There are many heart aches that test one’s faith in his or her religion and, indeed, God: the anguish of long suffering, the loss of valuable property, the treachery of an ingrate, the tortures of jealousy, the agony of poor health, but there is nothing that rends the heart, that destroys all hope, that ruins a life, that weakens one’s faith as the death of a beloved one.
On Friday October 2, 2009, the cold hand of death took away from me and my wife our beloved and only surviving child, Master Vahana Ochonma, at a tender age of 14 years eight months. Vaha as he was fondly called returned from his school, Niger Delta Science school, Rives State College of Arts and Science, Rumuola, Port Harcourt hail and hearty on Monday September 28, 2009. Later that day he complained of pains.
We took Vaha to a private clinic first, but there was no significant improvement. So we moved him to the university of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital. Up till 2.00 p.m. that faithful Friday both of us had a father-and-son chat. Though lying in his sick bed, he assured us that he was strong and even asked for food. Thereafter, it was a bewildering battle. Doctors, nurses, everyone there fought relentlessly to stop the merciless hand of death from snatching Vaha away but to no avail. At exactly 2.30 p.m. Vaha started his journey to the far country, the glories above. Our flood of tears could not stop him. The love we share could not stop him. Our lofty plans for him could not stop him. And his dream to become a medical doctor could not stop him.
Vaha had a most promising and envious future. He was a wonderful child so intelligent, so dutiful, so handsome, so thoughtful, and so full of life, velocity, and love that my wife and I were content with him as the only child. He was a child of humorous, courteous, cheerful, and honest disposition. From the tributes of his teachers, mates, friends, and relations to him, Vaha touched the lives of the people he met on his short sojourn in this world of tears, sorrow, struggle and sweat. Describing his nature, one of his teachers who came to commiserate with us repeatedly said in a very sober tone: “Vahana was a good boy”. His Eminence, Sir Dr. Chukumela Nnam Obi II (OON JP) Oba (Eze Ogba) of Ogbaland and Chairman, Rivers State Council of Traditional Rulers who also came to console us said that Vaha was not dead because he will continue to live in the heart of his admirers.
Vaha, my son, was my brother and my friend. He was my Researcher, Liberian, Special Assistant, Adviser, and Confidant. He was my motivation for work. To my wife, the mother, he was everything. Vaha was a jewel of inestimable value.
As I write this piece, I remember the words he regularly used to propel me to write this column. He would remind me: “Daddy, you have not down loaded for this week”. So you see why I could not “down load” for the past three weeks.
Life without Vaha will be a terrible challenge to me. As I try to write this piece with tears welling up my eyes, a question continues to swim across my mind: What is it that each and everyone of us seeks in life? I think each and everyone of us needs a child or children in a family to give him or her an anchor, to give him roots in this earth. We need more than power, wealth, and fame to make us human. We need love, kindness and affection to learn the true values in the world. We need happiness, success, peace of mind. We need more life.
We avoid cross roads, crisis. Now I know better that crisis is a part of life. With its different sizes, colours and shapes, it comes when it will come. When we face crisis, we face a decision. In a crisis situation, we are like a patient who either gets worse and dies, or gets better and lives. Since the death of Vaha 26 days ago my wife and I have been inundated with stories of people who faced terrible crisis. Some got over their crises and lived while others could not and they died.
And so I ask again. What is it that each and everyone of us seeks in life? Sri Harold Klemp, a writer and spiritual says that what we should look for is a greater ability to meet our life. In his words: “When any thing comes up, instead of being plowed under by the forces of life, flattened by the steamrollers of the negative forces, we say, I have the temple within myself and we figure out what to do. It will give an idea, a nudge to take the next step to figuring a way out of the predicament”.
Now my wife and I are facing the practical aspects of our religious teachings. And so do others faced with one crisis or the other.
