Dennis Akagha, the fiance of late nurse Justina Ejelonu who died from the deadly Ebola virus, says he’s currently being stigmatized for being associated with the deadly Ebola disease. In an interview with Punch, he said he’s faced stigma from people on his street, artisans and most recently his work place.
Dennis who was working as a marketing officer in an oil company before his fiancee contracted the disease, says he no longer works there. He said after he left the isolation center, his office refused to pick his calls or communicate with him. Excepts from the interview after the cut…
You’ve been certified to be Ebola Virus negative, for how long has that been?
It’s going to two weeks now. Saturday (today) will make it two weeks exactly that I’ve been certified negative. I’ve not had any of the symptoms since then. But I’m granting this interview basically for one reason; before I was quarantined, I saw it in the Bible that I would not die but live to testify the goodness of God upon my life. When God saved me, it is my responsibility to tell the whole world and Nigerians that God is still in the business of doing miracles. So I’m a living testimony of the goodness of God.
You said before you were quarantined, that means at that point, you knew you had Ebola Virus
Yes. But it was not that I was tested positive to it but I had started seeing the symptoms; I had started feeling feverish and having pains all over my body, my muscles, my waist. I was described as being symptomatic at the time. The symptoms came up for like three days. My temperature rose.
So what do you really think saved you? Did the doctors give you any drugs?
I will always tell the whole world that it’s a miracle because I met people who were at the isolation centre before me and I left the place before them. I stayed there for five days. It was a miracle. What worked for me was my faith and my belief because right from the day I saw the symptoms, I had been talking to myself. I found it in the Bible that the power of life and death is in my tongue which means anything I speak happens for me. At that point in time, I started speaking to my body, my blood system and doing the things you will ordinarily not understand. These are the things we call mysteries.
Would you like to share some of these mysteries?
I can share them but some people may not believe them. In the church where I worship, we believe in holy communion and feet washing. The Bible says that the life of the body is in the blood and I also found where Jesus was telling his disciples, if you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will have life abundantly and not die. With this understanding, I started taking the blood of Jesus and eating the flesh three times in a day. I started doing feet washing. These are the mysteries and they are the things that helped deliver me from the bondage of sickness. I got the bread from my church and I was blessing my water to do feet washing.
You were there for five days, what was your experience like within that period?
I was taken in on Tuesday, August 19, 2014 and left there on Saturday night, August 23, 2014. The experience wasn’t funny, anyway. I really want to appreciate Lagos State. The state has done the best out of all the places where Ebola has been ravaging lives. Initially, there were no volunteers and the facilities were not there but it was because the virus came unexpectedly. Nobody expected it. But within a short time, the facilities improved, so the state tried. The first day I got there, I was just telling myself that I was not Ebola positive. When I got there, they took my blood samples and the results came out the following day. Then, I was kept in a ward meant for suspects. We had two wards: one is a ward for persons suspected to have the virus and the other was for persons confirmed to already have it. So once you are confirmed to have it, they will take you away from the ‘suspects’ ward’ to the other ward. When I was confirmed to have it, they took me to the ‘confirmed’ ward. I went in with them and I met others there. Immediately I lay down on my bed, I cried but nobody knew I was shedding tears. I just lay there and cried. I was crying to God because I already told him that I would not die but live. It took me five minutes to shed the tears and afterwards, I wiped my tears. One of the doctors came in to tell me that my results were not clear to them. She said the results were bulky; that was the language she used and that they could not understand it. In other words, I wasn’t meant to be there. So they took me back to the ‘suspects’ ward and said they would rerun the tests. That was on Wednesday. They reran the tests and the results came out on Thursday afternoon. It was positive. So they asked me to go back to the ‘confirmed’ ward. I told them I was not sick. They said that I was positive but I insisted that I didn’t have Ebola. We quarrelled for sometime so it took me time to go back to the ‘confirmed’ ward. It was after much pleading and also because they said I was a risk to others in the ‘suspects’ ward. So I went back to the ‘confirmed’ ward but I was still saying I was not sick. I was still taking my holy communion and doing feet washing and praying. I slept thereon Thursday night and then they came again to take my blood samples. I was there on Friday too. I was doing my regular exercise- press up and everything. Then on Saturday night, they called me that I had been discharged. I had even forgotten that my blood samples were taken for a test. They said my results came out negative. In that case, I didn’t have any business there anymore.
