Tunde Fagbenle wrote in SUNDAY TRIBUNE, 20th April, 2008
Yinka Craig: Hope for a friend
This, for me, is not an easy column to write and one
I have struggled to keep myself from writing for about
a year now. Yes, a whole year, even longer, is how
long my friend, that Nigerian ace broadcaster and
personable humorist, Yinka Craig, has been battling to
stay alive – fighting not to give the dreaded C the
last laugh over his self.
I’ve kept off writing about Yinka’s affliction and his
struggle partly because he may frown at making public
his private fight, and partly because I kept hoping
that the frustrating on-and-off manner of the illness
would have been overcome for good by now. It has not
been so and Yinka’s need for help appears even more
desperate now than ever!
Yinka Craig has spent the better part of his 60 years
of life in radio and television broadcasting, running
oft-innovative programmes – from sports to weekend
newsline, to morning magazine programmes – and warming
our hearts with his inimitable style of presentation,
genteel humour and a characteristic toothy smile. His
40 years in broadcasting, from the days of the old
WNBS, is almost as old as the history of broadcasting
in independent Nigeria, and certainly synonymous with
I am not familiar with the equivalent of Yinka Craig
in American television, but in England you would be
thinking of a cross between that grand old embodiment
of British humour and conviviality, Bruce Forsythe,
and Michael Parkinson! They don’t make them like these
Respected and invited by leaders of government,
industry, monarchs, and topmost foreign diplomats to
their private and official functions, many simply
proud to flaunt their association with him.
Not for nothing. Yinka is a man of many parts,
multi-talented, quick-witted, and incredibly
knowledgeable about most things, from astronomy and
space-technology to computer science, from sports to
politics, from entertainment to oil exploration! A
master of rib-cracking anecdotes, Yinka Craig is an
entertainer extraordinaire and instrumentalist, at
ease playing the guitar as he is on the piano or the
sax. He is also an addict of the game of intellect; he
could spend all day behind his desk navigating the
seas or the sky on his high-tech simulation toy, or
routinely demolishing books and books of hard cryptic
crossword or logic-challenging sudoku!
It was one morning, some 18 or so months ago, when I
got a call from Kenny (Yinka’s wife, Dr. Kehinde
Craig) informing me that Yinka was in an hospital bed,
a top private hospital on Victoria Island, Lagos. He
had been there for almost a month, but I was not in
the country and my calls to him had eerily not been
answered or returned.
I rushed to the clinic and found my friend, hitherto
of irrepressible enthusiasm and cheer, in a limp and
emaciated form. He struggled to put up a smile for me,
a smile of “see what I’m reduced to”. I couldn’t
believe my eyes. What ails you, Yinka? My mind raced
through all sorts of possibilities and I kept shooting
them at him and his wife. Nope, nope, nope, came the
answer to my impatient flurry of questions.
Cancer! Lymphoma!! Late diagnosed, as the doctors and
everyone had been testing for everything I’d touched
upon, leaving the real thing. I was shown digital
pictures of the various stages the damn thing had
manifested itself on Yinka over the many weeks he’d
been unwell. Terrible pictures, of paleness and
disfigurement. So, actually, what I was seeing was a
back-to-life Yinka, I was told.
Lymphoma? What’s that? I quickly went on the Internet
to find out more about it. What I read, mostly from
“lymphoma-net. org” website, gave me some hope as I
discovered that there is a good chance of survival for
many years, if treated promptly and adequately.
It describes lymphoma as “cancers of the lymphatic
system” and the lymphatic system as a network of
tubes, glands and organs that is part of the body's
defense against infection – the immune system.
There are different types of lymphoma. Some lymphomas
are called Hodgkin lymphoma (HL), formerly known as
“Hodgkin’s disease”, while others are Non-Hodgkin
lymphomas (NHL). Non-Hodgkin lymphomas are more
problematic and that’s what Yinka is diagnosed as
having. It is more common in those aged over 60,
although it can occur at any age. It affects slightly
more men than women.
“As in many cancers, lymphoma is most likely to be
cured if it is diagnosed early and treated promptly.”
That, precisely, is the trouble. Yinka’s lymphoma was
diagnosed late, no thanks to the poor state of our
medical facilities that meant the specimen for
everything being tested for had to be flown outside
Nigeria, this time to South Africa! What a shame.