In spite of the numerous pathways man has been led through, living one’s religion is to live a full spiritual life each day. This involves absolute self-surrender to the will of God. It involves finding heaven no matter what our outer circumstances may be. It involves giving love to God and our fellow creatures and also accepting same whether it comes in form of religion, gifts, kind words, challenges or crisis. Then no matter the vicissitutes of life we can always find at least a little bit of happiness every day. I think this is possible for those who desire to live their religion.
2023: Aso Villa, Not Sick Bay
Even as its clinic may possess some of the best health facilities a Third World state house can possibly afford, I still doubt that the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in Abuja was designed to cope with some of the serious medical conditions our leaders discreetly convey to the place.
Chapter IV, Part I, Section 131 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) spells out the requirements for election to the Office of the President. They are as follows: citizenship of Nigeria by birth; attainment of 35 years of age; membership of a political party which must be the sponsoring party; and education up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent.
But even a possession of all these still does not qualify anybody who engages in any one of a plethora of some other never-dos, including presentation of a forged certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Or, election to such office at any two previous elections. Or even failing to resign from a civil or public service position at least 30 days before election. Disappointingly, in all of the nearly one dozen of these extra conditions, only one directly pertains to a candidate’s health status. And what does it say? Quite simply put – that the person is not adjudged to be a lunatic or otherwise declared to be of unsound mind. Really? Not even through a mandatory professional psychiatric evaluation? Haba, Nigeria!
I still recall that, as a prospective student seeking admission into a unity school in 1974, I was required to present a medical examination report from a government hospital. Also, as a JAMBite five years later, I was requested to go for medicals at my university’s medical centre. And of course, I couldn’t have secured my present employment in the civil service without satisfying a similar condition. It is also common knowledge that this is equally applicable in reputable private sector organisations. So, how come students and workers in Nigeria are required to compulsorily undergo medical examinations to ascertain their fitness for the tasks ahead whereas no such condition is listed for a prospective occupant of the highest and most prestigious office in the land? Have Nigerians opted to remain this naïve or are we indeed a cursed people?
Even in the twilight of military dictatorship in this country, it was mostly a handover of power from one sick leader to the other. In short, of the seven Nigerian heads of government that have so far taken up residence in the Aso Rock Villa since General Ibrahim Babangida hurriedly relocated the seat of power from Lagos in 1991(after a serious jolt from the Major Gideon Orkar-led coup the previous year), only General Abubakar Abdulsalami and Dr Goodluck Jonathan had stepped in there looking healthy and also exited the place in seeming good health.
Babangida was already on record as having been seriously injured in 1969 when a battalion he led encountered heavy Biafran offensive during a reconnaissance operation somewhere between Enugu and Umuahia. He was said to have declined surgery to remove a bullet shrapnel from his knee. But several years later, while in the Villa, the self-styled Evil Genius was known to have alternately travelled to France and Germany to seek medical relief. There were several pictures showing when he got stuck in-between strides with his trade mark gap-toothed smile failing to hide the agonies of a Nigerian military president. It was really pitiable, to say the least.
Next was his successor, late Gen. Sani Abacha, whom the then radical Tell magazine on September 8, 1997 reported as suffering from liver cirrhosis – a serious condition that often results to death. While Abacha’s secret police went after the magazine’s editor, Nosa Igiebor, and members of his household, The News, another dare-devil publication, picked up from where the former left off – reporting how medical experts were secretly flown in from Israel and Saudi Arabia to tend the nation’s seriously ailing but still pretentious generalissimo. Even marabouts from some North African countries were rumoured to have been brought in to pray for him. He reportedly died of suspected food poisoning in the hands of some young Indian belly dancers in 1998.
Abacha was succeeded by Abdulsalami whose administration is still reputed to be the second military regime (after Obasanjo’s in 1979) to successfully complete a transition process and hand over power to a civilian democracy in Nigeria. For want of a trusted person who would serve to assuage the Yoruba over Abiola’s death while in detention, Obasanjo was literally released from certain death (sorry, prison yard) by Abdulsalami to run for election on the ticket of the new Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), after the demise of Abacha who had incarcerated him for joining his NADECO Yoruba brethren to criticise the late general’s regime. Frankly speaking, and to those who knew him while he reigned as military head of state, Obasanjo was still a shadow of his former self when he moved into the Presidential Villa in 1999.
