I have practically gone through certain experiences that helped to shape my philosophy about life. Though most of the experiences were not palatable, I have come to appreciate the fact that I turned out a better person. Whilst some scholars esteem instruction as a better teacher than Experience, the truth is that the latter leaves you with much conviction and a deep sense of purpose.
In commemoration of my 37th Birthday, I wish to share with you the most remarkable experiences I have had so far and the corresponding lessons I learnt.
MY VOYAGE TO THE CONFLUENCE POINT
I had before my visit to the confluence point at Lokoja, heard and read so much about the meeting point of the two largest Rivers in West Africa: River Niger and River Benue. Some very interesting stories such as the fact that the“brown” coloured River Niger does not mix with the “light- green” River Benue at the confluence point.
The fact also that the meeting of the two rivers accounts for the Y-shape in the Nigerian map and coat of arm is just yet another reason why I decided that I must get to the confluence point to find out things for myself.
On the D-day, approaching the bank of River Niger with two empty water bottles, I saw a fisherman paddling his canoe across the river and I requested that he take me to the confluence point. I only realized how expensive my request was by the time I stepped into the canoe. The farmer asked: What is your name young man? I answered “Chukwuma, sir”. Next, he requested to know what my mission was, which I explained to him that it was only scientific, I wanted to know why the rivers do not mix at the confluence point and had nothing to do with spiritual purpose as he assumed. But off course I filled every space in my statements with a resounding “Sir”, in honour of the fisherman. I answered all his questions with utmost respect and loyalty. Of course, you do not expect me to argue with him on top of the River. About “15” minutes into the journey on River Niger, ‘with no life Jacket’, the fisher man announced to me that we are just about to enter the main stream of river Niger. At that point I wondered what the main stream experience would be like if it was not funny paddling on the branch of River Niger. To make matters worse, his canoe was leaking and I was assigned the role of evacuating the water leaks, which I did with all humility.
When we eventually arrived the confluence point, it appeared all my fears were gone; I felt like a hero. Excitedly I took out my bottles to collect samples of River Niger and River Benue. All of a sudden, the fisherman instructed that I should alight at the island near the confluence point.
At that point I felt that it was obvious the fisherman was up to something. I looked at him with all“due respect” and requested to know why? He said he needed to evacuate the water in the canoe.
The return from the confluence point was not with many fears. I thank God I eventually made it back to the river bank with great joy and deep sense of achievement.
If you think loyalty is a weakness, you have probably not seen a situation that made you appreciate its inestimable value.
The untapped percentage of fulfilled living is connected to the risks that you are unwilling to take.
“Life is an adventure, explore it!”
FROM ACTIVISM TO ADVOCACY
I started out early enough in life as an activist, ready to challenge the status quo. My passion to create the change I wanted to see, made me see it all from the perspective that my zeal to change my world was, indeed, all I needed, and I was ever ready to defend my right at all costs. However, my bitter experiences with the Mopol and the Army, made me have a rethink on my strategy in initiating the needed change ,within the Nigerian context.
My uncle had a physical challenge with a mobile police officer, close to mobile police barracks. A signal was sent to the Mopol barracks and some officers were deployed. My uncle fled upon sighting the officers, but I stayed back to watch over his vehicle.
The Mopol officers attempted to break all the glasses of the vehicle, but I came from behind and requested that they shun such an act. They requested to know if I followed my uncle in the vehicle; I admitted and thereafter they said I was under arrest. I quickly told them to retrieve that word “arrest” and invite me to the station instead. They obliged me of that. I felt like a king having two Mopol officers escort me to the station.
On getting there, the story changed entirely. I was ordered to sit on the bare floor, which I refused to do. However when I sighted the Mopol officer attempting to hit the gun on my head, I automatically saw myself seated on the floor. Furthermore, he instructed me to take off my shoes. I told him sternly that, that was the one I could never do. He quickly deployed his magic of waving his gun, and again I quickly pulled my shoes. I practically saw my rights as a citizen being trampled upon by a “gun man”. It became obvious to me that life does not worth so much in Nigeria and that it is very much possible to lose your right to life in defense of other rights.
I could equally recall vividly in 2010 when I was so molested by the military all because I motioned my students to do the National Anthem, in honor of the military, just towards the barracks. The soldiers there at the gate joined us and enjoyed the whole stuff at the first instance. Suddenly when a senior officer drove in, he attempted to drive the students into the road, I told my students not to run, to avoid accident. The officer felt challenged and requested his boys to lay hands on me.
Thereafter, I was taken to the guard room. I requested to know the crime that I committed by singing the National Anthem. I was told that, that was an act of terrorism and that if his men were armed; he would have ordered them to shoot me.
Eventually, when I was released, I took a decision that though activism runs in my blood; I needed to build the needed capacity to influence public policy through advocacy. Such experiences particularly inspired the building of the capacity which I now operate within the society as a voice that cannot just be neglected.
