BusinessDay

Wike’s parting gift

Introduction

In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Ikwerre Road was a single arterial road from Rumuokoro to Mile 1. Commercial vehicles entering Port Harcourt from Omoku, Owerri, Yenagoa, Warri, etc, plied it as there was no Ada George Road then. The Eliozu bypass and Obiri Ikwerre Road were not yet built. Ikwerre Road carried all the traffics to and fro Yenagoa/Warri and Owerri/Onitsha. Surprisingly enough there was little or no holdup.

Once the Nissan Urvan commercial bus conveying you into Port Harcourt cleared Rumuokuta, passengers often mentioned three bus stops as their points of dis-embankment. They were Kala, Wike and Wimpey Bus Stops in Rumuepirikom; with one located a hundred or so meters from another.

If by mistake you forgot all or any of the bus stops as the first timer, just tell the driver to stop you where people with broken bones were treated. Your fellow passengers would tell you not to worry because you couldn’t miss it. And they were correct.

An avalanche of signposts advertising the healing homes of many native doctors would convince you that you were in Rumuepirikom. The question was which particular native doctor you were seeing to be dropped right at his doorstep. Bus drivers and their conductors were used to directing these out-of-town-visitors coming to Rumuepirikom to get cured. They would direct you to your preferred native doctor.

Was this sick passenger your brother? A nod from you would attract spontaneous sympathies and encouragements. You’d be told to look no further because your brother would get cured. There was no broken bone in the human body that Rumuepirikom native doctors could not handle. But caution your brother not to hold the healer’s hands, even if the pain was killing him, as that would attract a fine of one cockerel. It was taboo touching the medicine man’s hands while he was treating you as that could take away some of his powers. You nodded to these helpful suggestions, given without malice, from total strangers.

As a Port Harcourt boy growing up in military-ruled Rivers, I was used to seeing on both sides of the road in Rumuepirikom large numbers of seated patients waiting to see native doctors. The healers were not called doctors or traditional doctors in those days. They advertised themselves on their sign posts as native doctors who specialised in setting and curing broken bones using roots and herbs. That is traditional medicine.

From the attires, tribal marks and languages spoken by these patients and their relations taking care of them, I could tell they were of diverse ethnicities as Nigeria itself – Ijaws, Yorubas. Tivs, Igbos, Hausas, etc. To kill boredom the healing homes generously supplied their guests with Whot, Ludo and draft games. It was not unusual for an accident victim who arrived Rumuepirikom barely hanging on to life to depart after two months of treatment, a celebrity of some sort in the draft game. Bestriding the highway of civilization, Rumuepirikom did not suffer the global ill will reserved for those whose land contains rich mineral deposits or hosts the capital city. Its ambience was unmatched.

Therefore, before coming into the limelight as the native village of Rivers State Governor Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, I can say that the Rumuepirikom community, for close to a century in written history, carved out a notch for itself as pilgrimage centre for the sick and physically broken. There they converged to get succour under the healing hands of experienced native doctors.

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Native doctors of Rumuepirikom

What used to be Kala Bakery Bus Stop is today Kala Police Station Bus Stop. Coming from outside town your bus is likely to pass the police post and the adjacent filling station before stopping you. Once you alight, the small upstairs on the opposite side of the road ahead has a reception hall called Obiri in Ikwerre language. Inside this open hall is where Ejike Lucky Chukwu sees his patients. The open hall also houses admitted patients with compound fractures.

Among his patients were infants with disfigured limbs. Some of these babies suffered childbirth injuries at the hands of nurses during the birth process, Ejike explained. They brought them here for him to handle. Further divulging he used x-ray when treating certain cases referred to him by hospitals, it was his contention that no limb should be amputated because he could restore it back to good use. Bone injuries with rotten flesh? No problem, he could handle it all. Ejike trained under his own father, Chief Sunday Bekwele Chukwu, famous for his unusual skill in traditional medicine.

A stone’s throw away is Wike Bus Stop where the mild-mannered Emeka Rowland Ihunwo lives on a side street. The fair-complexioned traditional healer was friendly explaining he learnt his medical skills from his father, Rowland Ihunwo, who in turn learnt it from his own father, Shadrack Ihunwo.

That people consulted his forebears from faraway places was because they were good. As long as living memory was concerned, Rumuepirikom had always produced famous medicine men versed in nursing patients back to full health using roots, herbs and a deep understanding of the working of the human skeleton.

Emeka noted his father taught his sons and daughters alike traditional medicine, a skill that ran in the family. He was also going to teach his own children what he learnt from his great father. Having handled uncountable cases, six weeks were the healing period he pronounced for a serious fracture. His patients included infants, adults and the very elderly people.

Rowland Opara’s healing home is on the side of outbound traffic at Wimpey Bus Stop. He learnt traditional medicine from his father, Elder Benjamin N. Opara, who in turn was coached by his own father called Opara Chinda. A powerful healer who flourished after the Second World War, WW2, Opara Chinda was widely consulted in his days.

According to Rowland, bone setting was God’s special gift to Rumuepirikom people from antiquity. It was highly regrettable today that a lot of people were no longer interested in this important calling. He was compassion personified moving among his patients assisted by six young men whose job descriptions include restraining patients during the painful process of setting a broken bone.

Illnesses treated

Cases handled by Rumuepirikom healing homes include broken bones, joint pains as a result of arthritis, waist pain (lumbar spondylosis), tendons, veins, etc. Severe back pains, an affliction silently ravaging many Nigerians, is also handled. Calcium supplements and multivitamins are used in managing a patient’s health when necessary.

When a patient is too poor to pay for the cost of treatment, such patient is never turned away but given quality treatment to full recovery. Saving life, for Rumuepirikom healers, was more fulfilling than monetary profit. Though some patients abscond without paying for their treatments; such ungenerous act never stopped them from serving humanity as their talent came from God.

Wike’s parting gift

Governor Wike has been meticulous in his conceptualisation and citing of developmental projects. As a lawyer, he was able to attract the Nigerian Law School to his state. But as a historian, he has not adequately addressed the place of Rumuepirikom in our collective struggle for survival. He could accomplish this historical necessity by building a modern orthopedic hospital in Rumuepirikom before leaving office on 29th May 2023.

The community saved Nigerians using traditional medicine when conventional or modern medicine failed us. Traditional medical practices are gaining ground as important aspect of public health. The Department of Pharmacognosy and Traditional Medicine, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, and other medical schools worldwide recognise traditional medicine as integral in managing the human musculoskeletal system.

I urge the governor to build this hospital as a way of preserving Rumuepirikon as the Jerusalem for those with orthopedic issues. Citing the hospital in another community will defeat the aim of the project, which is basically history. Rivers people desire no better parting gift from Governor Wike than a world-class orthopedic hospital in the historic Rumuepirikom community to keep the pilgrims coming.

Osiagor, a social commentator, writes from Port Harcourt, Rivers State

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