Then entered Alhaji Umar Yar’Adua and, a little later, General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) both of whose checkered medical stories we already know.
Now, with the 2023 General Elections fast approaching, there have been moves – even if still hazy – by individuals and groups touting the names of their political godfathers as promising presidential hopefuls. But I am seriously concerned that one or two of those names belong to persons who are already as old, sickly and looking worse than the incumbent president’s condition when he returned from his 50-day extended medical vacation in 2017. At that time, Buhari had looked rather too ghostlike that some Nigerians doubted their president and began to reconsider detained IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu’s Radio Biafra description of him as a surrogate Jubril from Sudan.
For me, and regardless of their professed leadership acumen, any seriously ailing Nigerian politician who conceals his affliction while campaigning to occupy the Aso Villa is like a confirmed HIV patient who opts to proceed on a raping spree. It is the height of corruption, criminality and wickedness.
Fellow Nigerians (yes, let me sound like them), there is no better time to wake up to this ugly reality than now. We’ve had it up to our neck. Thank you.
By: Ibelema Jumbo
The State As A Patient Bird
Jailbreaks: 3,906 Escaped Inmates still At Large, FG Weeps”, was a back page news headline of The Tide newspaper of Friday, November 12, 2021. In spite of the Federal Government of Nigeria weeping over the jailbreaks, the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, at a media briefing organised by the Presidential Communication Media team in Aso Rock, Abuja, told Nigerians that “the state is a patient bird. You can run but you can never hide”. The minister said that about 4,369 inmates escaped from correctional centres from 2020 till date, following attacks by unknown gunmen, but that only 984 had been re-arrested.
Weeping is an emotion which expresses frustration and pains arising from helplessness, but it is of a serious concern when the weeping one has the might of coercion and compulsion. So, weep no more, ye strong and mighty! We are reminded by P.B. Shelley, of Ozymandias of Egypt, King of Kings, whose works suffered decay and despair. A peculiar challenge which managers of public affairs rarely consider seriously is the verdict of distant history. Neither would the engagement of the International Police (INTERPOL) obliterate the tears arising from weeping over escaped inmates.
Rather, what counts for a triumphant life, like Nelson Mandela would say, is the ability to turn personal liabilities and deficiencies into rewarding assets and lessons. Rather than weep over jailbreaks or have the patience of the bird of prey, managers of public affairs would do better by looking inwards, without bias or conceit, to pick out the realities on the ground which escape their attention. For us in Nigeria, there are many such realities which beg for critical scrutiny and revisitation, not weeping or bluster.
Jailbreak is one form of rebellion or protest over many lingering social injustices. For unknown gunmen to undertake such risky task of attacking correctional centres and causing inmates to escape, means that motives and stakes are quite high. Similarly, to expect the escaped inmates to surrender themselves all to state authorities, would be to expect too much from desperate rebels. Many would rather go for plastic surgery to wear a new look, or commit suicide, rather than submit themselves to state authorities. Even with the patience of the bird of prey and the cooperation of INTERPOL, many of the escapees would hardly be apprehended. They may laugh and mock!
In the first place, a large number of those in correctional centres are probably innocent of the alleged crimes that took them there. Similarly, a large number of Nigerians moving freely in the streets, with swagger and air of piety, are probably not as clean as they claim or pose. Having served as a police officer for several years, one is aware of the various malfeasance common in the justice delivery system as well as the threats, malpractices and temptations common in that sphere of the society. No amount of pretence or lip service can sweep away the rot and leakages in the society.
