Had I flinched, when I should have scurried…
My Government College Ibadan Years 2
Those that crafted the GCI school anthem were really visionaries, they understood the purpose schools are to serve. Though boys, now men, have been singing the lines since 1929 each time I sing the anthem, I am moved to re-evaluate the essence of my calling on this side of eternity. Who wouldn’t? The lines detail out the essence of the education we were provided and what our responsibilities to society are. Then, I knew not many of the words but loved the lyrics – that was as much as I cared about. It took several decades later for me to reflect on the wordings of the anthem and thereafter, I am moved each time I sing it.
With Assembly over, it is a very short walk to my classroom area, the Lower Six. It is a colonial looking one-storey building, adjacent to the school’s administrative office. In front of it is the well-manicured, ever-green, rectangular lawn used as the practice pitch for the school’s hockey team. In the far distance, on the other ends of the pitch, we could see the classrooms for the years one to five boys.
Prior to now, I had spent my earlier years in unisex schools. I am expecting the same experience in GCI as it is famed as a boys only school. This is not to be. From the first day of classes, I started seeing elegantly looking, delectable ladies, dressed in flowing deep blue gowns and spotless, well ironed white shirts. These Angels, moving always in pairs, are the ladies from Queens School (QS), a sister college to GCI. Unknown to me, the Advanced Level program is a mixed program offered jointly by both GCI and QS but the classes are all held in GCI
I am tossed into strange waters, I have no clue on how to relate with the girls. I am a young fifteen year old lad with no inkling of what dating is. Even if I do, my financial realities do not make this of any interest at all. I am inexperienced, naïve and poor! My engagement with the girls are no longer that a ‘good morning’ statement. Yet, there are the super studs, boys that see this experience as a coming-of-age opportunity. Learning immediately becomes secondary to them while their main occupation is all about how to date the girls.
I had thought that the great foundation in Ordinary Level Mathematics that I had was good enough to build my Advanced Level Mathematics on. I am rudely shocked, it isn’t. As we delve into the realm of abstracts with Calculus Differentiation and Integration, I quickly start questioning the wisdom behind my choice of Mathematics. Sivasubramaniam, the Indian lecturer does his very best in validating my position. Just off from blowing off the smoke from the last puff of cigarette, he enters the class and immediately starts scribbling on the board. After about two to three minutes of talking to himself with the thin long white chalk that he started with having become a stubble, he faces us. I am looking at him keenly, this is an insane man. What does he mean by summing a series to infinity plus one? I am struggling to follow along having been lost at the point of trying to conceptualize infinity.
This is just the beginning. As we move into Geometry and start examining the strange worlds of Parabolas and the trajectory of different objects in space, the impact of gravity at 9.8metres per second per second, it is daylight torture.
Well, as the Yoruba adage goes – “ba gunyan ninu odo, bi a se’be ninu epo epa, eni ti’o yo, koni salai ma yo”. Blakey is enjoying all these, in fact he revels in the world of abstracts. He is flowing with every abstraction that is being thrown at us. I can’t recollect his true name now, maybe he never had one. We nicknamed him Blakey because one can’t find him anywhere without him holding the textbook “Intermediate Pure Mathematics by J, Blakey”. He is a genius, envied by all. Meanwhile, I am at the bottom of the class, understanding nothing.
Then, back to the old wooden box that I inherited from my father I delved. I am lucky to find two (2) textbooks by L. Harwood Clarke. Both are cloth covered and have survived the ceaseless attacks from rats and cockroaches. The Red one is titled “A Note Book in Pure Mathematics” and the Green one “A Note Book in Applied Mathematics”. They are nowhere near fanciful but excel in breaking down the mathematics concepts into digestible chunks that I could understand and follow with worked examples. I am motivated from two fronts. One, the fear of failure and the need to make a decent grade in the subjects. Second, and may be the bigger motivation, is from seeing the handwritings of my father, in pencil, in the margins of the textbooks showing he had worked out some of the questions in the books himself. I got cracking and can boast of working nearly 70% of all the questions in these two books. The transformation is not sudden but my fellow mates can see it as I move from being at the bottom of the class to becoming one of the more enlightened students. Now, the girls studying mathematics, not the best looking of the ladies, are craving my assistance and I start getting out of my shell.
