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3 Times I Faced Death and Escaped — and Lessons I Learned

There definitely are always lessons to learn from every bad experience, especially when you’re alive to reflect on such experience…

I remember seeing the movie A Million Ways to Die in the West back in 2014. It was such a wonderful movie. However, on later reflecting on the movie, I feel: while the story is fictitious and set in late 1800s, even in this present age the story has its real version in many parts of the world.

Though they might not be up to a million, but when you live in a “developing” country, there definitely are hundreds of things waiting to kill you. That might not sound so much like a big deal, especially because we’ve learned to survive, but it doesn’t make it less true.

My Story…

There are 3 distinct times I had a close shave with death (at different degrees of course), but survived/escaped by some divine intervention, if I may use that phrase.

I’m not happy to talk about them. No, that’s not my purpose for writing this. Rather, I found that there are a lot of lessons hidden in those experiences, and I’d like to share with you.

My first experience…

2005… The OOU/Ago-Iwoye Crisis.

Ago-Iwoye is a town in Ogun State of Nigeria which hosts the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU). I was a pre-degree (Diploma) student in the faculty of Law of OOU.

There had been an unaddressed friction between the students of the university and the local community. This escalated when some vigilante groups, empowered by the Oba (King) of the town, allegedly killed a university student (not the first recorded) who was coming late into town from studying on campus.

Students couldn’t take the “terrorism” any longer, so they marched to the Oba’s Palace for what was at first a peaceful protest. I didn’t march with them so I wouldn’t want to recount what I didn’t witness firsthand.

Anyway, the protest went bad and students burned down the Oba’s Palace, and even took some of the Oba’s royal symbols, like the Irukere (“Anthers”, according to Google Translate) – which I truly saw a student holding when they were dancing back into town in “victory” – and even the King’s crown, as I heard.

Long story short, the vigilante group (and other indigenes, a term they hated – widely regarded as derogatory) launched a reprisal attack on students, right from that evening at the palace and into the town till the following morning. We were warned to leave our homes and off-campus hostels and move to the campus for the night. Unfortunately, many students, especially those living far from the main road didn’t catch the news of what was happening, or the warning.

Many were killed and injured from bullets and machetes – and charms (black magic). Many ladies were raped.

I and my roommates – and other housemates – were lucky. We caught the news and left for the campus. We spent the night there, in an open field. And when it was morning, the thousands of students on campus agreed to march in unison, by foot, to the nearest town, Oru – just around 3 miles, from where everyone could escape home.

But I already called my parents, and my dad was on his way to come and pick us. He reasonably however asked us – me and my 2 roommates, Innocent and Timi – to stay behind on campus instead of going with the crowd, so he could easily find us.

We did. We even used the opportunity to carefully go back to our apartment to pack few things, since we’d be traveling. We got back to the campus safely.

Then my dad called us back. He heard no cars were allowed to enter Ago-Iwoye, then asked us to also trek “along with others” to Oru. There however were no others. Everybody had gone. So we started the journey alone.

Along the way, Innocent realized he forgot something on campus and quickly ran back to pick it. We waited for him.

We got hungry, me and Timi. Glad we carried our beef stew from our apartment, so we opened it and helped ourselves, while waiting for Innocent.

Then one of the big school buses started speeding from afar towards us. Since it was “our” bus, I started cheering the occupants, meat in hand. But the driving was too rough, and they almost overturned not far from where I was. Yes, “I”, because Timi already disappeared. He realized the occupants weren’t fellow students and ran for his life while I was busy chanting in solidarity. The bus was hijacked.

The occupants started jumping off to escape the near-accident. And before I knew it I was the only student surrounded by indigenes.

Immediately I realized my situation, I started walking slowly back towards campus, pretending I didn’t see them on the other side of the road – or hoping they almost-impossibly wouldn’t see me.

Then the dreaded happened.

One of them shouted at me from the other side to ask for my identity. He was already approaching me. Very tall and dark. And dirty. I can never forget that figure.

Then I made the biggest – and stupidest – mistake. I said in Yoruba, the general local language for South-Western states: “e joo, indigene ni mi”, meaning: “please, I’m an ‘indigene’ too”. I used the forbidden word.

He got so mad and I got what is probably the most resounding slap of my life. But I hardly felt it. It was nothing compared to the impending trouble. As I turned around to flee, I saw another coming towards me with a locally-made knife.

