What is true peace?

True peace doesn’t foster hostility or destruction
but embraces mutual respect and a win-win resolution
Towards nature-wildlife conservation
True peace promotes coexistence and evades extinction

True peace lies not in the unwillingness to agree
But in acknowledging and to foresee
that Wildlife too has rights to exist and live free;
to flourish and evolve just like we

True peace sees paying attention to nature not as a pitfall
But a wholehearted response to a clarion call
to every living creature big or small
That we’re a reflection of each other after all


International Day Of Peace – Equality for All

One God, many faces.

One family, many races.

One truth, many paths.

One heart, many complexions.

One light, many reflections.

One world, many imperfections.

ONE.

We are all one,

But many.”

 ― Suzy Kassem

Is this just a poem or wishful thinking? Are these mere words? Likely impossible or unconvincingly possible? Are we truly ONE?

It is a YES for me; and the time is NOW.

For so many years there has been declaration and resolutions on peace.

1948: Universal Declaration of Human Rights
1978: Declaration on the Preparation of Societies for Life in Peace
1984: Declaration on the Right of Peoples to Peace
1999: Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace
2011: The Bruxelles Declaration, “Pledge to Peace”
2016: Annex to Declaration on the Right to Peace
2018: The Global Resolution for the Establishment of Infrastructures to Support the Culture of Peace (not a United Nations resolution)

In 1984, the year I arrived this world, the United Nations General Assembly, by resolution 39/11, adopted the Declaration of the Right of Peoples to Peace, in which United Nations Member States solemnly proclaimed that the peoples of our planet had a sacred right to peace.

Let me rephrase this: We all have a sacred right to Peace; all species inclusive – not just peoples.

True peace dosen’t foster hostility and destruction but embraces mutual respect and win-win resolutions towards nature-wildlife conservation. True peace promotes coexistence and evades extinction – What is True Peace?” by Linda Etuk

Linda Etuk's Quote
The basis of world peace.

Previous efforts to achieve global peace have all been full of good intentions, but they resulted in too many declarations and not enough action. This is a historic moment, and if we do not seize it, maybe we do not deserve to survive.

As is the case when launching a rocket to meet the International Space Station in orbit, there is a very small window of opportunity to make world peace happen.

We must all understand that sustaining life on earth is the basis of world peace.

We must protect the existence of all species, we share the same ecosystems, surroundings and our dependability on each other. Every factor in an ecosystem depends on every other factor, either directly or indirectly.

There have been pungent predictions that future climate change will influence the spread of viral infections. This is due to the complexity of interactions between climate, nature, and human activity.

The most recent pandemic should open our eyes to the fact that we need to do more to understand the climate costs of the wars we fight, the discrimination in our hearts and the hate we speak all have adverse effects on us.

We can prevent the horrid homicides, horrors beaming across the internet, violent deaths from wars between states, Civil war breakouts, conflicts principally Afghanistan, South Sudan, Syria, Yamen and now Ukraine, even Cold Wars that are fraction (in per capita terms) by changing the way we see each other.

We are more alike than different. We are one. Believe it or not we are all the same. Man, animals and plants alike. At the end of the day, it’s like water and rain. For this course, I do not rely exclusively on intellectuals or artists or politicians or peace activists or nature advocates like myself.

We are all in it—from the haves to the have-nots, from presidents of companies to presidents of countries.

Whoever understands the plan and the steps needed to be taken is welcome. I just want to communicate the idea to whomever this resonates with, whether that be the Pope, Burna Boy, Mama Emeka, a roasted corn vendor on the corner of Mushin. Aliyu the meruwa guy, the social media influencers, or any environmentalist and journalist. We are all in it.

Easier said than done? Hear me out. In order to achieve global economic stability and sustainable growth, we should look inward; balance equals peace among all species. Mother Earth should get real infrastructure that enables her thrive; so, viruses can be controlled or even better, they can be used as a vehicle for something good.

Imagine a virus that spreads knowledge, immunity, long life. This is the world we need. We do not own the planet Earth; we belong to it. And we must learn to share it in peace and harmony with all living creatures.


Above the Law

As a lifelong student of the martial arts and a movie buff, I’ve always been interested in martial arts films. One of my favorite is a 1988 action flick entitled, Above the Law, the film debut of aikido master Steven Seagal. The movie deserves attention, for its title and story that captures the symptom of our postmodern society that begs immediate intervention.

No one is above the law!

That’s the thing I’ve heard since I was a kid in school. It was one of the foundational principle of our country; our teachers told us, and the sort of thing that should distinguish our system of government from tin-pot dictatorships and authoritarian regimes we had experienced. It was supposed to be sacrosanct.

Supposed to be; but I no longer believe that’s the way it is. Just look around.

Let’s take the anecdotal evidence first.

About a year ago, the acting managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), slumped forward in his chair less than an hour into his session in front of a committee in the House of Representatives. The panellist put as much between the lines as they adjourned the sessions hurriedly asking that an ambulance be brought in to take the acting managing director away — cough … crook … cough — Since then, we are yet to know the outcome of the investigation and apparently no one was brought to book by the law over the alleged mismanagement of funds allocated to a development commission in the country’s oil-rich region.

The law did nothing.

But this isn’t just about politicians.

It’s also about some spiritual leader, those sexual predators who should have been jailed years ago for rape and human trafficking.

Instead, they got to victimize even more young women because a general, exemption or immunity from liability to error or failure; in particularin theological usage, the supernatural prerogative by which the Church of Christ is, by a special Divine assistance, preserved from liability to error in her definitive dogmatic teaching regarding matters of faith and morals.

But this isn’t just about #metoo, either.

It’s also about cyber crooks that  engage in fraud, money laundering and monetary tractions in property derived from specified unlawful activities in millions of dollars— and that’s only what was lost by some Americans, and doesn’t count for the ripple effects around the world. None of those guys did a day, either.

