A tragedy of the 21st century for Dagbang, the Northern regions and Ghana as a whole, occurred today, 3rd October 2016, in the death of Dr. Abdulai Choggu. Dr Choggu’s death symbolizes the fall of a mighty tree or the brightest of all stars.
He grew up at a time in a country where the roads to political fame, wealth and status, were the smoothest. Instead, he chose to sweep the streets and remove filth from the gutters in his community and ended up serving not only the mentally challenged on these same streets but also millions of poor and needy in his country.
His, is perhaps, the most memorable of the lives of the people of his generation and beyond, that chose to sacrifice personal glory, comfort and luxury for something higher: for the service of human kind. He built clinics that served and continue to serve millions of poor people in the entire north of Ghana, free of charge. He served food on daily basis to hundreds of mentally ill people on the streets of Tamale and beyond. This is how he got the title, “mad Dr”.
Dr Choggu lived and died in service to humanity. If we mourn his death, it is not for him but for the millions of poor people of Ghana who depended on him as their saviour. If we can’t contain the news of his death, it’s because of the fear of the darkness and uncertainty that his demise brings upon us. If we ask why now, we are showing concern of the future of the legacy that he left us. If we weep for his death, the weeping has nothing to do with him but it is for the family and millions of dependents he left behind.
Dr Choggu lived a life that only saints, philosophers or men of understanding could live. He was more than ordinary and the best of those described as down-to-earth. His appearance never reflected his name and popularity among the poor masses of his country.
I first met Dr Choggu in the summer of 2004 as a student volunteer in his Gurugu clinic, as a way of appreciation for being one of the beneficiaries of his student scholarships. The few days that I spent as a volunteer in the clinic doing many random chores including weeding in the clinic farm and recording basic patient information, I had the opportunity of taking late morning teas with Dr Choggu and his workers.
The only thing that made me recognize him the first day I saw him was the reverence that was accorded him by his workers. His clothes was never better than any of his workers no matter the grade of the worker. He sat around and drank from the same teapot like anybody else.
The tea was plain without any milk and the bread was same as served to the patients in the clinics. It was during one these tea breaks that he told, purposely for the benefit of we, the students, how he once swept the streets and worked the gutters as a student volunteer himself.
I first came to appreciate humility by examining the personality and demeanour of Dr. Choggu, whose name was on the lips of millions of the masses of the north but whose life and appearance never reflected his popularity and fame. I left the summer job with the deepest respect for the “mad Dr” and that respect will remain with me for the rest of my life.
When I heard Dr Choggu was sick in Korle-bu, I prayed to be in Ghana, to appreciate him once more and to ask God to grant him a second chance if even for a month, so that he could do the things for himself that he had postponed, to serve mankind. But the truth that awaits every living being, had already become his and the second chance never came.
I did not have the chance to pray for Dr. Choggu by his sick bed but I must offer a special prayer to God for the salvation of his soul. I ask God to welcome his soul with a reception, comparable only to the prophets, saints and sages and to grant him an abode in the best of the best that He created for His best of servants.
I ask God to let Dr. Choggu’s humanity and goodness become the comfort, shelter and sustenance for the family and millions of dependents he left behind.
The life of Dr. Choggu, was a true manifestation of religion and humanity: he acted to take away pain, suffering and sickness and to replace these with light, hope and happiness, for millions of poor people.
If God shall grant me the fulfillment of a single wish today, that wish would be to sustain the legacy of Dr. Choggu: to keep the poor clinics open, feed the poor mad people and provide scholarships to needy students, for eternity.
Dr. Choggu lived one of the few lives that can truly be called “human”. He is gone but shall remain with us forever. For those that truly lived, never die.
Save journey into the underworld, dear father.