October holds memorable significance in my diary. It’s of course time of year to reflect on the state of our national journey since independence, which many of us still regard with great patriotic zeal despite the fact that the elapsing 45 years of unparalleled khakistocracy has condemned Nigerians to seeming perpetual purposelessness, not minding the lumpish submission to an even firmer neo-colonial grip.
Well, the entirety is at the beck and call of competing miscellaneous foreign influences. What, with renegade white farmers cultivating our lands for tobacco and other cash crops, in this 21st century, for their ultimate profits; the IMF enslaving the country to the Paris Club while the US, driven by an uncontrollable urge to impose on the rest of the world, holds a gun to our heads as it consolidates in the oil-fields. Did we actually initiate all these? If not, has the government protected our interests sufficiently, or is it merely colluding with the exploitation?
This extremely dangerous state was brought on by the crude use of “freedom” without the obligatory responsibility, a bizarre orthodoxy that seems to be acceptable only in Nigeria and thus sustained over the years by delinquent elite of rulers. The incongruity, and the exceptional ineptitude exhibited during these long years have been rivalled only by the single-minded concentration on looting public funds and, in time, the you-chop and I-chop syndrome gave rise to the jarring anomaly that the more Nigeria earns from its oil the richer its rulers become and the poorer the state and the citizens get.
Tangibly, it had a debilitating knock on the nation’s well-being, forcefully exemplified in the deteriorating quality of life and perhaps better illustrated by the constantly ebbing social and developmental indices that ranked us among the world’s poorest countries [NewAge editorial 27 Sept]. And the excruciating burden has only helped many Nigerians to untimely demise.
If this is not depressing enough, you need only listen to the groan as the wait for the elusive dividends of democracy, six years on, continues. And if all this sounds like the crescendo of a doomsday scenario, it is because it truly indicates the level of the deprivation ravaging a land that is sinking where the less-endowed neighbours it had set out with in the Sixties are emerging from the poverty straitjacket.
The assumption then, bolstered by copious possibilities and a heightened sense of purpose, was that Nigeria could only march forward. Some diehards had even dared to peg the estimated time of arrival at the summit of nationhood at two light decades away from independence. Nearly half a century later, the country has failed to stand either its ground or progress, literally, as it shuffled from one crisis to another.
So, here we are again, another October, causing each other grief and reminding ourselves of what we did and shouldn’t have, who did what and who wasn’t permitted to do what. Rigmarole you would say, but such useful knowledge and experience would, in normal circumstances, be put to good use in charting fresh paths. But the situation of Nigeria is of course abnormal, crucially in the way its leaders, whether military or civilian, impose themselves and, above all, in the temerarious reign they all exercise over the nation. Surprisingly too, they have been getting away with it, all the time, notwithstanding Bob Marley’s warning that “You can fool some people sometimes but you can’t fool all the people all the time.”
Anyway, back to the other pressing relevance of October to my life, which is that my second son was born just few fours after the national day anniversary in 1981. This, as it were, has been lightening the otherwise blighted October mood until a rude interruption in 2001 when, in the middle of his 10th birthday celebration, I had a devastating stroke.
Four years on, I am still living with the complex and mysterious thing that stroke is, alongside the telltale physical disablement. No one really knows exactly why strokes happen, although the risk factors include high blood pressure, stress, smoking and drinking too much alcohol, high cholesterol, obesity and heart disease. It is difficult to identify a single cause because there are so many other factors as well, such as one’s blood’s resistance to clotting, which varies from one person to another.
In my case I was a smoker, but the jury is still out as to what actually provoked the clot that prevented the blood supplying oxygen to the right side of my brain, damaging the critical cells therein and paralysing the entire left side of my body.
Strokes are caused by the blood supply to the brain being disrupted and parts of it becoming damaged or destroyed but every stroke is different and recovery times vary enormously, while some victims do not recover at all.
Out of all people who have a stroke in Britain, and that’s over 130,000 people a year in England and Wales alone, a third die in the first 10 days, a third recover fully and the remaining third, like myself, are left with long-term mental and physical disabilities. A quarter of a million Britons are disabled by a stroke – it has a greater disability impact than any other medical condition.
Like every stroke survivor, my life has become a labyrinth of questions. What happened? Will it happen again? Can I prevent it? How long would it take before I could do up the buttons or tie shoelaces? Would I ever be able to sit up, stand or walk? These and many more other queries are the preoccupation of post-stroke life and, unfortunately, remain unanswered as you walk the difficult passage through rehabilitation back. Neither the doctors or the therapists nor the experience of a lucky survivor who has regained use of his or her faculties could give you outright answers, for no one indeed knows the how and when. Doctors can tell you a certain amount, but are cautious because they do not want to be seen to be attempting to predict the future.
But by sheer dogged determination, and hope, driven by an irresistible will to get on, some like myself have been able to make partial recovery. The residual extreme tiredness that has plagued me, for example, is easing, to the extent that I’m at least now able to deal with other limitations. Thus, my self-efficacy is increasing.
My disability has affected my family of course, and their lives have been completely changed, too. My wife was working and looking after our son when I was suddenly thrown into a frail state, requiring perhaps more constant and continuous attention. But she has dealt with the situation very well, though it has placed more demands on her as also the primary breadwinner of the family.
This anniversary is focusing on how far we have come since those first, awful, early days when I couldn’t even raise a finger on my right hand, the supposedly unaffected part of the body. Then, amidst the trepidation, we were troubled by the uncomfortable thought of a future with the impediments of severe disabilities but now, four years later, I am treating life as a path I’m walking, not an obstacle I’m trying to assail. Yes, I do regard my disability as the saddest thing that has happened to me but the only thing I feel I have really missed out on in life is kicking football with my son, particularly at this time of the year when his birthday comes along – just as we did up till four Octobers ago.
Yes, too, we all still have quality time together and will be celebrating this weekend, not in the vainglorious way of the MeWorlds exponents but in the manner of a wise fighter, a winner, who on 7 October 2001 looked death straight in the eyes and beat a conscious but unhurried retreat to live on, all 48 months of it yet, against all
That is why this October is evoking extraordinary emotions in me, some bubbling others dreary and sad. It is easy to see which of these represent Nigeria, a country so much loved and expected to do well, and which, despite the inadequacies, I will always cheer on.
This article originally appeared in New Age Newspaper. Published with the permission of the author.