Secondly, despite the change of nomenclature from prisons to correctional centres, the Nigerian penitentiary has not been transformed, to reflect a positive change rather than punitive degradation of inmates. An ex-convict once described the entire Nigerian society as a “prison environment”, where foul can be fair and fair foul. Much had been said in the past about the unacceptable state of Nigerian correctional centres and the diminished rather than added value on the life of inmates after serving sentence. Neither does the “ex-convict” tag go even with a positive change.
One would make a strong suggestion to the Minister of Interior, before the end of his tenure, to carry out a discreet inquiry into the status of the Nigerian correctional centres, with reference to possible miscarriage of justice. If independent-minded persons drawn from among retired police officers, university academics, journalists, etc, can be engaged in such inquiry, Nigeria would be the better from the result of such exercise. Besides, there are many people held up in correctional centres for several years, either awaiting trial, or for such minor infractions for which they are going through gross abuses and dehumanisation.
Someone had said it long ago that correctional centres in Nigeria, like other developing countries, are meant for the underprivileged and endangered segments of society, while the elite enjoy exclusion. The few cases where the elite and political class are made to “face the wrath of the law”, they enjoy special privileges even while in detention. Apart from special privileges enjoyed by the class of elite who face the wrath of the law, there is also a wide difference and discrimination in food and custody. There was a gossip about an inmate whose food was always delivered from a 5-star hotel, daily.
There is nothing wrong with people of high status who fall foul to the law being given special privileges, in line with the honour they deserve. But everything is wrong with a society where criminality wears two faces, according to who is involved. Anyone who has examined crime statistics in Nigeria, vis-à-vis social status of convicts, would surely feel uncomfortable with the stark realities. Who are those that wallow in correctional centres; what are the most common criminal offences; what are the motives behind crimes, and what measures are taken to correct social deviants?
Weeping managers of public affairs would do better to correct unacceptable situations rather than issue threats to those who react violently to lingering social ills. Social ills are not corrected by denying their existence, covering them up or intimidating those who point them out or react violently when nothing is done to correct them. Surely, Nigerians would not be happy or fold their arms when they see abominable acts being condoned or covered up because of who is involved. Neither would they consider it just that protesters of acts of malfeasance by law enforcement officers, should be shot in the streets because they complained.
The impression which many Nigerians have, even when they do not say it in the open, is that there are two sets of citizens, namely: those protected by the law, and those exposed to the wrath of the law; thus making the law to become respecter of persons. A situation where some public and private individuals have several security personnel attached to and guarding each of them 24 hours, while a call for police help when armed robbers and bandits operate, takes a long time for a response, then people would wonder if all people are equal before the law. Are there not inmates in correctional centres who are there for being too vocal over unacceptable situations in society? Patient bird waiting for prey!
By: Bright Amirize
Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer in the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.
Trails Of Natural History
Natural history should be understood here to mean unbiased, undistorted and comprehensive records of all the experiences, including thoughts and deeds, of all creatures that have existed on Earth. Known as Akashic record in some cosmogony, such undistorted blueprints, as they relate to individual human beings, are stored in genetic memory bank which scientists call deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Human blood is the common physical fluid through which this indelible record is encoded and transmitted, generation after generation.
Humans, being endowed with a free will, by which means every individual has the freedom to make personal decisions and choices, are thus provided with a rudder as a navigational tool in the journey of life on Earth. Thus, whatever the contents of the blueprint that an individual comes into incarnation with, the duty and right for a free navigation through life remain as inalienable rights. So, with such rights every individual is daily adding, subtracting, adapting and moving forward, forced by personal experiences to acquire increasing recognition of the true realities of life. Bitter experiences teach better!
Therefore, the genetic memory bank which is borne via everybody’s blood system is a fluid rather than a fixed record, because what we call fate or destiny is alterable, not irreversible. By the exercise of individual freewill, the duty and right of free choices and decisions remain as everybody’s means of disentanglement or further entanglements, in the affairs and bargains of life. To say that everybody bears the trails of natural history, is to affirm that everybody carries the contents of everything pertaining to himself, spanning over thousands of years.
