A lot of people only know him for his service to the public as a politician. But he is also a farmer and someone with high interest in public health.
Senator John Owan Enoh has invested so much in the fight against diabetes, through the JOE Foundation.
In this interview that was processed by Edith Chuku, he gave clues on how to overcome sickness.
You’ve been so passionate about the walk against diabetes and then you floated a foundation for this cause. Take us through the journey into this project.
Yeah. The journey started in 2016, when I turned 50, on the 4th of June 2016. Ahead of that, I don’t recall ever having celebrated a birthday, before this birthday in 2016. But turning 50 was defining. I said to myself perhaps for the first time, I am going to celebrate a birthday when I turn 50, but I also qualified it and I said, what will make me even more fulfilled to celebrate my 50th will be if I am able to identify some specific areas that I can intervene in human society, something that can add value, so it will not just be a celebration for the sake of a celebration, but a celebration that in itself has something to want to be working towards, at 50 and going forward.
I came to terms the more perhaps because I got an immediate junior brother who is a catholic priest, who in fact just celebrated the 25th silver jubilee of his ordination, who has gone to the US at some point, some years back and he came back and was diabetic, he wasn’t born with diabetes, he came back and was diabetic and I know what and what it has taken, what toll it has taken on him and even on my own pocket. So daily, while in public office, because of my attitude of responding to people, I know how many times I’ve had to respond to people who have cases of diabetes. So the idea just flashed through my mind and I said yes, I think I can go into diabetes, and I just called some consultants and I told them, okay, I’m going to be 50 on this date, I need you guys to put together some arrangements for me to float a foundation, and that is how, that gave rise to the John Owan Enoh Foundation for diabetes.
And on that day, it was formally launched and yearly, we have a programmes office, we have a programmes officer. Until now, we have coordinators in the local governments of the central, because don’t forget I also started this as a serving senator. So my area of coverage was actually the six local governments of the central. But I think that our activities and what we’ve done yearly, especially the yearly world diabetes day celebrations, which is always the 14th of November, it has also attracted interest and attention beyond the central to the extent that you know most of our diabetes walk, walkout diabetes activities on world diabetes day, people have come from across the state, friends, well wishers, supporters, to be part of the walk, so that’s where we are.
It’s not as if you were diabetic yourself.
No, I wasn’t and I am not, by the grace of God, but I didn’t have to be diabetic to respond to a social problem for example, or a health problem or a challenge in life. You don’t have to experience it. The closest it can get, maybe you have some body within the family who has experienced it, but it doesn’t also even have to do with somebody from within the family. The fact that you are aware of it, you are obligated for example if you are such, if that’s the kind of person that you are.
So between 2016 and now that you started this project, what’s the worst case of a diabetic patient that you have seen or heard?
Matters of this kind of details, I just wish, could easily be referred to my programmes officer because they are involved in the day to day engagement, the day to day interface with the various diabetes cases. I know for example that on each of my birthdays subsequently, the foundation celebrates both my birthday and also, in celebrating that birthday they also celebrate the anniversary of the foundation and they are in touch directly with diabetic patients across.
At the 5th anniversary of the foundation, on my birthday, the last world diabetes day that took place, the one of this year, which fell on a Sunday, and we celebrated it on the 15th of November, on Monday, the foundation has gone on. There are some that they have lost, there are some diabetes patient that they followed up, but in the course of time, they have also lost some lives.
Do you think people have got diabetes because of carelessness?
Well, not so much about carelessness. Yes, carelessness for those who know, or those who are aware, but people are also grossly ignorant of the facts. When you are ignorant of a situation, you are therefore not in the position to advise themselves in terms of proper conduct. So part of the work of our foundation is creating awareness, and I think that if you have to judge or evaluate the work of our foundation from the point of view of awareness creation, we’ve done fantastic. The fact that in the street of Ikom, on a yearly basis, it’s not just the foundation staff that are allowed to do this. I come from Abuja, I take part in the walkout diabetes activities, we print T-shirts and caps, and we are in the street of Ikom, we organize public lectures. Diabetes clubs have been formed in majority of the schools. So aside awareness, each of the sessions that we have organised in terms of having to organize some programmes to talk to people, the benefit of that is that it creates the awareness, advises people on the best health habits, get people to understand the types of diabetes; type one, type two, and the fact that you need to exercise, having to test yourself for sugar, you don’t take it for granted. We’ve done lots and lots of free sugar testing. So, people first are able to understand their status. If you know what your status is in terms of your sugar level, you will also be in a position to see how best you can control it. So it’s ignorance and carelessness and I think that the foundation is actually doing quite a lot to see how this can be promoted.
The other day, I read a statement from Obasanjo where he said for over 40 years, he has lived with diabetes, meaning it’s not entirely a hopeless situation
(Cuts in) It is not a hopeless situation, it is not at all. I mean it’s not a death sentence. He is a living example. The last I heard of him was when he said he has been with diabetes for 35 years. That was like five years ago. You are right to say he’s lived with diabetes for 40 years.
Have you encountered children who are diabetic?
I think the foundation staff, yes. They’ve encountered children who are diabetic. Most of the time, it’s more related to type one diabetes, the fact that they are born with it and things like that.
So, how far are you willing to go on this journey?
I am willing to go as far as we can. We started small, being located in the central senatorial district. But as I speak, we got volunteers now across Cross River for the foundation.
For the first time, the last world diabetes day was celebrated not in Ikom but in Calabar, Cross River State capital and with a commitment on that day to move the programmes office from Ikom to Calabar. This means a lot, both in terms of the scope of the work of the foundation. That means that after about four or five years of being located and limited, restricted within the central senatorial district, we’ve now upgraded. We are upgrading to the state level, with the planned setting up of the programmes office in Calabar and therefore coordinating the work of the foundation across the state.
We are hoping that so far, it’s been self-funding, but we are hoping that, especially coming to the state level, we will be able to, our work will be able to sell us enough to the extent that we can get some support from other bodies, not just across the country but the world all over, that we are going to be able to partner with some agencies that are going to share in our dreams and the moment we are able to do so, it sure gives us a greater ability and capacity to continue to engage and to intervene in this area that is quite a challenge.
What really would you want to achieve from all these investments and commitments to diabetes project, because I remember last month, people were saying oh, he is doing this because of governorship ambition; he is doing this because of politics and all of that?
Well, first, the goal is to achieve a diabetes free society, the goal is to create the kind of awareness to the extent that people look at having to mind or to care about having diabetes or not as a giver. The goal is to be able to set up structures that can assist diabetic patients because try as you try, because they are only people who are only diabetic, they must be managed, they must be assisted.
Talking about doing this because of politics, I’ve had cause to respond to comments like this and I said, for me, this is a power of vision. My commitment to public service has never been doubted. When I work for society, I work truly and sincerely. If gains come because of I am a politician, of course I take those gains. This foundation was set up in 2016, it wasn’t about governorship ambition, and it has continued to function and to be sustained. When I do things, I have always said I look forward to a day that I am going to get out of politics, maybe retire from politics, and then I still have my foundation fully functioning and running, that is going to continue to be my dream. Detractors are free to say what they like to say, but my challenge to those detractors will be well some of them are also politicians, and some of them are also politicians at my own level too, I don’t know what they’ve set up on their own, so they can also see how they can benefit politically from them, that’s my challenge.