BY EBUN SESSOU
Tony Tamuno-Ipriye (God’s gift )Uranta, TIU as he is fondly called has his root from both the Ijaw (Opobo) and Efik (Henshaw). In this interview, he reveals how he suffered many ailments including HIV, cancer, stroke among other diseases that almost sent him to his early grave.
My growing up was interesting. The first woman my father married was an English woman, the marriage produced two boys.
He married my mother after that, but both of them couldn’t speak each other’s language, so, the common language at home was English. I grew up speaking only English.
But when I stayed with my mother during the war years, I could speak Efik, Yoruba and Igbo and a bit of Ijaw languages.
I had some friends from the Hausa setting but I couldn’t pick up Hausa language. Yoruba is my second language.
My mother single handedly brought me up because my father was trapped in the Biafra war. I enjoyed those years because I had some freedom of not living in Ikoyi. I lived in Surulere where the likes of Adebayos, Dangote among others were neighbours.
Lesson as a child
The first lesson I learnt was integrity. To my parents, integrity had to do with honesty. Secondly, you must be willing to be yourself, speak for what is right and be courageous enough to do so. You must be able to speak up for yourself and not expect someone else to speak for you. Above all, you must have the fear of God.
My parents were Anglican and Presbyterians and none of them forced the other one to join the other’s church. But the Presbyterians Scotish ethics were imparted in us.
We were also thought to fear God and respect elders. There is no better place to learn respect than the Yoruba land because that was where I grew up.
Stealing then was like a forbidden tree unlike what is obtainable now. People steal, go to jail and come out provided the money is still there. We were taught that bad names had negative influence on life.
I didn’t realise that I had picked them up initially until my secondary school days. As a school prefect, I was in the school debating and basketball team and those opportunities would have exposed me to those youthful vices.
I had a choice to either be a scoundrel, drinker, smoker and do all those things that my rebellious generation was doing. But because of what had been inculcated into me as a child before I became a teenager, I could control myself and not involved in those things. But I wish I could continue that day all through my life. But I derailed a bit much later. But all those lesson still kept me on the straight course.
I did a few things in the last 20 years that I wouldn’t have done. I also did a few things of pride which many people thought I wouldn’y have done.
I got involved in the struggle to get the military out of power. I suffered for it and I was detained severally including being placed underground for nearly six months by the Abacha regime in Ikoyi Cemetery.
I also experimented some substances including alcohol and other drugs. But, now, I am a better and stronger person. I learnt the hard way that it is best to stay on the narrow way and not deviate for any reason. I regretted but in the end, God returned me to a straight and narrow path.
Relationship with half brothers
My relationship with my half brothers was very cordial and strong. I have other younger half brothers and sisters and we are all one big and happy family.
In fact, my younger brother is the head of my family. It should traditionally devolve to me but I chose not to become a traditional ruler. So, I passed it on to my younger brother. One of my brothers is my local government chairman also.
My father was totally different. He was comfortable having children from many women and was at peace with them but I was not. He didn’t see anything wrong with participating in some traditional practices but I do.
My faith and understanding of the word of God as Christ really resurrected me and didn’t allow me to think in that direction. I derailed and died in many ways. I could have died when I was pushed from a four-storey building.
I have had two strokes consecutively, I had cancer, I was detained thrice, and I was wretchedly buried alive under the Ikoyi Cemetery but I had an epiphany of sort and Christ talked to me and my life changed. I am a member of the Royal Priesthood, therefore it is forbidden for me to take up any traditional role.
The ailments he suffered?
To shock you a little, I was diagnosed as being HIV positive. I was not diagnosed in one centre. I had confirmatory tests from seven centres between 90s and early 2000. I lived with those ailments between 1999 to 2004 with all the symptoms of being HIV positive. I had all the physical proofs; physical and chemical symptoms.
At one time, I was the spokesperson for people living with HIV and AIDS. But today, I have been tested in those places all over again and reported negative.
No preacher laid hands on me. I had an epiphany in one day and I thought I was going to die and I heard a voice; God said to me, “ÿou are going to die but you wouldn’t die hating God”. I hated God at that time. And the reason was because I couldn’t figure out why I had to suffer such ailments.
I had stopped going to church for years until I woke up one day and a voice ministered to me to go to church. I didn’t know which church but I saw myself in House on the Rock. I was diagnosed in seven different centres including US Embassy centre, and I was diagnosed positive and since 2004, I have also been tested in those centres and confirmed as being negative.
