A few weeks ago, Nigeria lost one of its illustrious sons – Mr. Tayo Aderinokun, one of the founders of Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) which in my humble opinion is the best bank in Nigeria at the moment. May his soul rest in peace. I do not know him personally, but I am very much in awe of his legacy. I pray that God grant his family, the grace and the courage to bear with his loss.
Nevertheless, most of the death notices said he’d been on sick leave from the bank for a few months prior to his death, but precious few mentioned the actual cause of death which is quite customary in Nigeria. However, I did find one newspaper that stated that he had cancer of the lungs and that he had been a dedicated chain smoker in his life. I was saddened that his family decided not to highlight that he died of cancer to provide a teachable moment to all the smokers out there that smoking can and does indeed cause cancer. Anything we can do to avoid this horrible disease as well as support research that may eliminate this scourge in our society should be encouraged. I know that the Nigerian instinct is to gloss over the cause of death – “after a brief illness” is the most common cause of death in Nigerian society.
I know this because I lost my father to pancreatic cancer in 2004 and my nuclear family had to fight our extended family to say in his death notice that he died of cancer. We decided to do so, not to stigmatize ourselves – cancer is for the most part arbitrary and can develop in any body – but to help de-stigmatize the stress on the families of cancer victims. And also, maybe just maybe, inspire someone enough to work hard to find a cure for this horrific disease. Mr. Aderinokun was such a high profile victim and his death could have been used to raise awareness and generate money for cancer research and awareness. I wish his family had chosen to make decision to highlight the existence of cancer in our society and help remove the stigma of cancer but I can understand why they may choose not to. Again, this piece is written not as an indictment of the grief-stricken family, it is just an observation on my part and commentary. Of course, the family may choose to support cancer charities and research privately and if so, more kudos to them.
The point I am trying to make is that we need more cancer research and awareness programmes. Often times the best way to generate this kind of awareness is when a high profile person is stricken with cancer. Most people feel a need to contribute to the elimination of the illness that has taken their beloved from the world. I know this personally, because I felt exactly that way when my dad died (in fact I was so motivated and inspired, I ran a half marathon – 13.1 miles – to raise money for pancreatic cancer research). In any case, Mr. Aderinokun’s death is a wake up call to me to do more to support cancer care and awareness in my little bit of the universe and I pray for the courage to be able to do so and bring about change in the world!