Ironically, 31-year-old Mrs Nwankwo is not dampened. Well, not totally, as she managed to put up a cheerful face when these reporters went visiting. Behind the smiles, however, were eyes full of pains – pains that only a woman who has suffered her kind of loss and bears her current bleak reality can understand.
On the day of this visit, it also seemed their story had begun to change, though still critical. The picture of a bedroom and bed literally floating on murky green water had changed. They had bailed out the water – apparently; they also now have a fridge – a gift from their neighbour, Obiwan. And their surviving baby-girl was also clothed in fine apparel; another product of Obiwan’s goodwill.
But their floor was still bare and bore the dampness of a room just freed from invading water. The compound however remained flooded and these reporters had to wade through to get into the room for this interview.
Hannah Nwankwo’s story:
“When I gave birth to my first child Chukwuebuka Christopher, he had a condition which caused him to convulse regularly. We were managing it traditionally with palm kernel oil and some other things; but one day in March 2017, Chukwuebuka again began to convulse. On this occasion, we had unfortunately run out of the medicines, due to lack of money. To make matters worse, my husband was also not around to do the running around for cash.
I was also eight months pregnant and Chukwuebuka was going to be three. I became afraid, panicky and started looking for people to help me. With neighbour’s help, we rushed him to Isolo General Hospital, where he was given injection and he immediately went into coma, which he never came out of.
We really never took him to a hospital anytime he convulsed because the first time it happened and we took him to a hospital, we were told his condition wasn’t medical and that we should lean more towards traditional treatment. Since then, we managed to put it in check until this fateful day.
It was after he went into a coma that we were told we should never have brought him to the hospital, as someone who is convulsing should not be injected.
While in coma, they carried out series of tests on him and concluded that his life was in the hands of God and we should just be hopeful. But eventually, we lost him.
In the meantime, my second son also took ill. I still can’t understand what happened to Ebubechukwu; I can’t really explain it. He was one year, going to two and not sick. You know as children, he and his brother were always together; they played together, did everything together and were indeed very close. So, when he saw his brother lying in the hospital bed lifeless, he pulled and called his name in desperation. When he didn’t respond, he started crying and we consoled him. Thereafter he just started behaving funny and strange and eventually died.”
Originally from Abia State, Mrs Nwankwo has been married to her Enugu State husband for three years. She spoke of how she used to manage her husband’s N12,000 salary during the time of the former Lagos State governor, since it was regular, but lamented that since the assumption to power of the new governor, salaries at the Lagos State Waste Management Authority, LAWMA, where her husband works, has not been forthcoming. At the moment, she said they are being owed four months’ salary.
How then have they been managing as a family?
“We have been managing by God’s Grace. My baby is not eating well. We go hungry for days; sometimes because we don’t have money to buy food and the baby doesn’t get enough breast milk. She is five months old and the last time we checked, she weighed just 4kg, which is the usual weight for new born babies.”
Asked how they meet their rent obligation, she said: “We don’t pay for this place because of the water (flood) and because the building is abandoned. The caretaker just allowed us to move in to manage. The place gets badly flooded when it rains and our things get soaked. The water even gets to our ankle inside the house.”
To cater for their baby, she said they try to use any money they get to buy food for her, aside breast milk.
Somewhat ironically, Mrs. Nwankwo holds a National Certificate in Education, NCE (2010); she also said she had all her education in Lagos and has even taught in two ‘good’ schoolsleaving one to wonder how come she settled for such life of poverty. Couldn’t she look for a teaching job?
Her reply was, “If I get a teaching job, I will jump at it because it is my passion.”
On his part, Charles Nwankwo, who had kept quiet all the while, said he has been unrelenting, in spite of everything and puts in his best towards the welfare of his family.
Life has been hell – Charles Nwankwo
“I work with Lagos State Waste Management Agency, LAWMA and I am being paid N12, 000, but for four months now, I have not got a kobo as salary. Because of this, life has been hell for me and my family.
What I do now is take up menial jobs during my free time, since my work hour with LAWMA is between 7am and 1pm.
It was partly because of this lack of payment that I lost my children to the cold hands of death. When we had Chukwuebuka, they said he had cerebral palsy and we were referred to the Physiotherapy Department of Isolo General Hospital. We kept to the appointments until he stopped responding and we had to stop taking him there.
