Mary Adekogbe is a former support worker at King’s College Hospital, London, NHS Foundation Trust, and Assistant Secretary for Welfare at the Central Association of Nigerians in the UK. She tells Alexander Okere about her contributions to the growth of the Nigerian community in the UK and how her upbringing has inspired what she does
what Do you have fond memories of your childhood?
I am from Ondo state but I grew up in Lagos Island. I attended St. Matthias Primary School on the island and Aunty Ayo’s High School. I attended a parish college in Akure. It was fun being a kid in the ’80s; I grew up with many social activities in my neighborhood and school. Compared to now, we’ve been busy. I participated in debates at school and was a member of the church choir I attended. Nowadays, many children are unemployed.
She also attended Yaba College of Technology. I studied statistics and mathematics but that was not my choice. I wanted to study real estate management but when I couldn’t meet the requirements I had to study mathematics and statistics. At the initial stage, I struggled with it, but later I found a way to deal with it. The course made me arithmetic. I later left for the UK.
What kind of education did you get?
My father Samuel Fadahonse worked with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and Chevron Corporation. He was a principal photographer. My mother worked as a secretary in the Federal Aviation Ministry. My parents played a role in the kind of discipline I had. My father was also a soldier, so he was a very strict person. He didn’t speak much but when he did, one knew they had made a mistake. He would point at us with his eyes or stamp with his foot to tell us we had sinned. My mother was the type to advise us and talk to us about our mistakes.
You said you went to the UK. What took you there?
My father-in-law took care of me in the UK.
For any reason?
I told him I wanted greener pastures. It was in 2004. Although things were better back then but there were family challenges, so I thought traveling abroad would be better. She later got a job at King’s College Hospital, London as a support worker.
What was your first impression when you arrived in the UK?
Everything there was amazing. Their way of life is different from ours. The environment was clean, there was infrastructure and the power supply was stable there. The people there are loving and welcoming.
How did you shift from statistics to the health sector?
You have trained to the required level. I had to study English because the English that is spoken in the UK is different from the language we speak in Nigeria; I’m still studying anyway.
What is your impression when you think of the health sector in Nigeria?
I feel sorry for our health sector. I have been to three hospitals since my return to Nigeria and it has not been a pleasant experience. I feel sorry about it because I love Nigeria and I want the best for this country. We need to improve.
Where should improvement begin?
We can start from our mentality. What I’ve noticed since I got back is that everyone wants money and if everyone wants money beyond their paycheck, I don’t think things will work out. Corruption is a very big problem – from the bottom up. One has to pay before it can be heard and that’s bad.
How different is it in the UK?
If a person in the UK needs help they can only make a call or go to the Accident and Emergency Unit, if they do not need to see a GP as this can take some time. One can also call 999 and the workers from A and E, as they are called, will come in an ambulance. Paramedics will later deliver your file to the doctor to check if admission is required. They take care of patients right away. I work more with communities. Many people think that anyone who does not have the documents required to live in the UK will be removed from the hospital. this is not true; One just has to go there.
Do you interact with the Nigerian community in the UK?
Yes. I am a community leader in Rochdale, Greater Manchester. I am the founder of the Bigs Heritage Foundation in the UK.
What do your countrymen say about the current situation in Nigeria?
We feel bitter about our country, the way things are. I also felt the same way when I arrived at the airport in Nigeria. Some workers asked for money. When I visited a Nigerian Immigration Service office, I was told to pay N20,000 for the survey which costs N5,000. But when I complained about it, one of the officers told me to pay 10,000 naira. Many Nigerians have left the country out of frustration.
Nigeria is a good place to live and work but things are not working out. We don’t have the things that make us live well. There is no regular power supply, good infrastructure, and no jobs. It’s not easy there (outside the country) but many feel it is better to be there than here (in Nigeria).
What do you do in the Bigs Heritage Foundation?
It is a charitable organization that provides support to Nigerian citizens living in the UK, called Black African Minority Ethnics.
What kind of support do you provide?
We help in any way we think we can. The UK government and Rochdale Council have helped our people there. During the onset of the (COVID-19) pandemic, we were able to provide support through the Migrant Deficiency Fund. Forever Manchester has given us the funds to enable us to deliver food parcels to many Nigerians. Rochdale Council, Action Together and Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford helped us provide food for children.
Are there perceptions that Nigerians back home have about their compatriots living abroad that you think are wrong?
I think it is a shame that people in Nigeria think that people or their families in the UK are picking money on the streets of London, anywhere in the UK or abroad because people are suffering. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the level of poverty among Nigerians has been on the rise. Do you know why? It was because most of them did not have documents enabling them to live and work there. As of that time (during the pandemic), many people have had to stop working and find it difficult to eat or maintain a normal life. This is why UK charities stand up. This was how we got the food parcels to throw at the doorstep of the hungry. In the parcels were my neighbor, rice and other food that could serve them for a week. We’ve also had volunteers, despite the restrictions, and we’re glad none of the volunteers contracted COVID-19. We wanted our people to be happy.
Where did you get support as well?
We got support from Heritage Fund, FareShare, our community warehouse in Rochdale that supplied us with food, and the BME Network.
Is your charitable organization registered?
Yes, we are registered in the UK but are planning to start working in Nigeria; We plan to involve government agencies. Currently, I am the Assistant Minister for Social Affairs of the Central Association of Nigerians in the UK; We work directly with Nigerians in the Diaspora Committee.
What prompted you to do philanthropy in the first place?
I inherited philanthropy from my father because he loved having people around him. He used to buy food and share it between his superiors at NNPC and Chevron. It also helped people secure jobs in government agencies.
You mentioned that you were a support worker at King’s College Hospital, London, the NHS Foundation Trust. What exactly are your responsibilities?
I am looking into Nigerian affairs. She has supported people who are in need, who are depressed, lonely, or who need to process their documents. I referred them to relevant places. The UK government has trained us to be able to do this.
If you had not gone to the UK and become a support worker, what would you have loved to do in Nigeria?
I would do the same thing I’m doing now – charity.
How supportive is your husband for you?
He was very supportive.
How did you two meet?
I met him in The Gambia in 1998.
How did this happen?
He came to my house to meet his friend. He was just talking and I saw that the Lagos way of life was still in him, so I said in my heart, “What’s wrong with this?” Later, I met him at his workplace. He asked me what I wanted to eat and I told him I wanted to eat a good meat pie. He bought it and this way he caught me – meat pie.
What do you think made him attracted to you?
I don’t know, maybe because I’m honest and I don’t like people being cheated on. He couldn’t resist it. My parents were happy that he proposed and we got married. He loves his children and has been supportive of them in every way. When I found the establishment difficult, he stood by me. He is also a co-founder. My husband and children are my best friends. We stay and work together in the UK.
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