The Black Wednesday in East Gonja-13th November 2002 – Iddrisu Mbanya

INTRODUCTION: In 1999, there was a wild polio virus isolated in one of the Island communities in the East Gonja District called “37” and the DHMT had no idea…Message came from National to RDHS Dr. Sylvester Anemana who in turn notified the DDHS then,Mr Sarpong Manu. The DDHS had never heard of the name before.

This community 37 is an on and off community in the middle of the Volta Lake West of Yeji or Mankango about 70 nautical miles. The DHMT led by Sarpong,Iddrisu(myself), Alice,PHN,(retiree DDHS) Patrick Apoya(then with GWorm) embarked on an expedition on the Volta Lake through Kafaba to search for this community, 37. The name of the expedition was ” VOYAGE FOR 37″ This community was identified and the population was 67…The report is in my file in East Gonja..This trip gave birth to extension of health services to Island Communities unreached in the middle of the Volta Lake…..This journey had it’s report.. But that is not for my discussion now.

So how come the Black Wednesday Day debacle?:::::: So now that it became incumbent on us to serve these island communities, we had to hire engine boats comb round for more communities to offer at least EPI services. Meanwhile we were not swimmers and these communities follow the tides. So today you meet a community ,the next time it’s off .Amalgamated into another community either on the lake or off to the mainland communities. Very arduous task for us.All this was done with no special package ooo!! If it existed we and I as the program coordinator and executioner didn’t know…. So on Wednesday 13th November 2002,I had just come from UCC .(a resident student for a two year course on Health Sciences Education) back to a district I had already worked from 25th March 1998. So it was one of our Polio NID activities and East Gonja District comprised present East Gonja,Kpandai and Salaga North Districts.

The second largest district in the country then with West Gonja as the largest district in the country, where I had worked for six years( August 1992 to March 1998). In East Gonja then the whole of Buma- Abromase was our typical HTRA noted country wide with no staff resident there. The place was demarcated as Mainland Communities and Island Communities… So at NIDs we finish Jantong (just around Tamale Banvim) to Kitare by the Oti River ,that is Salaga and Kpandai communities… Then draw staff from all the sub districts and motorbikes with a pickup or two to move to the Abromase and Buma communities. On the mainland itself we had to search for communities as they are settler farmers…Now we had on our hand Island communities service.

So this Wednesday, we planned to have a team for island services whilst the traditional teams move to mainland communities (Buma and Abromase)…..Now the story of the Black 13th Wednesday begins and please its very tragic and must be read through…… We were a team of 17 people 14 Health Staff and 3 crew members hired with their ,engine boat to send us for Polio Immunization (NID).

This time our DDHS was Dr Sarkodie,Alice Tang(PHN) Iddrisu Mbanya(DDCO)…….So now let’s have cursory look at the 14 health staff…..Iddrisu Mbanya(the program coordinator),Alice Tang,(PHN),latest DDHS,Kpandai), retiree ,Dahamata Braimah(midwife), Rose Adama(midwife) now retiree,Dora Frico(midwife) deceased (MHSRIPP),Comfort Braimah(midwife) now retiree, Rebecca Nanyame(midwife) now retiree,Fati Badoe(CHN),Abiba Bawa (CHN) James Achan(Env Off), Anaba Danladi(Env Off) now retiree, Baba Karim(SFT-DC) now retiree, Abukari Musah(FT-DC) now in Sudan with STOP….Our regular members who had been going there were Alice,myself, Abukari, James,Anaba,Abiba,Baba Karim.

All the other young CHNs and DCOs were on the mainland side including Mbabila Awuni as TO- DC,Kpandai. But these midwives had heard of our expeditions over the years and said they would like to be part so that saw their inclusion not knowing it was going to be a day of reckoning….. Story yet to start? Yes be patient….As this team of 14 strong health staff with a 3 crew staff left off from Mankango it was just like an expedition. We left behind us at Mankango,our pickup and driver Aliu Mahama,now retiree and some motor bikes. In our boat were two AG-Yamaha motor bikes.! On reaching the islands the boat had to drop teams at various communities in the middle of the Lake and the motorbikes used to comb for other communities to immunize children 0-5 years against Poliomyelitis. Now listen to major communities visited… Agege,Blakiekope,Adedokope, Adovikpe, Tomatoeskope,”37″, Freetown, Nyamebekyere, Neopla,Paniakope, Israel,Tikpakpo,Bokokope etc…. Thinking that we could finish all these communities and return to Mankango about 70 nautical miles to the first community, that never was. Before the boat could pick all persons it was already getting late for us.So when we all embarked on the boat and set sail back to Mankango it ,was almost about 6:00 pm… It wasn’t a journey to sleep and we had been going through from self motivation without any problem though too expeditious….As we were on board it was time to break out Fast( it was FASTING TIME FOR WE THE MUSLIMS) I intentionally shelved that from the beginning. So at 6:30pm Dahamata Braimah offered me mashed kenkey to break my fast..All I could see was water splashing on us.

