Sickle Cell Disorder is one of the most common chronic yet treatable genetic disorders in Nigeria and several other parts of the world. Millions of those who encounter this disease often have tales of woe and lamentation to tell.
Living with this disorder is the only life that Alhaja Ashiata Aduke Onikoyi-Laguda has ever known since she was born on the 1st of November, 1925.
Widely acknowledged as the oldest person with Sickle Cell Disease in the world, Madam Onikoyi-Laguda has had a fulfilled life regardless of the chronic disorder.
Alhaja Asiata Aduke Onikoyi-Laguda With antecedents in the famous Onikoyi family of Isale Eko, in the heart of Lagos, Mama Ashiata (the righteous one) is a celebrity of international repute. Unarguably one of the oldest persons living with Sickle Cell Disorder, her home is a Mecca of sorts, people coming from all over the world to pay obeisance.
As she turns 92 in a few days, the matriarch is as full of life as ever even as she remains a relentless fighter against the enervating illness. A recent encounter with the nonagenarian was a pleasant surprise. Mama Onikoyi-Laguda, as she is fondly called, was having a late morning nap when Saturday Vanguard called at her residence, a story building in the heart of Ilasamaja, a Mushin suburb on Lagos Mainland.
She sat up in the double bed that was placed at one end of the spacious living room of the 3-bedroom apartment on the 1st floor of the modestly adorned building. Unhurried, she spoke: “You are welcome to my home.”
Her voice was soft but firm and steady. A bit wrinkled but not for the worse, Mama Onikoyi-Laguda exuded an aura of resoluteness, courage and determination. “Sit by my side,” she gestured, smiling to reveal a complete set of healthy dentures. Scattered on the bed are various items including a rechargeable fluorescent lamp, clothes, a walking stick and different volumes of the Holy Koran and the Holy Bible.
In the midst of the exchange of pleasantries, a young man in dreadlocks entered the room bearing a tray with a steaming hot plate of rice and spaghetti. He announces it’s lunch time and Mama requests to be excused to take her lunch. She introduced the young man as Bolaji Alakija, one of her grandsons. “Bolaji takes care of me. He cooks, washes and cares for me. “ After eating up half of the contents of the plate, Mama requested for an orange-flavoured bottle of soft drink. “I eat and drink whatever I want. I’m allowed to indulge as long as it is edible,” she announced to her guests.
Lunch over, she sat back and settled down to chat. Her memory is not as good as it used to be about a couple of decades ago, but she has enough agility to move around the apartment unaided. “I do not feel 92. I actually feel younger,” she said excitedly. “Even when I turned 90, I felt the same. But it is obvious age is telling on the energetic nonagenarian.
Even she confesses she is no longer able to cook her meals, wash her own clothes and do many of the things she used to do on her own. That is now the responsibility of Bolaji, her grandson who is now her guardian and full time housekeeper. Day she fell down “One thing I must admit however is that I cannot run again, not since I had a fall.” Relieving the incident, Mama admitted that she probably over did things. “It was not long after my 90th birthday.
On the day in question, I washed my clothes, spread them outside and then went out. But the weather changed and it appeared it was going to rain. I did not want my clothes to be ruined by rain and so I was rushing back home to gather the clothes when I tripped and fell face down.” She injured her right hand and for a whole year couldn’t use it properly. She couldn’t even eat with the hand.
Prior to her 90th birthday, Mama was still going out on her own “Now I have overcome the illness. There is nothing I don’t eat so long as it is edible. I do not like to worry my grandson, so since I fell, I can only walk in this living room and at times I walk downstairs. Going down memory lane, for Mama, in many perspectives, the pains of the Sickle Cell Disorder are a distant memory, confined into the past. For her, the worst is over.
No more pain, no more strain but a lot of gain. Early years “When I was born, they said I was Ogbanje (evil child) because no one understood the illness. My late mother had had a child that died previously and she was quite advanced in age when she had me. “My early years were full of pain,” she recounted with a glimmer in her eyes. “It was one crisis after another. My mother said the crises began when I was three years old and I had an attack of measles. The outcome was pain all through and till the end. “I was having pain in my hands and legs. The pain was so bad I was unable to eat using my hands.
Walking was also very difficult because of the pain in my legs.” Mama recalled that because of the persistent pain, she developed a habit of sitting or standing by the fireside. “Sometimes, my clothes got scorched because I was staying too close to the fire, but I thank God that now I can sleep under the fan and with the air-conditioner switched on.” On 30th of September 1960, the eve of Nigeria’s independence, Mama left the shores of Nigeria for the United Kingdom. She recounted the event. “In 1960 when I was to travel to England for further studies there were fears that I might not survive the cold weather over there. My mother in particular worried so much about this, but I was able to reassure her that the God that was keeping me alive in Nigeria would also keep me alive in England. So I travelled to England and even gave birth to a child in 1962 while I was there. That child is Mrs Mosun Adeniji.”