(Well, OK. There was one.)

But this isn’t just about scammers’ greed in array of exotic rides.

It’s also about business moguls who own legitimate companies, mostly money laundering and tax evasion.

A Lagos judge sentenced Wilson; my neighbour for many years to four years in prison — more than three years ago. He’s still out on an appeal bond while the Supreme Court tries to figure out a way to set him free.

But this isn’t just about Wilson, either.

It’s about the corrupt Nigerian justice system — a system filled with little investigators and prosecutors who find it’s easy to make cases against the poor while ignoring crimes committed by the rich and powerful.

But this isn’t just about weak-willed bureaucrats.

It’s about The Nigerian Police Force (NPF) who is often responsible for hundreds of extrajudicial executions, other unlawful killings and enforced disappearances every year. The majority of cases go uninvestigated and unpunished. The families of the victims usually have no recourse to justice or redress. Many do not even get to find out what exactly happened to their loved ones.

And yet, the perpetuators haven’t spent a day behind bars.

This isn’t cynicism. It’s not  my imagination.

Things really are different now, our justice system is supposed to send a message: to the lawful and the lawless, alike.

We’re sending a message, alright. Just not the right one.

Plenty of people are above the law.

Just not you and me. It’s time to puncture the myth we learned in high school civics. Lots of people are above the law.

Like a cancer invading the human body, it appears that more and more people, especially those who occupy responsible positions in both government and major corporations, believe and act like they are above the law. The culture of corruption that accompanies this insidious disease must be stopped “stat” and should never be tolerated. We shouldn’t feel above the law in any way. Be it breaking civil offenses like not wearing face masks at public gatherings,  zoning regulations, licensing requirements, traffic violation, illegal waste disposal and all sort of other things or engaging in  criminal  offense. We shouldn’t feel – that the rules that apply to others do not apply to me. – “exception-making.” Breaking the simplest of the law is an offence and should be avoided.  One of the features of a civilised society is laws or the rules and regulations which are in function for the smooth functioning of the society. A good knowledge as to why we need to follow and respect laws is very crucial for development of our society, we must know the adverse effects if we don’t comply with the set rules. These rules are in place so as to ensure harmony for all of us together, and if we don’t comply then it results in chaos.


How did I make the decision that truly mattered?

My journey to hell and back began over a decade ago when I was 22 and wild. I kissed Blake Buckner one night and was to be married to him when I was not quite 23. We had been out at a bar in San Francisco where you could smoke, and then we went to his apartment and drunkenly ate stale bread and butter, and then we made out. I had known him for several months in a friendly way — we lived near one another — but a few days before the bread and butter I noticed, out of nowhere, an insistent desire to be near him.

Everything happened so fast; I was at a short period in my life when I really felt like I had got my acts together. After a protracted gastrointestinal issue, I was finally the level of thin I always really wanted to be. I had two part-time jobs and a condo apartment to myself. I had absolutely no sense of consequence. During this period, I had always craved the attention of men, and it was thrilling to feel that, for once, in such abundance that I could take it or leave it. I was so fleetingly confident in my ability to bend a man to my will, in fact, that when I realized I was pining for the man I would marry, I invited Blake to my grandmother’s 75th birthday party — a bold strategy for courtship. By the time the birthday party came around, we had eaten the bread and butter; I think we were already in love.

Blake’s appearance was very deceptive; no one could ever suspect him to be violent, although he was sometimes plagued by intrusive thoughts and knocked constantly on wooden tables and doors. On a certain day, we went out with some of his friends and he had been drinking all day, and then his old girlfriend arrived. I was upset because she sat on his lap. Then she held his face in her arms tracing his cheekbones with her fingertips and kissed him while he wrapped her in his broad shoulders with me right there; he didn’t stop her so I went to sit in the car. He came bellowing over, so I locked the door. He put his fist through the passenger window then dragged me through it. After receiving a few punches in the head, one of his friends drove me home. At home, I tended to my sore head, scrapes and bruises, but what hurt most was that it happened at all. The next day when he arrived at the flat he was full of remorse – things would be different, he wouldn’t drink and he would never hurt me again.

I believed him; things did improve for a while. Soon I discovered I was pregnant, he seemed over the moon with the news. A few months later, we had a little argument over his leaving the front door ajar upon his return from his drinking escapades. During the argument he punched me in the stomach. I ended up in the hospital with a ruptured cyst on my ovary. The baby was all right. Returning home I gave him an ultimatum – that if he ever hits me again I would leave him. He pleaded with me and agreed to all my terms.

However after our baby was born the drinking continued, and the abuse continued. I stayed, as I could not see a way out. Brief times when he was sober, things seemed pleasant. My way of life became moving from one house to another with him, as people became aware of my situation (the domestic abuse), although I had learnt to hide the bruises and he was good at not leaving them where they could be seen. Over the years I took out several Intervention Orders on him, which I then dropped when he made his promises and sometimes, even, threats against me.

On our child’s birthday he received a gaol sentence of several months for drunk driving and assault on a police officer. I still didn’t leave. During his time in gaol I visited often – he made more promises: no more drinking, no more abuse. When he left gaol, things were great for a while, and I hoped that his time in gaol had changed him. I got pregnant again, this time with twins. When I was pregnant we moved again, this time to be closer to his family, as I was going to need help and support with twins on the way. This was a move I should never have made. His father also had a drinking problem; they were a bad influence on each other. During my pregnancy he abused me again and again. Another time I pulled a kitchen knife on him and he laughed, as he knew I would not use it, then he spat in my face. There were times when he was at the hotel with his parents, I would pray that someone would knock on my door and tell me he was dead, rather than face him coming home. I was trapped; the only people I knew were his family. I had no way out.