So I remember asking “What is that?” “Why all of a sudden water splashing on us?” Then the all of a sudden quietness in the boat. Before we could know what was happening we were in turbulent waters amid crying ..I’m literally crying now as I write….Then the intensity of the “boiling waves” started increasing…. Now ask our safety level..Did we all have life jackets? No!!!!! For the limited number of the life jackets, we the men had given out ours to the women but we were equally stones in water. Madam Alice as a woman had no life jacket.The boat goes to one side and we all cry out then turns to the other side and we respond with crying… I’m remembered of crying saying “So Hakeem won’t know his father? My Hakeem was just two months old.He is now in BISCO first year Green Track!!!… Madam Comfort Braimah took off her life jacket that death should come..I can’t control my tears as I write… Too bad,!!!! Hajia Damata Braimah (current sister of Savanna Reg Minister) was just reciting Surat Quraishy(a prayer from the Koran).


I was at the back of the boat with Comfort and Haj Damata with our two motor bikes falling on each other at our back. All this time in total darkness amidst roaring turbulent waters without even touch light. As every other second or minute determined our death, we got to a point where the PONTOON itself was caught up in the woods off its path. That was when we knew death is not nice to stare at you crudely… The pontoon slept there till the next day.But the pontoon occupants are like being in your house on water. I asked a crew member amidst crying that couldn’t we get to the pontoon. And the answer was negative for they could not control the engine boat. And it was even more dangerous for us to dare… All this while amidst this heavy storm which took its strength from Lonto area,our driver Aliu was at the Mankango shores also wailing that what he had seen and up to 7:30pm ,he hadn’t sighted us,meant we were probably dead. In our pandemonium, we saw a touch light from our driver with the pickup hazard lights on but the distance was still there.

By Providence when we were about 100 metres to the shore all of a sudden storm was subdued into thin air…What a great sigh of relief.. But the crew advised us to maintain our calm as if you panic and fall into the water,then cos90 comes in. So upon reaching the shore at about 7:45pm, all silent and we embarked on on our journey from Mankango to Salaga……,,…………….


I have many stories to tell but this was at the peril of our lives to save children of some people who had decided not to live on mainland for their livelihood but choose to be on water creating communities at will depending on tides of the river..And so surprising is the fact that no one had fish with him or her…The reason being that their fish is already booked by Yeji and Kumasi fish mongers….The polio immunization was free and we all nearly perished for the love of this Public Health.

My motivation is get a copy of this write up to all the gallant health workers who nearly laid down their lives for others who were doing business…. I have used days calling members to cross check some few facts to make this writeup a MEMORABLE ONE..I have literally wept and more participants would weep for reminding them of a never to forget pain. How much were we paid???? magine the Headlines in the Dailies …..FOURTEEN HEALTH WORKERS PERISH ON VOLTA LAKE FOR SAVING CHILDREN AGAINST POLIOMYELITIS…. You the Ogundipes can add yours…Now what do we see of our health workers??? This is what we came from school and laid our lives for and now we are told we are not lettered. Who dare say so? ………………..THIS GAVE BIRTH TO SWIMMING COURSE!!!!.IN 2003 TEN of us were selected to go for swimming course at Sekondi Naval Base…Laughable!!! How many days swimming course?

ONE DAY!!!! Myself,Mbabila late Dora Friko,Awal Mohammed, Abiba Bawa,Abiba Mahama,etc went to Sekondi…Coincidentally Dr Sylvester Anemana was then the newly transferred Western RDHS…In the closing ceremony, he invited me to give Overview of Extension H/Services to Island Communities in the Northern Region vis a vis the National Perspective. This I did with nostalgic feeling of what we had gone through from identifying THIRTY SEVEN and later THE BLACK WEDNESDAY. Comrades some health workers have over sacrificed. It’s nauseating now to put up one’s best .I leave in Peace not to use bad words when some leaderships have made people’s work very difficult…. Other experiences and stories would be told henceforth. DIST: NR RDHS,DEP PH HSA,ALL VICTIMS…….Compiled by Iddrisu Mbanya.. Perpetual Public Health Servant…sign:

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