SAILING ON TROUBLED WATERS
2010, my journey to Cameroon via the Calabar sea port took “5” hours on Nigeria waters and 9 hours on Cameroonian waters. We were attacked twice on Nigerian waters by sea pirates. The fierce looking pirates came into our ship with chain bullets and without any instruction, all the passengers lay face down. The harassment was unequalled and the pirates exploited the passengers without stress. Off course on a high sea, they do not require to deploy their bullets. They could simply push any perceived rebel into the high sea, where even the best swimmer can do nothing.
Shockingly, much of security presence was not felt on Nigerian waters, except in the escort of vessels. It appeared the vessels were more important to the Nigerian government than the citizens. However, when we got to Cameroonian waters, we were assured that pirate attacks were unlikely. We sailed nine hours on Cameroonian waters without any single attack.
I lost all of my appetite on getting to Cameroon. I prayed to God that I did not want to come into face to face experience with the men of the underworld; no, not in the sea. My passion for a more secured Nigeria was heightened. Today, I am glad I play my own little role in building a Nigeria that is safe and secure for every citizen.
THE DEMAND FOR MY LIFE
In 2014, I got a very terrifying call from an acclaimed assassin, while I was driving. I hurriedly parked by the road side to take his call and he said that his client reported a case against me and that as he spoke; some of his boys had already been assigned to kill me. Where I cleared my vehicle was close to the bush, so in fear, I turned 360 degrees to ensure the boys have not closed up on me.
The bandit claimed to have ascertained my innocence from his oracle and requested that I pay him in order for him to withdraw my file.
I thanked him for ‘his kindness’ and requested that we meet face to face for further discussions. He rejected that option and urged me to act fast since the allotted time for the boys to execute the task was short. I told him to, please, exercise a little patience with me, considering the fact that I had never argued with him since we got talking. “Hey!” he screamed, Argue with me? How dare you argue with a commanding assassin of eleven states? I never knew assassins make claims of such leadership structure.
At that point I almost burst into laughter, but had to maintain calmness because my life was priced.
He kept on calling at every interval to remind me that my time was fast running out and that I just had to act fast. At that point, even my very shadow became a suspect, I was too watchful for my life, not knowing the next step to take. I told myself that even if the man’s claim as an assassin turned out to be untrue , the fact remained that his voice was so terrifying and I thought to myself, whatever must have guided his choice of life threat as an option to exploit was too serious to be neglected.
Amidst my state of confusion and fear, my very good friend advised me to confront the criminal on front and tell him that he would not do anything. At the first instance, I felt my friend’s advice sounded like what could come from an enemy, but my friend’s charge to me was that I had the option to live like a lion for once, or live like a sheep, all the rest of my life. It was, indeed, a tough decision to make.
When the call of the young man came again, I did tell him, that he could not do anything. He was shocked and he told me that, in the next “15” minutes, he would spill my blood over my skull. ‘I said it, this suggestion from my friend could land me into problem, that I thought to myself. However, I mustered the courage once more, to re-echo it to him : you cannot do anything to me.
“15” minutes down the line, nothing happened, I equally decided not to give in to further threats by the traitor. All other efforts he made via same channel proved abortive. I regained my freedom.
That particular experience taught me that the worst kind of slavery is experienced, when a man’s life comes under a threat. I learnt that access to freedom is not unconnected to one’s boldness.
THE DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD EXPERIENCE
As I journeyed with my brother from Bayelsa to Enugu, somewhere along the expressway, our car caught fire. When we observed that, I quickly opened one of the doors for emergency exist, but my brother cautioned me not to jump out. I requested that my brother bring the car to a halt, but unfortunately also, the break of the car had failed and the vehicle was at a very high speed.
Burning car; failed break! My goodness!
A man even attempted to wedge our car with his own car, because he noticed that our glasses were shut and felt we may not be aware the car was on fire. That would have been a disaster, we quickly swayed from colliding with him. After running about 5-7minutes in a burning car with failed break, just about the point that the smoke was almost engulfing us, we saw a sandy region beside the road, and I suggested to my brother that we seek a safe landing at the sandy region. God so kind, the car was brought to a halt. All the doors automatically refused to open, except the one I earlier opened, as an emergency exit, we got down via that axis and all I did was to fall face down in the road to worship God for saving us.
The car continued to burn. All efforts to stop the burning by many individuals who volunteered their fire extinguisher failed to stop the ravaging fire, until the car burnt almost to ashes.
I learnt from that experience that with God on my side and his mission on my life, no situation is permitted to take my life before time. I equally realized that when you see someone who appears to overact in praising God, like I did by facing down beside the road, do not be too quick to adjudge them as showing off: you do not know where God brought them from.
ADVENTURES ALMOST TURNED SOUR
I remember clearly when I set out on a mission to profile all the existing tourist sites in Enugu State. I decided to start with the awesome cave in my village called “Ogba-ihunekwagu” in Akpugo. Ogba-ihunekwagu is a big rock with a hall like hollow that can take up to two hundred persons at once, inside the hollow rock is a small rock that brings our clean fresh waters safe for drinking and on top of the cave are trees growing.
It is a long belief that the cave cannot show in a photograph. I was more curious to capture it and see if the image will not show up in a camera. Alongside my cameraman sir Julius, we visited the cave on the set day at noon when no villager was likely to come around.
