By Emmanuel Una
CALABAR—A physically-challenged waste collector in Calabar, Cross River State, Effanga Francis Umoh, has revealed that he does not go to hospital when sick, but drinks native herbs and smokes marijuana to get cured.
Umoh who spoke to NDV, however, stated that it was lack of money that pushed him into using marijuana as medical therapy.
He is a familiar sight around the Calabar Watt Market and adjoining places like Lagos Street, Calabar Road and Bedwell Street where he serves as refuse disposal agent to the market women.
Francis, unlike other refuse disposal agents in the market, who log waste baskets on their heads, in wheelbarrows or trucks, shuffles his king-size basket filled with waste to point of disposal at the Calabar River or any of the numerous waste bins, while crawling on his buttocks.
I burn wounds on my body with marijuana
His words: “The money the market women pay to pack their refuse cannot even buy me enough food to eat and igbo (marijuana) to cool my body, so which one do I take to the hospital for treatment? I stay at home and buy herbs from Mallam and smoke some igbo and God always cures me.”
“Even when I have sores on my body because of scratching on the ground, I burn the sores with igbo and I get well,” he said.
A close look at his body showed spots of healed sores and some fresh ones spread all over his body, attesting to his claim that he ‘heals’ the wounds by burning them with marijuana fire.
During torrential down pours, he is usually seen drenched from head to toe and shivering while pushing his basket of garbage on the wet ground and during the dry season, he is often bathed in dust which gives him the appearance of a scarecrow as he does his job. Notwithstanding the hazards, he remains undeterred as he disclosed that refuse disposal is his only source of livelihood.
He toldNDV: “I started this business a long time ago. I always collected refuse from the market women and carry to the Calabar River where I dump them, but when former governor, Mr Donald Duke, introduced the waste bins in Calabar and put some in the markets, many of my customers started dumping their waste in the bins, but some people still allowed me dispose their refuse and they give me stipends.”
How I became a cripple
Umoh, who was not born a cripple, said he found himself unable to walk after an illness that struck him some years back.
“I used to walk upright just like you, but three years ago, I became so sick and I thought I was going to die but God saved me and when I recovered, I could not walk again, so instead of staying in my house to die, I decided to be crawling to do my business”
Efik men don’t beg
Asked why he does not sit at one spot and beg for alms rather than undertaking the laborious activity of carrying a basket of refuse to dump in the Calabar River, which is about a kilometre away to make money, he said: “I am an Efik man and we do not beg for alms in any circumstance because we are a proud nation. So I will rather work than bring shame to my people.”
A tomato seller, Madam Ekanem Idio who normally gives Umoh refuse to dispose for her, said: “He has been doing it for many years for me and he does it to eat food, so if I do not give him work to do, I should give him food but since he can do it, it is better to allow him carry the refuse.
I can’t stop him – Watt Market supervisor
At the Watt Market office, a supervisor, Effiong Edem, told NDV that though the man does constitute occasional risk by obstructing traffic around the market, he wouldnot stop him from carrying on his job.
“I was deployed to this market some years back and I met him here. He is not a thief even though he smokes marijuana openly and obstructs traffic with his crawling sometimes, I am not a drug enforcement official or do I work with the social welfare department, so I mind my job and leave him alone.”
He informed that in a market, all kinds of characters, including spirits go there to do business, so it would be wrong to single out one person and stop him from going to the market.
We’re uninformed on Umoh- Social Welfare officer
At the Ministry of Social Welfare, Calabar, the Commissioner for Sustainable Development and Social Welfare, Mr Oliver Orok, was unavailable for comment when NDV visited. However, a welfare official, Agnes, said the department was not aware of the existence of the man, adding rhetorically, “Even if we know, what should we do? Take him to the welfare home meant for motherless babies?”