Recap: Part 2 contained exciting and not-so-exciting moments of primary school life. Secondary school had even more excitement in store.
PART 3: College Days
Getting into secondary school or college, as it was widely known back then, was no walkover. There was the hurdle called common entrance to cross. For bright kids this was no problem. But for the average and below average, it was a nightmare. The fact that they were few and far between made the dream of going to college a mirage for many. Standards set by the missionaries and their products, who ran most of the schools, were very high. Thus some primary school leavers who failed the common entrance examination and interview into colleges of their choice had to go in search of admission in faraway places;much unlike today when schools of every description like Brighter Tomorrow Group of Schools, Firm Foundation Academy, Future Leaders Learning Centre, etc, dot every other street.
For some reason, secondary schools came with different nomenclatures. There were colleges such as Edo College and Immaculate Conception College (ICC), and high schools such as Western Boys’ High School (where I taught later) and Baptist High School – all in Benin City. In the then Ishan Division comprising the current Esan Central, Esan West, Esan North East and Esan South East local government areas, there were Annunciation Catholic College (ACC) Irrua, St. John Bosco’s College Ubiaja, Ishan (Esan) Grammar School Uromi, Ujoelen Grammar School Ekpoma, and later, Ebhoiyi Secondary School Uromi, Okhuesan Secondary School, Okhuesan (where I also taught and met my wife for the first time), etc.
In most cases, the colleges and high schools were mostly those established by missionaries. Some got their names changed apparently due to some government policies. For instance, St. John Bosco’s College later became Ubiaja Grammar School. There was a joke then about the name being changed to Grammar School because of the many ‘grammarians’ there. We had a few very good English Language teachers. One of them was Mr. Onwuka; a stern, very neat man fondly called ‘Emperor Menelik’ – a nickname given to him by students and taken from one of the English textbooks used then. We had students who on their own read voraciously and crammed new words which were then used to ‘bamboozle’ the less grammar-inclined. One of them was Patrick Obahiagbon. Yes, the same Obahiagbon, alias Igodomigodo, lawyer and politician, former member of the Edo State House of Assembly and flamboyant former member of the Nigerian Congress (House of Representatives). Patrick read the dictionary and Students’ Companion more than any other book. In those days, when other junior students were given punishment or were doing the routine manual labour, some prefects would get Patrick to entertain them with big words. It was from his mouth I first heard words like ‘higgledy-piggledy’ (pronounced then as hi-gli-di-pi-gli-di) and ‘hullabaloo’. It was no surprise to those of us who knew him way back in the 70’s when he was unleashing rib-cracking submissions on bewildered fellow parliamentarians some 30 years later on the floor of the National Assembly. One of his ripostes that sends me into a guffaw each time I read it is the answer he gave to the question of how he came to be known as Igodomigodo. Hon. Obahiagbon replied:
“Igodomigodo is a political sobriquet that has habilimented or, if you like, togarised my identity for a period of aeon to emblematize my culturico-spiritual fons et origo. It was an advertent stratagem to cosmopolitanize my genealogical matrix and arcane trajectory since it was not by accident that I originated from the land of Igodomigodo.
The interesting thing is that Igodomigodo, being the pristine nomenclature of the Bini man, evokes in me the alacritous presence of the invisible gods of my progenitors which, by itself, invokes a luxuriation in an ancestral egregore of pristine resurgimento.”
Well, if you know the meaning of all that, good for you. But if you don’t, all that he said was to the effect that he adopted the name Igodomigogodo because it symbolizes the spiritual and cultural heritage of the land of his birth. Cikena!
Whatever anyone might think of Obahiagbon, he indeed is proud of his cultural heritage and this he demonstrates amply by the manner of his dressing.
We made a joke of his grammatical style one day, when I met him at one national function at the International Conference Centre Abuja. I was interviewing him on his impression about the event. I think it was one of those national merit awards. Just as he was about answering my question, I said, “Please, speak English” and we started laughing.
But back to college days; I was lucky to pass the common entrance examination and was admitted into St. John Bosco’s College Ubiaja, some seven miles (about ten kilometers) from my hometown, Uromi. The news that I gained admission into St. John Bosco’s College spread like bush fire in the dry season. For one, it was one of the ‘big’ schools in those days. Secondly, I was really small in size then and the feat, in the imagination of many, especially some bigger peers who were not so lucky, was akin to David defeating Goliath. The way my admission was celebrated, you would have thought I had gained admission from Idumun-Egenlan Primary School Uromi to Oxford University London. The icing on the cake was that I was going to boarding school. The distance from home and the cost of boarding school made some parents to not send their children there even when they passed. But my father had made up his mind that since he did not go to school, his first son must not miss out for any reason. So, to boarding school I went though he could ill afford it.
