By Amb. Godknows Igali
The dates 19th and 20th February, 2020 will for a long time be remembered in Nigeria’s social circles with great adulatory reminiscence. In what was a momentarily solemn ambience which turned celebratory, Nigeria’s most famed across religious and ethnic lines gathered in one of the Federal Capital City, Abuja’s Christian Centres, Family Worship Centre, Wuye to honour the memory of a most lustrous Nigerian jewels – Late Mrs. Jennifer Ramatu Etuh whose passing was on 26th January 2020 at the budding age of 45 years.
They came in many numbers to attend the rites of passage of this hitherto little known, but highly impactful young lady. The roll call was topped by former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Vice President, Prof Yemi Osibanjo and wife, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapaha, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila and wife and a coterie of serving and former Governors, Ministers, and top public office holders. Of course, not left out were Chairman, Chief Executive Officers and Chief Operating Officers of banks, industries and other leading operators of the private sector. Of equal weight was the presence of
ordinary countrymen and women, who ensured that all went on composedly and with great professional gusto. Religious leaders, of the highest calling and piety; and of course, artists, choreographers and creative exponents of greatest of talents and gifts, were also not few.
In a normal funeral, mourning, cries and lamentations are the order of the day. But the last rites of Jennifer Ramatu Etuh, were marked with an atmosphere of conviviality, singing, dancing and unbelievable level of networking amongst Nigerians and with their many international guests. She had died of the most dreaded disease – Cancer, after years of combat with this monstrous disease, she finally yielded, rather triumphantly on 26th January, 2020.
There is no doubt that Cancer is on a prowl, attacking both the high and the low the elderly and even infants. In historical context, from the days of ancient Egypt, about 5,000 years ago, physicians had noticed the existence of an illness whose origins remained unknown but continued to afflict no few numbers of people, including royalty, aristocracy and gentry. It occurred by way of unusual mutation and reoccurring growth of human and some animal cells; developing malignant tumours. Typically, it is very rapid in the creation of abnormal cells which grow much faster beyond the expected limits and does not spare any part of the body. In other words, it could occur anywhere. For strange reasons, whichever part of the body Cancer attacks, the normal cells transform into tumour cells and move from tiny lesions to become malignant.
Although, a number of causative and risk factors regarding the occurrence and spread of Cancer have been identified, what remains true is that these are far from being a finality in knowledge because large number of its victims are neither smokers nor overweight or do they keep unhealthy culinary habits as often canvassed. Cancer’s origin and destination therefore, remain obscurely known and is somewhat mystical; as adduced in traditional settings. The only anectode therefore appears to be conscious of its invading prowl by living healthy and taking steps steadily to ensure early detection and control when a number of palliative measures and early treatment are still available. In this, the provision of the needed medical infrastructure must remain of optimal necessity.
It needs mention that despite the progressive march of human scientific development, especially in biomedical engineering and in microbiology, the cure for cancer has remained defiant. According to the World Health Organization, in 2018, an estimated 9.6m people died of Cancer around the world. As a matter of fact, one in every 6 worldwide deaths is said to be due to cancer. In most low and middle-income countries including most of Africa, cancer has become almost an epidemic. Although the prevalence is less in high-income countries and our sister, Ramatu Jennifer received her treatment from some of the best available facilities around the world, she could only gallantly withstand it for 8 years before finally succumbing. Perhaps much better than other victims as President Umar Musa Yar’Adua, Sen. David Brigidi, Minister John Odeh, Barr. Emmanuel Agumah, SAN. Hon.
Princess Funke Adedoyin, Mama Gold Coast, etc etc. as about 144,600 yearly fall to the hand of Cancer in Nigeria according to World Health Organization – WHO (2010). It also has a great economic toll on the global economy. For Example, in 2010 alone, United States spent over $1.16trillon on cancer-related issues alone.
But what has intrigued a lot of people about the Jennifer Ramatu’s story is the fact that she was not just any other Nigerian, but was the brain behind the often, less known success of the TAK Continental Group, founded by her spouse – Thomas Etuh, whose forte, hitherto, was avoidance of public notice. TAK Continental, with its presence all around the country, has carved out within business cycles, a name as one of the country’s leading Agriculture and Agro-allied chains. They own some of the biggest farms in export products such as Ginger, Gum-Arabic, Corn, Cassava (Starch), Cowpea, Cashew and daily culinary delights like Rice. They are also the leading producer of fertilizer in the country. Their other area of strength is in Real Estate, including ownership of top end facilities around the Federal Capital, Abuja and Lagos. But TAK Continental is also well-grounded in Banking and Finance, and major stake holders in leading banks in the country.
Although the improvement of electricity has remained a mirage in Nigeria, the impact of TAK Continental has also come to bear through its strong investment in the Mainstream Power Company – privatized owners of the Kainji and Jebba Hydro Dams. What most Nigerians may not know is that,
Mainstream Power Company at present has turned around the capacity of both plants from about 550 to about 922 megawatt since take over in 2014. So Mainstream is the most consistent providers of power into the national grid. But even beyond that, Mainstream Power is known within the sector as one of the only companies that has totally settled its exposure with various Nigerian banks since privatization and is now going into new areas to ensure that the country’s power situation improves.
Along with her much-introverted husband, despite her inclement state of health in the later years, Jennifer Ramatu was a pillar in all these efforts in building the national economy. Her greatest impact however remains social works, as she was easily and unarguably was “atypical Florence Nightingale” of Nigeria. Since she started life from humble beginning as a Moslem girl and moved into Christian marriage, it was easy for her to extend a hand of help to all who needed succour from all youths from her home state in Southern Kaduna to her spousal base in Kogi and to all of Nigeria, she touched thousands of widows and made them feel the impact of God’s love. At the same time, she also spared no effort to train countless children, especially the fatherless and orphans, who needed to advance in life. Today, many of these people are contributing to the growth of Nigeria. What has intrigued most Nigerians is the fact that Jennifer Ramatu could do so much incognito as a “silent giver” keeping the biblical injuction; “let the right hand not know what the left hand is doing”.
Cancer could have succeeded in taking her mortal body, but to the many Nigerians, high and low who came to bid her farewell, all cladded in immaculate white, as was willed by her, it was three days of dancing and celebration of a great human spirit, sweet mother, and a beautiful handmaiden of God. Worthy of note was the fact that most of the religious activities at Family Worship Centre had an equal presence of Christians of various denominations from, as much as Muslims, Jews and even Hindus. This all corroborates those great words by the Christian theologian, Apostle Paul who once challenged death in 1 Cor 13 that; “O death, where is your sting… but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”. When a good life is lived, the pain of death is vitiated by the enormous virtue of goodness which at any time belittles evil. The efficacy of death bringing pain to mortal men becomes totally overtaken by the joy of a good life, hence the towering legacy of Jennifer Ramatu Etuh. Indeed, her life portrays one of the most loving human souls and gave credence to the saying: “not how long one lives, but how well” is what gives a crown of glory, and lives behind an immortal legacy.
May the good Lord give strength to Uncle Thomas, the four boys and the rest of the Etuh family to keep the glowing flame of celebration of this good life for many years to come.
Ambassador Godknows Igali, OON