As of Monday morning, about 888 Nigerians sickened by the coronavirus, have succumbed to the virus.
But while figures of fatalities are piling in the homeland thus far, there is no official count of Nigerians in foreign countries dying of COVID-19 complications. Health officials say the death toll in the diaspora is increasingly rising.
Authorities are struggling to evacuate as many as possible Nigerians stranded in especially Europe, Asia and America when the COVID-19 pandemic started.
Many of them were held up by the movement restrictions introduced by countries as part of containment measures against the disease.
NIDCOM, so far, has gathered about 50 names of Nigerians who died of COVID-19 in especially Europe and America where the pandemic has gained a foothold. The commission, however, admitted that it is impossible to get accurate data.
“You cannot get the accurate figure”, said AbdurRahman Balogun, the spokesperson of the commission. “It’s only those ones that were reported that we know. Even in Nigeria, we don’t have the details of all the over 850 people that have died.
“The list we have contain names of prominent people and those who are very active in Nigerian associations in the countries they stay”, he explained.
As part of our effort to put faces on lives lost to the deadly disease, PREMIUM TIMES started a series – Beyond Numbers – aimed at profiling, as many as possible, Nigerians who died from coronavirus complications. This is mostly to show that the daily cases and fatalities are more than mere statistics.
In the maiden part of the series, five prominent Nigerians killed by the disease were profiled.
In this second part, five Nigerians who died helping other countries fight the contagion will be remembered. They are first responders and medical staff – who worked diligently and selflessly to stem the tide of the infection and care for the sick.
1.Alfa Saadu – U.K
“My dad was a living legend, worked for the NHS (National Health Service) for 40 years saving people’s lives here and in Africa,” the son of Alfa Saadu, Dani, said in a Facebook about his father who died of coronavirus in the UK.
Mr Saadu, 68, retired in 2017 as a medical director in London after a distinguished 40-year medical career but returned as a volunteer when authorities in the U.K encouraged retired doctors to return to the front line to tackle the pandemic.
He was volunteering at the Queen’s Victoria memorial hospital, in North London when he contracted COVID-19, a deadly virus that has infected nearly 300 thousand people in the U.K.
His son, Dani, said the family suggested he should go to the hospital, but his father insisted he “did not want to take up a hospital bed because others would need it.”
Mr Saadu died on March 31 at the Whittington Hospital in London two weeks after he was infected with the virus, Dani confirmed.
Dani described his father as a very passionate man, who cared about saving people.
“Up until he got sick, he was still working part-time saving people. He just loved medicine so much. As soon as you spoke to him about medicine his face would light up”, he said.
“He worked for the NHS for nearly 40 years in different hospitals across London and he loved to lecture people in the world of medicine, he did so in the UK and Africa.
“He was a massive family man and we did everything together. Family came first. He left two sons and a wife, who is a retired doctor herself in occupational health.”
The late 68-year-old native of Kwara State, Nigeria moved to the UK when he was twelve and worked for most of his career in London, with a stint of teaching at a hospital in Nigeria.
Tributes were paid to Mr Saadu by many prominent Nigerians, including from the former president of the Nigerian Senate, Bukola Saraki who had posted his condolences on Twitter describing the late medic’s passing as a colossal loss for the people of Kwara State.
Mr Saraki, a former governor of Kwara State, said Mr Saadu was a community leader and traditional office holder as Galadima of Pategi.
The Emir of Ilorin and Chairman Kwara State Traditional Council, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, described his death as a great loss to humanity.
Abike Dabiri-Erewa, a presidential aide on Diaspora and Foreign Affairs, said Mr Saadu dedicated his career to the NHS. “His passion and commitment embodied the Nigerian spirit”, she noted.
Most doctors who have died of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom have been immigrants, most born overseas, like Mr Saadu, according to the British Medical Association, the Washington Post reported.
That grim toll has startled a nation that relies on immigrants to swell the ranks of its public health-care system — yet voted for Brexit with a promise to “take back control” of its borders and limit immigration.
According to Mrs Dabiri-Erewa who also heads NIDCOM, the United Kingdom benefits to the tune of 6,770 Nigerian nationals working in the NHS.
2. Olumide Okunuga – Italy
Ogun State born Olumide Okunuga, who came to Italy in pursuit of a career in medicine, reportedly died at 65 as a result of alleged coronavirus complications triggered by an underlying ailment. He had been battling with congenital disease.
According to Gazzette di Modena, an Italian local paper, on March 10, the lifeless body of Mr Okunuga was found on the floor of his apartment in northern Italy, where he lived alone since he separated from his wife 15 years.
Late Mr Okunuga, an indigene of Ikenne Remo in Ogun State, Nigeria, was also an Italian citizen and had been living in Modena for over thirty years where he actively participated in the social and associative life of the city.
More than 35, 000 people have died of Coronavirus in Italy, a country that was once the epicentre of the disease.
According to local reports, a neighbour alerted Modena police when he noticed all entrances leading to Mr Okunuga’s apartment was closed.
Firefighters and health workers who broke into the late medic’s home applied measures and protections provided for by the anti-coronavirus protocol in evacuating his body even though the cause of his death was still uncertain.
“The last phone call was on Monday evening. He told me he was very sick; he couldn’t take it anymore. Then I passed by yesterday morning. He didn’t answer. Then I raised the alarm, Mohamed Lasry, his friend and neighbour told Italian local media.
