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Flora Ilonzo: Passion for nature, philanthropy as lifestyle

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 IF THERE is one thing that Flora Nkemakonam Ifeanyichukwu Ilonzo, founder and chief executive officer of the Centre for Psychic and Healing Administration (CPHA), Awka, craves, it is that humans should return to nature or live organic lifestyle.

This she reasons will help bring sound health and well-being to all. She sees every plant and herb as sustainer of life.

Mrs. Ilonzo is an advocate of nature. She preaches and lives it. Nature empowers her to serve people for good. At her expansive health centre, nature welcomes you to the serene environment. Adjacent the administrative block sculpted works that appeals to artistic sense arrests your attention.

In the botanic like garden environment, cluster of buildings nestle under canopies of trees. All the plants and trees are labelled in their botanical and indigenous identities in Igbo, English and bological names.  She established the centre in 1982. Research at the centre has led to the successful treatment of many ailments that defied orthodox medicine.

She credits her success in natural health and well-being to her maternal grandfather, Akunne Onyido, a man who played a pivotal role in her life. He named her Nkemakonam because of the neglect she suffered as a child. She had lived with him most of her formative years. Onyido’s wise counsel saw her through seven agonizing years of childlessness. She eventually became a mother of seven children and a grandmother.

Dr. Ilonzo studied Fine and Applied Arts at the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu and later taught sculpture  in the same school. She later joined the civil service of the old Anambra State, where she rose to the post of State Artist. Of all her endeavours, she gravitated to what she described as the ‘most passionate appeal’, the world of health and well-being through natural means – herbal medicine.

“Four months ago, a woman whose skin was peeling that had defied orthodox medicine was rushed to this place almost dead but was restored to health using herbs.

The family of the lady had lost all hope. Similarly, was the case of another man whose body oozed offensive odour. His family had already dug a grave to bury him but he was treated with herbs and the man now enjoys sound health.”

She explains that herbal medicine is pure in nature and distances herself from traditional medicine. She sets straight the misconception that surrounds anything herbal in nature and the wrong notion that follows the word herbalist.

“Herbalist in the real sense of it is somebody who is knowledgeable about herbs; those considered to have medicinal properties, while herbal medicine is a system of medical treatment based on the properties of medicinal herb. So it is quite different from traditional medicine.”

“In the past, when a baby suffers from convulsion, parents get a concoction of monkey bone, palm kernel oil and other plants. Many homes then have medicine for convulsion and because Awka forbids eating of monkey, they can’t apply it. After the Civil War, dry cough was endemic.

If you go to Azia, in Ihiala LGA and Ukpor Market in Nnewi South LGA, they display smoked lizard for sale because they consume it. Some use lizard head to cook for those with such cough issue, but you can’t suggest that to an Abakaliki people because they forbid eating of lizard. That is traditional medicine for you. Traditional medicine welcomes fetish application and sometimes, encourages diabolical inputs. Herbal medicine in the real sense is without evil or negative connotations.

“Herbal medicine has no ethnic or socio-cultural stigmatization when diabolical elements are introduced into it for whatever reason. That is where the word herbalist carries negative connotation; a practice common with traditional medicine practitioners”.

Her psychiatric home was born out of dejection with underlying sadness at Uruala in Imo State in her final years at the convent. “I perceived a man that sat about three seats away from me wasn’t in good mental state.

After the church service, I approached him to pray against accident at Okporo Orlu Junction. I noticed a Rev. Sister signaling the man to ignore me that I was deranged. That moment, I went to the altar to cry to God concerning him. While I was still at the altar, news filtered in that a vehicle had killed the man.

“When the incident happened, I said to myself that with what happened that these people might take me to psychiatric hospital. I’m seventy years old this year, who knows I might be running mad by this time. This formed reason why I built a mental home to take care of mentally deranged person.”

From that moment, she disengaged herself from the convent and return home. Her journey into herbal treatment started in Onitsha. She would gather children for Block Rosary until she got married. It was at this point that she worked closely with Akunne Onyido and began to write down every ailment’s plant and herb to treat it.

