-By Dr. Godknows Igali
On that frosty, soft breezy morning of Sunday, 30th September 2018 at 6am, doctors at the Guys Cancer Centre, London Bridge Hospital, London, pronounced the once burly West African politician and former Nigerian lawmaker, Senator David Cobbina Brigidi dead. At just 56 years of age, he yielded to cancer of the Liver which he had battled from August 2018, when it was first diagnosed. Few days earlier, one of the doctors who is a ranking oncologist had walked up to the hospital bed and pronounced, quite ominously: “Mr. David, you are quite ill and I’m afraid I can’t stop the cancer or reverse its attack”.
How helpless all felt, if one of the most brilliant medical scientists in world, just reaffirmed our simple human limitations. Indeed it threw our memories back to the Roman Consul, Pontius Pilate, who simply washed his hands off the case of the Lord Jesus Christ which was before him!
Sen David’s experience with cancer which was quite brief, aggressive and malignant was not totally amiss as this increasingly but regrettably, seem to portend modern day living. Sadly, about the time of Sen David’s exit, several great Nigerians, including the mother of Bayelsa State Governor, Mama Goldcoast Dickson, Rivers State Attorney General, Barr Emman Aguma, SAN, Former, House of Representatives Member, Hon (Princess) Funke Adedoyin, former Information Minister, John Odey and former Bini born leading businessman, Sir Osato Ize-Iyamu, led in the list of Nigerians that fell under clasp of cancer within a span of few days or weeks apart from one another. If we cast our minds back, other notable Nigerians such as Prof Dora Akinyuli, Oronto Douglas, suffered similar fate.
The word cancer comes from the Greek – “karkinos” to describe the tumors which it creates. This was by the physician Hippocrates, who is regarded as the father of the medical sciences. As a matter of fact, that word translates as, ‘crab or creeping ulcer’ just like the limbs of a crab.
It is against this backdrop that, Sen David also succumbed to the dreaded disease rather prematurely. His final internment held on Friday, 14th December 2018 in the peaceful Kaiyanbiri village, in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. Accessible only by water, this community is deep in the heart of the Ijaw nation and the Niger Delta.
While we bemoan the trail of this seeming plague, it is fit to celebrate our departed Senator and boldly eulogize his worthy life. A life of always pioneering, always serving, always leading and always remaining on the winning side.
His birth and nestling days were in the picturesque town of Beyin, Nzemaland, on the Atlantic coast, of Ghana’s West Region. Like the great Pan Africanist, Kwame Nkrumah, also a son of Nzema extraction, all who came the way of the chubby lad, David, as he grew, presaged the rise of a new star. So, for the people of Nzema ethnicity, an indigenous Akan subgroup straddling Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire southernmost border regions, the young David, offered great promise of renewed political relevance for this relatively minority group. He was not only able to top his class at every stage of primary and secondary education, but always navigated afloat as a leader of all good and common causes of his peers.
Rather than continue his upward movement in the comfort of his maternal grandfather’s influence as a revered Nzema traditional ruler, David took the decision to relocate and reconnect with his father, Chief Saiya Brigidi, who had returned to Nigeria much earlier. This came just after he disenrolled from Sixth Form at the prestigious Presbyterian Boys School in the city of Legon. Just like the ancient city of Ibadan in South West Nigeria, Legon is also host community to the University of Ghana which since its establishment, also in 1948 as a University College, by the erstwhile British colonial administration has continued to lead in scholarship in Africa.
Yet David moved to Nigeria to spend his adolescent years in the swampy creek village of Kaiyanbiri. He spoke no Ijaw at the time, but soon became youth leader in the immediate communities of Bomo clan. He also began to show brilliance and an unquenchable penchant for excellence and upward movement. Before long, he gained admission to study Law at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology. (RSUT), Port-Harcourt. The Garden City which at that time and till date is a kind of big apple easily swallows up, greenhorns. But the bustle of city, this cosmopolitan hub of the South-South and Oil capital of Nigeria, could not cower or intimidate David. Rather he assailed and soon earned for himself the sobriquet: ‘Sankara’. He got that name, after the once inspirational and youthful military strongman of Burkina Faso (Thomas Sankara). He quickly became an authentic “Port Harcourt Boy” emerging as a leader of several youth fraternities and the Student Union Government.