Once our new babies were born, things remained the same. I looked after the children; he went to the hotel or to smoke dope with a mate. Life was tough and often there was no money for food. I stopped eating so what we had would go further. As long as he had his beer he didn’t care. He would complain when the babies cried and tell me `to shut them up or else.’ Every day I lived in fear, never knowing what his mood would be.

One day I left him to care for the twins, so I could collect our eldest child from daycare. I returned home to find one of the twins was cold and shaking, I was horrified. It turned out they had a dirty nappy and he had put them in the bath with a cold shower running, in the middle of winter. A few weeks later when i wanted to breast feed one of the twins; I went to her cot and found a blanket over her, a shirt was wrapped around her head and shoved in her mouth. Quickly I removed it and she gasped for breath. I was shocked and angry. How could he do this to his own child? I confronted him and rang his parents for help. When his parents arrived, his father was drunk, saying `it’s alright son, I know she’s bullshitting’. He swung a few punches at me, then left to go to his parents for the night.

I was distraught, frightened, and knew I had to protect my children. I found the phone book and looked under ‘Domestic Violence’ in the front. I got several phone numbers; I started with the first. The first few refuges I rang were full and asked if I could wait. Finally I rang a Salvation Army refuge, and an elderly man answered; I don’t know how he understood me through my many sobs as I tried to tell my story. He said `not now, tell me when you get here, do you need help, how soon can you get here?’ my reply was` we are on our way.’ I grabbed my box of photo albums, a garbage bag of clothes for the children and myself, and took my dog, which had been a loyal friend for many years, and we left.

Driving early that morning, I was a little scared of the future, but not like I had been every day for the last five years. The eggshells I had been treading on were gone, my children could cry and I didn’t have to shush them. I was determined to turn my life around.

I spent a week at that refuge before moving interstate. I changed my name, and began to rebuild my life. A few months later, I moved into a housing commission house, got part time work, and had started making friends for the first time since leaving school. Life was great.

Fourteen months later, after I trusted the wrong person, Blake contacted me. He pleaded with me to believe that he had changed, he been to counseling, anger management etc. etc. He was real convincing – the old charm was back. I agreed to give it a trial, but said that things would have to go slowly. He could not live with me. And no more alcohol. He saw us once a month to begin with as he lived a long way away. Soon he moved to the town where I was living.

One weekend he was staying with us, he started drinking. We were having a conversation and at some point it escalated and I asked him to leave. I walked over to the door, opened it and said we could have the conversation another day. He grabbed me by the hood of my sweatshirt, threw me out my door and got on top of me and started choking me. I managed to break away and ran out the front door. He caught up with me at our front lawn, pushed me to the ground and started punching and kicking me. I thought he was going to kill me. Our neighbour’s voice called out that she had called the police and he fled.

A few days later, Blake Buckner was apprehended by the police for assaulting his estranged wife. The only problem was that Blake had already been arrested for the same crime days earlier, and records showed that he was currently serving his six-month sentence in prison. They checked. He was still there.

Before the time-travel division could be called to untangle the apparent paradox, though, my mother in-law came and cleared everything up: Blake had a twin named Jake who had a habit of going to jail for his brother’s crimes. In total, Jake says he voluntarily served four sentences for Blake, simply because he loved his brother and believed he wasn’t ready for prison life. Since Jake was serving time for his brother’s crime I never met him.

She explained; “It all started in the ’90s when Blake signed up for the Army and went through months of training, only to decide at the last minute that he didn’t want to be shipped off to Iraq to serve as a helicopter mechanic. Jake said, “What the heck, I’ll go for you” — he’d fixed a few cars in his neighborhood, so how hard could a helicopter be?”

“Since no one caught them (Jake became a crew chief in Iraq), the twins kept pulling the ol’ switcheroo every time Blake got into trouble. Jake had some run-ins with the law himself and insisted that his bro was too soft and delicate to spend time in prison … despite the fact that Blake was a violent wife-puncher just like his dad who repeated abused his wife and children,” she cried.

When a judge told her to cut that shit out and sentenced Blake to six months in jail, Jake once again stepped up and turned himself in, pretending to be his brother. Apparently they didn’t bother to check his fingerprints because they didn’t know he had a twin, never mind one stupid enough to take his place.


Flash Flood

The odour that wafted into his nostrils as he waded through the flood water was similar to that of fresh fish and dead plants, making him feel a little bit nauseous. Two weeks ago the same road that was now occupied with flood water would have been bustling with life at all levels. The bleating of goats strolling by would have been heard and the crowing of a rooster would have filled the air. Children would be running around with barely any clothes on their backs and adults would be busy with chatting with each other. But it was not two weeks ago, it was the present and more than half of the village land was occupied with flood water, causing the people to vacate their homes and to find shelter at the village town hall-one of the few locations where the flood had not gotten to.

The curve of a small smile settled on Oche’s dark face as he spotted his two friends on a canoe just at the end of the flooded road. He quickened his steps, the water rising higher on his body at every step that took him closer to where the canoe was. By the time he finally made it to where the canoe was, the water level around him reached his waist.

Taking the outstretched hand of one of his friends, he took a leap into the canoe, and after which he exchanged some morning greetings with his friends, for the sun was just peeping out from the far horizon. The next moment he and his friends got into preparation for the work ahead of them-fishing. They fixed the fishing line on the thin bamboo sticks, picked up the bait-worm-from a deep bowl-and fixed it on the fishing line. Done with preparing the fishing line, Oche picked up the only paddle in the canoe and started paddling, gradually propelling the wooden canoe to their site of fishing, the rhythmic upward and downward movement of his wide shoulder blades very visible from his bare back as he paddled. The more he pushed the paddle in and out of the deep brown water, the more the tiny beads of sweat on his back multiplied. A school of very tiny fishes swam past the corner of the canoe and the sight stole a smile from Oche.