“Akunne Onyido was a Christian. He told me not to forsake my relationship with God and never to go diabolical or fetish, other than use plants and herbs to treat health cases. He told me that for every plant, God has purpose for it.

He asked me to have critical look at the design of every plant; that its physical structure has a part in the human body that it resembles and can be used to treat it. He went on to tell me the different names of plants and herbs; why it rhymes with what it treats.”

For instance, Ugbogulu produces Anyu in Igbo language. Anyu means Anyu nsi, Anyu Nwamali. It relates urinary and excretory activities. In this context, it aids in prostrate issues with men. For instance, in English, melon (Anyu) signifies male hormone.

It helps with prostrate issues in men. When a man enters andropause, he is supposed to eat much of melon. On the other hand, watermelon has what we call lycopene. When a man lacks it, it affects his sexual performance. Food that we eat is important to our well-being.

“But chemical fertilizers, dung from animals that feeds inorganically reduces the potency of most foods that we eat. That is why when you travel to western countries, you discover organic foods are more expensive than the inorganic.

Look at the local fowl we called okuko Igbo, it has similar breed in many developed countries. Over there, it cost more than the one we call the agric breed. Due to chemical fertilizers used in planting, you notice for instance that yam no longer taste the way it used to taste. Whatever you feed the animals is what they will excrete and if you use it as manure, it can’t be organic.

“Most health issues are from what we eat and drink. We need to surround ourselves with what it takes to live a healthy life. Most of the kidney, liver and other health issues are tied to the way we handle health issues. People spend hundreds of thousands and millions of naira to treat kidney and liver ailments but here, just herbs and the person is treated. Whatever medicine we give, we don’t use chemicals to preserve it. We have what it takes to treat every prostrate issue by flushing it out.

“We have referral from overseas on prostrate ailment. We once had a case but the man’s family decided flying him abroad for treatment. You won’t believe that he was referred back to this place. Sometimes, when such people come back, their conditions had deteriorated.

Despite their attitude before they left, when they came back, I received them as if nothing happened. In such instances, I don’t take offence. It rather spurs me to prove myself and I thank God for that. I will like to caution patients suffering prostrate ill health against going for surgical operation. It is not the best.”

As a peace advocate, she brokered peace between late Igwe Osita Agwuna of Enugwu-Ukwu and Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu and between Igwe Osita Agwuna and Mbazuluike Amaechi. Her peace effort towards resolving the conflict between the dreaded Odo Masquerade Cult and Catholic Church in Ukehe, Igbo Etiti LGA, Enugu State, speaks.

One of such legacies is the Olinandu Secondary School, Ukehe, which she built for the town. The initiative led to her being conferred with the title of ‘Olinandu of Ukehe’, by the people of the town. Her numerous peace advocacy and philanthropy earned her a United Nations – Plac as Peace Ambassador on health.

She holds the title, Aje Ukwu Isagba Onitsha, Anyafulugo Na Enugwu-Ukwu na Umunri, Ozouwandu na Aguleri, among other titles. She is a member of World Drug Information, Trustee, Nigeria-German Cultural Association and honoured by Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, among other awards and honours.

Mrs. Ilonzo believes in establishing institution and is convinced that her legacy will outlive her. Coming from renowned healers, just as she raised the bar with the establishment of CHPHA, she has no doubt that her children will take the practice to another level.

“One of my sons, Chuka, who is a medical doctor based in Enugu, at the age of six, treated a woman without a child for 17 years and she conceived. The couple rewarded him with a brand Peugeot car.

Look at one of my granddaughters, when the woman with decaying body was brought here, she took people round the garden telling them what particular ailment each plant heals. She is just three years old but knows more than 30 plants’ functions.

Even my daughters-in-law are not left out. One of them with a master’s degree stayed with me for three years to learn from me.”

Chief Ilonzo’s contributions to humanity speak volumes. She believes in rewarding her workers. She has offered scholarships to university level to many children of her staff and to the indigent. In some instances, she rewarded her staff by allotting them plots of lands as reward for their loyalty and dedication to sense of duty.

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