All these did not happen in a day, they are preceded by several attempts after lectures to get Sivasubramaniam to explain what he had taught. He is always willing to explain. Sitting in the driver’s seat of his Volkswagen Beetle car, a cigarette in one hand and a pen in the other, he makes attempts to walk me through the concepts he had thought. I understood nothing and am in a haste to get away from him. First, he is Indian and his thickly laced English is difficult for me to understand. And then the cigarette. Sivasubramaniam is a moving smoke chimney – outside classes and the staff room, you can’t find him without a cigarette in hand. His clothe, car and everything that touches him ooze of cigarette smoke. I could tolerate most things but tobacco smoke is not one of them.
Economics is a little better. O Teriba’s Certificate Economics for West Africa is our Bible as we delve into concepts like GDP, National Income, Factors of production, Demand and Supply curves, Inflation, Oligopolistic and Monopolistic competitions and all different abstractions that I learnt, never to practice.
My mum, based in Lagos, made it a point of duty to send me an allowance every month. It was something that I eagerly looked forward to. These were the days of the Federal Savings Bank (FSB), which had a branch in all the post offices all over Nigeria. I probably was the only one receiving letters in our wooden postal box, mounted at the entrance of the house in Oke-Labo. Inside each letter from my mum was a postal order and as such I had to make a trip to the General Post Office, Dugbe to cash this. I preferred the Dugbe GPO because it was a short walk from the Kingsway Shopping Mall, then the place you wannabe seen shopping if you are a person of means. Added to this was the opportunity to get amazed by the uniqueness of the Broking House, a sight unparalleled anywhere in Ibadan of those days. In warm sunshine, the 12 storey glass edifice owned by Femi Johnson & Co bedazzles everything in its vicinity with its glass panes reflecting the sun’s rays. The Cocoa House, a 26 storey building that was once the tallest building in Nigeria, is also in the vicinity.
The bus from Apata takes us through Odo-Ona. At the intersection with Ring Road, it takes the left, driving next to the railway track all the way to Dugbe. On some days, we get to see the passenger train from Kano, arriving Ibadan with its tired passengers all looking out at us from its windows. On our right, down a deep ravine, were some of the most affluent houses in Ibadan, hidden from the road by tall trees with dense leaves. Welcoming us to Dugbe iis the aroma coming out of Cocoa Industries Limited (CIL). When the bus pulls into the park, we have to jostle to alight from the bus as we get beseeched by traders peddling different wares.
The General Post Office is a giant building, an edifice facing the Ibadan Railway Station. I would hurry into it and in some few minutes, now with money in my pocket, would walk towards Cocoa House, passing the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on my left and then to Kingsway.
It was while on this short walk in 1985 that I narrowly escaped being killed, in the hands of the same uniformed men that had killed Dele Udoh 4 years earlier. With death, there usually is no premonition, so I had none on this fateful day. I was walking on the pedestrian walkway by the side of the big car park opposite the CBN and adjacent to Cocoa House. Unknown to me, a thief had managed to unlock a car and was driving it out of the lot when, by some stroke of fate, the owner was approaching the lot. The scream of “Ole” was heard by the security personnel guarding the CBN and the whole area erupted with thunderous sounds of gunshots. Bullets were flying everywhere. I raced towards Cocoa House, using all the training that I had gotten from the Boys Scout and Boys Brigade. If I had flinched when I should have scurried, I probably would be in the grave by now. I was by the entrance wall of the building when a bullet whizzed passed me and a voice shouted at me “lay flat on the ground.” Absolutely terrified, I did.
