Flash Back – FOOLS RUSH IN

There is a saying that fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Well, in 1960 I rushed headlong into suffering. I had done very well in the West African School Certificate examination. That coupled with all the praises and encouragement by relatives and friends made me to forget my background and begin dreaming of higher education! My first cousin, Chukwuemeka Vincent Ike, who was then an Assistant Registrar in the University of Ibadan had written me a letter that said he would not like to see me ending up a 3rd class clerk which was really where I was headed. He went ahead to send me the application forms for the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Enugu, and urged me to apply to study Estate Management, a course I had never heard of. I applied. Now with my head thoroughly swollen I also applied to the Kumasi College of Technology, Ghana, to study Accountancy even though I knew that I was weak in Mathematics and figures. After an interview by David Wright who came all the way from Enugu to Kaduna to interview applicants from the North I was offered a place to study estate management in Enugu and given deadline for the payment of the fees. The Kumasi College of Technology also offered me a place for Accountancy.
When I handed in my letter of resignation to the Posts and Telegraphs, Kaduna, my white boss was livid. He said he had given me a chance to make something of myself and it was ingratitude for me to resign and go back to school. I sold my bicycle and headed home to Ndikelionwu to prepare without being sure of where the fee would come from. At home, my mother welcomed me. My father was there having retired from his Nigerian Railway carpenter job but his view was that I should go back to my job or, since I had resigned, look for another one so that I can pay the school fees of my siblings which made sense in those days.
My uncle had promised to sponsor me to higher studies but when I presented him my admission letter to the Kumasi College of Technology he threw it at me. He said tauntingly, `Your mother is behind this. Instead of encouraging you to continue with your job she is pushing you to study further in her blind ambition to sit in the owner’s corner of a Mercedes Benz car.’ I was deflated but not too surprised. His relationship with my mother was that bad. They were not even on speaking terms. After that he never contributed even one kobo throughout the period my brother and I went through extreme suffering. The truth was that my mother was the driving force. I was just a quiet young man who did not know what to do. She had approached two of her other relatives for help. Vincent Ike had earlier undertaken to pay one third of my fees. Unfortunately her endeavour did not reach the extent of having the three men agree on a modus operandi as had been earlier envisaged. She sat me down and asked me if I knew that what I was embarking on meant suffering, real suffering. Was I ready for it? I said I was. But then I did not understand what real suffering was. I thought I had suffered when in 1953 I had to serve two masters at the same time. But that is a story for another post.
So we went begging! Or, to be more correct, my mother went begging and the next two years must have been hell for her. A relative living in Owerri, one of the three whom we had envisaged would combine to pay my fees, gave us ten pounds and said that was all he would contribute. Our begging trips to Akpu and Umunze proved fruitless as our targets had travelled. The third of the three relatives, Robin, undertook to contribute five pounds every term. That was all we could gather.  But there was a pleasant surprise. A Mr J. G. Hooper, a citizen of Ndikelionwu, who was a railway engine driver based in Kafanchan in the North came home on leave and on hearing that there was a boy who had gained admission to the Nigerian College of Arts, Science & Technology but could not make up the fees came visiting. He was copious in his praises of me and there and then undertook to pay £5 per term. And he did. He was a man I cannot forget.  At that time nobody was thinking of pocket money or clothing. All that mattered were the fees. I had applied for the Federal Government scholarship and we hoped that I would be successful.
But the catch in this whole story was that my junior brother had secured admission into a secondary school and was to resume in January, 1961. But, as I said earlier, our mother was the driving force. We knew both of us going into the schools was signing up for suffering. And it was suffering, the type we had never imagined. With my eyes open I paid the first term fees £38 and moved into the college, no pocket money, no money for clothing. That was at the time Nigeria was celebrating independence from her colonial master, Britain, and the neon sign shone bright on Milliken Hill proclaiming, ‘Independence, October 1, 1960’, for weeks. School children would no longer be marching  in the hot sun saluting a representative of the Queen of England on Empire Day singing, ‘British Empire will never perish. Amen. Amen.’
We were also able to pay the first term fees for my junior brother on admission into the secondary school, again, no consideration for pocket money or money for clothing. But that is another story. But we were juggling payment of my fees and that of my brother. I had only a pair of sandals and few clothes. I enjoyed associating with fellow students, made a few friends but it was tough. At the beginning of the second term in January, 1961, the Head of Department took over the payment of two thirds of my fees. He had undertaken to pay two thirds of the fees of the best performing three indigent students following the terminal examinations at the end of the first term. And I performed well and qualified. But still I had neither pocket money nor money to buy another pair of sandals to relieve my only pair which now had may holes in them. But the third term was worse for me. There was trouble in the College. The Federal Minister of Education, Jaja Nwackukwu had visited and while addressing the students in the hall he said something they did not like and they booed him loudly. He was so incensed that he declared that no student would be awarded a Federal Government scholarship that year. And he kept his word. Nobody in the College got a Federal Government scholarship award that year. To make matters worse Mr D. A. Wright also withdrew payment of two thirds of the fees of indigent students, including me. He was not happy about the behaviour of the students. I was devastated. We were back to square one. The question of travelling anywhere for holidays was out. I borrowed £20 from fellow students including Paddy Onwugbufo, my best friend, just to complete the term. I trekked everywhere. That long vacation I squatted in the house of the kindly Mr Esiobu whose wife was a distant relative, in Asata, Enugu.
Yes, I had it very rough but there were periods in which I forgot my struggles. I liked sports and played for the college football team with people like Jim Nwobodo and Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu. I was also crazy about table tennis then having captained the St Paul’s Secondary School team in Zaria. I represented the Nigerian College in the Triangular Sports in Ibadan in 1961 and  later in 1962 at Ahmadu Bello University in both football and table tennis. I also captained the University of Nigeria team against the English touring table tennis team even though I was roundly beaten by their lead player, David Creamer. The University of Nigeria took over the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Enugu, in 1961.
I returned to the College in October 1961 to continue the ordeal. I was determined to sit for the first examination of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors during the first term of 1962 hoping that a pass could enable me to find a job. And the University of Nigeria increased the fees on taking over. And there was no hope of my being able to pay the fees. And I was told to leave the University. University officials started following me around to serve me notices of debt. My chair in the room, my pillow and property were tossed here and there. They used duplicate keys to enter my room. I never attended any student gatherings for fear of being spotted. I could not join in welcoming the Governor General, Sir Francis Ibiam, or Chief Obafemi Awolowo when they visited for the other reason that I had no lounge suit or native dress which were the attires students must wear. I kept playing a cat and mouse game with the officials until I was able to sit for the RICS first examination after which I decided to leave and find a job. When my mother learnt that I wanted to leave and find a job to enable me help pay the fees for my junior brother and the younger one of my junior sisters she was distraught. She felt it would be an anti climax for me to leave after suffering for two years. I should at least struggle for the other two years to the Intermediate examination at which stage I must leave anyway to find where to be articled. My friend at home, Benson Mbonu, counselled me against the idea and so did many other people. But I had already applied to T. A. Hammond & Partners, Quantity Surveyors of 30 Marina, Lagos. By the time I sat for the first examination of the RICS and passed they had offered me a place and the letter contained a promise of scholarship. By this time I was already owing the University £151. So I borrowed £3 from friends and travelled to Lagos to join T. A. Hammond & Partners. Of course I had already applied for the Federal Government and Eastern Nigeria Government scholarships and hope that this time I would have favourable consideration.

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