Initially he could not stand on his own, but when we stopped he started improving. Unfortunately, there was a day I was not at home and my phone was switched off due to low battery (we have never had power in this house since we moved in because we cannot afford it); my son had crisis and I could not be reached.
My wife always knows where to find me, so she rushed over to tell me that my son was convulsing and had been admitted in the hospital. When I got there, I saw my son unconscious; he had been given injection.
From that day, Chukwuebuka never opened his eyes. He spent a month on oxygen before he finally gave up.
The strange thing about their deaths is that my second son who was not sick at all died before the first. My wife put to bed on the 7th of February 2017, so I stayed with the boys while she was upstairs in the maternal ward with the baby.
While I was still wondering what befell my second son, the doctor told me I should never have been bringing him to the hospital, where sick children were on admission, but I had nobody to entrust him with. He said that was what affected him.
My second son died on February 18th 2017, while my first child breathed his last on February 25th 2017.
Before their death, whenever we went to the hospital and they needed anything, my wife would stay with them while I went to get whatever they needed, and then I’d go home with my second son to sleep. But one night, my son couldn’t sleep; he was just behaving strangely.
When we got to the hospital the next day, he continued the strange behaviour; he would raise his hands and roll over and hit his head on the baby’s cot. The nurses and matron were asking him if he was angry that his mother put to bed but he kept on behaving in the same manner. Nobody knew what was wrong.
Later the doctor told me that my son was not responding to pain.
But a bigger shock awaited me, as he soon told me that he had gone into coma. I went to him, touched him, pushed him, calling his name, but no response. He was still breathing but was now on oxygen like his brother.
The doctor thereafter told us to pray to God, but within 15 minutes, he died.”
Asked how he managed to buy drugs and even pay for oxygen, Mr Nwankwo said: “People and patients in the hospital were helping us with money.”
Like his wife, Charles Nwankwo also started out with great hope and potential. He was a student of Banking and Finance at the Lagos State Polytechnic, until lack of funds forced him out. He recalled that his first love was Law, which he wanted to study at the University of Lagos. “If I have another opportunity, I will go back to school because I believe that half education is very dangerous.”
A neighbour’s account
“My name is Jean Nnagozie Obiwan; I got to know about Mrs Hannah Nwankwo through a sister, who told me that she lost two sons in a week. That really got to me. Before then, I had been seeing her around but thought she was insane because that was the information flying around.
My opinion of her changed the day I met her on my way to the market; I asked her if she didn’t go to church and she replied that she was actually on her way.
I was surprised at her manner of response, spoken English and level of coherence. And then she had this cheerful look. She had her baby on her back that day, so I turned to my husband and said ‘this woman has a mental problem but you will not know because she speaks well and doesn’t really look it.’
But my husband told me not to conclude but instead speak with her.
Thereafter I started to notice her in church until one day I walked up to her to say ‘hello’. On my way out of church she walked up to me and said she needed money to eat. Usually as a church policy, I was supposed to find out what home cell she belongs to, so I walked up to her home cell leader to ask what assistance they had in plan for her.
The response I got from the home cell leader was harsh and not affectionate, so I walked up to the pastor, who told me that the church was doing something to help her start a business.
I then gave her my house address and took hers with the hope that we will visit each other. She came to my house after some days and I decided to walk her down to her house.
It was late at night and everywhere was dark, when we got close to her gate, I decided to go into the house to sit down for a while since she had done the same at my house. As she opened the gate, I heard a splash; first I thought it was a rat, so I pulled out my torchlight to see clearly. What greeted me was a shocker!
The compound was flooded, and the water was so much that I wanted to go back. But at that moment, I couldn’t any more. The water got almost to my knee, but I assumed that once we got inside the house, it would be better; but I was wrong. What I beheld was even worse.
The room was flooded, her bed was mounted on two condemned car tyres and her baby was right there on it. If she dared roll over one bit, she would drop right inside the water. Mosquitoes, cockroaches were everywhere and I had to quickly leave for my home because if I stayed one more minute, I would break down and cry.
By morning when I saw them again, I realised their legs were swollen; the woman had cracked skins and rash caused by wading through the dirty water.
I am therefore using this opportunity to call on well-meaning Nigerians to come to the rescue of this family – even if it is for the sake of the little baby. With what I am seeing, I fear they may lose her if nothing is done fast and that will be really devastating for both of them.”