Recently, a secondary school classmate texted: "Arising from the death of our first principal ODW on 27/04/16, we are sending a delegation to the funeral". I asked: "How old was ODW when he died? The response came back: "ODW died at the age of 101 yrs." My next question was: "How many of us in our class of 30 are still living?" The classmate texted: "I don't know the accurate information regarding our classmates because I have not established contact with mates like E and B." This writer remembers the deaths of classmates like Adamu, John, Jonah, Ossa, Isaac, Yohanna, Silas, Tersu, and many others the writer is not aware of. "How many of us are still living?" I repeatedly asked my classmate.
I shouldn't have asked such a ridiculous question when I should know better. We Nigerians live and die like mayflies because we are under the most inhospitable and uninhabitable conditions, while nations like Britain, Switzerland, France, and America make the most of our resources. We die like mayflies which have lifespan of 24 hours. Western nations exploit us as the farmer milks his cows. Who wouldn't live a long life in a clean environment conducive to longevity? A place is hospitable if it is welcoming, friendly, receptive, congenial, or inviting. Is Nigeria hospitable when insecurity looms like a threatening monstrosity? A place is habitable if it is livable, likeable, or fit for human habitation. How do you rate Nigeria in terms of habitability? If you say: "Terrible," we are on the same wavelength.
This essay has three objectives. One: to pay tribute to Sir ODW who was instrumental in founding one of the first secondary school in Northern Nigeria from which this writer graduated along with several Nigerian State governors, Vice Chancellors, army Generals, and Ambassadors to name a few. Second: to point out that, unlike the ODW who lived to be a centenarian, many of the students passing through ODW's school have already died years ago. It is not too speculative to say that Nigerians and other Africans on the whole barely live beyond age 53, according to the estimation of the World Health Organization. Third: to suggest certain health habits that, if put into practice, may improve the life expectancy of many of us from Black Africa.
The ODW was a member of a group of white missionaries from England, that came to Nigeria and established a teacher training college and two secondary schools, one for boys and the other or girls, in Northern Nigeria. ODW was the first principal of the boys' school around 1954, almost 62 years ago. After heading similar schools in several countries in Africa, ODW retired and returned to England as did many of our British teachers. We were about 30 boys in Form 1, and over 50% of us are now dead almost 50 years before the death of our founding principal. That we Nigerians die so early is not always an accident nor is it a conspiracy that the white man has hatched against us. Longevity is a function of the choices we consciously make. Unfortunately as expected, we Nigerians make extremely bad choices we call mistakes.
Thus, L =f(C), where L is longevity, f is function, and C stands for Choices. To say that nature or heredity tells the whole story is an old wives' tale or a blatant lie. Outspokenly, nurture or environment plays a part, probably far greater than nature or things we were born with. Nature sets the initial parameter and nurture takes it from there.
Therefore, when two identical twins are raised in two different environments and grow up to exhibit personalities or attributes that are diametrically or distinctly different as night and day, or summer and winter, the difference is said to be the result of the environment. Where and how one grows up have effects on how long one lives. The environment is defined as the surroundings, situation, location, milieu, background, or upbringing.
If you are reading this essay it is more likely than not that you have lost your father, mother, uncles, aunts, and a few other loved ones years ago. Death is the great equalizer, meaning, no matter how rich or poor, accomplished, educated, smart or not we are, death comes knocking at everyone's door. Inevitably, we all shall die some day. In death we are all equal. You may have you heard of someone who "cheated death." You and I can delay our death, but we cannot obliterate, demolish, or eliminate death. It is incontrovertible, indubitable, or beyond a doubt that we humans play a part in how long or short we live. You can live longer if you begin to make judicious or sensible decisions.
Nigerians and other Black Africans live short lives and die young while white Europeans do the opposite. It is very lamentable that we Africans have nothing in our countries to help safeguard our lives against such common killers as malaria, dysentery, typhoid fever, Alzheimer's Disease, leukemia, high blood pressure, depression, and cholera .These killers cause ailments that rob us of our dear lives. What are the first things Nigerians think of as causes of death of a loved one? They think of amosu (witchcraft); ogbanje ( a person who repeatedly dies and comes back to life); nsi (poison); mammy-water (mermaids); abracadabra or some other hocus- pocus.
There is a case of a man who died and his folks claimed he was poisoned by a relative. To find who the killer might be, umunna (family members) decided to bathe the corpse in water and to hand each family member a tumbler of bath water to drink. The belief was that the killer would fall sick and die after drinking miri ozu (water used to bathe a corpse).
