As a kid, I transitioned through a zillion crushes, and the objects of my infatuation were often older and bigger females – don’t ask, I dunno why. In primary four, I did something she didn’t like to my ‘girlfriend’ at the time – don’t ask, I dunno what – so she chased after me, and I ran. As I reached the class door, I tried to execute a ‘drift’ but my momentum was too high and the sole of my sandals too weak to handle the traction. So I slid until I slammed into the wooden doorpost knee-first. Even before I got off the floor, the knee was already as large as a water melon.
After she heard what happened, my mother drove me straight to a traditional bone-setter in a part of town I had never been before. And thus commenced the torture. With every touch, the elderly lady tortured every nerve-ending in my body with heart-wrenching pain. I tried to run away, I plotted many escape plans but Madam WWD – wicked witch doctor – and my mother were always a step ahead. So I modified my plans.
I discovered that the worst pain I felt was to the right of the injured knee, just about the ‘dimple’ area. So every time Madam WWD massaged my knee, I would deftly maneuver my leg so that she was faced with the part that hurt less. Every time her hand strayed to the worst pain area, I clenched my teeth and – painstakingly – kept a straight face, but whenever she stroked an area that didn’t hurt at all, I yelled and screamed curses on her. Gradually, she started to concentrate on the other parts of my knee – all the parts except the part that hurt most. My plan worked!
With time, I learnt to endure the pain while walking, and even the worst pain area started to feel better. I was discharged less than a week afterwards, and the pain eventually disappeared.
Fast forward fourteen years and I had just discovered my passion for running. I was not fast, but I had a lot of stamina and it helped me think, so I jogged three times a week. After doing this consistently for a month, I started to feel pain in my left knee. I thought it was ‘good pain’ which would pass with more vigorous exercise so I continued through the pain.
Soon however it became obvious that there was nothing good about pain, and not long afterwards I found myself lying on my back in the doctor’s consultation room.
“Here?” he poked at my knee.
I shook my head. No.
He clamped his right hand over the left and palm open pressed down on my right leg, just above the knee. “Try to raise your leg,” he said.
“Any pain?” I shook my head. None.
He applied same pressure on my left leg, and asked me to try lifting it. Immediately, I saw a flash of hot white fire blast across the inside of my eye lids. The pain completely muted me, I could not even yell. My body recoiled and my hands ferociously latched onto his, wildly clawing them off me. After he stepped away, I dropped back, feeling beads of sweat form on my forehead as I struggled for breath.
His verdict was bad news for me. I had to stop jogging, not for a while until it got better, but for life. I told him it wasn’t possible, that there had to be something else that could be done. The physiotherapist said there was, and went ahead to explain to me the merits of other sports namely cycling, swimming and rapid-walking.
I didn’t want to cycle, or swim, and like hell, I was too young for rapid-walking; I wanted to jog, and I tried to explain it to him. But the doctor was adamant. He said they were all the same, all sports.
But it wasn’t just sports for me. For the first time in my active youthful life, I had come to love a sport, really love it. And now, I couldn’t do it again. I left his office pained.
I was speaking with my mother shortly afterwards and I mentioned the doctor’s visit.
“Left leg kwa?” she went, “the same one you broke in primary school?”
Gbagaam!!! Like a bad Nollywood movie, the memories came back to me: of injuring my knee – my LEFT knee – on the class doorpost, of the many sessions with the traditional bone-setter, and of my ‘genius’ plan which I had effectively employed to avoid the worst of the pain. I had gotten away with less pain, but even though I didn’t think of it at the time, I had also gone away with an unhealed knee. And all these years, the injury had stayed hidden, festering, and showing up just in time to truncate my joy.
Thanks to literature, movies and my imagination, I have ‘experienced’ the pains suffered by Igbo people during the Nigeria-Biafra war of 1967. I have also read several venomous posts and tweets aimed at Igbos on social media. But none of it had ever felt as personal, as demeaning, and as hurtful as reading @kunleafolayan’s Igbo-targeted hate tweets.
I might have taken it a tad personal because of my admiration for the man’s art, but beyond hurt, I am worried. It isn’t just the sheer hatred in the words that worries me, no, what worries me most is the realization that this hatred is not new-found. And this applies to the Oba’s tweets as well. While some see men yielding to the influences of chilled Orijin and piracy-induced frustration, I see prejudice that has lain for so long beneath an exterior of societal decorum. And as I read the ensuing e-warfare between supporters and protesters, I got even more worried.
We all pretend that the hurt of the Civil war passed away with the war itself but surely, recent events have proven otherwise. From the comments, one could infer the following as the summary of the present Nigerian state: while the Igbo man continues to exist in a bitter semi-auto defensive mode – seated with one buttock, as my grandmother might say, the Yoruba man merely tolerates him, the Hausa man wonders why this man has to always make everything about himself, and the Urhobo man waits to see what happens. And this is just when the Igbo man is the centre of discourse; insert the other 249 ethnic groups into that slot one after the other and the permutations will unfold like the Judgment scroll.
Like it or not, ethnic sentiments lie deeply ingrained in every Nigerian, be he/she Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Efik or Urhobo. While there are a number of reasons for these sentiments, an overwhelming majority stems from the pain of a war which was badly fought and too quickly discarded into the dusty cabinets of history.
The injury of the Civil war lies hidden and festering beneath this façade of ‘Allizzwell’ and like that lingering knee injury, it’ll never go away. We need to first uncover the festering wound so that it can be treated with some stinging disinfectant, and then we can allow time to lay its healing hands and complete the process. But first we must act. And the sooner, the better.
I am @ojukwu_martin on twitter