How did you feel when you were told you could leave the centre?
The first thing I did was to go back to my closet, knelt down and thanked God. I felt happy because I knew it was not just an ordinary miracle. When I was there, I posted on my Facebook wall that my case would defy all medical terminologies and theories. And a lot of people wrote ‘Amen’ to it. But some of them may not understand but I had this belief in myself and in the God that I serve. A lot of people were also strongly supporting me with their prayers. I will encourage people having health challenges or suffering from terminal illnesses not to keep silent, they should tell others. I had friends and relatives praying and fasting on my behalf. On Facebook, my Whatsapp group, they were praying for me and sending me messages and Bible portions on what to read and declare. Those things helped me to boost my faith.
How have your friends, relatives and neighbours been relating with you since you returned from the isolation centre?
The stigma will always be there and it will take some time for it to phase out. It happened when HIV and Lassa fever came out. So this is not the first and it won’t be the last. But I know that with time, it will phase out. I faced a lot of stigmatisation on my street.
Can you recall specific instances?
Yes. When I was symptomatic, because I had bushy hair, I went to a salon to have a haircut. Somebody who knew what happened to my fiancée ran away from the salon. Also, I went somewhere to buy toothpaste and the mallam (Hausa man) refused to sell to me. He said he was not selling. I said but you have toothpaste, he said yes, but that he was not selling. And where I worked as a marketing officer, it happened. I got a job this same month Justina got a job at the hospital (where Patrick Sawyer visited). Mine was an oil and gas company. Indirectly, I experienced it there. I no longer work there.
Were you told to stop coming?
They did it indirectly. It will be shameful for me to go back there. After I left the isolation centre, I said no, I won’t go back there. God has a reason for everything. A lot of people have told me to protest but I said no. For God to bring me out of this, He has very big plans for my life. The communication was no longer there; I was calling (the office) and they stopped picking my calls. So I didn’t bother to go to the office. It got to an extent that even after I came out, my mum travelled to the east (my hometown) for an August meeting and as soon as she got to the venue, everyone ran away. They were like, since your son had Ebola, then you will definitely have Ebola. That was the extent of the stigmatisation.
What was the quarantine centre where Justina was kept like when you got there?
As I said, Lagos State government didn’t expect it. So the environment wasn’t that conducive. The place she was, was a different facility from where I was. It was the same hospital environment but not the same facility. Justina and others were put there while government was preparing a better place for them. She was already there before some others were moved to the other facility. There was no water or oxygen where she was, and the environment wasn’t okay. Lagos State government tried and did its best to make sure that they improve the facilities later and I can testify to that.
Were you disappointed that there was no water or oxygen?
It still boils down to the fact that it was not expected. There was no oxygen available when she needed oxygen but one thing about her was that she lived a good life and was very friendly. She was loved by people and had good friends, so when she needed oxygen, her group of friends rallied round and came up with oxygen that day. In fact, they said they would provide more if she needed more. The situation took government unawares but those things are there now. I was there and I can testify to it. The facilities are superb and the environment is nice. There are a lot of volunteers now.
When you saw that the place was untidy, did you approach the health workers and what did they say?
Nigeria as a whole, we didn’t t expect this. It was not expected. So it took time for people to start volunteering to come and work. So those people who were there were scared so I didn’t blame them. Nobody wanted to take the risk of being infected. It was not until after a lot of awareness had been done that people understood more and started coming to volunteer to work there.
Do you think that the government could have saved her life if the facilities were better?
Well, I really don’t know. God knows best. I was discussing with someone recently and I said she shouldn’t have died. The person asked why and I said I saw a portion in the Bible where God said He would satisfy us with long life. She had not even lived up to 50 when she passed on. The person told me that a new born child that dies within a week has lived a long life. I wondered how and he said the day we die is the day our lives end which means we have lived a long life and have fulfilled our purpose. I’m still pondering over that but I came to a conclusion that God wasn’t sleeping so He must know about everything that happened. As much as people were praying for me when I was there, people were praying for her also.
