82 Years on Planet Earth

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At the time this article, number 97, is published today, January 2, 2020, I would have lived for 82 years on this planet earth; the only planet in the universe with life. I would like to use this opportunity to wish all the readers of this column and all Nigerians home and abroad a fruitful 2020 that will be better than 2019. For me, it has been very humbling sharing my thoughts with you; critiques and commendations through telephone calls, emails and text messages coming from former leaders, retired army generals, and ordinary Nigerians like me, even most recently from a royal father, His Royal Highness, Eze A.E. Uhegbu, continue to inspire me.
My birthday, therefore, took place yesterday, but don’t you worry about not sending me gifts or messages; you reading my column every week is enough for me, better still if you can plant a tree and nurture it anywhere, that would be the best gift to me

My autobiography ‘’Hunger For Power’’ was published two years ago and in it I told the story of how I came into this world. Though I was not there, the story was relayed to me by those who delivered me, particularly the native nurse, Mama Agnes Jibunoh, of blessed memory. On this day, I remember her and pray that her soul rests in peace. The title of the chapter in question is “Nna Anyi, I Think The Child Is Coming o.” Eighty-two years later, I find myself reflecting on the way I arrived into this world with the desire to once again share the story:

Nna anyi, I think the child is coming o,” my mother whispered to my father.

“Hmm,” my father grunted. “Not now, let’s get home first,” he added, as if, somehow, my mother had transcendent control over the timing of uterine contractions.

Seated up there at the special, reserved pew, right across from venerable clergy, no less, Samuel Jibunoh had no intention of losing face in this church his father had all but founded. No, certainly not for something as trifling as a woman going into labour because there were far weightier matters at hand, like finishing a magnificent service!

“But my water has broken,” my poor mother complained. “We have to go now.”

“Look,” whispered my father, “I will get you someone to take you home and fetch the midwife. You’ll be fine with her. I’ll rush there immediately after. But I must finish attending this service. You know it is a New Year service.”
I had chosen the New Year service at St. John’s Anglican Church, Ogbe-ani Village in Akwukwu-Igbo Kingdom to announce my entrance

The New Year church service was perhaps the one that had most sentimental traction with the church-going folks of days gone by. My father, Samuel Jibunoh, a self-educated man who studied a bit of English and Science by correspondence, and his own father before him, were pillars of St. John’s and this situation, if not handled delicately, could prove no small inconvenience. My ancestors had been instrumental in bringing the Anglican mission to the community by donating a tract of land for the church building that is still contiguous to the Jibunoh household today. Mostly on account of their affinity to the church, the Jibunoh patriarchs were, therefore, held to a higher standard of conduct (at least when they were on the church premises) than most. Therefore, when my heavily pregnant mother began to squirm in her seat as the Eucharist was coming to its glorious crescendo and the spiritual body of Christ Himself seemed to be descending to take up the substance of the wafers of bread on the altar, my father shot her a warning look. Teeth clenched, grimacing in agony at labour’s onset, and assisted by a few female ushers, my mother waddled out of the sanctuary without causing the honourable Jibunoh and other worthies there present in that hallowed chamber of worship too much discomfort at this all-important first service in the ecumenical calendar!

With the nearest government hospital a hundred miles away, my mother was now at the mercy of the local midwife, who, incidentally, was my father’s cousin. Popularly known as Ma Agnes, this wizened midwife who delivered me never saw the walls of any school, but was responsible for almost 60% of all the births in my hometown and environs. She was famous and well feared in Akwukwu-Igbo and environs as a strong medicine woman. She was the ‘go-to guy’ in these parts for all matters pertaining to female reproduction: our resident OB/GYN specialist. Now, in those days, the practice of midwifery necessarily came with some connotations and not so muted echoes of fetishism. Not being regulated or totally exposed yet to modern best practices, midwifery in those days was steeped in local customs that were also shared by native doctors, especially because midwifery skills were usually handed down in a family, from generation to generation, just like native doctors. It did not also help that herbs, roots, spices, tree bark, etc, were the chief tools at their disposal, which also happened to be the stock in trade of native doctors.

The midwife was pretty much the native doctor (‘dibia’) for women/childbirth affairs. When it was apparent the baby was not seated well in the birth canal, my mother had to be operated on in what passed for a caesarean section. The methods in use then were, to put mildly, alarmingly basic. Locally-distilled gin was the anaesthetic of choice and it was sometimes poured directly on the wound! The scalpel was a vicious-looking, well-honed knife. Sterilization techniques were crude. A piece of cloth was shoved in between the woman’s teeth for her to bite on to help her manage the pain. Since there were no bed stirrups, two hefty women simply sat on the patient, one on each leg, preventing all movement.”
These were the circumstances in which I came into this world on New Year’s Day, 1938.

I have been writing this column every week for almost two years, pouring into it knowledge and experience that spans over eight decades, and I have done so the old fashion way with pen on ink and paper. It is my hope and desire that the ink will continue to flow and my hand strong enough to hold the pen. I have written about the state of the nation’s security and when I did, I remembered the Chibok girls. I have also written about the massive corruption ravaging the country and, when I did, I remembered the displaced wealth; and I have written about the environment and the polluted air that we breathe and the effect it has on the food we eat. My one regret is that I have written for about 200 million Nigerians with less than one million reading population. I can only wonder if there are enough people willing and capable of fighting for the desired change needed in Nigeria.

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