The boys made small talks as they went on with their journey. The lankiest of them all complained about the state government’s negligence of their plight while the stout one complained about the shortage of food in the village after many farmlands were submerged and destroyed by the flood. Oche only listened to their complaints and wished that things would miraculously get better for them all. Oche withdrew the paddle from the water when they finally got to their destination-a site just in front of a big old church. The water level was extremely high here and could reach Oche at his neck if he decided to dive in. The three boys got into work by throwing in the baited fishing lines into the deep water.

Oche tightened his grip on his bamboo stick as he started to feel a weight pulling on it. A fish had eaten his bait and was hooked. His hands still tight on the bamboo stick, he pulled it out with a force enough to land the fish and the fishing line inside the canoe. He carefully freed the fish from the hook, making sure that his hands were safe from the mouth of the sharp hook, and then he gently threw the fish-about the size of his wide palms-into a bucket filled with water. The fish that was gasping for water before, swam giddily in the bucket of water the moment it was thrown in, probably not aware that the newly found freedom was a temporary one.

Oche had just thrown into the water his fishing line for the second time when he and the other boys saw a boy about the age of twelve paddling past them. The boy had a thick long hair and was only on khaki shorts.

From the way he held his makeshift paddle which was a long, thick bamboo stick; Oshe could deduce that he wasn’t so experienced with using a canoe. And again, the makeshift canoe-made with bigger bamboo sticks tied together horizontally and vertically-wasn’t steady on the water. The other thing that gave Oche the greatest worry was the direction that the young boy was paddling his canoe to-behind the church building-where the water current was extremely high.

Where are you going to!” Oche had to cry out to the boy, gaining the attention of his two other friends in the process.

“To fish!” the boy replied with a firm voice.

Oche could already tell that the the boy was going to fish from the bamboo stick and bucket that was on the boy’s canoe. What he didn’t understand was why the boy wanted to go to a place farther than where they were.

“The current is too high over there!” Oche cautioned.

“I know. It’s okay!” the boy replied and turned his back against Oche, giving Oche a clue that he had already made up his mind. Oche sighed and focused again on his fishing.

“Why are you bothering yourself?” his stout friend, Ekere asked.

“He looks too young. I don’t think he can handle the current over there,” Oche replied, the skin of his forehead furrowed. A fish got caught up in Ekere’s hook before he could say anything back in reply, so he focused on drawing the fishing line out instead.

“Why are the fishes treating my hook as if it’s without a bait,” the tallest among them, Abutu complained loudly, making Oche and Ekere to laugh at him.

“Keep trying and don’t give up yet.” Oche patted Abutu on his back. Abutu grudgingly drew out his fishing line from the water and fixed in a new bait on the hook, before sinking it back into the water again. But a terrific sight suddenly flashed before him just at the moment he turned around to drop the hook back into the water. With wide open eyes, he finally released coherent words from his mouth. “Where is the boy?”

Oche and Ekere instinctively knew who Abutu was referring to so with their fishing sticks still in their hands, they simultaneously turned around to meet with the sight that immediately replicated on their faces the same horrified look that Abutu had on his. The empty canoe of the young boy was just at a distance a little bit far from theirs, and being rocked by the fierce water currents. Oche’s eyes quickly roamed the region before him and they suddenly landed on what looked like the head of a human, just some few meters away from the empty canoe. The head suddenly disappeared but then reappeared again. It was only then Oche realized that it was indeed the head of a human and not an animal.

“He is over there!” Abutu shouted, as he too had now seen the boy who was trying to raise up his hands. The water current was taking him farther and farther away from them at every passing second. Oche had to act fast so he immediately drew out his fishing line and placed it on the canoe

“What are you doing?” Ekere quickly held unto Oche’s hands.

“I need to go!”

“It’s too dangerous. You said it yourself; the water current is too much!” Abutu tried to make Oche change his decision of risking his own life to save the boy.

Oche had a lot going through his mind. He remembered the six-year-old girl who had drown a few days ago. Rumors went around that the little girl had gone to take her bath alone at the village river, when the water level was almost two times higher than usual. He knew her and he had wished that he was there to save her.

He had an opportunity to save someone now and he couldn’t let it go by. Yes, the water current was much but he trusted his swimming skills. He was the best in swimming among his peers. Without heeding to the persistent pleas of his friends, he quickly dived into the water and started swimming forward and away from their canoe. He propelled one arm after the other with as much speed that he could possibly muster.

The more he tried to close up the great gap between him and the drowning boy, the more the current took the boy away from him. It was becoming frustrating. He increased the power of his strokes, causing him to involuntarily gulp in some of the contaminated flood water. His hope came alive again when he noticed that the boy had managed to hold onto a twig from a small tree. Swimming along the direction of the water current made it easier for him to get closer to where the boy was, but then, he couldn’t help but to dread what would happen when swimming back to the canoe.

A few more strokes and he finally reached where the boy was. He extended his right hand to the boy who had the most frightened look he had ever seen. The chest of the boy got elevated and depressed at every second due to his erratic breathing. The boy took Oche’s hand and afterward he wrapped his hands around the neck of Oche.

Oche turned around and started swimming against the current-the part he dreaded the most. Sharp pains were already emanating from his biceps and his eyes were hurting him. He gathered up some courage and tried to overcome the force of the current that was very well against him. He felt choked as the boy’s grip on his neck suddenly became tighter. The boy was traumatized and scared.

Making single strokes with only one of his hands, Oche tried to use his other hand to free the tight hold of the boy around his neck but it was fruitless. He had only one option left-bear the temporary discomfort and focus on the important task of swimming to safety with the boy.

The more his muscles became weaker, the more he pushed himself above his limits. He could see his friends now, they were waving at him.

Slowly and steadily, he was beginning to close the gap between his friends and him. He was beyond exhausted by the time he reached the canoe. With the help of his friends he was pulled into the canoe along with the boy.