I quickly faced another direction (in-between the both of them) and started running “like mad”. I’ve never been that fast. After what seemed like forever, I looked back, while still speeding off, and realized they left me alone. Wow!

My high speed and not looking forward however didn’t allow me to see another human (not sure what side he belonged to) with a long iron pole ahead, but I looked forward in time to be able to escape him too.

I found myself back in front of the campus in no time. Policemen were already there by then. I crashed on the floor and they started questioning me.

We still did that trekking to Oru!

Later, I tried to imagine what would have happened if those guys actually caught me. What if the tall guy that slapped me had a weapon, instead of an empty palm? Or what if the other had their infamous local gun instead of a knife?

I didn’t really understand the magnitude of the miracle I experienced, until I started hearing various versions of death toll from the crisis in the news. I don’t even want to think of it again.

Lessons learned:

1. There’s strength in company. We indeed stand united. Walking alone truly exposes you to more danger.

2. Not all familiar “faces” are well-meaning. Over-familiarity with anything lowers your guard. Don’t live a life of perpetual suspicion, but be wary even of familiar things, people, occurrences, etc, when making decisions.

3. Speed kills. But sometimes, it saves. Know when you need speed. And when to run like mad.

4. When speeding, don’t lose focus. Even though you need to watch your back, don’t get distracted by what is behind. Focus more on what’s ahead.

5. Keep tabs on the happenings in your environment. Listen to or read the news, at least headlines. Stay current. It might save your life someday. And when news is vital, especially when it’s life-and-death, spread it as much as you can – don’t assume your friends and family already heard.

6. Just abide by the rules and regulations of whatever environment you find yourself. Respect the people’s cultures and values when you’re in a strange land.

7. Distraction kills. If I wasn’t focused on food in a war zone, I’d probably not get so close to my own death.

8. When you’re in trouble, take counsel from people that have gone through the same situation. Never take advice from someone who hasn’t experienced what you’re going through.

My 2nd Experience…

After completing my Diploma-in-Law program in OOU, I left and sought admission into other schools.

I finally got admitted into the faculty of Law of the University of Ilorin to pursue my Law degree. The day I got the admission, my dad asked that I went to the office of the Nigerian Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) to make inquiries – inquiries I didn’t even need to make.

I boarded a commercial bike down there. While trying to pay the bikeman on alighting, a car ran into us: climbed the leg of the biker and then took me off my feet onto its bonnet, and then into a ditch, where it stopped and threw me off.

My flying credentials and money were on my mind. I stood up, dusted myself, and was about to go fetch them when I found people had surrounded me. Some serious crowd! Then they held me down immediately – to sit on the floor.

Before I could say “Jack”, cold water was all over me. I protested and tried to stand up, but they held me harder. Some of them started saying: “don’t let him stand; don’t mind whatever he says; he’s most likely unconscious.”

Then I realized if I tried harder to let myself loose and if I didn’t stop talking, they’d believe I was truly out of my mind.

So I calmed down. Then I softly requested that they got my credentials for me. I even pointed to some of them scattered on the floor. Then some began to suspect that I knew what I was saying.

Long story short, they allowed me to stand, most of them surprised I was fine, then asked that I was taken to the hospital. I insisted on being taken to my dad’s office first. The same bike took me to the office, with the driver that lost control of the car accompanying us.

I later went to the hospital with my own legs. I had some swelling on my right thigh – where I had impact with the speeding car. They were surprised at the hospital too when I came in alone to report my case. I was even chewing roasted corn.

The conclusion of every witness, both at the accident scene and at the hospital, was that I had (have) a lot of good luck and was blessed. Well, I’m only glad to be alive to be able to recount the event.

Lessons I learned…

1. Live every day like it’s your last; someday will definitely be. Be good.

2. People aren’t as bad as you may think, even in struggling economies. There’s still some kindness in the world.

3. Providence is real. Or luck, if you will.

4. The harder you try to prove you’re not what people think/assume you are, the more you look like it. Just do your thing with calm and not minding onlookers – whatever you think is good for you. Your results will be the proof.

5. Looks can be deceiving. You don’t know what that person has been through, even if they don’t look it. (You really don’t want to piss off someone that just got hit by a car.) Be kind. And sensitive.

6. Life is too short to waste your time on things that are not needed or necessary.

My 3rd Experience…

I was at home (my father’s house) one night, preparing to fry dodo (plantain) in the kitchen, when the Nigerian Electrical Power Authority (NEPA) took the light (power), as usual. It was a blackout.

