His life is full of shocks and surprises. And there are enough scares and bruises on his ageing body to tell his story. He has slept in the forest for nights against his will and has watched himself dying slowly and alone, as his stomach was ripped part by bullets during the Nigerian civil war.
The Biafran-30-year-old soldier was gunned down and literally swimming in his own blood. He lay helpless in the bushes, with his intestines out and drying until he was discovered and hospitalized, with little hope of survival. Yet he made it.
Kalu Onyejiako or Nda Kalu, as he is popularly called in his native Umuorii, Uratta, has tasted pain several times and cheated death at least twice. He has survived many life- threatening situations, some of which he chooses not to talk about.
However, each time, he was taken for dead, the brave son of Umuotobochie has fought like a lion and wrestled with a determination to live, sometimes for months in a sick bed. He has kicked his way through each time, screaming, limping or staggering but alive still to tell his story by himself.
Face to Face met the 77 year old at his home, shirtless and leaning against the wall on his balcony, as his committed wife of many years sat on a small bench washing her Christian mother wrappers, in a large white basin.
We exchanged pleasantries and nda Kalu who quickly threw on a matching jumper to his trousers, escorted his guests to the next house belonging to his son and heir.
He knew the purpose of the visit so, without prompting, he lifted up his jumper and showed his 44 year old stubborn, nine inch scare, running from one side of the stomach to the other, like a narrow, ugly gutter dug by an amateur.
“That is my nine inch Laprotmy – operation,” he said, stroking the scar like a treasured object being cleaned and prepared for public viewing.
“It was done to remove the bullet. Look at this, the bullet passed through here and there and came out here which led to my nine and half inch laprotomy operation,” he added, sadly.
Pausing for a while as if trying to remember, he sighed and continued:
“We planned an attack and I wounded on Nov 5 1969 and in 1970 the war ended. We went for a night attack and I was shot and stayed in the bush with the bullet in me for two days before I could be located. Forces from the Ogbunigwe section spotted me and took me to Aboh-Mbaise, where I was operated upon by two French doctors, who removed the bullet and the particles,” the father of seven recalled, painfully.
Onyejiako, the only son of his parents, said he joined the war in anger. He was one of several young men of the community who obtained scholarship from the then Nigerian Ambassador to Germany Barr Michael Emeribe Ejimofor to study but he couldn’t afford transport money.
“I didn’t let my parents know I was going to join the army. I joined the army out of annoyance because my people were unable to get money for my transport to Germany. So I had no other alternative than to join the army- which I fought with all the heart and had this terrible wound,” he reminisced.
“I was one of those the late chief Michael Ejimofor gave scholarship to Germany but the embassy closed because of the war and before I could assemble my documents and get money to pay for ticket. My father couldn’t get the money before the war broke out and all the foreign embassies closed and left Nigeria.”
When the war ended and he recovered from his deadly wound, he found himself a job and, later, a wife. As a sales clerk in a department store in Port Harcourt, Onyejiako made enough money to support his family. Later, he changed job and came nearer home to Owerri to work as a tax collector. He retired in 1997 as a chief bailiff in the board of internal revenue. This is what the pensioner said about his job:
“Our business is getting people to pay tax – we go from place to place giving papers to those who should pay tax, sometimes I will remove the elders from the nominal role of paying tax. They gave me the power to sort out that and I did it until I retired in 1997 with my gratuity and I have been a pensioner since then. After 21 years on the job, I applied for and got a voluntary retirement.”
A respected community leader, Onyejiako did not retire into a rocking chair rather he used his time to serve his people.
He is a member of the elders forum called Oha Uratta traditional council, which tries to bring sanity into the affairs of the community, especially as it relates to land, currently a major source of conflict and enmity in the area.
“Uratta now is scattered because of this land matter. Some people will take another man’s land and sell it for the so-called ten per cent. It is awful,” he said, sadly, adding that several of such matters come before the Oha Uratta.
A former president and now overall patron of the council, Onyejiako, who is currently recovering from an accident, has not been active in the council for sometime. But he’s in touch with his colleagues and looks forward to returning to business.
He is, however, planning a thanksgiving ceremony to celebrate his recovery. The pensioner recalled how the accident occurred.
“I went to collect my pension at the Owerri sub- treasury and unfortunately, someone hit me from the back.”
But it wasn’t just someone, it was his boss – the man he had served under as a bailiff, and who too was there to collect his pension. Both men had met and greeted earlier as they went to their respective collection points. Onyejiako finished and left. But as he was walking out of the premises, the boss who was driving out hit him from behind and knocked him down.
“I fainted because I bled so much. From there, they carried me to a hospital and when the doctor confirmed there was a fracture, they transferred me to Christiana hospital. I stayed almost a week. They recommended surgery but I refused for fear that I might lose my leg.”
Fortunately he didn’t. The man who is now walking again but still taking local treatment, is planning a thanksgiving Mass to thank God and celebrate yet again another exit from the lion’s den.