The faint voices of his friends congratulating him appeared to be floating in the air. His breathing was rapid and he couldn’t feel his numb legs. He fought to keep his eyelids open but they threatened to shut his eyes. He looked beside him and saw that the boy appeared to be alright. He took in a deep breath of relief and smiled. In the next seconds that passed by he became tired of fighting to keep his eyes open so he let his fatigue win over his body. His eyes slowly shut and he fell into a deep and peaceful sleep.


Meet a serial investor, who plays the odds

Gambling, goes the consensus, is a mug’s game. Certainly that was my view. Apart from the annual raffle draw in the office where I worked, I steered well clear. Not least, having cleared the contents of my late uncle’s slum flat in Ashaiman, strewn with betting slips, I associated it with failure.

This March, marks my 10th year with Universal Merchant Bank in Accra. As a senior vice president relationship manager with a private bank, I have been working with many of the same high-net-worth clients for years, advising them through any decisions they must make regarding banking, lending, trusts, insurance, and investments – every financial aspect of their life.

At a business cocktail on a certain Friday, an age-long client introduced me to a cousin of his – Dr. Herbert Hansen; a Nigerian entrepreneur, philanthropist and   professional gambler, widely regarded as among the most successful sports bettors in West Africa, having a winning streak which extended for over a decade.

“I want to stop all gambling other than sports betting and returned to my roots in business; car dealing,” he announced while sipping his Martini on the rock.

The effect was immediate; two other men stopped their conversation and spun around to face Dr. Herbert. Then they all giggled like it was a big joke.

 “You are in safe hands,” his cousin responded; pointing right at me.

I was quite astonished because I had never associated gambling with success. When I think of gamblers, I imagine a different class of persons; the term “degenerate” definitely pops up in my head.

He winked at me, “I am a responsible gambler. I bet only on short odds. Never more than 1/1 (or “evens” as I learned to call it), but more often around 4/9.  I think like an investor. I never bet for emotional reasons,” he clarified.

 “I started gambling when I was 9 years old, when I bet the money I earned from my first garage junk sales on the Brazilian national football team (Seleção Brasileira de Futebol) to beat the French national football team (The Blues), in the 1986 World Cup Quarter Final. In terms of pure skill, this was the greatest World Cup game of all times,” he recalled.

“Wow! I remember that game; I had supported The Brazilian side too. It was the final World Cup for many Brazil legends such as Socrates, Junior and Zico. I reminisced -envisioning the game in our small 80s television box.

“In the scorching sun, Brazil roared into the lead through Careca and missed a number of chances to extend their advantage. France equalised through Platini, and both teams exchanged blows in a truly epic encounter. The Guadaljara crowd chanted Zico’s name so loud and for so long, demanding that the veteran was brought on as a substitute, Tele Santana eventually obliged. Zico rolled back the years, creating a penalty with a genius through pass. Zico stepped up to win the game for Brazil, but inexplicably saw his spot-kick saved by man-of-the-match Joel Bats.” He narrated.

“The game went to penalties after more missed chances. The two captains both incredibly failed – Socrates and Platini – but it was France who emerged victorious and I lost the bet, but it did not deter me from gambling. I was a losing gambler for many years. I had lost $50,000 by the time I was 22. I once lost my house in Nigeria after an English premiership match ended not in the favour of my bet. The winner did not take possession; we agreed that I pay off the debt over the next 18 months and I did.  So you see, I didn’t end up in the streets,” he continued.

“I am a millennial millionaire. My success changed in my mid to late 30s; over a period of 10 years, I had only one losing year, with a 7-year winning streak,” he expounded.  

Dr Herbert Hasen dalliance with betting was an interesting and profitable diversion, but for an estimated 500,000 people, gambling to improve their income I wasn’t too sure.  Gambling is like cocaine. Some can handle it. Most cannot.

I listened attentively to the gambling master but I was certain it wasn’t something I wanted to try.  I presented some business deal involving millions and billions of dollars that he was very interested in. He asked me to send the necessary details to him via email and we scheduled for another meeting in Lagos Nigeria.

 Dr Herbert Hansen, after taking the last sip of his expensive cocktail said, “Anyone thinking of emulating my years of betting responsibly is absolutely on an unpredictable yellow brick road. Sure, you might end up in profit. But personally I wouldn’t bet on it.” He gave me a firm hand shake and walked away with a smirk.


Dancing in the Rain: A Dream Deferred but not Denied

Abigail drove Jason to school on a Monday morning. Jason was excited and proud to have his grandma by him for his “show and tell”. His grandma was his most favourite person and he didn’t have a hard time telling his class that his grandma was a practicing nurse for thirteen years. Abigail enjoyed answering several questions from the children. It was so much fun. Finally she watched her grandson settle in his class. She had a cordial talk with Jason’s teacher, before she left to pick him up again at school closing time.

Abigail drove to the Crowell shopping mall, some distance away from Pearson Elementary School. As she was busy shopping for fresh groceries; moving up and down the aisles, she came across a very familiar face. The face hadn’t changed much. Abigail pushed her shopping trolley around and passed by the young man to be sure. He took no notice of her. She turned around again to see if it was really Onyeka; the nine year old boy she nursed many years ago at National Orthopedic Hospital, Igbobi. She hastened to follow him from behind, and overtook him.

“Are you Onyeka?” she said aloud. He heard her, and looked towards her direction. He took a closer look at her, and pointed his finger across to her, trying to be sure if she was the most compassionate nurse he used to know. “Nurse Abigail?” he asked.

“Yes, I am Onyeka,” he answered, with a loud shout. “Where did you go all these years? We wished to contact you, when we were told you left NOHIL, but we had no one to ask your whereabouts. My parents hated to ask anything about you from Nurse Rachael because we knew she didn’t like you at all,” he said.

“You did?” you were such an adorable boy back then, I am so glad you got your miracle,” she replied as she hugged him as firmly as she could. There was an explosion in her brain… the good sort… the type that carries more possibilities than she could be conscious of… but there were hundreds of questions there in that buzz of electricity… “I can’t believe this; you can walk now and you look great! How did this happen or is this really not Onyeka?

