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Ebola, Ewedu, Babalawo Professors, and NAFDAC

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. When I wrote my column last week titled “Nigeria’s Growing List of Voodoo Ebola Professors” I didn’t expect...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

When I wrote my column last week titled “Nigeria’s Growing List of Voodoo Ebola Professors” I didn’t expect it to be as impactful as it turned out. First, Professor Adebukola Ositelu,  the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) eye doctor who claimed, without any empirical evidence, that ewedu “can prevent and cure Ebola” (causing me to call her “a Babalawo professor”), as if responding to my criticism of her, doubled down on her outrageous claims.
Adebukola Ositelu
She told the Guardian that her ewedu prescription for the prevention and cure of Ebola was inspired by a revelation from God, not by scientific research. "This was revealed by God to His people at a reservation after prayers,” she said. “If you want, you take it, if you don’t want, you reject it. There is no cause for argument; the wisdom of God is more than any other person’s. He is the one who created all these things and He can reveal it to us as He wants. It’s a grace which I think everyone should embrace. Ewedu is what we all eat, but the way they told us to prepare it is very different from what we’ve been doing before because we use it as delicacy [sic]. But this time around, it is used as medicine, for prevention and cure.

 “This confirms that the wisdom of man is foolishness before God and He only grants knowledge when He desires so to do [sic] for the benefit of mankind, whereas many believes [sic[ that it is their ingenuity that grants them fame- this is underserved accord [sic]."

The contemptibly sinister ignorance contained in this absurd rant is simply beyond the pale. How in God’s name did a woman with this kind of superstitious and atavistic mindset become a professor of medicine? Medicine! I certainly wouldn’t want someone like that to treat me if I have eye problems. She’s a real danger to humanity.
It appears that this women either isn’t who she claims to be or needs some mental examination. Something is definitely amiss. When a medical scientist mistakes her bizarre hallucinatory fantasies as divinely ordained cures for a fatal, pernicious disease, you know something isn’t screwed right somewhere. The Nigerian Medical Association should investigate this woman and stop her from endangering more lives.

When I called her a “Babalawo professor” last week, I was only being facetious. But she has now justified the label by telling the media that she didn’t need scientific research or drug tests to come out with a novel cure for an unknown disease. She evidently missed her calling. She should be a witch doctor, not a medical doctor. In fact, I think she has already cast her lot with witch doctors.

It is tragic that there are many glorified witch doctors with lab coats like Ositelu in our hospitals and universities. They are more dangerous than Ebola. They are insidious, hard-to-detect but persistent and privileged human viruses of illiteracy who spread and replicate fatal medical ignorance among gullible and helpless people. “Professors” like Adebukola Ositelu are a blight and a crying shame on the Nigerian academe.

That is why I’m relieved that the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, (NAFDAC) said it would prosecute “Professor” Ositelu for “making unverified claims that could mislead the public.”

Interestingly, the language that NAFDAC used to call out Ositelu is eerily similar to the language in my column. For instance, NAFDAC’s Director General, Dr. Paul Orhii, was quoted in the Vanguard of September 17, 2014 to have said, “One consequence of these unsupported and possibly fraudulent claims is that people may be misled into a false sense of invincibility on account of eating Ewedu or bitter kola and drop their guards.”

Compare that to what I wrote in my September 13, 2014 column: “One of the consequences of their flippant, unsupported, and probably fraudulent, claims to herbal cures for Ebola is that scores of people may be led to let down their guards and to be lulled into a false sense of invincibility on account of eating ewedu, or bitter kola, or whatever other wacky herbal remedy some other lazy, attention-seeking voodoo professors may come up with.”

The NAFDAC DG obviously got some inspiration for his intervention from reading my column. That’s heartening, even flattering. Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery. But it’s perplexing that Ositelu made her first claim about the curative efficacy of ewedu for the treatment and prevention of Ebola at a NAFDAC event, and she wasn’t cautioned by NAFDAC until we called her out. Well, better later than never.

Ositelu’s pronouncements constitute a grave medical malpractice because she is exploiting her prestige as a professor of medicine in one of Nigeria’s leading teaching hospitals to practice and popularize babalawo (or is it mamalawo) medicine. The social basis of her legitimacy derives from the fact of her being a medical doctor who is thought to be trained in the scientific method, who rose through the ranks to become a professor of medicine. But she clearly regards herself as a witch doctor who has no use for science and research, for whom psychoactive oracular visions are superior to scientific inquiry.

I hope people of conscience in the Nigerian medical and pharmacological community will rise up and speak up against this charlatan in their midst.

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