At 91, I spend time in ‘little writing, little reading’
Aneziomwu Nwankwo Okoro, simply called Anezi Okoro, is a scholar, who has distinguished himself in creative writing and dermatology. He is one man who walks and works silently and has stood out in all his dealings.
He has not only contributed to the advancement of medical studies, but also to humanity with his prose and poetry.
But you wonder, how has he been able to effectively combine the practice of his profession, which several times, leaves him in the classrooms and hospital clinics, with creative writing that has led to the publication of many medical/health sciences books and non-medical sciences publications.
The Emeritus Professor is the proud publisher of The Village School, a novel he pioneered in 1966, The Village Headmaster, that chronicled the story of a primary school head in a rural setting, published in 1967; One Week, One Trouble, published in 1971; Chukwu Ka Dibia, a book that looked into Igbo traditional medicine; Double Trouble, published in 1990; Second Great Flood; New Broom at Amanzu and Akuko Ufodu Shakespeare Koro (Lamb Tales from Shakespeare).
Among his numerous poems are Spirits of Midnight, published in 1989; Light, published in 1989; The Village drum; Lightening; No more dreams and Forest Spirit and other unpublished works.
Okoro’s 91st birthday, on May 17, turned out to be a rain of tributes and encomiums, particularly from the literary circle of Enugu, as writers took time extolling his virtues.
A product of the Methodist College, Uzuakoli and Dennis Memorial Grammar School (DMGS), Onitsha, he was a pioneer medical student of the University of Ibadan, and has over 200 novels and poems and despite his age, is now working on some new books and poems.
Tell us about yourself?
“I am a Christian. I believe we all are created equal, with a purpose and the ability to make better the world and all of humanity. I am driven by these beliefs in the struggle to excel and I stress struggle here, because there are always obstacles, man made and nature created. I strive to do my best always and only in that way conscious of truth, fairness, and integrity,” he said.
How does he feel to be 91?
“Ah! 91 already?” Okoro had exclaimed, as if he never knew he was 91.
“There are no special feelings. I have always been grateful to God for everyday of my life and for everything He does, to Him I give all credit, yeah, I get tired like we all do. but you learn to pace yourself. It is a new day everyday and we keep on learning.”
And looking back on some of the things he did before now and whether he would want to repeat same given more opportunities, he had stated: “Maybe more time in sports. Yes, at times, you think of things and say could I have done it any different, but why look back at what you cannot change, only look forward with resolve to do better for you and everyone concerned.”
It has not been all rosy for the erudite writer, as he has also had his low points in life. Recently, the pangs of death came knocking and claimed his 40 years old daughter. He had this to say: “ Death has always been a low point in my life, the death of my brother, the death of my daughter, death of my friends. It is always death, because you are never prepared, and you cannot do anything about it.”
In fact, it was said that the name ‘Anezionwu’ meaning, “do they send death”, came following the loss of several infants after birth by his mother before he, Anezi, was born and that when he survived the first day, his father gave him the name.
He said he was brought up in the way of love, hard work and honesty and refused to speak about some of his youthful experiences. “You will have to wait for my autobiography, interesting days, like all youthful experiences, naivety, adventurism, ambitious, all drama,” he stated.
He added: “There was not one person, nor one thing that influenced my choice of career. I can however say a play of circumstances, environment, people but most importantly the belief in purpose and that I CAN spirit (apologies Obama).”
Okoro said he started writing early in life, but “I enjoyed reading in upper secondary school and I read a lot of exciting stories, and to share other exciting stories widely, you had to write, so, I started writing.”
On how he combined writing with medical practice, the Emeritus Professor said: “I love writing, I love the practice of dermatology, both combined well, and it was doing those things I enjoyed doing.”
Okoro was among the first set of medical students at the University of Ibadan. He stated the experiences then and now was not the same as several factors including economic, political, religious and social among others have combined to rob the students what ordinarily should be a great experience. “Mine was a new experience, it was a unique experience. It was a choice between serious studies or none. We started with maybe about 60 students and in 52 Abadina (first set of medical students) whittled down to about 24,” he said.
He continued, “not many want to get into the field of dermatology at present. Dermatology had always seemed a not too attractive speciality in terms of the workload and also the financial incentives. None of these have changed but we keep hope that the nobler cause of patient care and the relentless efforts being made by fellow dermatologists and dermatological association engenders growth in the practice.”
During the debate on whether the Federal Capital Territory should be moved from Lagos due to the growing congestion, Anezi Okoro suggested in writing, modalities that facilitated the movement.
“What informed my suggestions were both National Security and National Unity. If you then must ask if I think our movement to Abuja has impacted positively, my answer would simply be: Are we more secure today and are we more united today than before the relocation of the Federal Capital? Your answer is there,” he said.
He said comparing the Nigeria of his time and the present was like “comparing apples and oranges,” adding, “oil boom was our doom, corruption grew to frightening proportion and we lost our values, moral, spiritual and ethical. We must still work and hope that we retrace our path as a Nation for the sake of our children and to a larger extent Africa.”
Okoro said he currently spends much of his time in “little writing, a little reading and living at 91”, even as eulogised his wife, Ese (my reader), for standing by him.