“Actually, I have been walking for over twelve years now. In fact, I had my spinal surgery a few weeks after you resigned with the help of Dr Willams Abade. He told us about his friend; Dr. Yasir Salimon; a renowned Nigerian-American neurosurgeon and academic who was starting out a healthcare development company with his wife, Perpetual. The company was launching out with free spinal surgeries to underprivileged Nigerians in Lagos state. That was my miracle! My condition fit perfectly with the description they needed. Dr Willams Abade provided them with all the medical history needed for the surgery.”

“Originally, Dr Willams Abade thought I would need two separate surgeries to complete the realignment. He also thought I might need to wear a body cast after the operation.

However, after examining my scans Dr Yasir  Salimon  was able to combine the surgeries into one and used only a brace on me. He came to Nigeria with implants and equipment from the US so that they could operate for free on people with spine-related problems like me. He was the lead surgeon and a couple of others assisted him at the time. They carried out about 10 surgeries and mine was one of them.
“I finally got to experience a completely unconscious ability to walk, stand, and chat with people without being reminded that I have pain to attend to and that’s what I call a medical miracle.”

Two months after my surgery and recovery period at home, I was ready to start the hard work of rehabilitation, which began with range-of-motion exercises, gait retraining and pool therapy. Rehabilitation was a slow process, it took 12 to 18 months; I underwent six weeks of inpatient rehabilitation. After completing six weeks inpatient rehabilitation, I began outpatient rehab. I stood for extended period of time and practiced walking with a cane. After six months my gait and walking mechanics had greatly improved.

My parents, older sister; Ada and I were not discouraged, we had our eyes on the prize — numerous dancing at family celebrations, afternoons of sunshine and playing and countless years of active companionship.

Dissimilar to numerous others with my background, I received a scholarship to study medicine in Stanford through the Agency for External Aid, a Nigerian government program which is targeted at improving the quality of life for Nigeria’s most vulnerable communities.

I went on to receive a combined MD/MSc degree at Stanford Medical School, Stanford, California and  I have recently completed my post-residency fellowship training in complex nerve reconstruction at Louisiana State University and complex spine surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee; all in the States.

His narrative was quite unbelievable, shocking really. Abigail’s mind was sent reeling, unable to comprehend or process the array of achievements that he had grossed. She felt giddy with excitement. She wanted to run, to shout, and to tell everyone that her Onyeka had risen above his medical limitations. She felt pumped, excited, more alive than she had ever thought possible.

Over the years I have learnt never to cave in when bad circumstances occur. I realize that whatever happens to me only breaks the old me and build the new me. It’s my choice to stay down when things go wrong and never allow what happens to me, keep you down. I see every situation as a chance to become what I have always intended to be, hard times will not make me bitter but will leave me better,” he added with his trademark smirk  that Abigail recognized.


Dancing in the Rain: No Silver Lining

Whenever Nurse Abigail left the children’s ward at the end of a shift; she often told herself that none of the patients or their families existed outside of the building. It would be as though she’d walked out of a cinema, and she’d left behind all their tragic stories; but there was one patient who refused to cooperate.

Onyeka was nine-years-old, the same age as her youngest son at the time, which made it that much harder. He had been brought to the National Orthopedic Hospital, Igbobi a week ago after a sudden fall on a concrete floor while dancing in the rain. Nurse Abigail first nursed Onyeka after he’d been in the hospital a few weeks. Dr Willams Abade and his team had tried every type of non-surgical treatment including pain pills, shots, and physical therapy – all with little or no improvement. It seems that day after day, it just gets worse.

According to his MRI results, the doctors learned that his disc had torn between the L5/S1 regions of his spine and was no longer hydrated; not as a result of the fall but a birth abnormality. The fall only evoked the reality that Onyeka had a spinal deviation called congenital scoliosis. On the MRI image, his disc appeared as a black shadow; spine surgery was his best bet. His parent mulled over their two options: either to let Onyeka live with an excruciating back pain; whilst confined to a wheelchair forever or take a chance to restore his life through surgery. The first options seemed more likely because his parents had exhausted their possibilities to pay for his medical bills. They had already sold a few prized valuables and were now subjected to asking relatives and friends for assistance. 

Onyeka often needed to be catheterised; to drain his urine because he couldn’t do it himself and also needed help to clear his bowels. However he kept a positive attitude; holding on to his fond memory of being able to run around like a healthy child. He would zip around the ward in his wheelchair, visiting other children and sharing hope, always keen to meet the new ones. Every weekend his family would come in to visit him. His sister; Ada would rush up to him and shower him with hugs and kisses and tell him how much she had missed him. It was wonderful, but more than ever he wanted to be back on his feet. “I would walk out of this hospital unaided,” he said to Nurse Abigail each time she attended to him. His faith gave rise to the optimism that filled her heart each time she saw Onyeka.  

One afternoon shift Nurse Abigail came for her regular checkups and monitoring of the pain that radiated from Onyeka’s back. She gave him a second dose of acetaminophen meds and two spinal injections, then he told her he wanted to speak to his mum who had gone into the doctor’s office. She went on to get his mum. The door was ajar and his mother was seated next to her husband while the doctor addressed them. She listened from a distance.

 “Onyeka needs surgery urgently; he has a spinal disorder that could lead to a tumor that would trap his spinal cord, causing it to stretch as he grows; this could make him lose his mobility totally if not dealt with.” Dr Williams explained.

“The good news is that we can carry out an anterior/posterior fusion,” he continued, now pointing at a spinal anatomy chart.  We would make an incision in the front (anterior) of his body and enter the spine through his stomach. Through this incision we should remove the disc and attach cadaver bone to the front of his spine. Cadaver bone is used to help the spine fuse. Next, we would make another incision through his back (posterior), attach a piece of his hip bone to the back of his spine, and stabilize (support) everything using titanium screws.”

