fight together to prevent untimely deaths and end untold sufferings.

By official records, Nigerians spend $200 million annually to seek treatment abroad. Similarly, corporate organisations in Nigeria expend a lot of funds on treating preventable cancers among their employees every year. This record explained why a member of CECP-Nigeria and Publisher of The Guardian,Mrs. Maiden Alex-Ibru said combating the scourge “should concern all public and private interests.”

But the failure to fight the scourge manfully is the reason about 240 still die of cancer daily in Nigeria, according to Alex-Ibru. So, given its grave implication for economy and humanity, Alex-Ibru said it was time for all interests “to pull resources together to prosecute the big war,” which she said, required the purchase of 37 mobile cancer centres (MCCs) for 36 states and Federal Capita Territory (FCT).

Across the banquet hall, the presentation on Nigeria’s cancer status sent fear into the spines of the dignitaries. This was evident in uneasy quietness that pervaded the entire venue after the status report was presented. It thus became clearer for the dignitaries that the fight against cancer should not be left in the hands of the government alone, and in response, commitments were made from different fronts.

In spite of commitments the dignitaries might have made privately, the cost of prosecuting the big war against cancer is undeniably enormous, according to a report by CECP-Nigeria. The report put the cost of procuring one MCC at $600,000, which it said, translated to N120 million at an official foreign exchange rate. By implication, it would cost $22.2 million (equivalent of N4.44 billion) to purchase 37 MCCs for each states of the federation and FCT.

This burden propelled Ambode to galvanise captains of industry and philanthropists in the fight against cancer. So, Ambode’s passion to help stop the scourge explained why he chose to mark his birthday to campaign against cancer. But his anti-cancer campaign did not start when he became the governor. He actually started waging the big war against cancer just after he retired from the public service. But he gave it more prominence after he was sworn in as the 14th governor of the state.

In 2015, for instance, Ambode kick-started the war against cancer, which he said, should concern every Nigerian. He then adopted a sensitisation approach designed to make people understand the large-scale threats the scourge posed to the economy and humanity at large. Good as it might be, the sensitisation was not sufficient. As Kolade said, the anti-cancer war requires a lot of funds and manpower. It was on this ground that Ambode said the war against cancer “is for every Nigerian to fight.”

The scourge should be arrested for one obvious reason, which the governor ascribed to its devastative effect on the society at large. He said nearly every one “is related directly or indirectly to one cancer victim or the other. Lives are lost globally daily to this scourge. We shall continue to support initiatives geared towards saving the lives of our people especially against cancer

He explained diverse cancer intervention programmes the state government had initiated “to create regular cancer awareness and conduct free breastfeeding and cervicalcancerscreening for women.” Aside, he said medical and financial support “are also given to those who are diagnosed and require treatment. It is in recognition of the need for everyone to get involved.”

Ambode devoted his 53rd birthday to raise awareness in different circles. But for him, regular awareness alone is not enough if Nigeria’s cancer status report must be reversed. This compelled him to invite captains of industry from virtually all sectors to join him in what he called the big war against cancer. He said it “is a war that every Nigerian must join handhands together to wage together.”

Ambode unveiled a proposal to purchase three MCCs, which he said, would be stationed in each senatorial district in the state. He acknowledged the huge cost of each centre, though could be provided through a tripartite partnership of private, social and public sectors. Irrespective of what the cost might be, he said the MCCs “will go a long way to save millions from preventable suffering and death.”

He thus lamented the rate at which the terminal disease had claimed thousands of lives in recent times. In clear terms, Ambode said it was unacceptable, thereby calling for concerted efforts from all and sundry. But he pointed out that the war against cancer “is one that the government cannot tackle alone, hence the need for Nigerians to extend their philanthropy towards the scourge.

“Lives are lost every day to cancer and this is unacceptable. This is why the Lagos State Government carries out public health programmes focused on cancer. I believe the state government alone cannot solve every problem. Every resident has a role to play. In my one year in office, I have come to realise that even with the best will in the world, government cannot do everything.”

Apart from the cost of funding the MCCs, Ambode cited another real challenge in the fight against cancer. He said the real challenge “is how to unite public, private and philanthropic sectors in building our state. Through this private sector initiative, I can play a role in helping to advance the big war against cancer for the well-being of not just the good people of Lagos State, but Nigerians at large.”

But the chance of achieving this goal is low with the generous support of all people of goodwill, according to the governor. Without generous support, Ambode emphasised that the goal would not be reached and the opportunity “to save lives would be lost. Though the initial target was for one MCC in Lagos, having three centres in each of the senatorial districts in the state was a priority for him.

He therefore revealed the real reason he organised the anti-cancer luncheon to mark his 53rd birthday. He said the luncheon was “to raise funds for one MCC for Lagos.” He thus challenged the dignitaries “to not only give towards the provision of one MCC, but towards the provision of three MCC. Each of these MCCs will serve each of the three senatorial districts in the state. One mobile centre may serve the state effectively due to the state’s huge population.”

If objectively pursued, Ambode argued that the intervention would help “to save millions of Nigerians from preventable death and untold sufferings.” He therefore pledged “to mobilise philanthropists and corporate organisations towards establishing one comprehensive cancer centre in Lagos within the next three years, starting with making available a piece of land in any part of the state and facilitating speedy paper work.”

On these grounds, the governor strongly made one definite demand from dignitaries at the luncheon. It was a demand to fight cancer and other associated diseases aground. Even though June 14 is special to him, the governor said his anniversary “is not really a celebration, but a call to service. Against all odds; against all the things happening to the economy in the country; against the numbers; against the anxieties and the panic, we are still able to stand up and fight the scourge.”

Ambode emphasised the need for all people of good will “to gather together against the scourge. We must also decide to give back to humanity and society. We must equally work as one indivisible force to end preventable deaths and untold sufferings. That is symbolic for me. We must commend ourselves that all hope is not lost. There is more value to us and humanity in championing this course.”