“A Week In The Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.
The subject for today is Dr Asekun Ajibola, a veterinary doctor. He talks about being frustrated with the elders in his profession, the hidden dangers with the meat we consume, and his ticket out of all this mess.
I wake up by 5:30 am on most days. Sometimes when I’m extremely tired, like today, I don’t stand up until 6 am. After leaving my bed, I do some house chores and then iron my shirt for the day. I’m lucky that I live only 30 minutes away from work, so, when I’m done having my bath and dressing up, I still have time. I resume work by 8 am and it’s just 7 am, so I decide to pass the time by reading. As a veterinary doctor, it’s important to read every day if you want to avoid disgrace. Many people who bring their pets to the clinic have already googled their pets’ symptoms extensively and it’ll be embarrassing if you can’t answer their questions. Also, as a result of the ignorance surrounding this profession in Nigeria, we constantly have to prove ourselves.
You’ll hear people say that they’ve never been to a vet clinic before or that they didn’t know it existed. You’ll also hear people ask how can they keep pets or afford my services when they haven’t eaten well themselves? I’m used to these things so I just shrug it off. It doesn’t take away from the fact that I enjoy my job. For me, the best part of my job is trying to deduce what’s wrong with an animal. Everyone knows that animals can’t speak so you just have to observe the animal and ask the owner questions. Sometimes, we discover that owners are not observant and they don’t know what’s going on. Figuring out what’s wrong with the animal with little or no help at all always makes me feel like a superstar.
I’ll never forget the day that they brought a monkey to the hospital. It had been stooling and vomiting and for a while. The little guy was weak and at some point, we lost him. I remember having to do chest compressions to manually pump his heart back to life. It was a big deal for me because, before that incident, I’d never treated a monkey. Obviously, we read about them and wrote exams on them, but I’d never had that practical feel.
I remind myself to stop daydreaming and focus on my reading. Because of the nature of my job, I can’t predict how my day will be. It’s better to read what I can now because once I’m done, my day officially begins.
When I tell people that I’m a vet, the first thing they want to know is if I’ve been chased by a dog before. I tell them that the answer is yes. And they always sound surprised. I don’t know if people think that because I’m a vet, the dog automatically knows so it won’t chase me. The dog thing is even a stereotype because we also treat birds, fishes, rabbits, all kinds of animals — how many people do I want to tell? I just indulge them and tell them my story of being chased by a dog.
It was after my NYSC and I was trying to hustle some money. A friend reached out to me that someone needed to vaccinate her dog who had missed his routine vaccine. I agreed to go because I needed the cash. On getting to her house, the dog [caucasian breed] was already barking and wrangling the cage. I told the lady to hold her dog well and she agreed. She brought the dog out and hooked the chain to its collar. I don’t know what happened, maybe she wasn’t holding the dog well, but it slipped from her hand.
Our senior colleagues had told us several times to ask for an escape route once we get to a client’s house. For some reason, that day, I totally forgot.
As the dog charged towards me, adrenaline spiked in my body. There was a tree inside the house that till today, I don’t know how I jumped on. I can’t explain how I was able to jump that high. I stood on the branches looking down.
The girl was like “are you not a veterinarian?” and I was very angry. Does the dog know that one? If a dog is coming at you furiously, what kind of training do you expect them to give us in school to overcome that situation? I had to tell her to calm her dog down.
I instructed her on how to wear a mouth guard for the dog and I didn’t approach until the dog was properly restrained. Since that time, it’s always at the back of my mind. Anytime I go to someone’s house, I’m always like “bro/lady, please leave the door open. Don’t lock it so that if anything happens, I can run.” You can lose your life because some dogs are wicked and they’ll go straight to your neck where your jugular vein is located. If they bite down, you’re dead. Assuming you’re in a country with good medical facilities, you can still survive. But in Nigeria? – There’s no reward for bravery. Your life’s on the line and you have to be careful.
All these are not my problem for now. My problem today is getting to work because I am tired.
I’m working late today. Ideally, I get off work by 6 pm. But someone brought in their pet by 5:50 pm so we had to stay back to treat. It was an emergency where we had to perform surgery. It’s sad that even though I work 8 am – 6 pm from Monday to Saturday, and sometimes, even Sunday, my profession is not recognised in this country. The job takes so much of your time, and you sacrifice so much, but you get nothing in return.