An educated relative refused to drink the water because he said it was dirty and germ-infested. As this relative started walking off, others screamed; "Aha , you are the killer!". The man turned around and said: "Eh, ikpu nne gi." (Yes, your mother's private parts). We Africans need to get rid of various uncanny/weird superstitious beliefs about death and dying . Such superstitions can and do kill and shorten our lives.
We pay unbelievably high expenses to fly overseas to seek specialized medical treatments that are usually unavailable in Nigeria. When we finally die in foreign lands and our bodies are flown home for burial, we have lost the battle. Besides, hospitals in India and other places that handle our corpses make huge profits from harvesting and selling body parts from dead Nigerians. Nigerian hearts, livers, pancreases have high demands in the world markets.
It is believed that the way Nigerians and black Africans survived the Atlantic Slave Trade for over 300 years, their body parts might have some magical powers. It is possible that some non-Africans may believe that a Nigerian body part transplanted into a non-African man will lead the recipient to possess special features, such as ogologo amu (long penis) that would fuck a woman TDB (till day break). It is not far-fetched to suggest that non-Africans may benefit from brains transplanted from Africans in order to reduce bigotry, xenophobia , or narrow-mindedness. This is a joke but there could be some truth to it. Someone suggested that the declining white birth rates may be improved with an increase in sexual proclivity or appetite brought about by transplants from African body parts.
The countries with the lowest life expectancy by the World Health Organization are in Africa and include: Mozambique (53.52), Nigeria (53.52), Chad (51.50), Angola (51.50), Mali (52.50), Guinea Bissau (50.48). Swaziland (50.49), Somalia (50.48), Lesotho (50.49), Democratic Republic of the Congo (49,48), CentralAfrican Republic (48.47), and Sierra Leone (47.46).
We Africans fall low on life expectancy scale, and rank high on the Corruption Index. Nigerians rob their country to death, leaving our loots in foreign lands. Foreign countries use our resources to enrich themselves and prolong their lives.
That the White Europeans live long and die at old age is not accidental. The people of Europe set healthful choices as top priorities for individuals and the nations. Highest life expectancy countries are: Japan ( 82.6 years), Hong Kong (82.2), years"3- Switzerland ( 82.1), Israel ( 82.0), Iceland 81.8 ),Australia (81.2), Singapore (81.0), UK (81.50), France (82), Spain (80.9) Sweden (80.9) , Macau ( 80.7).
The Europeans live healthier and longer lives while maintaining their healthcare systems with the billions of dollars leaders of African countries steal and take to Europe. You can imagine bow our African leaders bow their bushy heads so low almost touching the ground as they prostrate to hand the loots over to Bekee (white man) as slaves did to "Masser" on Virginia plantations.
Although keeping up with our yearly physical checkups and taking our medications appropriately as prescribed is recommended, we should not just stop at that.. That alone does not ipsofacto guarantee longevity. Physicians are not gods and drugs are not the panacea or cure-all for all of our health problems. Though physicians and medicines play important parts in our well being, they do not explain why Africans die early or the reason they do not live to be 100 or more.
Each of us, while working with our family physicians and taking medications as prescribed, should take full responsibility for the quality of our lives and how long we live. Living long is not a privilege reserved exclusively for the rich. We all can live to be centenarians.
Aren't you getting leery and weary of attending wake keeping each weekend for a Nigerian man or woman who died at a ridiculously young age? Haven't you attended funerals in which, in their opening prayers, the pastors thanked God for allowing the deceased to live beyond "the 70 years Thou hast allotted us." Whoever tells you the Bible says God has allotted us 70 years to live , is telling you okwu asi (Igbo term for a fib or an untruth). That's a blatant lie! If 70 wee the magical number, why do Nigerians die at 53 and Sierra Leoneans die at just 47? We can live up to 100 years and beyond if we learn how to maintain the structures that house our bodies.
While this writer was visiting China years ago, he once joked about wanting to take a dozen 100-year-old Chinese women to Nigeria to explain to my people how some Chinese men we read about on the internet live very long lives. When our guide quickly said : "It is impossible," we asked : "Why do you say that, Fiona?" She responded: "Because Chinese men live for a very, very long time with their wives." Then, we asked: "What happens when the men die?" The guide's prompt answer was startling: "Chinese men do not die."
We know it is impossible, really improbable to believe that there are people who do not experience death. Anyway, we know the Chinese, some Americans, Japanese, and British are living to ripe old ages and dying at ages that are well over 100 years. They must be doing something we Africans have not learned to do. What are some of the things they are doing? We shall soon discover these. Read on.
