Read-to-Live Series: How I lost 2 of my best friends to Early & Sudden Death!

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Alamieyeseigha ...died of heart attach recently
Early this week, I (Author of this work) learned of the sudden death of my one time classmate in the primary school.  He was an ex-senior civil servant who retired some three years ago.  He reportedly suffered a massive heart attack and died without an earlier indication of any health problem.  That was the second of such sudden death by a fellow clan’s man of mine within a month. 

3 weeks earlier, a popular preacher who hailed from the same village with me had collapsed in the church and died before any substantial medical assistance could be rendered.  The doctor reportedly said that he suffered a massive stroke.  What a double shocker to my small clan!

Imagine a little remote clan of barely five thousand in population, experiencing the sudden death of its two prominent citizens within a space of three weeks. The victims were both in their mid-fifties and the three of us were school mates in the primary school.  Apart from growing up together, the three of us maintained close contact all along.  While the retired civil servant was a university graduate, the “Apostle” did not quite make the primary school leaving certificate, otherwise, socio-economically, they could be said to be very alike in many significant ways.

In addition to being from the same rural neighborhood and dying so close together, the ex-civil servant and the “Apostle” (the title he acquired as part of the calling), belonged to the so called middle class, known in the Nigerian parlance as those who have “made it”.  Needless to say that in a rural traditional setting like the one we came from, rumors were plenty with stories of bad deeds associated with sudden death of such popular individuals. 

For this to have happened to two of our very few prominent individuals, not only their close relatives and associates, but the entire community must stand suspect in many foul ways.  Witches, wizards, evil medicines by some competitors, some retrogressive designs of the community itself, or some evil deeds of the victims themselves are only a few of the innumerable explanations for such deaths in most Nigerian communities.  My unfortunate clan’s men certainly could not escape such rumors, so it is not necessary for me to go into the specifics that literally filled the ears with regard to the death of my clansmen.

“Wives and concubines for the man, mates and aggressively intrusive young ladies that make the life of the aging middle class Nigerian woman a living hell, let alone native doctors or other spiritual men and women, who are constant companions that most middle class Nigerians consider essential for their survival”.
In recent years, there have been many similar deaths of well-to-do middle-aged individuals from our clan, some as young as in their thirties.  I know that this situation is not unique to those from my community.  It is often that one hears of similar deaths in almost every community in Nigeria these days.  One common factor in the sudden death of these relatively young individuals has been that they are economically better-off than the average Nigerian.  Another point is that the cause of death in virtually every case appears or is confirmed to be either heart attack or stroke.

Put briefly, the two factors of being well-to-do and cause of death appear to be closely related in virtually every case.  The victims are affluent, compared to the average Nigerian and, from the viewpoint of Western medicine; they reportedly died of heart attack or stroke.  It is therefore in place at this stage to examine the relationship between being well-to-do and sudden death from heart attack or stroke among unfortunate Nigerians who might as well be anyone of us any day.  This is not to say that every case of sudden death is due to heart attack or stroke or that only the affluent die suddenly or die from these diseases.  The point being presented here is the issue of what happens more often than anything else, which may not necessarily apply to every case.

Who is an Affluent Nigerian?
Chances are that you reading this material are affluent, a middle-class Nigerian, applying that yardstick for the purpose of this work rather loosely.  Like my two clan’s men who died suddenly, you could be a top brass of one of the various religious orders or a senior civil servant.  You could be a top or aspiring businessman or businesswoman, a politician, a military officer, a bourgeoning native doctor, a traditional ruler, a musician, a lawyer, a police officer, an enterprising market woman, even a medical doctor or a nurse.  Maybe you are a university educated teacher or a university lecturer.  You may have retired or ceased to be active in any of the enumerated positions, or you are earning your living in some other way but you earn above the average Nigerian.  You belong to the group that are generally seen by neighbors as having “made it”.  You are therefore affluent or a middle class Nigerian.

What this class of individuals really have in common is the fact that they make more money or have more economic resources than the average Nigerian. They are affluent Nigerians.  Even when retired or no longer in active service, these individuals generally maintain an above average socio-economic status in their respective communities, if not as Nigerians in general.  They are not only able to afford enough to eat but can afford to consume more than enough, usually much of the highly valued but costly foods, drinks and accessories, which ordinary Nigerians cannot afford.  In other words, they live and eat like “big men” and “big women”.

Having that much to eat, the average middle class or affluent Nigerian tends to put on some weight, sometimes a lot of weight.  For the man, potbelly or “big man belle” is a common sign of achievement, or “evidence of good living”, as the saying goes.  The woman simply loses shape or even balloons, as nature has provided women more storage room all over. “Making it” is usually self-evident in the average Nigeria; it shows! This appears to be a cultural value which is difficult to take away from the Nigerian who has made it.  This particular point was graphically illustrated in my experience with my late sister-in-law when I newly returned home from post-graduate studies abroad.

Although my sister-in-law had no formal education, she was very vast in the values of our society.  After a month or two of my return, my excited sister-in-law had a solemn and private session with me and said the following:

“My good in-law, you don try! You take your wife go oversea come.  Una born pikin come from there. You read book so-tay you be doctor for book. You don buy car and you dey bill house now.  Wan tin still remain for you, E don reach for you to get big man belle!  Na dat one remain for you now”.

As far as my well-meaning in-law was concerned, “big man belle” is a necessary evidence of achievement for the Nigerian and she did not want me to miss out on that. It certainly would have broken her heart to find that after some twenty years, I still have not attained that Nigerian yardstick for being a big man.  While it may not be every affluent or middle class Nigerian that understands this value of conspicuous consumption as did my sister-in-law or observes the rule, many of them do. For example, I recently met a long time associate of mine who was then a Sole Administrator in one of the Local Government Councils in my state. His bulging “big man belle” was obnoxiously large and he conspicuously displayed it as a badge of honor which he did not want anyone to miss.  Seeing the way he carried the belly, I sarcastically remarked: “evidence of good living shows all over you!”  His face beamed with unbelievable radiance of satisfaction as if my remark was a full dividend for his monumental investment as he responded with a nod of supreme appreciation: “Oh yah!  Oh yah!

Another important aspect of the affluent Nigerian is sedentary life. As you achieve more, eat more, put on more weight, you have less need and ability to run around or physically exert yourself.  This includes any routine exercise since only very few who have “made it” can afford the time, the zeal or the energy for physical strain.  That is probably what “making it” is about in the Nigerian context.

Even if you do not put on excessive weight as a middle class Nigerian, the privilege of eating plenty of the highly priced animal protein foods, which most Nigerians like very much, is ironically loaded with the prospect of a stroke or heart attack.  Unfortunately, this is a medical reality that will be explained later in this book.

Unfortunately too, being an affluent Nigerian is not all rosy.  The process of becoming and remaining affluent inherently involves stress, a lot of stress, especially psychological stress.  You have to keep pace with the demands of your calling, including your numerous competitors, who will do almost anything to unseat you in your scarce but privilege position.  You also have a lot of personal problems to keep you awake at night: endless number of extended family members who look up to you for almost everything.  Wives and concubines for the man, mates and aggressively intrusive young ladies that make the life of the aging middle class Nigerian woman a living hell, let alone native doctors or other spiritual men and women, who are constant companions that most middle class Nigerians consider essential for their survival.  Whatever may or may not apply to you, one thing is sure, as a Nigerian who has made it, you are guaranteed never to be short of issues to rob you of sleep most nights.

From the Book; “Early and Sudden Death; the Price of Affluence among Nigerians”

(Read “How Stroke & Heart Attack kills Naija Big Men” tomorrow on Asabeafrika).

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