When the story of Dr. Theresa Ugalahi, the Nigerian female medical doctor, who was badly battered by a fellow doctor cum Air Force officer, identified as Dr. Chukwuemeka Okpara, first hit social media platforms, I almost dismissed it as one of those offensively exaggerated misunderstandings between two individuals, blown out of proportion by concerned parties. The pictures that accompanied some of the posts, which went viral, were not even able to convince me to give the story more than a passing attention, especially since the different social media platforms had become practical points to settle personal and other scores. One could have argued, and rightly too, that the cause of the celebrated quarrel could not have been as simple as what was highlighted in many of the posts that broke the news. This is without trivialising the import of beating, in whatever form, a fellow human being, much less a harmless woman, in public.
But the story, unlike some of its type, arrested my attention when the Association of Resident Doctors, through its President, was quoted to have confirmed the news. My mind immediately sailed back to September 2015, when a former Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, dropped the bombshell that about 64 million Nigerians were suffering from one mental disorder or the other, even though this was not directly evident.
Nebo had identified causes of mental illness to include genetic composition, neurological/psychological experiences and environmental stress.
“The belief of many Nigerians that mental disorder comes due to supernatural forces and can only be cured through traditional practices and supernatural incantations, must give way for the realities of modern conditions, which in fact, produce the stress that causes these conditions,” he added.
Pondering on the psychological or mental state of a professional, who could exhibit such babarism as reported in the media, therefore, authenticates the assertion of Nebo and many other experts, who imply that not everyone walking on the streets in shirt and tie, or skirt and blouse, can be given a pat on the back without dangerous consequences.
In fact, nothing best captures the scenario than the declaration of the Chief Executive Officer, Mental Health Foundation, Mr. Emmanuel Owoyemi, who was quoted in the August 21, 2013 edition of Newswatch Times to have said that “the few people who are walking naked on the streets cannot be compared to millions of Nigerians that would hit the road if nothing is done.” He linked this to economic and psychological torture, being faced by many Nigerians, which could trigger disguised or evident mental illness.
A brief recap of what actually transpired between Ugalahi and Okpara, both staff of the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, would leave the discerning with no other choice than to believe, without bias, that there may be an urgent need to subject more Nigerians to psychiatric examinations to determine their true mental health.
Ugalahi, who is currently battling a brain disease as a result of heavy punches she allegedly received from Okpara, was put in her present condition as a result of a matter as simple as a neighbour’s car obstructing another neighbour’s in the same compound.
The mad fury reportedly set in for the Wing Commander in the Nigerian Air Force just because he claimed that the female doctor wasted time in coming out to re-park her car so that he could leave for work.
One hot word followed the other and the next thing was merciless punching of a fragile, harmless, sickle-cell anaemia patient until her brain coverings became badly damaged.
When The Point’s correspondent, Olanike Akinrimisi, contacted the embattled Okpara, he unwittingly confirmed the incident on the telephone, but was quick to add that it was a set up.
He said, “Contrary to what is reported everywhere, I would say that this is a set up and blackmail. They even told the police who came to arrest me that I should be imprisoned immediately. In fact, she was the one who hit me with pedal padlock. I did not assault her. We have been good friends.
“I also made efforts to apologise to her at the hospital, but she refused to see me. Now, the management of OAUTHC set up a panel to investigate the issue, but I’ve been judged already, without giving me the opportunity to see and reply to the petition.”
On her part, Ugalahi said she needed to be flown abroad for surgery and proper care, confirming also that her brain coverings had been damaged.
She narrated her ordeal in the hands of ‘Power Mike’, first hand, to our correspondent, recounting how he almost stripped her as he dealt deadly blows on her nose and forehead and attempted to hit a pedal padlock on her head but for the timely intervention of neighbours.
Now, it may be in order to assume that the Commander was in a very bad mood the day this ugly incident happened. But the accounts of three other staff of the teaching hospital, who alleged that the same Okpara had, at different times, assaulted them violently over minor issues, throws up a need for proper examination of the mental stability of the man in question.
In other climes, the blood sample of the doctor accused of battering another in such manner would have been taken to the laboratory for scientific “discoveries”.
In many countries also, assault cases, when established, could attract prison terms of between five and 25 years. This particular case, especially with revelations of a chain of similar events, should be pursued to a logical conclusion, in the interest of Ugalahi, Okpara himself and the society at large. Giving the case the desired treatment will help so many Nigerians, who have been turned to mental wrecks as a result of economic and/or other hardships, better manage their ‘corporate’ insanity.
No assault case is too minor to be ignored.
For instance, in 2007, the Ninth U Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a Washington DC man’s conviction under 18 U.S.C. Sec. 113(a) (5) for spitting in another man’s face on the grounds of a Veterans Administration hospital.
Jeffrey Paul Lewellyn was found guilty of committing simple assault and was sentenced to two years of probation, 50 hours of community service and a $10 special assessment. If this ‘trivial’ issue attracted such penalties, as cited on the online platform: whocanIsue.com, how will the Ugalahi saga end?Nigerians are eager to know.