Although a few Nigerians and other Africans do live fairly long lives, it is only a rare exception, not the general rule. The majority of us Africans have a life expectancy much shorter than what is obtainable in the Western world. Why can't we in Nigeria (nay, Africa in general) live much longer than we are now doing? Is the problem nature or heredity? Is it nurture or environment? Let's recap the statistics.
Can you imagine the Japanese and the Swiss living to be 83 and 82 respectively while Nigerians and Mozambicans only clock half that much at 53 years? There are some health habits that will improve the life expectancy of many of us in Africa. This writer is an educator who has training in education and psychology, law, and mathematics. He is not a medical doctor and is not qualified to diagnose and treat diseases or render medical advice. Readers are advised to see their healthcare providers for professional advice. This essay is concerned only with commonsense what-to-do's.
Speak with your doctor: The first thing Nigerians think of or say when some loved one gets sick or dies are "witchcraft, poison, or enemies." Our minds are being taken over by superstitious beliefs. We Africans do not take advantage of preventive medicine that wards off diseases before they become full blown. It is easier to treat a disease when it is beginning to develop than when it is aggressively destroying our bodies. It is very advisable to have yearly check-ups for cancer, prostate disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or any of the debilitating diseases that tend to cut our lives short.
Take medications as prescribed byyour doctor. But- this is a big but- but remember drugs do not cure, and excessive dependence on chemicals is foolhardy. The human body is naturally equipped to heal and renew itself when properly cared for. Too much medication weakens our natural immune system and make us susceptible to illnesses.
Eat like you have commonsense: Eating doesn't mean you must swallow everything like eke(python). Because Nigerians love ihe onuno (things to swallow), they gulp down heavy starches (pounded cassava, yam, corn, even flours) and they down hard goat meats without proper chewing. They also quaff large quantities of stout and Heineken beers so that women look like hippopotami and men appear to be pregnant women.
Don't retire from active life: Forget early retirement. Keep working on your job and don't give up work. The world is doing away with forced retirements of older people. Find things to do to occupy the time you spent in the office even if our government forces you to give up your paid employment at mandated retirement age. Research shows older workers have a wealth of experience that can be tapped into, and that retirement does not mean dying early at home. Volunteer work can occupy the time we spent on paid employment.
Keep your mind sharp and in good working condition: It's being said that "the mind is a terrible thing towaste." Keep the mind fully engaged at all times. Study calculus. Speak a Nigerian language other than your native tongue. The mind is the computer that powers your being. Your mind shall not be idle but must be engaged in learning new skills and tasks.
Keep the mind sharp doing things that excite you, such as, farming, training to be a preacher, player of new instruments, service as role models for young people, traveler to unfamiliar places in Africa or foreign countries. Read world news and happenings around you. Connect to the internet. Don't travel the same way back and forth to work or church. Find 4 or 5 different routes to get to the same destination.
Have fun figuring things out. Get lost sometimes and figure your way home. Don't rely on gadgets like GPS to help you find your way. Enjoy getting lost in surrounding counties around your city and asking for directions from highway police, other motorists or gas station attendants. It is fun being lost and spending an hour or two to find my way around. It is an adventure. Learn new language, such as Igbo, Yoruba, Fulani, or the American Sign Languages. Enroll in computer enrichment classes.
Take out Life insurance with some of the money you spent at wake keeping. Let the dead rest in peace and look after the living. Spare your family the shock and expenses of footing funeral and burial and flying your body to Nigeria. Maintain accidental life and funeral insurance that will come handy in case you unexpectedly pass on.
Move around: Why do you drive around like bigman/big madam who have forgotten how to walk? Do you remember walking to school or to fetch water from the stream in your village? Leave your car at home and walk around the neighborhood on weekends. Walk up and down the stairs in your house of office. Go to your neighborhood parks, walk, or ride bicycles. Take advantage of the gym and other community activities, Become members of the YMCA.
Don't sit around inactive like fat Buddha and allow your body to degenerate or atrophy. Don't be imprisoned by arthritis or obesity due to difficulties associated with inaction and laziness. Relive the soccer games you had played, the athletics, running, basketball, jumping, and walking around you did to impress the guy or gal you are now married to. Stay active. Get off your fat, lazy ass away from swallowing food and take a refreshing walk.
Take your wife or fiancé to a large mall or airport and walk until you are out of breath. Walking is the best and safest exercise one can take. Please take the children with you so you run after them to battle with their fidgety behavior. Walk for at least 2 miles or more each day in your neighborhood. Join the YMCA and do the aerobics. Climb the hills found around Jos, Nigeria, or in the Cameroons.
