I have had close calls with death over the years. May be you have too. They say the line between life and death is very thin. Life can be snuffed out by sometimes very laughable situations. I once knew a man who died drinking a bottle of coca cola. He choked on it. And a neighbour’s son choked on what children call `blom blo’, a balloon he was inflating.
They say everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die. That includes me. But members of Boko Haram, Al Shabaab and their ilk seem to contradict that saying. I hear their members are prepared to sacrifice their lives to have access to the seven virgins reserved for each of them in heaven – as if there are not enough virgins here on earth. What I do not understand are the promises that could prompt young girls to carry out suicide bombings, surely, not for the promise of seven virgins.
My first close call was in Tanzania in 1970. I was a bachelor, full of life. I had secured a job as a valuer in the Government of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. Tanzania had recognised Biafra and I chose to go and work there from England rather than coming home to Nigeria during the Civil War. I had heard stories of the bad thing that happened to Biafrans on return to Nigeria. Acquiring a car in Tanzania in those days was a major achievement. It had to be second hand anyway. I drove in my car, a Vauxhall Viva, registered TDP 20. It was my first trip outside Dar-es-Salaam, the capital, heading for Moshi, hundreds of miles to the North. The road was tarred for most of the way but there was a rough patch about one third of the way from the capital. I pressed the pedal hard and I must have been making at least eighty miles an hour when I suddenly hit a rough, sandy stretch. I struggled to slow down to keep the car on the road and had just managed to regain full control when I had to step hard on the brake as I rounded a bend and saw a massive gorge ahead! I ended up at the lip of the gorge. Shakily I got out of the car sweating and found it hard to look down the gorge into the river below in which I would have ended up. When I had regained my composure I stood there looking at the narrow bridge over the gorge for a long while before driving the car carefully across the bridge. 
Needless to say I drove more carefully to Moshi and back. When I came back I read of the death Of Ezinwa, a staff of the Biafra Embassy, on the front page of the national daily. But he was not dead! It was one of those strange occurrences. He was only sick in hospital. But a Biafran dying in Tanzania in those days would have been big news for Biafrans were regarded as a cut above other black humans. The `ogbunigwe’ had seen to that. The amazing thing was that Ezinwa died a week later. 
Years later my next major scare was in a Boeing 737 Nigeria Airways plane. The destination had been Kaduna but on the approach to the Kaduna airport there was an announcement that the undercarriage refused to function. We were to return to Lagos where emergency arrangements were better. You can imagine the panic! Some people were busy saying prayers, others sat dazed, perhaps thinking of the families they would be leaving behind or their bank accounts. As we came in to land in Lagos I made bold to look out. There were fire trucks lined up. And there were so many people waiting to see what would happen. The people in control of the aircraft had given us the drill about heads on knees, how to slide out of the aircraft and so on. I closed my eyes with my head in my hands on my knees. The aircraft landed safely! It was a bit like an anti climax. Passengers hurried, no, rushed out of the plane. Some said `Happy survival!’ One or two said they would never fly again. Everybody was thanking God. I was happy to be alive. Of course, the next day I went to carry out my assignment in Kaduna, by air.
There were three other instances, two in which I slipped and fell in the bath and my head just misses the taps at the head of the bath and once in my street when I stumbled and fell with my head just missing a piece of iron stuck in the concrete by the pathway.
In January, 1995, a week after I had retired from Knight Frank & Rutley (Nigeria), now simply Knight Frank, I had been returning to Lagos from the Christmas holiday in my home town Ndike in Anambra State, when just after the Niger Bridge my son, Obinna asked, `Daddy, what is that noise I am hearing?’
`What noise?’ I asked. Then I listened. Surely there was a metallic repeating noise which I guessed could only be from the tyres. I asked the driver, `Philip, are you not hearing a noise?’
He listened and said, `Yes, oga,’ and cleared by the roadside.
We got out. Nuts had been loosened from three of the tyres and it would only have been a matter of a few minutes for at least one of the tyres to come off and involve all of us in a mighty crash. As the driver tightened the nuts and checked the things he could check I stood there thinking. I was sure that somebody wanted my whole family dead. I must have had a night visitor. I had my suspicions. I was involved in the town’s affairs and obviously somebody wanted me out of the way. I had and still have my suspicions! 
But by far the closest call had been on one fateful late afternoon when I, as a member of one of the committees of the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers, had attended a meeting in the Victoria Island office of the chairman of the committee. At the end of the meeting we had been entertained with soft drinks and meat pies from one of the fast food eateries. I just remembered leaving there in my car which luckily I was not going to be the one driving. I had fallen instantly asleep and only woke up as we were about to negotiate the clover-leaf that would bring us from Apapa into the section of the Badagry expressway called Mile Two. But I did not know where we were. My driver told me. Soon we were into my compound in FESTAC and I virtually tumbled out of the car covered in sweat. My wife helped me upstairs and out of my suit. I laid flat on the bed on my back with the urge to shut my eyes and sleep. But I was afraid. I knew I was about to die. All I could say to my wife was: `Do not let me close my eyes. If I do I will die. Call the doctor.’ Those were the days of the elitist 090 mobile phone systems and I did not have one. Luckily I had a NITEL line that worked sporadically. I spent the time struggling to stay awake. It was very difficult.
Then, I had an urge and rushed rush into the bathroom and threw up! It was as if everything in my belly including my intestines had come out. Then I went to lie down again on my back and gradually I regained my strength. By the time Cosmas my doctor came I had recovered enough strength to go downstairs and sit. He said, `Peter, you have just had a narrow escape. Food poisoning. From the meat pie you ate. It must have been stale or contaminated and dangerous. You must thank your God.’
Well, life is full of narrow escapes. You cannot because you might die not eat. That is the surest way of dying. It may take long though. You have to take your brief case and leave your house in the morning or afternoon for one reason or the other, including looking for your daily bread. Otherwise you may starve. You cannot refuse to go out for fear of accidents, kidnappers, armed robbers, stray bullets. What stops the roof caving in on you if you choose to remain in the house all the time? If you do not do something, something will do you! A British comedian I remember used to joke about his friends whom he said did not smoke, did not drink alcohol, did not womanise because they wanted to keep pure and live long. He admits that those weaknesses of his would surely kill him. But his friends who had no such weaknesses would surely die too – from doing nothing!

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