By Ibidapo Balogun
As a cancer sufferer, Professor Omo Omoruyi knew death could come at anytime. He told me on several occasions that when you are diagnosed with cancer, it’s like being given a death sentence, particularly in Nigeria, given the state of medicine and the facilities for treatment available in the country. But Prof. Omoruyi was determined to live. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2008. He remained strong ever since then. His mental faculty was alive and active to the extent that even after the cancer diagnosis, he authored at least a book, and another one was in the works. But after a long while that we all thought he had survived cancer, the disease relapsed and Prof. Omoruyi was back in the United States for another round of treatment. He came back worse off from this last round of treatment a little over a month ago.
One of his close acquaintances had seen him then at the National Hospital, Abuja around 2008 when he first took ill and was dying gradually as he was been given pain reliever to combat an ailment doctors at the hospital failed to diagnose properly and had advised him to seek medical treatment abroad. He had heeded that advice. And within hours of arriving at the Boston Medical Centre in the US, he was diagnosed with cancer but by that time his prostate cancer was already in Stage 4. He underwent at least three surgeries on his spinal cord and was even used as guinea pig for all kinds of new treatment for prostate cancer.
Cancer sufferers need their family to be with them to console them and give them hope particularly during rehabilitation. But was Prof’s immediate family there for him? In his book-“My Journey Back to Life”- which manuscript I helped to edit, Prof. Omoruyi said: “The rehabilitation that was to be a family affair turned out to be something else. To set the record straight, I did not live with a family who is able to assist but with care givers at various times who saw me as a helpless person in search of care they gave me”. He, however, survived all that and was given a new life before the cancer relapsed.
But because the friends he had laboured for in the past and the authorities he had appealed to for assistance all abandoned him, and lacking the required money to continue his treatment abroad, Omoruyi returned home, to Benin, to die. I think Prof. had premonition his time was up. He arranged that he should be brought back home in order not to complicate things for his family who might want to bring back his remains from the US in the event of death in that country. Omoruyi was a very considerate man. As he returned, he knew doctors here could hardly do anything to help his case. He was only getting one or two doctors to help him manage the pains. He quickly put together his family and other things as one doctor had once advised him five years ago. But because doctors are not God, Prof. lived for five years more. His estranged wife, a foreigner from Guyana, who had abandoned him during rehabilitation in the US following their disagreement, eventually came back and reconciled with him.
I was still planning to visit and reconnect with Prof. in Benin when his cousin Nehi sent me a text message on Monday, October 14 to say Prof. had passed unto glory at 9 pm the day before. I was downcast, sad and unconsolable. Prof and I shared an unusual bond since I encountered him as Director-General of the Centre for Democratic Studies, Abuja in 1991. I was then the Political Correspondent of the old Daily Times in Abuja. He was a dependable news source, a delight to interview. He was as passionate about the mission of the CDS, which he birthed, and which was to inculcate democratic values in our politicians, as he was passionate about his country Nigeria and its potential to be great. Soon, our relationship became deeper and stronger. I saw Prof as a father of sort, but Prof saw me and related to me as a friend despite the age difference between us. In the wake of his death, I received more telephone calls from people who knew our close relationship and commiserated with me more than the calls I received when my father died in 2006.
Prof. Omoruyi lived a fulfilled life. He played his part and very well too. He liked to see himself in four ways: as a professor of Political Science, a partisan politician, a policy maker and a promoter and defender of democracy. And in each of these areas he achieved greatly.
I can write a book on him in each of these areas, but that would be for another time. In later years, Prof. added a fifth classification: a patient of cancer and cancer survivor. But did he survive cancer in the end? Prof. Omoruyi was 75. His remains were buried on Friday, November 22, 2013 at his family house at 18, Oza Street, Benin City. May his soul rest in peace.