Listening to the explanation of the procedure left Onyeka’s parents afraid but also excited at the possibility of their child living life again. They asked for the price of the surgery and were told that the surgery costs 1.3 million naira, they were bewildered. There were tears in the room. Onyeka’s parents had known surgery was on the horizon for their son, but it’s never an easy conversation or decision. They obviously couldn’t afford the surgery.  Without surgery, Onyeka’s condition would continue to deteriorate. Onyeka’s dad explained to the doctor that they hadn’t the means to raise the money. He agreed to the sad options of Onyeka remaining in a wheelchair until a miracle.

They were expecting some money from the traders’ monthly Ajo- contributory saving scheme they were involved in. The money was to be used to clear-up the accumulated hospital bills and perhaps get Onyeka a wheelchair. The thought of that made Onyeka’s father stutter for a moment; every part of him went on pause while his thoughts caught up. “My only son!” he muttered. After a wash of cold they both got up from their seats, feeling new warmth to the day. He placed one hand on his wife’s shoulder, “It’ll be okay, it will,” he reassured his distraught wife.

When Nurse Abigail stepped outside at the end of the shift, she tried to pretend Onyeka was just a character in a film, and that his story had no life outside of that building, it didn’t work. When she looked at her youngest son, running around like a healthy nine-year-old, Onyeka came to mind. The thought that Onyeka would be wheelchair bound for the rest of his life brought about a wave of sadness that pervaded her being leaving unbearable hollows. She was sure that Onyeka had a chance at walking again if he had the surgery. “Onyeka’s parents shouldn’t have had to make the decision to stop his treatment based on financial costs if good medical care was affordable,” she cried. “Such an adorable little boy with so much ahead of him shouldn’t the bound by a treatable medical condition,” Abigail was deeply saddened. When the thought of Onyeka came, her appetite was ash on the floor. The food would get stuck, four bites and she was done. It wasn’t until she developed stomach ulcers and almost had a breakdown, that a friend asked why she was putting herself through the emotional pain. “Just quit,” her friend advised, and so Nurse Abigail did. But then she missed caring for patients. She didn’t hate the job; she just found it hard to take in.

The next month she ended up back in a pediatric ward at a different hospital. Nurse Abigail thought she could do it again, but as she heard repeated horrid cases during handover, she buckled. She couldn’t cope with the challenging experience of sharing in the emotions of traumatized children and their families. She tries not to cross professional boundaries yet it seemed almost impossible, she walked out of that hospital and never went back. Now she owns a retail supermarket in the city of Lagos away from the complexities of everyday medical practice.   Her son is 21 now. He’s driving, has a girlfriend, plays professional football in Spain, and hangs out with his mates. She often thinks of Onyeka and wonder how he is at 21.


Dancing in the Rain

Children Playing in the Rain

You know you are in Lagos when clouds begin forming and winds start blowing with people running helter skelter – depicting signs of rainfall; unannounced rainfall mostly show up when everyone is busy going about their business.

It was about 1pm.  The street was filled with children in white-gray uniforms on their way home from school. They walked in pairs chatting, giggling and playing by the road side. The sky darkened with thick clouds. Most people picked up their pace, while some ran hastily holding futile hands skyward to fend off the worst. Onyeka quickly got on a motorcycle to take him to his mother’s shop in front of their house. The rain began to fall so thickly that there was an instant covering of water on the street; the city was cast into somber tones.  The roads were turned into small rivulets and street children were splashing and playing in the muddy, dirty puddles. The motorcycle driver slowed down; thick sheets of rain obscured the driver’s vision. He held the handlebar firmly as they lumbered pass; the saddle clattered as the wheels sloshed through the muddy potholes.

The downpour was so heavy that they were drenched to their skin. The sound of emptiness was disrupted by the loud gregarious boom of thunder. The cold rain pierced Onyeka’s pale and wet skin. He hopped off the motorcycle as he handed the driver a wet fifty naira note. He ran across the slippery path into his mummy’s shop.

His mother and his elder sister Adaobi had already covered their wares with large polythene materials to prevent water from destroying them. 

”Good afternoon mummy,” he greeted, now shivering.

“Welcome son, go inside and quickly join your sister in filling up all the barrels.”

“Ok ma,” he sprang off.

“Make sure you take off your wet uni…“ Onyeka was already gone before she finished.

All the children in the compound had come out with buckets to fetch water from the rain. They took turns under the roof top gutter channel – each person placed a bucket at the funnel- like faucet and watched the water gush into the bucket. When a bucket was full, the child carried the bucket of water into the house to fill up the storage containers. It was a lot of work and it required patience. Onyeka and his friends enjoyed this chore because it was a good excuse to jump in various puddles with their arms open wide and water running freely down their faces and already soaked clothes.

While Onyeka waited his turn, he joined his friends to dance to the beats and strums of the rain; each boy was out to show his unique afopop dance steps. One of the boys planted one leg while twisting the other leg on the ball of his foot to the beat. Once his basic stance was established, he added ridiculous hand motions and facial expressions to display his azonto dance skills. Everyone hailed him. There were various dance moves as the rain pattered. Ada also came out to shake her backside leaning forward with locked knees and lifting each leg up and down to initiate the kukere dance pattern. Her arms were in freestyle movements. It was becoming a rain dance battle. Another boy seemed to be the shoki master; his leg movement and the violent shaking of his head, biting his fingers and contorting his face into wild expressions earned him the master title. Everyone was excited. The wind howled as the water splashed in a repeated rhythm.  