With his completion of legal studies and call to the Nigerian Bar, he plunged headlong into a proper presence in Rivers State and Bayelsa politics. As Nigeria’s last military strongmen, Gen Ibrahim Babangida, Gen Sani Abacha and Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar, struggled to return the country back to democratic government in the mid 1990s, Brigidi now a Barrister at a relatively young age, quickly learnt at the feet of the big names in politics. He soon emerged as leader at various levels in the former Social Democratic Party (SDP), the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP) and ultimately the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which eventually formed the Federal Government in 1999. In a young state where big wigs such as Melford Okilo, Pere Ajuwa, Zeb Abule, Gordon Bozimoh and the like were still around, confidence of the elders was reposed on him. He consolidated the PDP to its electoral victory at different levels in Bayelsa State. This included the emergence of DSP Alamieyeseigha as Governor while he secured a seat for himself as a Senator.
Senator Brigidi’s upliftment to Abuja as a Senator representing Bayelsa Central at the youthful age of thirty-eight, as one of the three youngest members of the Upper Chamber left none in doubt that the “young had grown”. Senator Brigidi matured the more, overnight, not just as an astute law maker but left his imprint in all the committees, especially Petroleum Downstream and later Independent Electoral Commission – INEC, which he Chaired or served. Senator Brigidi became a national bridge builder and emblazoned a new generation of politicians whose understanding of the opportunities for national coalition and integration in Nigeria were unparalleled. Remarkably, unknown to many, he spent endless nights, to help the Niger Delta Caucus at the time, including the venerated ‘Countryman’, Senator Melford Okilo, Chief Whips Senator Stella Omu and Adawari Pepple, as well as Senators Fred Brume, Martins Yellowe, Emmanuel Diffa, Sam Mbata, Inatimi Spiff, JK Brambaifa, etc, draft the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Bill. He was the bubbling darling, the shining star of the Upper Chamber from 1999 to 2007.
Senator Brigidi’s post Senate years enabled him to establish his place in the Oil and Gas industry, which the people of the Niger Delta from where this God-given resource is taken continue to be excluded and shut-out.
Senator David also used the time to help make peace in our much trouble Niger Delta, under the mandate of the rather angelic, President Umar Musa Yar’Adua in 2008. This was a prelude to the Presidential Amnesty Programme. Having myself earlier served both President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Yar’Adua as Liaison Officer to the militants, from 2006-2007, one can better appreciate the enormity of efforts in helping prepare the then aggrieved youth to lay down of arms.
As his profile grew, Senator Brigidi opened a new page in life by devoting time to consolidate the fraternal ties between Nigeria and Ghana. In particular, between the Ijaw people and the Nzema people, who in the first place provided healthy fishing grounds for many Nigerians to settle in Ghana in the 1930s to the 1950s. The story goes that it was during that period that the young, tall, handsome wrestling champion, Pata Saigha met the Nzema Princess, then Miss Beatrice Ama Whyte.
Today, his legacy is not just the in the eight vibrant children he bore with his Ghana born wife, but also in the Karela Group of companies in Ghana that stand to the testimony to his earthly endeavours. An example of his Ghana footprint is the Karela United Football Club, Nzema, which he bought over in 2014. It has since moved to Premier League, boasting of two players in the indefatigable Black Stars Ghana national team and the star striker in the Sierra Leone national team. Indeed, Karela United on 2nd May 2018 defeated by 3-1, the famous Ashanti Kotoko FC, which in the past terrorised other African club sides and in 2005 won the African Club of Century. The word Karela itself is name of his first daughter and mean in Ijaw language, “God has answered our prayers”.
Nearly 6,000 years ago, ancient Egyptian physicians had left records in their hieroglyphs writings of the frustration which this strange attack, on the human body, now known as cancer posed to them at that time. Lately archeologists and forensic scientists began to probe into the serenity of the mortal remains of Egyptian nobility now “mummified” for thousands of years and discovered that quite a few died of cancer. This means that cancer has been amongst human society for quite some time. Worrisomely, it now appears to be on a new war path.
No doubt, the progressive march of human civilization has led to some of the most outstanding breakthroughs in medical and biomedical sciences. The successes in DNA and genetic engineering, Stem cell research and treatment, Liquid biopsies, Radiotherapy and Radiological imagining, Immunotherapy, Organ Transplant, Cardiac Surgery and Care, and many others have taken the world on a quantum leap. But the cancer puzzle and riddle remains an enigma and a blight.
At Guys Cancer Centre, London Bridge Hospital, Senator David Brigidi, like many other gallant survivors combated the disease with confidence and with hopeful faith. Faith focused on overcoming this monster as many have. But like others before him, cousin David had his eyes on eternal life free from the ravages of cancer. So, Sen Brigidi whispered continuously while I was at his bedside, “Brother, tell everybody, I am fine”. “I’m okay”.
As David and many many others rest permanently, our prayer is that sooner than later, there will be a breakthrough on this cancer debacle and stronghold on mankind.
Dr. Igali is a Diplomat and Administrator. His book Perspectives on Nation State Formation in Africa, won multiple awards in 2015