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Reversing the culture of Death in Eastern Nigeria

Last week I took a holiday to my village. As usual it was not really a holiday because it was forced. I had to attend the many funerals lined up. I was home a week before last on the same mission. Quietly millions of Nigerians are dying out, unsung. I was actually being forced to take a holiday because I needed to shed a tear. In the South Eastern Nigeria where I come from, only funerals provide enough reason to come together, against all the odds; A very negative life indeed. Eastern Nigeria is no longer what it used to be. There is indescribable suffering here. To inaugurate a new better life here requires a federal government policy shift from today's army of occupation mentality to a wider sense of federal inclusion.

The strategic role of this region in the economic well being of Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. What it means is that any problem here reverberates the whole country. Economic strangulation of the East is also the strangulation of Nigeria. Come with me to my village to illustrate the dilemma of the East which is also a reflection of the whole country.

In my village so many posters of the dead stare out at you as you move around. The business of the dead is booming. Mortuaries are springing up in obscure corners. They say there are now new ways of preserving the corpse without the luxury of electricity. And it does not really matter how it looks as long as you present it after the long period of waiting for the children to come back from oversees. You can begin to imagine what permanent damage it does to the psyche of the people when you are ushered to say goodbye to the one you once loved in a public display only to see it had turned soot black.

It has been a struggle to come here for this funeral. We had to take up some night vigils asking the Lord to reveal to us our fate in the journey considering the unpalatable rumors we heard about security here. We didn't hear his voice on it. However, a night before our journey, our friend's landlord was kidnapped at Oginigba, Port Harcourt. They waited for him to come home around 9 pm and took him amidst the eyes of helpless family members. He was ferried away through a waiting boat at the nearby waterside. Was this the voice of God? We were undecided about it yet, but we had little choice in the matter now because the travel must commence.

As for the journey to Umuahia from Port Harcourt, It was hell on earth. We navigated through 52 checkpoints on our way. Our coaster bus driver paid N20 naira to policemen manning each check. As the Bus slows down to a halt, you see a stern looking Army man with hands on the trigger further away just in case you refuse to pay. If you prefer less waste of time you need to show in advance your 'green' as you approach to have a smooth pass. Someone commented: 'I thought they are looking for kidnapers?” Another explained:”No they are in business”

I pondered over the last comment. Are they really in business? It dawned on me how true this was. After all serious security threats have existed side by side the numerous checkpoints all this while. Imagine just how much of the peoples trading profits have gone into wrong pockets? And this is in unconscious support of the growing bribery culture. Let us look at it closely for once. Do the calculation yourself: suppose half of all the cars pay N20 as bribe to 52 checkpoints. If 700 vehicles pass the checkpoint per hour being some of the heaviest in Nigeria and if only 500 pay then we have an hourly gross of N10, 000. The margin of error is offset by the fact that we do no take into consideration those paying more than N20 because they proved stubborn and were punished for it via higher fees or others. Now consider a 10 hour day out of the normal 18 hours shifts. It means that each checkpoint grosses as much as N100, 000. In thirty days we are talking of N3 million. Now multiply it for all the checkpoints between Umuahia and Port Harcourt ie by 52 and you have a monthly grossing of N152 million. Now you know why the axis is very important indeed to the 'nation'. This area has been quietly funding the security set up in Nigeria. That is if this money is fully returned to the coffers of the securities. If not they you can understand why it feels good to own your own checkpoint here. Now I begin to understand the business undertone here. I begin to understand why more checkpoints come to replace fewer checkpoints. I have extrapolated even further in this regards. I think I may even have a solution for kidnapping as well.

Consider that money is the motive of security here. It means that more money will always be given a favorable consideration by the leadership. Morality has no place at all. It does not matter how it comes. There is no moral scruples dispossessing innocent struggling traders and farmer and transporters of their hard earned cash or skimming off from the top their profit to keep them enslaved forever. As long as the daily returns of money to headquarters increase the conundrum is supported. So what difference does it make when kidnappers promise to double the returns? Look at it critically. Instead of picking N20 naira you can gross more with just two cases of kidnapping in your area of jurisdiction.

I shudder when I consider how much damage has been inflicted quietly on Eastern Nigeria's once vibrant economy. These people are renowned hard workers ,traders ,farmers but today they are just beggars, dying in their droves because all freedom to work, to exist has been removed by an occupying force working studiously in collaboration with political harlots masquerading as leaders. Now the area is all corpses and embalmment and funerals and posters and kidnapping and bribery. Help me to shed a tear for the living for those dead have already separated themselves from these checkpoints and N20 naira public supported bribery.

It is true we shouldn't dwell too much on the past but should move forward as they are wont to argue. But we shouldn't move forward wily nilly towards the conditions of today or worse tomorrow. We can reshape this new to give us a future of better life instead of just taking advantage of it. The time is now to reject the culture of death in the land of the living. I will not stop looking back at how much things changed for the worse in just few decades. We used to party at night, rejoice at the birth of a new born, meeting each other when the news is good. Now our children are not afforded same luxury except they meet their peers in a funeral or night vigil. Our cherished culture of life itself is also dying. In my village I discovered that the local stream of golden water had long closed down because everyone now drank pure water from boreholes. Incurable diseases have doubled with sudden deaths. Why can't we just go back drinking the streams that gave us life for thousands of years? For every place of birth comes with a curative stream specially prepared by the Creator for people of that area .Now we seek to drink from the ground water which the Creator had not sanctioned as yet healthy for if it were not so He would have made it to flow on the surface and designated it for certain areas.

If we must survive the new time not just in the East we have to begin to find survival strategies like simple reversals like the drinking water remedy. The other thing is preparing cassava in local streams leaving them to rid itelf of toxic wastes before frying. We must go back to go forward because our present direction does not seem to be leading us to life. While the people should make their own efforts, the Federal government must end the persisting socio-economic and political 'war' against Easterners which seems to have survived the civil war. The Region must not be strangled by policy inconsistencies because it will remain the key to genuine economic recovery efforts.

Mr. Nworisara aspired to lead Nigeria in 1992.

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Articles by Nwokedi Nworisara