Onyeka in the excitement began a backwards rolling of his shoulders with one arm continually extended and the other arm placed either on his waist and alternatively on his chest in a Skelewu movement – he tried to add a leg movement when he missed his step. He slipped, and fell hard on his back. As he hit the ground with a “thud,” at first he was just shocked. The children screamed and a thunder rumbled. Adaobi ran to his side. Then the shock turned to horrible pain, stinging his back and side. He realized he’d been badly injured because he couldn’t get up. There were several failed attempt to get him back on his feet.

Onyeka was rushed to a nearby hospital but was immediately transferred to The National Orthopedic Hospital, Igbobi. He saw two different chiropractors, both of whom told his parents he’d seriously injured his back and may need surgery. In the meantime, he was given a bed in Igbobi. He was always lying on his back for it hurt too much to sit upright. Onyeka remained optimistic about his recovery. He told everyone who cared to listen how he would be going back to school soon and how much fun it will be to dance at his birthday party in October. His mum enjoyed listening to his enlarged horizon of hope; it made her smile but she didn’t want to spoil his happiness. She knew they needed a miracle for Onyeka to walk again. The doctors were still evasive about his prognosis. The only sure truth was that Onyeka needed surgery and physical therapy afterward which cost a lot of money that his family couldn’t afford.


My Journey as a Single Dad

In April 1997, I lost the love of my life; I was forced to cope with not only her death, but the death of my newborn son, it was a tragic Thursday in TransEkulu, in the coal city of Enugu. My name is Chinwuba Nchedo, I was fondly called Chuchu by my late wife. I was left with the responsibility of raising our 4-year-old daughter alone. After the shock of my wife’s death, I became aware that I knew nothing about raising a daughter by myself.

During the grieving process, I sometimes wondered if the wrong parent had died. “Mothers raise daughters. Fathers are supposed to financially support the family,” I often thought. I was brought up in a patriarchal Igbo family where mothers were the only nurturers. I grew up as an only son among five sisters. Now, I had to learn a new role, one I hadn’t anticipated.

My daughter’s greatest fear initially was being left alone. She had already lost her mother. She didn’t want to lose her father as well? Who would take care of her then?

On one occasion she announced, “Dad, I know what you can get me for my next birthday present, and it won’t cost you one naira. You can find me a new mum.” It was too soon for me to consider taking such a step, but her question helped me to understand the depth of her need. She was hurting and she was scared.

After the initial shock, denial and bargaining phases had run their courses; I went through lingering anger and depression then I started to put our lives back together. For the first few months I sucked at been a single parent.  I failed at every attempt to make a meal. I consecutively burnt our dinner until I got my youngest sister; Ndidi to come over fortnightly to help me out with cooking, shopping and cleaning of some sort. She was a student at Enugu State University of Science and Technology at the time. She was very helpful and supportive although she benefited largely from the gratuity she received.

I am an architect. I have a Master’s degree and have been working a professional job in my field for eleven-and-a-half years.  Although I was passionate about my career and loved my job at Fusion & Fealty, I knew I’d to be part of my daughter’s life. Not just providing for her, but being actively involved in her life as she grows. 

I worked for 48 hours a week, I often found myself torn. It was difficult to juggle work life and raising my little girl.  In August that same year, I resigned my job and started out my private practice. I had time to drop off and pick up my daughter from school.  I also took up cooking lessons from my sisters. My daughter and I did life together; doing dishes, tidying up, solving math sums and visiting fun places.  I became my daughter’s “go to person”. I encouraged her involvement in church activities so she would be spiritually grounded. I enrolled her in charm school and we joined a sport club in New Haven to foster her swimming and tennis skills.   

For regular exposure, we visited our home town Ezeagu. It is renowned for its undulating plateaus, rich cultural diversity and scenic views. My daughter always loved it there. Her favourite site is the 30 meter high waterfall in Ezeagu complex and the 3-kilometre cave, as well as the lake, the cold and warm spring. Ezeagu Tourist Complex is our perfect place for picnics and several leisure activities. I tried to be involved by balancing my work and caring for my daughter.

So many memories: her first real date, graduations, tennis games at the arena, the first formal dance, her first ball dress, visits to the saloon, learning how to ride a bike, her cultural dancing. These are memories I hold so dear. One of my fondest recollections was…

On a certain morning, my daughter was taking longer than usual to get ready for school and we were running late. I went up to her room.

“Knock, knock, sweetheart are you ok? “  I asked from behind the bathroom door.

“It is so weird dad; I think I am really sick. I am pooing blood. And my tummy badly hurts.  Am I going to die like mum?”

For a few seconds I was numb. I wanted to freak out but I had to stay calm.

“What part of your bum is bleeding hon?”  I asked.

“Is it the poo part or the pee part?”

“I guess it’s my pee bum,” she answered.

Ok, sweet heart. “Wash up nicely with water and soap. Then stuff toilet paper in the back of your pants and come out of the bathroom.”  I had an idea of what it could be.

She did as she was told. When she got out, I gave her a warm hug. I confirmed from her stained underwear that it was her first period. Then I began to explain the menstrual process to my little angel in my best way possible. I also reassured her she wasn’t dying. She was so happy and relieved even though her tummy did hurt. 

We drove to the pharmacy to get her sanitary towel and some pain relief for the cramping. While in the car, I answered several other questions and clarified her assumptions.  I was so excited I was part of my daughter’s big day and that I got to be there for her.

My daughter went on to joke that she deserved a treat like when her tooth falls out, so I decided to oblige her with the Igbo puberty celebration.

We skipped school for that day; I nipped to the market to get fresh scent leaves (Nchawun) and a life local fowl to be used for chicken soup. It was a meal offering for my daughter – celebrating her womanhood and her advancement into adolescence as it is in our Igbo tradition. I never missed an opportunity to teach my daughter our rich cultural heritage.

My daughter is 23 years old now. Like any parent, I didn’t know it would turn out this great, until it did. I learnt this: Ultimately, the best gift I could give my daughter was my time, my love and my encouragement. Daughters need their fathers; one doesn’t have to lose his wife to be an active dad.