It was only when the gun shots stopped and I stood up, that I realized I had just escaped a narrow death. The bullet that whizzed past me had struck the wall at a point that was just less than 5cm above my head. With all the gunshots, the thief escaped with the stolen car and not one of those bullets stopped his exit.
This unfortunate event did not stop me from my future trips to the Kingsway. After all, the bookshop section offered me good opportunity to browse through magazines and books freely, something that I enjoyed as it aided my understanding of the world out there.
Once I exit Kingsway, carrying jealously the bag of provision items such as Nido, Ovaltine, Horlicks Malted Milk, Blueband Margarine, St. Louis Sugar, I slowly make my way to Ogunpa where I will catch a bus to either Beere or Oranyan. But before getting to Ogunpa, I will have to navigate my way through the many court typists that have their typing machines on foldable wooden tables under their individual umbrellas. One could get any court document typed by these people, they have the format and exact template wordings for declaration of age, lost documents, affidavits and whatever.
A little further down, at the intersection of Bank Road and Lebanon Road, was the statute of the Unknown Soldier. It was a remembrance for the Nigerian Civil war, the second world war and a few other wars in which Nigeria had participated. At Ogunpa, I will board one of the many Danfos which would take us through the ever-busy Agbeni market, then through Orita-Merin and Oja-Oba, bursting out in front of Mapo Hall standing tall and elegant on Mapo Hill. From here, we drive past the King’s palace taking the Esu Awele toad, descending the hill through the Orita-Aperin road to arrive home.
I had my little wooden “show-case”, and this is where I keep the provisions, under lock. Along with Kulikuli and Garri, these becomes my succor when hunger calls. These are in addition to the meal provided graciously by my grandmother
Meaning of some YORUBA words in the above:
1. Ole – Thief’;
2. “ba gunyan ninu odo, bi a se’be ninu epo epa, eni ti’o yo, koni salai ma yo” – If we pound yam in a mortar and make the soup in a groundnut shell, those that will have their fill and satisfaction, will still do;
3. Kulikuli – A snack made from peanuts;
4. Garri – popular Nigerian food made from processed cassava
Seun, thank you for giving us these life experiences of the past. It makes one to appreciate the mercies of God and help us to appreciate the past struggles that lots of people have had before success is achieved. These are experiences our children need to read about. However why do you want
people like us who stopped at O level English to need a dictionary to understand your writings. “If I had flinched when I. should have scurried ” is too big for me. Compliments of the season. Lest I forget you are one of those who oppress us in Maths 101,102, 201and 202. Those of us who did not do A level before coming to Unilag wonders how you people understand Integration and diffrrenciation . We saw you as wonders.
Nice read and nostalgic recollections. I believe every school had a version of that Indian Maths teacher. In my school, Aquinas College Akure, it was Mr. Upot, one of the vice principals and Physics teacher. He chain-smoked, and was regarded as a genius of Maths and Physics. He was a legend, and was even rumoured to be a classmate and contemporary of Nelkon, the author of the most widely used Physics textbook of the time.
Well done man, you succeeded in transporting one back to the late 70s and early 80s.
Thanks a lot. Overall, i think the employment of Indians, Ghanaians etc was good for the quality of education many of us received in those days. In fact, at GCI, we had students of different nationalities attending the school which made for a great cross-fertilization of ideas.
Very interesting memoir and a clear case of God’s grace in your life . The memoir also attests to the elders saying “Ori ti o ma de ade dandan ni ki o de ade…” The head that is destined for a crown will definitely wear the crown.
Another beautiful piece masterly crafted. I never knew you had such a difficult time learning the ropes of mathematics. I had always thought you were born with the gift of the figures. Something that made people like us look at you with such respect. A gift some of us still struggle with. Thank you for the nostalgic experiences beautifully penned and masterfully crafted. You are indeed a great story teller. 🙏🏻🙏🏻