The case of veterinarians in this country is pathetic and discouraging. As a vet, how many youths know about us? How many people have visited the clinic? There are a lot of things we are lacking in this profession. When you finish school, the surest route is to become a lecturer because you know that you’d get paid reasonably well, or you go into private practice. Some people who run farms and big poultry farms will employ like three vets to monitor and diagnose diseases and even formulate feeds.
Veterinary medicine is wide, but in Nigeria, the opportunities are limited. Vets are supposed to be a part of food safety – For example, in abattoirs where they kill cows for their meat, there are so many zoonotic diseases that can be gotten from animals. Vets ensure that meat not fit for human consumption is flagged. In this country, if they condemn your cattle because the animal is diseased (it has a communicable disease) the government is supposed to compensate the farmer at least 60% of the worth of the animal. But nobody will compensate you in this country. A lot of times when vets condemn the meat and bury it, the farmers will go to where it’s buried to fetch it so they can sell. In some cases, to prevent this from happening, the vet will compensate the farmer out of pocket.
If you’re working in a hospital or abattoir, you work every day. So, there’s literally no break and it’s just like human medics. You can’t plan your schedule because you can’t plan sickness. People can bring their pets anytime.
It’s very annoying because some of the older colleagues meant to be fighting for us are only fighting for their pockets. As long as they are getting paid higher than human medic[doctors], they are happy and they don’t care what’s going on. However, we still have some fighting for us despite everything. If you ask a young vet for their plan, you’ll hear that they either want to become lecturers or get employed by the Ministry. If none of this happens, there’s no future. Whenever I see human medics [medical doctors] who have a thousand times the opportunity we have leaving this country, I just shake my head for my profession. Thankfully, we have the japa route and that’s what people are now looking at.
What me I’m looking at is time. I just want to finish documenting this treatment plan so I can go home, turn on Netflix and just chill with my Blacklist series.
Today, at work, I can’t help but think about Nigeria. I keep thinking about the fact we’re in trouble and many people don’t even realise it. For example, a high percentage of the meat we consume has antibiotic residue in it. This is because cattle are mostly reared by people who don’t understand the implication of things. What happens is that these people treat their animals with antibiotics like metronidazole [flagyl] which is banned in animals meant for consumption. The worst part now is that they treat animals with these drugs a day before they are meant for slaughter. There’s not enough withdrawal period for the drug to leave the animal’s body so the drug stays in the meat. This is where vets are supposed to come in because we have kits that can detect these residues in dead animals. But then, you’ll see that a state like Lagos which slaughters the most amount of cattle per day has like only 8 – 12 vets on its payroll. How do you now expect these people to monitor everywhere? It’s even worse because poultry animals are also given these antibiotics and those ones can be slaughtered anywhere. At least cattles are still slaughtered at the abattoir.
Maybe when we say we’re not feeling fine and we need some antibiotics to help us feel better, they’ll say we are resistant to them. The sad part is that it’s as a result of what we are eating because people don’t value our services. But, will I now say that I won’t eat?
In fact, let me go and eat because it’s time for lunch. Thank God that the work is light today.
Today, I wake up tired. I’m always tired but I still have to show up at work. I remind myself that it will get better and the situation won’t be like this forever. I am sure because I am hardworking and I don’t give up.
It’s just sad that I spent 6 – 7 years in school [including strikes] alternating between clinics, class, internships, and studying. There was no time for anything else. Only to come out and realise that I don’t have any other skill outside of my certificate. In an ideal society, a certificate should be an optimal meal ticket until the day you die. You shouldn’t need to stress yourself about trying other things unless you want to. I believe that as a vet, your job should be able to afford you the basic needs in society. However, that’s not the case here: Many times, if you don’t have any other skill and you’ve expended all your energy getting the certificate, you just have to die on the line in this profession.
Another alternative for many of us is school admission so we can leave. With the way things are going in this country, it’s a surprise that vets still exist at all. Obviously, I’m not really surprised because we are trained to be versatile. That’s why we are all trying to learn new skills no matter how hard it is.
Personally, the skill I’m learning is to japa; to get out. The hope that it’ll get better kills Nigerians faster than anything. On the one hand, a little part of me is hopeful that things will get better. On the other hand, I’ll also like to go somewhere where people know my worth, I’m comfortable, and they appreciate me. My work should speak for me and I shouldn’t have to struggle for recognition every time. I’m still looking forward to a Nigeria where people recognise vets and give us the respect we deserve.
All this won’t matter if I don’t get up from this bed. I have to rush because I’m running late for work.
Editor’s note: Dr Ajibola says the 8-12 vets in Lagos is an estimate and may not necessarily be the reality.