Dr Ignatius Ozoemenah Onah is a registered pharmacist, nutritionist and renowned naturopathic doctor. Born 68 years ago at Abulegwu in the then Nsukka Division of the Eastern Region of Nigeria, he is a 1979 pharmacy graduate of University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). In this exclusive interview with Adebayo Folorunsho-Francis, the alumnus of both Medicina Alternativa, Colombo, Sri Lanka, and the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, relives his journey into the world of herbal medicines. Excerpts:Why did you opt for Pharmacy out of all the courses available to you?
Pharmacy to me came very naturally. I grew up in the “hospital” of my paternal grandfather, Onah Nwudele Onah, who cured almost all known and even unknown diseases and disorders known to man – including even stroke! Today, I know all – and deploy most of – the drugs I watched him use.
I also “served” as a kid drug collector for Ogbodo Nwokwor, my maternal uncle, a herbalist who had knowledge of almost all medical conditions.
As a 1979 graduate of Pharmacy from Nsukka, what was pharmacy practice like back in your day compared to today’s practice?
In those days, pharmacists were very important, principally because Pharmacy was considered very vital to everybody. Why was this so? First and foremost, we were very few – less than 2,000 of us, in a country of about 70 million. My registration number is actually 1909. This small pool of pharmacy professionals was sprinkled very unevenly across Nigeria in such a manner that there were states that didn’t even have any at all! In fact, many general hospitals only made do with NYSC pharmacists until just about two decades ago. So, since value and scarcity are always interwoven, almost everyone counted himself lucky to benefit directly from the services of a pharmacist.
Secondly, almost everyone sourced all drugs from government hospitals. And, yes, there were enough drugs in all hospitals. “Out of stock” (OS) was almost an anathema! I still remember doctors creating all manner of prescription schemes in order to crank out drugs from us for their own use. Not because they couldn’t buy the drugs, but because there were no commercial pharmacy outlets for such essential items.
There were very few pharmacies indeed – about six in the whole of Enugu, and none at our own Nsukka, in the late 70s. there were five in the entire Benin City during my internship in 1979; and just about 10 in the length and breadth of Kaduna metropolis during my NYSC in 1980!
In a nutshell, people flocked to government hospitals because they had adequate drugs for all. And since these items could not be accessed, even by doctors without passing through the pharmacist, everyone genuflected at the feet of the apothecaries! Who would not be happy with such an honour?
At what point did you conceive the idea of veering into naturopathy? Were you influenced by somebody you revere?
I was influenced by two situations, actually – my mother’s death in 2002, and my elder brother’s demise in 2006. How? Because both of them succumbed to the same “disease”, and I was also dying of the same thing, at just 55. What was the disease? Hypertension today, water retention tomorrow, arthritis next week, ulcer the week after. It was the same situation for almost all others around us then, and even now.
Why did I veer into naturopathy at that point? When my brother died at 63 in 2006, I had been in continuous clinical practice for an unbroken 27 years, and had used all the best available orthodox drugs on planet earth on him. But all failed, just as they had proved utterly impotent all through my mother’s own terminal ailments that had preceded her death four years earlier. All the drugs had failed them, and these drugs were also failing me. So I just stopped all the drugs.
In November 2006, just two months after burying my elder brother, I bought a book tiled “Smart Choices in Alternative Medicine”, edited by Dr Samuel Benjamin, a medical doctor. I could not believe it – a medical doctor propagating “alternative medicine”?
I kept devouring this trophy of a book as if my very life depended on it. I could hardly restrain myself from open celebration when I discovered that the work was the brainchild of “The Centre for Alternative and Complementary Medicine” of the State University of New York itself. It didn’t take long before I started applying everything I had learnt from the book to my body.
Why do you think natural medicine works better?
According to Dr Samuel Benjamin, “One of the major shortcomings of conventional medicine is that it sees the body simply as a sum of separate parts. This is reflected by the fact that we have different doctors for each of these parts —cardiologists for the heart, gastroenterologists for the GI system, pulmonologists for the lungs, and so on —and they rarely work together. One reason is that we are not addressing the underlying causes of these diseases; we are just suppressing symptoms with drugs. And, in my own opinion, failing woefully!”
Tell us about your crusade against staple foods like garri, rice, wheat, oats, semo and the rest.
All “local” foods – natural, whole, unprocessed, as taken by our ancestors of old – all of them are good, healthy, and even cheap. We are referring to all unprocessed animal products from domesticated animals, all tropical oils, all tubers (yams, cassava, potatoes etc) and all indigenous grains, etc. On the other hand, all processed foods (semo, rice, vegetable oils), along with all bottled drinks – yes, without exception – are unhealthy; in fact, deadly.
How do you handle rejection or opposition from people who don’t share the same ideology as yours in this your awareness campaign?
Such rejection comes only from those who have not heard my testimony. That is one reason why I conduct awareness programmes on local radio and television stations.
What are your messages on those broadcast platforms?
I tell the world of the marvelous – otherwise impossible – transformations that I have undergone in the last decade. At 68 years, I am now as strong as I was 40 years ago! Yes, all pains, all “malaria” that I was treating every fortnight; all BP, prostate, and sugar issues are all gone.
Yes, my vision is back, my hearing reintroduced – even my grey hair, along with the manifest balding of decades ago, is now a thing of the past. And, there are more! Today, this vast knowledge plus experience is dispensed to the world through our customised functional medicine vehicle, tagged “Sikamore Tree Treatment Approach” (STTA).