Cut a long story short, Yinka had to be flown out to
the UK a few days after I saw him. And that is the
beginning of the story. Millions of naira has gone
down to give him some of the best treatment possible
in the UK. Yinka has been back twice to Nigeria, each
time as it appears the demon had been wrested, or
resources had run out, or both, only for the damn
thing to rear its ugly head again! It’s called
“remission” and “recurrence”, a syndrome apparently of
common occurrence in Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Four days ago, the day after I arrived Nigeria again
this time, Kenny called intimating me of developments.
An aggressive relapse had occurred and Yinka had been
back to the private hospital in Victoria Island (V.I)
where he started a year and a half ago. That was two
weeks ago. “We have to leave for Abuja now,” Kenny
said in a low, sad, tone. “The doctors here believe he
needs to be taken to a hospital with an Intensive Care
unit. So we’re going to try the National Hospital,
Abuja. If you have to see him before we leave then
you’d better come now.”
I hurried down to V.I where I found my friend looking
awful. He couldn’t even manage that self-deprecating
smile anymore. I think he was getting tired and pissed
off with the whole thing. The battle is getting too
long drawn and the fighter is weary. He rolled over on
one side, to look into my eyes.
I tried to avoid his weak eyes and gave him our
traditional call, “baba mi.” I heard him mutter the
response, “we(y) ti mo baba re,” and rolled back away.
The rest of it he left unsaid, “o to goloto goloto bi
ye e, we(y) mo baba re!” Well, it’s good enough he
responded at all anyway.
I’m now told Yinka urgently needs to go back abroad,
this time preferably to the States where he would have
to undergo a transplant treatment. The process may
take up to two months hospitalization and the overall
cost would come to about $300,000 (US dollars). I did
a quick calculation, that’s about N38 million. Not
bad, I thought, then I remembered the kind of country
we live in and held back my optimism.
The Craigs have expended virtually all their resources
on the illness so far. Yinka’s pride wouldn’t let him
make his situation public. He knows all the big men in
the country, and I mean that literally, and most of
them on first name basis and with their private
numbers. And they all know him. Very few have come to
his aid so far. The real big ones for whom this sort
of money he’s looking for means nothing have been all
promises and promises. And Yinka would not call them
again. I understand. It’s not ego, but decency. Why
would he have to go begging and crawling to people who
would before not have a party without including him on
their guest list, now need for him to demean himself
before they would keep their promise to help?
What’s even a million dollars to save a man like Yinka
Craig, a national asset if there was one, and daily we
hear of billions of naira, nay, dollars, being
cornered here, there, and everywhere? It’s a national
call, Nigeria must not let Yinka die without giving
him the best chance to survive.
While at it, I must mention one particular giver who
surprised us all at the very first time Yinka had to
go abroad. The surprise was that this was someone who
did not count amongst Yinka’s personal friends but
merely know him from the distance just as most
Nigerians do. Somehow it got to his ears that Yinka
needed to go abroad for treatment and he called him
and asked for him to send someone down in the morning.
Yinka did and was N5 million up. To be honest, we were
expecting no more than N500,000. Thanks, Dr. Erastus
Akingbola, CEO of Intercontinental Bank Plc. Of
course, there have been a few others chipping in
little sums here and there that helped to get him so
A little on the transplant treatment, again, I went on
the Internet to find out:
“Transplantation may be used in patients whose
non-Hodgkin' s lymphoma has relapsed as an aggressive
form of the disease or in patients with aggressive
non-Hodgkin' s lymphoma that does not respond to
ordinary chemotherapy. The transplant can be from
another person or, more often, from the patient
themselves, with the cells needed for the transplant
collected before the high-dose chemotherapy.”
The irrepressible TV presenter and producer in Yinka
is undaunted by it all. He tells me he will survive
this, no matter what. Indeed, his mind is already
working on another baby, a new TV program that he says
will break the box. This poor turn of his health is a
mere “irritant” that will go away, he says. He can’t
wait to get started again.
Yinka needs to go for the transplant in the States
immediately. Those with a large heart may call Yinka’s
wife, Dr. Kehinde Craig on 08030780129 or 08058466857.
You may also email: yinkacraig@gmail. com.
Yinka may not be President Yar’Adua who can be flown
to Germany for regular medical attention, but he has
lived his life bringing us exciting television
programmes and giving us all hearty laugh. Some silly
lymphoma is threatening to rid us of that laugh.
Nigeria and Nigerians must deny it that pleasure.