Emerging DNA technology will, no doubt, alter many strongly-held belief systems and ideas about human life; including the fact that Earth-life is a shuttle. A child born today is obviously not a new comer on Earth, just as records of such child’s previous embodiments can be readily dug out from the archives of natural history. Efforts in this new direction of exploring the apparently inexplicable mysteries of life are quite expensive to delve into. Pioneers and explorers in that direction seek neither publicity, recognition nor distraction, for obvious reasons, especially where ignorance is bliss.
Prejudice, myopia and conceit stand strongly against progress in this newly emerging DNA technology, not only because it does not offer cash or power, but more because of possible dethronement of many empires. For example, the science of cloning has advanced, veering into transmigratory controversies, with experiments of infusing the blood or breath of some donors or volunteers into a dying person, thus extending life-span. Alteration of personality and consciousness can also be made possible through such controversial practices and experiments. Dangerous aspects of such experiments include the creation of crude monsters as humans, with animal propensities.
Obviously, experiments in this line of research are done under utmost secrecy with intruders visited with ruthless penalties. Defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was noted for carrying out various unconventional research activities, especially in alteration of brain and personality postures. Prisoners of war as well as captured spies and secret service agents became ready guinea pigs for such unconventional brain research activities whereby humans were turned into zombies.
There were a few cases where surviving victims of such experiments later became themselves and took legal actions which had to be halted for security reasons, but with out-of-court settlements made. It also came to light how security vote which is not subject to public audit can be applied for unethical projects. Between 1952 and 1960, records of unethical research projects were systematically destroyed and obliterated, but with the methods of proceedings altered to reflect some semblance of transparency and accountability. Yet, motives for such explorations remain same, which include being a step above, and having an edge over contenders.
Keeping security, national interests and politics of survival aside, it is a healthy practice for individuals, organisations and nations to explore and seek to grasp the realities of life. Neither is it healthy or reasonable to remain caged and boxed up by the doctrines, assertions and dogmas of intellectual humanity and orthodoxy. It is of importance to note that human progress in the recognition of the truth and realities of life has been hindered largely by prevailing human institutions via narrow interpretations of the issues of human existence.
Natural history via carbon dating and DNA technology reveal much that an average person would describe as unacceptable. New fields of academic studies such as regression, anamnesis, altered states of consciousness, etc, which are common in some universities, would be rejected as appropriate in any Nigerian university. It is true that a number of academic studies, including phrenology, had been discredited and expunged from the curriculum, yet there are new emerging disciplines not common in conventional institutions.
It is also true that a number of research or study activities pander to human ego, vanity and tend to serve dark purposes, yet, there are more issues that remain vague and unknown to humans. We cannot doubt the fact that human consciousness is an ever expanding poll, neither can we drink up all the water springing up therefrom. But human dogma and conceit are worse than the impetuous drive to explore unknown realms of life. Galileo (1564-1642) who asserted that the Earth moves round the sun was imprisoned for five years!
Current awareness which is gaining grounds gradually is the fact that trails of natural history is not only real but can be readily explored and downloaded. Everybody is not only a carrier and bearer of the totality of his or her own record of existence, dating thousands of years, but such individual records can be downloaded. Unfortunately, contents of such records can be quite shocking, shaming and unbelievable if made available to the individuals concerned. The phenomenon of stigmata has been an inexplicable mystery to many people, but the truth can be shocking and revealing, of which a 1927 incident ranks high.
Keeping phrenology, palmistry and such stuff aside, the blood of every individual is a personal identity as well as gateway to personal archives. At least the aura radiating from individuals reveal a great deal about people, for those capable of perceiving such radiations. Neither can anyone hide or obliterate his personal identity. One grace which everyone enjoys is the non-disclosure of the contents of individual natural history, so that people would not hang from the fear of what trails them, unseen by them. Wise ones strive diligently to reduce dark burdens.
By: Bright Amirize
Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer in the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.
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