In the course of photographing the cave, a young man sighted us and screamed: What an Abomination! You guys will tell the villagers why you came here to desecrate our land. As he walked from the cave path to the village square, we followed after him with pleadings as though he were a beautiful bride.
The Young went ahead to hit the village bell, despite our pleadings. Many gathered to see who the ‘miscreants’ were. They hurled abuses on us. At that point, I was compelled to speak my dialect. I told them I was no stranger and that moreover we were yet to capture the place.
We were eventually freed and asked us to leave. At that point I felt my mission to capture the cave was accomplished after all, since my photographer succeeded in capturing some shot. Alas, when I asked Sir Julius for the pictures, he told me he deleted the pictures out of fear of using that as an exhibit. But for the discovery that at least the place can be photographed indeed, it would have completely been a lost mission.
I led delegation of young people to the waterfall near the Ngwo Pine Forest. On our way back, we met five young men, one with a machete and the other four with big sticks. They threatened to maim us if we do not pay a hundred Naira each to them. At that point the possibility in view was to probably motion the young people to engage those rascals; however, I saw the possibility that probably one or more persons would be injured and that will mean a collateral damage to our mission . So we initiated a dialogue as an effective strategy to resolving conflict. It worked.
On one of the mountaineering exercises I organized for young people. I had already taken time to acquaint participants on how to rescue a fall on the mountain; little did I know that such information was bound to save a life. I chose to stay at the back, just to ensure everyone was carried along. All of a sudden, a heavy lady missed her foot and almost fell freely from that mountain if not for the immediate deployment of my life saving skill, it would have turned out bad.
I went to the Atavor River with a young boy whom I carried in my arms while entering the River. People who sighted us concluded that I must be a professional swimmer, considering the fact that I was carrying someone along with me into the River. Unknown to me, there was a big ditch at a certain region of that river. When I got to that part, I practically saw myself drowning; I was faced with the option of releasing the boy I was holding to save myself or ensure the safety of the young chap at the expense of mine. What do I do? I decided to hold the boy firmly even if I would have to go.
I drank the first round of water, as I struggled to keep my head afloat. I was submerged the second round into the water and repeated same protocol and just about the third count rule of getting drowned, a young boy who was far much younger than I was, saw my struggles and extended a lifeline to me and I survived. Such a boy deserve a great reward from me, unfortunately I cannot trace the boy. Such a regret
I decided from that day never to test the depth of the river with two legs. That is to say, Never assume professionalism in a field that is strange to me. When I pondered on what must have made me to hold firmly the young man I took to the river despite I was losing mine own life, I concluded that whatever may have made me to settle for that option in time of crisis could be a mark of leadership.
I STOOD OUT TO BECOME OUTSTANDING
Many young Nigerians who are passionate to create a change are trapped within the limitations of their own beliefs. They tend to see Nigeria as a country where all the privileges are reserved for the high and mighty, and as such are not even ready to make attempt. Many do not even realize that many of the high and mighty whom they see in places of influence today were ordinary persons who made extraordinary choices. I have had some experiences as a Young Nigerian that confirmed to me that certain privileges are reserved for those who are courageous enough to think they are equally entitled to it.
In 2013 when I came up with National Classic “Make Nigeria Great”, it just seemed to me that I probably had a right product for the wrong audience. However, when I submitted the work to both AIT and NTA, and the song was played just before the presidential speech by both stations. I was invited on AM Express twice and also featured on the Leadership Newspapers, Daily Sun, etc. I said to myself, so it is possible to access certain privileges within the Nigerian context without actually paying your way through?
Also in 2013, I applied to attend the World Cyber Security Conference at the Presidential Villa, which I came across on a national newspaper. To my amazement, I was duly invited to take part. When I sat down with most of the men who were in charge of this nation at that time and whom I have seen via several media platforms; one thing kept ringing in my mind; what really made this ones “Superhuman” like we esteem them within the Nigerian context? I could not really see.
In 2014 when I attended the first National Conference on Public Procurement at the Presidential Villa, the participants were split into groups during the Breakout section with each of the group constituting of people from various geographical zones. The professor who was supposed to coordinate the groups had not yet arrived and the organizers requested for someone to volunteer to coordinate the deliberations. At first I felt a bit withdrawn. But after about a minute, a man volunteered, but right inside his introductory speech was his resignation note. At that point, the demand was made again; who can coordinate this group? And the LEADER in me said to me, you can’t keep quiet at this time.
I took up the responsibility to coordinate group 3 at the high powered delegation at the Presidential Villa, which largely constituted highly esteemed individuals. Three members out of the group were from the Nigeria University Commission and I felt connecting to the future of Queen’s Model University by connecting with them at the presidential villa. It was also such a privilege when Amman Burman a keynote speaker at the conference, who had served as a consultant with past 3 successive administrations in the United States invited me to stay on same table with him for a tea break.
I learnt that to become outstanding, I need to stand out, and that individuals need not wait for the change to come; they simply need to step out and be the change. Thank you.