I had cancer of the colon which is one of those cancers that is rarely detected. Since I was freed from the incurable disease, (HIV) (arun ti o gboogun), I have become very conscious about my health.
So, I carried out what was called extensive health check at least twice a year within and outside the country. The check was done and it was detected that I had developed some polyps (smaller vessels called tumour) in my colon and they confirmed at the National Hospital that these tumours were malignant.
I was then left with the option of undergoing surgery to remove the polyps in the hope that malignancy had not spread beyond them. I went to the American Hospital in Dubai. A surgery was carried out and it was successful.
I was told that I had to spend many weeks in the National Hospital for both pre and post operation but I spent two hours in the American hospital.
I believe God healed me. I am a better and stronger person. All the gadgets that I wear now are supposed to help me in expediating physiotherapy.
Ironically, I was strucked twice with stroke. The second time, was a massive one which took place right in-front of the hospital where I was supposed to go for check-up although, I have been postponing it for weeks.
On that fateful day, there was traffic and so I decided to go to the hospital and as I was stepping out of the car, the last thing I remembered was bringing one of my foot out of the car and that was all.
I had a massive stroke such that if the doctors had not intervened within five minutes, I would be dead. God made it possible for me to be right in-front of the hospital.
And because they knew my medical history, the second stroke was well taken care of. I had gone to countries including Sweden, Israel, India, London to step up on the treatment. I believe God chose to heal me and that is why I don’t give glory to any fake Pastor.
His whole life
I cannot write a book but a set of books. Every season of my life has been related to the life of Nigeria. I grew up on Kings drive, Ikoyi. Our next door neighbours were the Shagaris, Ojukwus, Yar’Aduas, Maitama Sules among others; people whose lives have all been written into the Nigerian experience.
I was there physically in Tafawa Balewa Square when they were lowering the British flag. I am a product in a scent of the civil war. I knew how Aliko Dangote, the richest black man at the moment started his life. I knew who Folashade Alakija was and now the richest black woman of today. I was mentored initially into struggle by Ken Saro Wiwa.
I am still being mentored by Wole Soyinka. One of my biggest inflences (Amb. Segun Olusola ) passed away not too long ago. In fact, I said during the opening ceremony at my wedding that I have three families from Ijaw (Opobo), Efik (Henshaw town) and Ogun State.
Fela had a strong influence on me. I have always loved Ebenezer Obey’s music. Looking at all these things, it is like how Nigeria has been progressing and retrogressing. So, my life is a reflection of the Nigerian reality and that awareness has come to me at this point in time.
One thing I have come to realise is that all of us have a role to play. God has designed us to be together to play a role and improve our world.
Right now, I have learnt to do everything as if it is a ministry. My ministry is the fighting for the common goal which I believe is the reason God chose to keep me alive.
God allowed the devil to hit me with the stroke, he robbed me of many things including dancing, playing of organ, writing of music and of course, basketball. All of these, I couldn’t do because of the stroke. He robbed me of physical activities. I love to jog, but I can’t do that.
The most valuable thing, he initially robbed me of was my speech. I couldn’t speak or write, but I conquered that.
He took away my passion which was communication. And through the stroke, I couldn’t speak and until today, I have not regained 85 percent of my speech ability. I am not speaking as well as I could. I cannot say rhymes. But, I thank God that the condition turned out positive.
That I am just overcoming my stroke condition has not perfected the use of my right hand. And that is why I can only sign with my left hand side using my initials, TIU.
Now, I am addicted to computer and I can
type perfectly. I communicate through phone, ipad and laptop. I have discovered another device which is recording while someone else transcribes for me. Even those things that have appeared initially to be drawbacks, have turned to be my strenghts through God’s help and mercies.
Initially, I lost focus because I didn’t know God. I was born into a Christian home and I had some ethics imbibed into me but I didn’t know God. And so, if God needs to use one, He would draw one’s attention. Painfully, Jacob had to be semi-crippled while, I had undergone my different stages in life. That drew me closer to God. When there was nobody else to turn to, He (God) caught my attention. And I thank Him because He did not only catch my attention, He showed me a bit of His backside, He made me understand who He is and who He wants me to be. Today, I am an enemy of anybody who is an enemy of the people.