So what are your plans now that you’re fine, but out of job?
I intend to look for another job. If it’s the will of God for me to work, I will get another job. Aside from that, I made Justina a promise. I spoke with her the night she passed on but I had to go there to confirm the next morning. I had to go inside there after wearing the kits. I was led in and I held her hands, I just wanted to know if she was truly dead. At that time, she was already dead. I told her that I would make sure I pursued those things she could not achieve that I knew about, in my own little way and with the help of individuals. I would make sure she fulfils the dreams. Before her death, she had a vision of a project that I don’t want to share here. If that is what will keep me busy for the rest of my life, I don’t mind to keep her memory alive. I wrote the plan and we were just waiting to complete our marriage plans before proceeding with the project. After her death, I had to go back to my system (laptop) to fetch out those things and start reworking them. I’m done with writing the plan and the next step is to register the business. Private individuals who may want to support the cause since she died while trying to save lives, are welcome. I don’t mind since it will be in memory of Justina Obioma Ejelonu. Yes, a lot of people have been asking me, after now, what next? You have lost a loved one, you’ve lost your job and you’ve come out negative, what next and I tell them that it boils down to God.
You said you held her hand after she had died. But can you recall the last time you saw her alive and what she said to you?
The last day I saw her alive was three weeks today because she died on a Thursday morning. She requested to see me and I went inside to see her, cleaned her and made sure her surroundings were clean and okay. She was on drips and I spoke with her. She requested for tea, hot or cold. There was no way I could get hot water around so I went to get beverage and two bottles of table water to prepare the tea (beverage) for her. I also bought bread for her. That was the last thing I bought for her. I remember she said she loved me; that was the last thing she told me. After cleaning her up, she called on one of the doctors, a WHO doctor, Dr. David. She said softly to the doctor, did I not tell you? The doctor asked what. She said did I not tell you that if my husband comes here, a miracle would happen. I laughed and the doctor said yes. I had to clean her up that day.
You took some risks taking Justina to the hospital and cleaning her up, didn’t you know the risks involved?
You see, if you love someone, you will do those things, except you don’t genuinely love the person. If you genuinely love someone, you can do anything for the person. I genuinely loved her; she was supposed to be my wife. And at that point in time, I saw no reason why I should abandon her. I know most men would do that but my conscience would judge me for the rest of my life if I had run away. So I had to stand by her. I took the risks because I loved her and at a point, I started being careful at the same time. The Bible says wisdom is profitable to direct. But I had been 100 per cent exposed already even before I started taking precautions. I started using polythene bags as gloves, which was not even safe. Not that I didn’t think of the risks, but love is a very powerful thing. I know she would have done the same thing for me. So why would I want to run away?
How did you receive news of her death?
Normally, I call her every morning but that morning , I called and called and she didn’t pick up. So I went to the hospital and I was supposed to get some things for her anyway. So I got the news when I got there. It was painful for me. Have you lost a loved one before? At that moment, I felt like going with her. I felt that I couldn’t stay behind (on earth). I felt like dying so that it would be like we both died, although it was not possible (for me to kill myself). But that was how I felt.
Did you receive government visits at home?
I didn’t encourage visitors; I didn’t want anyone to visit me. The only people that were visiting me were Lagos State government officials but they were not coming to my house. They would get to my street and call me to come out. They were only coming to monitor my temperature. I was given a digital thermometer to check my temperature and I would tell them the readings. I checked it every morning and I would meet them outside and tell them. They were the only people coming everyday until when they came to pick me; every other person had indirectly run away. They took me away when my temperature showed that it had risen.
Did they show up immediately Justina was confirmed to have had Ebola?
Normally, they were suppose to come and fumigate my house on that day but they didn’t come; they came two weeks after. I had already done it myself. I bought three bottles of JIK and mixed it water. I did the disinfection and cleaned my house by myself before they came.
Why did it take them two weeks to show up?
Well, I don’t know. I think maybe it was due to logistics. It’s none of my business.