‘I Am Still Standing’; A Human Survival Account Capable Of Changing Humanity -By Jerome-Mario Utomi

Grand Knight Emeritus, Sir Tonna Okei (Ikuku Oma)an Ekuku-agbor, Agbor, Ika South Local government area of Delta state born, but South Carolina, United State of America based Nigerian, is globally recognized as President of South Carolina Organization of African Unity(OAU), a Honourable member of the board of trustees of knight of Columbus and a man that exudes torrents of energy when it comes to promoting Ika and Anioma cultures and tradition.

What many of his admirers and cultural enthusiasts did not, however, know is that from 2021 till date, Knight Sir Tonna has, in the mixed of his social, religious, corporate and community development efforts, relentlessly fought and won hydra headed health and socioeconomic challenges.
This was revealed in a book titled ‘I Am Still Standing’ published by him and launched in the United States of America (USA) on the 16th of March, 2023.

Essentially, the masterpiece which was the first from Knight Sir Tonna’s stable amply qualifies as Ika blockbuster celebrated by the world with forwards from world and perhaps the most famous platform ever seen to celebrate Ika/Anioma language and customs, gave a graphic description of how the Ekuku Agbor cultural ambassador was medically diagnosed of ulcerative colitis and primary schologantis.

‘I Am Still Standing’ which was forwarded by very revered traditional rulers and globally recognized professionals such as; HRM Dein of Agbor, HRM Nana Apraku 111 Odomase, Ghana, Chief Ozigbo Esere, Osuma of Benin Kingdom, His Excellency, General John Yeri Fss, Psc, Mni, Military Governor of Defunct Bendel state, HE Mrs Eki Igbinedion , Former First Lady Edo State, Congressman Jim Clyburn among others, also underlined with vivid imageries and pectoral supports how he fought and survived colon cancer, Liver failure and Liver Transplant, carried ileostomy bag for six months, multiple surgeries, procedures and drainage pipes fixed on him,  through prayers to God almighty and supplication to the gods of our land.

While it highlighted  the series of excruciating pains that he survived, the book also deeply brought to the fore a tragically unique account of how Tonna was discharged from the hospital on December 24th 2022, and his house collapsed the next day.  Despite these afflictions, he is still standing.

Narrating his ordeal to  media professionals recently, Tonna said; well, in the past three years, I have gone through a lot of medical challenges. From liver transplant to fighting colon cancer among others-and after all these, when I got home, my house collapsed the following day.

Despite the situation, I was still functioning. At this point, most people started saying that I should write a book to document all these so you can inspire others and so your children and generations yet to come can read about these medical challenges and how you carried it.

I was still on admission when I started writing it. This partially explains why I named the book; I AM STILL STANDING.

Asked what the book is out to achieve, Tonna responded thus; It is to give inspiration to people. Now look, when you were interviewing me last year, I am not sure you knew I was passing through a lot. People did not know. I did not tell much. I was still functioning, I was still smiling. And that’s the intention. I tell people that when you pass through challenges, you don’t have to wear it on your face. You can still be functioning well. Just believe that tomorrow, things will get better. 
Tonna who ruled out spiritual attack as being responsible for the harrowing health challenges that he underwent, further explained that the book is about the story of a man who passed through the very worst or what we call the biblical Jonah and lost almost everything but by the grace of God and the goodwill of men and women, survived and decided to write and capture it, using his African ancestral language – Ika.

So, the book relates with Ika proverbs, theories and prayers. It is a mixture of what happened, a lecture on Ika proverbs and to inspire people using biblical verses also. Never in the history of Anioma was a book so well celebrated in the International Circle.

Asked of his next line of action,  Tonna responded this way; You know, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a step. We’ve launched the book here. It’s a bestseller here because African Americans have been waiting to read a book that would capture spirituality and African proverbs. They’ve seen it. Now, how do we go back home? That is the next issue.

I am discussing with the very high and mighty in Agbor if they could coordinate it so we can do a book launch and I would give 80% of the profit to Agbor so that they can build a gastroenterology center because that’s my medical diagnosis.

I don’t want Ndi-Ika and Ndi-Anioma to suffer this again. So, I am willing to partner with Ika leaders to open a GI center in Agbor, so we can begin to help our people that have Gastroenterology and abdominal issues, colon cancer. So, I’m talking to them now. Let’s see what we can do to set up a GI center. I’ve spoken to American Gastroenterologists and they are willing to train those doctors and nurses for two years. So, if Ika leaders fail to take up these projects, I’ll rather decide to import the books from America and begin to sell them in Nigeria or look for a good printer in Nigeria that would print it and we’ll come and launch it privately. 

On how to access the book, Tonna said; officially, it is now on Amazon for 50 dollars. But we know that that price will be too high for our people back home, so that is why we’re looking at what we can do; If it’s to launch it in Nigeria and bring the price down.

As to the level of support he received during his trying moment, Tonna again hinted that most times, it’s only in suffering you know your true friends.

In his words, “I would say I have been blessed with people who I didn’t even know before this. They always told us that it may not be your children or family that will help you during your difficult times. I had some family members who I thought would have helped. But they’re nowhere to be found. Some have not called, some have not given a dime but those who don’t know me, maybe they read my articles in the past, and they’ve truly helped me. Most family and friends sure supported but unfortunately very few, very few decided to stay away. Some I even empowered have now become scarce.

‘I have been blessed by friends, mostly those I do not know. Some of them we’ve never seen face to face. They just know my name and what I’ve done. Most family and friends I’ve helped, Some Ndi-Ika I’ve helped, and they all just abandoned me at the most trying times’.

Away from support to a message of appreciation, Okei emphasized that his message to Ndi-Ika is to thank all those who have supported particularly members of Ika people’s Congress.

Also, I want to inform them that through God and their support, I have written a book to document their journey, and the book is laced with Ika language, Ika proverbs. This is a book all Ika’s should not only get but should keep. So all those who are not good at celebrating their culture can see that an Ika who was not born in Ika land and has lived abroad for about thirty years now, is celebrating Ika culture. That should inspire Ndi-Ika to be appreciative of their culture, to celebrate their culture. And this book will inspire them that a fellow Ika passed through all this and is still standing’’.

On the relevance of the book to students of tertiary institutions in the state, the Ekuku Agbor born Administrator cum Cultural Ambassador pointed out that the book is not a full history book but can help deepen our pride in our language. It can help both the medicine students, can help in philosophy, and can help mostly education students.
I believe that this book can serve as a reservoir and fountain of knowledge for those in medicine and education too, to understand medical challenges, to inspire people in philosophy and psychology. And for those studying African languages, this book will help them to say ‘look, somebody in America can be so proud of his language and document it in a book celebrated in America. If the State Government should agree with it, they can make it a part of the curriculum for tertiary students. Anything is possible but let them see it first, let them read it. Then, we’ll take it up from there. He concluded.

For me, there are big lessons that bother on resilience, perseverance and need to keep faith alive to draw from the above narrative.

Utomi is the programme coordinator, media and policy, Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached vi a;

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