The real thrill, for me, began with shopping for school. The admission letter came with a prospectus which contained a long list of ‘Things to buy’, most of them things I never imagined I would own in the foreseeable future. The list, as far as I can remember, was something like this:
- 1 portmanteau
- School uniform (2 navy blue shorts and 2 white short-sleeve shirts with badges; to be supplied by the school)
- House wear (2 khaki shorts and 2 green and white short-sleeve check shirts)
- 1 belt
- 1 pair of brown sandals
- I pair of white canvas shoes for sport
- 1 pair of slippers
- 2 pairs of white socks
- 2 white singlets
- 2 white shorts (for sport)
- 1 6-spring foam
- 2 bed sheets
- 1 pillow and 2 pillow cases
- 1 bucket
- Soap dish, sponge, bathing soap and washing soap
- Body cream
- Tooth brush and toothpaste
- 2 sets of padlocks (for the hostel and class lockers)
- 1 lantern
- 2 flat aluminum plates
- 1 aluminum cup
- 1 tea cup and saucer
- 1 set of cutlery
- 1 water bottle
- A cutlass and a hoe
My father kept the prospectus in his cupboard. When he left the house one day, I copied the list out on a foolscap sheet and kept the copy for myself. In the day, I brandished the list among my friends and in the night it slept with me in the pocket of whatever I was wearing, which was mostly the same pair of okrika knickers and some over-size T-shirt bought for me by my mother.
The shopping was not done in one day. On the first day, we bought my portmanteau, that turned out to be a black tin box with a dash of red patterns here and there; the type that came with a staple and hook for the padlock which came with it. We then bought 2 other padlocks from the shopkeeper for the hostel and class lockers. The same shopkeeper stocked foams, pillows, pillow cases and bed sheets, so we bought the required items from him and ticked them off the list. Our next stop was Bata shop, the major shoe shop in the town. We walked to the shoe shop, as it was not far away, leaving my father’s bicycle and the items bought behind.
Bata shop brought back memories of my first real pair of shoes bought for me there by my father a couple of years before. It was a special Christmas treat which I still treasured then. This time, however, we were there to buy my school sandals and canvas shoes for sport. As on the previous occasion, the shopkeeper advised that I get a pair a bit bigger than my feet. That seemed like his standard advice to parents buying shoes for their kids – his argument being that children easily outgrow their shoes. We left the shop with me clutching two boxes with ‘Bata’ printed all over them; one containing my perforated brown sandals and the other the white canvas shoes – both prized possessions that were sure to be objects of admiration, if not envy, by my friends.
Back to the other shop, we added the shoe boxes to the other items in my ‘portmanteau’ and my father proceeded to tie it on the carrier of his bicycle. The shopkeeper had already folded the foam with the pillow and tied both with a rope. I volunteered to carry that home on my head and my father did not object. I think he somehow read my mind that I offered to do that in order to show off with it on the way home – which was exactly what I did. He rode off and instructed me to return straight home with it. On the way, I proudly explained to all who cared to ask, and found a way to tell those who did not ask, that the foam belonged to me and I was going to boarding school with it.
I returned home to a mixed reception by my siblings, neighbours and friends who had different comments and questions about my newly acquired possessions. They wanted to know what was inside the box my father bought for me. Left to me, I would have loved to make a public exhibition of all the items but one quick glance at my father, who was in the process of taking the foam from me, told me there would be consequences if I dared open my mouth. So I kept it shut. Parents had a way of communicating with their eyes in those days and the child who did not learn the messages conveyed with them paid with some pain.
It was evening when I got home. My father put the foam with the box in a corner of his bedroom when, in my thoughts, it should have been unfolded and given to me to sleep on the floor of the parlour where the boys usually slept with mats. The practice was for the little ones to sleep with their mothers on their beds while the girls slept on the floor of their mother’s room. Based on his discretion, my father allowed some of the smaller boys to sleep on his bed from time to time. There was a two-seater cushion chair (couch) that I used to sleep on as the senior boy, although as I grew taller I had to assume a fetal posture to fit in it. Looking back, I wonder when my father slept with our mothers when the children were always all over the place. But certainly he did sleep with them otherwise the children wouldn’t have been so many in the first place….
Watch out for Part 4.
My journey from the motor park to the school was uneventful or more accurately, was hardly of interest to me. My mind was occupied with the things in my box in the boot of the taxi. I couldn’t stop imagining how I would enjoy my provisions. I pictured the white teacup in my hand with hot tea in it. Tea was not an item on my family’s menu although I had enjoyed it at my uncle’s place whose kind-hearted nurse-wife ‘spoiled’ us with it once in a while when we visited. Then again, it was not in tea cups but in little plastic cups. I had been told that in boarding school you had study timetable and food timetable. Even in primary school we had study timetable….. but food timetable? That was a new one. They even said you ate three different types of meal in a day. I couldn’t wait to see how that worked out.
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