Eat healthy diets: Foods high in fibers (tuwo, corn, millet, collards, cabbage) to help cleanse the body of cholesterol and fat-building impurities in our body. Avoid food containing too much starch or sugar to ward off diabetes, stroke, unhealthy prostates, colon cancer, etc Eat green vegetables each day. Enjoy eating your vegetables raw or half-cooked to obtain essential vitamins. Drink half gallon of clean water daily. As much as possible avoid Nigerian starchy foods loaded with carbohydrates, such as akpu (cassava) foofoo, and garri. Chew your food thoroughly before swallowing to ease digestion. Substitute starches with oats or wheat flours, Remember goat meat is tough to chew and takes months to digest and can cause painful indigestion.
Floss your teeth daily: by passing strong threads between your teeth to dislodge rotten foods that might be blocking your arteries and flow of life-giving blood throughout your body.
If you don't floss, it will lead to plaque build-up, which can lead to cavities, tooth decay, and gum disease that, if left untreated, can be a leading cause for heart disease, diabetes, and a high body mass index. Additionally, bacteria can cause bad breath and having food or debris between your teeth can make them look less clean or white. Flush you mouth and gargle with Hydrogen Peroxide each morning.
Have at least six hours of sleep each day: Get no less than 6 hours of good restful sleep undisturbed by fear or uncertainty. An hour or less of quick naps in daytime will do the body lots of good.
Watch out for stress that kills: Why do we stay fretful, anxious, neurotic, or stressed out worrying about things that are beyond our control and that can lead to heart attacks or heart failures? Get out of stressful relationships and marriages if mutual communication or counseling fails to fix things. Banish fear and dreadful worrying from our lives. Let go of anger. Forgive those who offend you. Forgive yourself when you make stupid mistakes you shouldn't have made. Apologize readily and quickly to people you have offended.
Treat your body as if it were a loan from God: We do not own the body that houses our soul and mind. It is a loan, a temporary abode that should be maintained while we are on this earth. Treat your body as the White House or Aso Rock mansion where the Presidents live.
Love that body with plenty of good food consisting of sweet fruits (mangoes, bananas, guavas, apples, oranges, plantains, etc), and vegetables (cabbages, okras, onions, lettuce) ; and nuts (groundnuts, cashews, palm kernels). Drink plenty of clean water. Add fish to your diet, and include vitamins, such as omega-3 and selenium. We ought to keep our body weight down and not be too obese. Fatness incites diseases such as strokes and diabetes.
Stay connected with other people you love: Don't be like the ostrich that buries its head in the sand oblivious of the happenings in the world. Connect with friends and family members. Enjoy the get-together of the Secondary School Old Boys, Yoruba Club and the Igbo Union have to eat, dance till 4am, and converse until there is nothing else to talk about.
Remember to play in the Tennis Club or at recreation centers. Healthy people call each other up on telephones, visit each other's homes, and attend each other's birthday parties, churches or mosques. You may visit friends' homes to show support when tragedies hit. People who live long often contribute money to help out with friends' funerals. They volunteer in community work whenever needed.
Play like a crazy man/woman: Remember smashing ping pong/tennis balls at tournaments in your younger age. Have a carpenter to construct a wooden Ping Pong table or buy one. Wake spouse up at 5am to smash ping pong with her/him until you are ready to go back to bed. Keep the small white balls and table tennis bats ready on the table. Take life easy. Have a good sense of humor Always have kind words to say to people and a willingness to render selfless help. It does not cost you a kobo to smile. Laugh at yourself and at the mistakes you make. Laugh heartily.
Know your medical conditions and behave accordingly. Do you forget you have high blood pressure and still add large quantities of sodium/salt to your diet? If you remember you have diabetes, why do you eat highly starchy foods like white rice and white bread, and why can't you take more vegetables, fruits, and organic foods? If you love rice as Nigerians do, buy brown rice. Shop at Whole Foods if you live in North America.
Run from alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and marijuana/Indian hemp: These mess up your mind and keep you addicted and imprisoned in a dependent mood. Isn't it like being imprisoned at Kiri Kiri or Federal Penitentiary? It appears alcohol has destroyed many African lives and ruined numerous careers and marriages. Don't you know that coffee is a drug and you drink it as if it were water?
IN CONCLUSION: How long you live is a responsibility left entirely to you, not to anyone else. We Africans can live to be 100 years old or older if we make serious efforts to eat balanced meals that nourish our bodies and take measures that prevent ailments from growing worse and cutting our lives short.