Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Ivory Tower Beckons

My one year studying for A-Levels also saw my taste for books expand well beyond proscribed texts. In the school library during break one afternoon I encountered the pamphlet, How to Be a Nigerian by Peter Enahoro and was won over by authors great sense of humor, lively prose and the picturesque, accurate characterization of Nigerians in the 1960s and its enduring accuracy. Subsequently, I bought his You Gotta Cry to Laugh, and continued my exploration of Enahoro's irreverent style of poking fun at everything, even the very idea of God. Then I began to look out for more of his writings in Africa (published by Ralph Uwechue and edited by Enahoro) and later Africa Now, published by Enahoro himself.
     On another day I went into the library and saw a copy of Fragments by the Ghanaian writer Ayikwei Armah. I had a little ago read The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born, a recommended text for our African fiction class, and enjoyed his hazy realism. I found the same haunting quality in Fragments and read it through in two days, spending two hours each day with the book in the library.
     Through reading more into the history texts we used, such as Europe and the Revolutionary Years (by E.M. Thompson), Egypt and the Nile Valley by P.M. Holt and English Social History by (xx), I found my horizon broadening. Further studies in A-Level economics increased my theoretical knowledge of the subject. As we prepared for university entrance exams, I found that the past question papers I used for practice were yielding more easily than they did a year earlier, when I took the exam in my final year in secondary school.
     So it wasn't surprising to me when I passed the university entrance exam and my name was second on the list to study mass communication. It was JAMB 2; I had done JAMB 1 and didn't pass. We were the second set of candidates admitted through the joint matriculation process, instead of the previous system where individual institutions conducted their own entrance exams.
     My father was particularly overjoyed. He said I had spared him the indignity of having to go begging people to help him get a place for his son in the university. On the eve of my departure, he called me into his room for pep talk, as was his wont.
     "Never forget who you are and why you're going to Nsukka," were among his words. His words usually struggled with his stutter before breaking through in clear ringing tones. They are still clearly etched in my mind decades later. "You are going there to learn, pass your exams, earn your certificate, so that you can get a job and help me to train your younger ones."
     I was sitting next to him on his bed and my mother sat on the chair by his writing table, concurring by chorusing an end word or by some other phrasal interjection.
     "You are going to find all manner of people when you get there.”
     “Gbam!” mother said.
     “You'll find those who are serious and those who have come to play,” father continued, ignoring her. “I won't bé there, your mother won't bé there to tell you what to do. The choice will bé yours and yours only to make. And I believe you'll make us proud," he concluded.
     "It's not for nothing that your grandfather named you Chukwudulue," mother said. "Oga edulu gi o!."
     My father then gave me money for my fees and feeding, with a modest sum as pocket money. I thanked my parents for their love and support, promised to make them proud while at the same time thinking: "Freedom! Freedom!" I was giddy.
     The next day he drove me in his car, a Peugeot 504 L, accompanied by his good friend Alphonse Madueke, for the about 300 km journey from Umuahia to Nsukka, with my suitcase and other stuff in the booth. Madueke was later to sell me my first and only manual typewriter, but more on that later.
     We traveled on the newly completed Port Harcourt to Enugu expressway, which passed through Umuahia. At Enugu went through the winding Milken Hill, a high stone cliff on the left and a scary-deep valley on the right, with a road etched in between, to link up the 9th Mile junction. There we joined the northward highway to Makurdi, Jos and the rest of the north. Somewhere along the road, probably near the town of Ogbede, we saw an accident scene involving a posh car with a badly mangled front. I was later to learn it was the accident that killed Ezenta Eze, the head of my Mass Communications department.
     Arriving at the university just before noon, the first port of call was the student fees office. There I paid my school and accommodation fees and was then assigned a room in Zik's Flats, Block B2 Room 206, which I was to share with two other students - Nicholas Onah and Nicholas Ogbonna. After helping me drop my things there and ensuring I was settled, my father left with his friend for the journey back to Umuahia.
     The next day I headed to the admissions office, a prefabricated building by the Princess Alexandria Building, remarkable for its bombed-out facade, a casualty of  the civil war that ended 9 years earlier, to formally register as a student. Seeing a cluster of about five students standing before me, I asked the one nearest, a friendly looking, tall young man with an easy smile, if he knew where Mass Communications students were getting registered.
     “It’s here,’’ he told me. “I’m also for Mass Comm.”
      “Oh, is that so?” I responded with pleasant surprise. “So, we’re for the same course?”
     We shook hands and I fell in line behind him. We introduced ourselves. His name was Timi, he had come from Port Harcourt and like me had just completed Lower Six before gaining admission (he had attended Federal School of Arts and Science, Mubi in the northeast). Our friendship began there and then, further strengthened by the fact that his room was right opposite mine at Zik’s Flat, room B2, 207.
     I had a little scare when I went to meet my academic adviser, Dr. R. Chude, to sign my course list and verify my credentials and he told me I hadn't met admission requirements. Yes, he could see I have English and Literature and so on, but I failed maths and without maths I won’t be admitted. I quickly reminded him that the regulations say maths or any other science subject, and that I have a distinction in biology. He shook his head in disbelief. But I was already searching through my bag and brought out the university prospectus and showed him the section that spelled it out clearly, which I had read an innumerable number of times for obvious reasons. It was only then he mellowed and signed off on my courses. It left an unpalatable impression as I viewed him as trying unjustly to deny me a place I duly merited in the university.
     We were to do only two departmental courses that year, Introduction to Mass Communication and Elements of Journalistic Style, both taken by Dr SA. The rest were general studies courses, broken down into Use of English, natural science and social science, requirements for humanities majors, such as we were. Social science and natural science majors were in turn required to take humanities under general studies. So in the natural science lectures were exposed to the core principles of the physical sciences.
      Similarly in the social sciences we went through the basic principles underlining political science, sociology, anthropology, religion and philosophy. It was in these classes that one first encountered the likes of Prof. Ikenna Nzimiro, Dr Inyang Etteng, who were Marxists, as well as Dr Asobie, Dr Amucheazi, Fr Lambert Ejiofor and Dr Humphrey Nwosu. Of course, everyone had to do the Use of English course, and the lecturers often said the course was necessary because of the generally poor use of English, the language of instruction, by most of the freshmen (and women), then just out of secondary school. So it took them through the basics once again, to prepare them to handle more complex ideas and subjects using the language.
     It was in the Use of English class that I met Chiedo (he liked to write Chied on his books, mags and on his elpees). I think what did it was that I had a copy of Black Music & Jazz Review, the music magazine edited by Chris May and I think Geof Brown, or something like that. He was sitting next to me while we waited for a teacher that never came on that day eventually. He excused me to have a look at the magazine and we started talking about the musicians and his great appreciation of the magazine. We fell into lockstep, as they say, and spent a good half-hour discussing music intensely, ranging from rock to soul and reggae. We just realized we were like each other and we exchanged addresses. He was a first year English major and also lived in Zik’s Flats, in Block C.

     We walked out of that classroom as friends. It turned out we would be taking some classes together as well as I was doing two electives in the English department: Literary Appreciation and Spoken English. Before we parted that morning, we agreed to meet again later in the day, and he promised to introduce me to another friend of his called Esiaba, whom he said was deep into Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple and Sex Pistols, and had quite an interesting collection.