IN memory of my friend, the celebrated journalist MEE Mofe-Damijo who died 20 years ago in March 1996, I bring you my ‘Press Clips’ tribute to her published on Saturday, March 30, of the Weekend Concord. I also bring you a front page story I did sequel to her death. It’s all like yesterday. How time flies! MEE was such a sweet unforgettable friend who was as close to me as the late Dimgba Igwe. We all grew professionally under the editorship of the late Dele Giwa, at the Sunday Concord. Here is my tribute:
BLACK is the colour of MEE’s car, the blackness of sadness, the blackness of darkness, an opaque black without sun or moon. The blackness of her first Volkswagen Beetle car which she gave me while going to the U.S. to read for her first degree in journalism. The blackness of her Santana which she sold to buy her latest, a black Honda Civic she drove until her death.
How do you start writing the elegy of a beloved sister of the pen? How do you find the strength and the courage to string the words of sorrow together? How do you write about someone who writes the way you write, someone who writes with the heart of a poet? Someone who, like you, was born in Ghana and groomed professionally by the great Dele Giwa. Someone who is the chief priestess of the Dele Giwa cult and who died at the very age Dele Giwa died: 39!
May Ellen may not have died of a letter bomb like her master, but her death has exploded in our hearts, shattering us all into smithereens. Why must a woman work so hard to reach the top, to define herself into our national consciousness, only to fade out in sunshine, in the afternoon of her life? An owl has hooted from the edge of a dark song. The winds of death again have blown, blowing away the girl with the “windsong.” Things have suddenly fallen apart, and the dreamer can no longer dream, even though her eyes are closed in death’s dreamland.
Her life had been a life of many goodbyes, but ironically she never had the chance to say the last goodbye. I remember when she first said goodbye to Ghana, the land of her birth. I remember how she used to lament the goodbye of her first marriage that didn’t last. The coming to Sunday Concord. Saying goodbye to Sunday Concord and leaving for America to bag a degree in journalism. The joining of Newswatch. The goodbye to Newswatch and Quality magazine which she stamped her personality on. The coming on board to Weekend Concord to write the “MEE ON SATURDAY” column. The goodbye from Weekend Concord with a farewell column titled: “Never Can Say Goodbye.” Classique magazine and the fairy tale marriage to Richard Mofe-Damijo. Now, it’s goodbye to everything and everybody.
The last time I saw her, she was at the backseat of her Honda Civic. I overtook her, horned to greet her and she waved frantically.
“Mike, how now? Long time no see,” she said.
Prophetic! We would not see for a very long time. We wouldn’t even see again.
She stormed the Sunday Concord in 1982 as the party girl, the girl who would be reporting titbits about people in the limelight. From her accent and the tribal mark, I knew she must have been in Ghana. We struck an instant rapport, assisting her to graduate from a writer of titbits to the more challenging assignments of writing for the Sunday Concord magazine page which was the ultimate test then. MEE was ever ready to learn. She had the gift of a naturally talented writer and she never stopped reading fat novels. Robert Ludlum and all that stuff.
Her dream was to be a great journalist, a great novelist, and a great woman. To some extent, she attained some of the greatness. She carved her own niche. She created her own world and her own people. The “MEE People.” She brought the “MEE People” to Weekend Concord. She was part of the success story of Weekend Concord. Part of the family. She walked on the bridge of Weekend Concord on her journey to give birth to her baby, Classique. We put her on the cover of Weekend Concord and prophesied that the millions would roll in for her. And the millions rolled. But Classique died, dying with the mother.
It is a big tragedy she has to be on our cover again today. Black is the colour of MEE. Black is the colour of death.
She died vomiting blood –How I reported MEE’s death
ONE of the doctors who operated the late journalists, Mrs. MEE Mofe-Damijo, has spoken about how she died “vomiting blood from her intestines.”
According to the doctor, it was a strange and “unusual” occurrence that baffled the six doctors who thought they were handling a routine surgery to remove the fibroid from her.
“That episode was unusual for that type of surgery. Somebody you operated in the pelvis now passing blood from the mouth,” the doctor said. He continued: “Why should blood come from the stomach when we did not operate the stomach? The site of the operation healed very well. Remember we did not operate the intestines. The fibroid is not in the intestine.”
Since the death of Mrs. Mofe-Damijo, newsmen have been storming the hitherto obscure Providence Hospital in Surulere in search of clues to her shocking death. The chief medical officer, Dr. John Esangbedo, said he was busy, but directed me to the hospital’s Director of Clinical Services who agreed to be interviewed on condition of anonymity.
Asked if the “unusual” vomiting of blood has a spiritual or supernatural implication, the doctor said: “I am not talking of spiritual explanation. This is certainly unexpected. Bleeding from the stomach is unexpected.”
On what was done to staunch the vomiting of blood, the doctor said: “we passed something to drain what was collected there (in the stomach). What was coming out was bloody. We were shocked. We wondered: Why is this woman doing like this? But we were giving her adequate blood transfusion that was well-screened. There was no blood transfusion reaction. It is not everybody who has blood transfusion that can be saved.”
The doctor said another strange occurrence was that when MEE’s stomach was touched, “it was soft instead of being hard.” According to the doctor, the blood vomiting precipitated a second surgery. Said he: “The first surgery had been done and everything was fine. She was even reading novels, joking, playing with us. Then we noticed things changed gradually. We felt we had to scan her. We invited some doctors. When things are getting to this stage, we need to re-explore. It is not because of poor technique. Anything can happen that can make you go back to the theatre. Not because of poor technique or poor facility. We brought experts from other hospitals. What happened was unusual. It is not pertinent with the surgery we did. Let us not discuss the unusual.”
The doctor said prior to coming for operation, MEE “had had two previous surgeries outside this country. What we did was a repeat of the same fibroid. Let us just take it that we did our best. Providence is one of the best hospitals in Lagos. We parade a lot of equipment, highly skilled medical facilities. If this procedure was carried out in Britain, the same thing would have happened. It was not due to negligence nor poor monitoring. Can you imagine what we went through?”
In the middle of the interview, an old female doctor who was part of the team of surgeons that battled to save MEE’s life was questioned but she declined to answer. She would not even give her name. “I don’t know my name,” she said. “For 27 years I have been practising, nobody came to ask my name. The day that everything goes well, nobody talks. Doctors are not gods. Please, stop harassing us!”
With that she bolted the door and left angrily, muttering.
Back to the first doctor, she said MEE being a public figure, all precautions were taken, to ensure nothing went wrong. “We gave her the best ward, the one very next to the nursing section such that they were all at her beck and call. She was properly monitored.”
On whether MEE died on account of bad luck, the doctor replied: “I don’t believe in luck. It is an occultic language. Anybody who does surgery has some risk, which is why we make people sign consent form, so that when anything happens, you can’t hold the doctor. It is that little risk that makes us ask you to sign a consent form. We never expected death. Death is a callous entity.”