I was however too excited about the plantain I was about to fry that I stood up in the dark to head for the kitchen.

On getting near the kitchen door, I felt a very sharp and excruciating pain from in my right foot. Even though it was dark, I had no doubt what could inflict such pain, I screamed: “SCOOORRRPPPIIOOONNN!!!”

I was stung by a scorpion!

My elder brother came running downstairs with speed, and with a lamp. The scorpion hadn’t gone so far, so he first crushed it under his foot – he was wearing a pair of slippers. Soon my mum and other siblings were downstairs. I was sitting on the floor.

They rushed out to buy a new razor blade so they could make incisions in my foot to get the venom out. They didn’t want to use an old blade. That took what seemed like forever. I was in great pain. And it was spreading beyond my foot.

By the time razor blade arrived, I couldn’t even tell the exact spot the scorpion stung. Every inch of my foot was burning in serious pain. I just made a random guess and the incision was made there. I then managed to limp outside the house. There was no way I’d get to the nearest hospital at that time, as it was very late and there was no functioning vehicle at home.

Meanwhile, some neighbors already heard about the incident while my mum and sibs were looking for blade. So one of them came into our compound, where I was seated and already shivering and sweating at the same time, with a local medicine concoction called Aporo (venom killer, literally). Also called Epa Ijebu (can’t believe I found a study on this. Wow!).

They applied some to the incisions made in my burning foot, and asked me to swallow some.

Like magic, I realized the spreading of the venom and its accompanying symptoms stopped gradually. And in few minutes I was no longer shivering. The burning pain also reduced.

That was my closest experience to magic!

Few minutes later, some men, one of them famed to be an herbal doctor came in, but they confirmed the Aporo already “healed” me.

They asked for the remains of the dead scorpion and asked if they could cook it up for me with other local charms for me to eat, with the promise that I’d never again be affected by a scorpion sting.

I had had enough local medicine and magic for one night. I wasn’t going to add a scorpion-juju meal to it. I declined.

Lessons Learned…

1. Neighbors are important. Be good to them. Treat them with utmost respect and care. You can’t tell when your life would depend on it.

I remember growing up; we were never allowed to mix with people in the neighborhood. Because “they were too ‘local’ for us, and were mostly fetish”. (I still pray silently when I visit.)

But after secondary school and while waiting for university admission, I was too bored to not have friends in the neighborhood. I started talking to – and making friends with – people in the neighborhood, starting with our immediate neighbors, the ones that saved my life that fateful night.

2. God is in everything; let not your faith or belief kill you. Normally, my “born again” mum wouldn’t let anyone give us “local medicine”(she couldn’t have imagined it wasn’t my first time of taking Aporo; once tasted it for fun while in Ago-Iwoye and loved the tingly taste – and therefore had more of it) . But it was a matter of life and death, and everything was welcome.

I’ve heard stories of people dying because they refused to receive the needed help at the point they needed it, in line with their beliefs. I’m not saying this to spite anyone or their belief, but I feel that’s just plain stupidity.

3. Always wear shoes. Especially in the dark 🙁

4. Avoid the dark as much as possible. Something might indeed be lurking 😉

5. Almost anything is edible. Watch what you eat. Be careful to not eat something you’d normally rather be shot in the head than taste.

6. Have a first-aid kit at home. Let it contain basic things like razor blade, methylated spirit, aspirin, bandages…and maybe Aporo (not the New Zealand apple juice!).

And Now?

The last time I had any near-death experience (apart from all the daily dangers we escape, mostly unknowingly – thank God!) was the scorpion sting. And that should be about 8 years ago – if not more.

Over the years, I’ve come to believe in the law of attraction: we attract to ourselves every single thing that happens – and will happen – to us. Having this knowledge, and more importantly, the knowledge of how to use it to your advantage, will definitely make a difference in your life.

You can learn to attract positive things to yourself. You can consciously decide to always be at the right place at the right time. All you need do is just believe you’re always protected, 24/7, by the power that made the earth to be, and that the whole universe conspires daily to do you good – and only good.

I won’t go new-agey on you.

All I’m saying is: always have a positive mindset, and only truly positive things and people – and experiences – will come into your life.

Finally…

Gratitude is a powerful force. Be grateful daily, firstly for every day you live to witness, and then for everything around you – even bad happenings, if you have the understanding that everything truly works for your good.

When you’re grateful, more positive things – reasons to be grateful – naturally come to you.

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