“The municipal police arrived on the spot followed by the firefighters. After a few unsuccessful attempts at the intercom, the door was forced and the macabre discovery took place.
“The 64-year-old’s lifeless body was lying on the ground. He had evidently fallen suddenly without getting up again. Olumide was a citizen open to others. Always smiling and jovial. A man of the Fim, a man of the CISL as there are few. Never a word out of place and never a controversy,” he explained.
According to Mr Okunuga’s LinkedIn profile, the sexagenarian was born on October 21, 1956, and worked with the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Finance in Lagos between February 1975 and December 1978 before leaving for Italy.
He studied medicine, specialising in Pathology, at the University of Bologna in Italy from 1982 to 1990. He was the President of Egbe Omo Yoruba Emilia-Romagna and the Vice President of Yoruba National Community Italy.
He is a former vice president of the Foreigners Council of Modena.
Carol Jamabo – UK
Carol Jamabo is believed to be the first care worker to be identified publicly with the coronavirus in the U.K. after succumbing to the killer virus.
The 56-year-old, who worked for Cherish Elderly Care, started suffering from symptoms around a week before her last breath on April 1.
The care worker battling asthma became ill at home and was rushed to the hospital but her condition got worse.
She was transferred to an intensive care unit and put on a ventilator at Salford Royal Hospital but tragically could not be saved.
“It happened so rapidly. No one was by her side”, her nephew, Dakuro Fiberesima told Manchester Evening News. “With the ventilator decision, you just get a call they are planning to turn the ventilator off. You wonder if you were there, whether that would make a difference?
“She was such a popular person, there would have been people there to fight for her corner, so to speak.
“She was just an amazing aunt. Growing up in an African background, the aunts are very strict, but she was fun and had such a positive character.
“She would have been well-deserving of a round of applause for her hard work and commitment over the years.”
The mother-of-two served the public as a key worker for over 25 years after moving to the UK from Nigeria in the early 1990s.
She previously worked in both the prison service and as an NHS administrator at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in London.
Her family said she moved to Bury to be closer to her two children, Tonye Selema, 25, and Abiye Selema, 22, a student at Leeds University, according to Manchester Evening News.
Her youngest son also tested positive for the virus, according to the family.
Edmond Adefolu Adedeji – UK
Edmond Adefolu Adedeji is a Nigerian medical doctor based in the U.K. His family said he died on April 9 after showing symptoms of the virus.
Mr Adedeji was described by his colleagues as a well ‘respected and well-liked’ doctor at the Great Western Hospital in Swindon, before his death. He was working as a locum registrar in the Emergency Department of the Hospital.
He took the job in August last year after working for London’s St Mary’s Accident and Emergency for years.
Saúl Díaz, a colleague of Adedeji at St Mary’s, who announced his obituary described him as a good man.
“May his soul rest in peace,” Mr Diaz wrote on Facebook.
Mr Adedeji was an alumnus of African Church Grammar School, Apata Ibadan.
He was the senior prefect in 1974 when he graduated.
“This COVID 19 death toll is beginning to hit me”, his classmate, Kikelomo Sadiku, who paid tribute to him on his Facebook wall wrote.
“My classmate Dr Adefolu Adedeji has fallen prey of this coronavirus. He was a medical doctor in London. He was our senior prefect at African Church Grammar School Apata Ibadan.
“He was one of the brainy ones. I use to tag along then to teach me Mathematics. May his soul rest in perfect peace.
“The last time I saw him was in London before I emigrated to the USA. This is so sad.
“May God comfort his wife and children at this time of grief. I am just sad and flabbergasted. Please pray along,” he said.
Great Western Hospital also mourned the doctor in a condolence message: “On behalf of the whole Trust, I would like to extend our sincere condolences to Edmond’s family. Our thoughts are with them, and his friends and colleagues at the Trust.”
His family paid tribute to him saying ‘he died doing a job he loved’.
Bode Ajanlekoko – U.K.
Nigerian born Bode Ajanlekoko was a mental health nurse who contracted the virus while helping other nurses who were infected in the U.K.
Close associates of the nurse said he died at Kings Cross Hospital in London, United Kingdom, on April 2 at the age of 53. He is survived by a wife and children.
Mr Ajanlekoko was an Alumni of Ijebu Ode Grammar School where he passed out in 1984. He has been living in the United Kingdom for decades.
Other Nigerians who died abroad
NIDCOM had released a list of several Nigerians living abroad who died of the disease including the aforementioned health workers.
The chairman, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Mrs Dabiri-Erewa, had, in April, shared a video containing the names, pictures and countries of residence of 13 departed Nigerians.
The list was later updated.
Below are names of Nigerians that were killed by the coronavirus in the diaspora, according to NIDCOM:
Adeola Onasanya—UK; Ugochukwu Erondu—UK; Mmaete Greg—UK; Greg Lebari – UK; Menegian Ken Saro-wiwa – UK; Akeem Adagun – UK; Dele Jalad – UK; Bola Omoyeni – UK; Victor Ikwuemesi – UK; Michael Olusesan – UK; Bassey Offiong –USA; Hajia Laila Abubakar Ali – USA; Caleb Anya – USA; Paul Alade – US; Jonathan Adewunmi – US; Patricia Imobhio – Italy; Saraju Olumide Okunuga – Italy; Okeke Ugonwa – US; Esther Idowu – UK; Sheba kudelinbu – UK.