Flash Back – London Here I Come

As a follow up on previous post Flash Back – Fools Rush In, in Lagos I was employed by T. A. Hammond & Partners, Quantity Surveyors, with offices on the Marina with whom I had been in communication for weeks. I moved into a hostel in Obalende. My employers had promised to send me to England on scholarship but when after two months there seemed to be no movement in that direction and my hopes were high on getting one of the scholarships which I had applied for I resigned and took a job with the Nigerian Ports Authority with offices also on the Marina. I had applied for the Federal Government scholarship to study Quantity Surveying and for the Eastern Nigeria Government scholarship to study Estate Management.

In the middle of 1962 the Government of Eastern Nigeria released its scholarship results and my name was on the list. I ran to the East and signed the bond. Not too long after, the Federal Government released its scholarship list and my name was on it too. But since I had signed the bond with the Eastern Government I was already committed. In October I returned to the Enugu campus to complete the first Examination class of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. But it became clear that my problems had only been postponed. My debts simply caught up with me! In addition to paying the money I had borrowed from fellow students the University simply checked their records and resumed pursuing me around. The officials did everything to embarrass me for the payment of my debt to the University of £151. My scholarship allowance was seized and I continued moving around in my one pair of sandals that had up to a dozen holes in them. I wrote an impassioned appeal to the Bursar offering to sign a bond or agreement with the University to pay at some time in future. I told him how much the allowances meant to me. I told him I was about to throw away my sandals and walk barefooted. Luckily for me the University had undertaken to pay the exam fees for those of us sitting for the RICS first exams. One way or the other I survived the ordeal until I sat for the exams. I cannot recollect what happened to my debt of £151 but I certainly could not have paid it. Then there was this disagreement between the University of Nigeria and both the Federal and Eastern Governments. The bone of contention was that our sponsors, the governments, insisted we had done two years while the University Authorities would only credit us with one year as the first set of Estate Management students. So our sponsors told us to look for schools and colleges in the United Kingdom. It did not take me long to secure admission into Walthamstow Technical College, London. Others, both Federal and State scholars, got admission to various colleges mainly in London.

As we were to depart late in May, 1963, we had some days to go home to prepare. Going to anabekee, white man’s land, in those days was a big do. People in my home town came in numbers to see the young man going to anabekee. Some came to say well done, others brought money. One old man came with toro, three pence piece. But what stuck in my memory till today was that he had the money in his palm but it did not enter my outstretched palm. It was as if it was glued to his palm and as he went away the money went with him, in his palm. At this point I must give credit to whom it is due. Without members of the Ikelionwu family I could not have survived the ordeal of the first two years in the Nigerian College of Arts Science & Technology/University of Nigeria. As chronicled in an earlier post Flash Back – Fools Rush In my fees were paid by them and there were so many other members who contributed money, small and large who were not mentioned.

We left Nigeria on 23rd May from Lagos in a plane called ‘the whistling giant’. I wore a pair of sandals given me by my classmate, Paddy Onwugbufo, and a jacket given to me by another classmate, Kenneth Iloabuchi. I occupied a window seat and enjoyed looking down to see what we were passing on the ground. On the other hand our class mate, Agwaramgbo, was so afraid that he neither looked left or right through the windows throughout the duration of the flight. In London we were dispersed into various hostels for the first few days. I stayed in the Holborn hostel of the University of London.

Later some of us were moved into the Catholic International students hostel in Manor House by Finsbury Park, London. As a football enthusiast I quickly learnt that Arsenal footbal club was a short distance in one direction and Tottenham Hotspurs was a few miles in the other direction. But serious matters first. Shortly after we embarked on the weekday bus ride to school in Walthamstow. What became obvious early was the scholarship amounts. Eastern Nigeria Government paid us £36:16:8 while federal scholars received £39. I lived in Manor House for the one year it took me to complete my Intermediate and moved South to Balham but where I got a room was at the extreme end of Emmanuel Road, number 85, a short walk to the Streatham Hill bus station. I enrolled in the Brixton School of Building for my part-time studies towards the final examination while I did my articleship in the Ministry Of Public Buildings and Works in Waterloo.

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