Tuesday, October 18, 2011
NOT JOS A SONG: MEMOIRS OF A CREMATED CITY
I still recall vividly, my first visit to Jos, missing the Nigeria Airways Flight WT 301 (First Flight) and having to wait for the Second Flight in company of my Mum and my Elder Sister.
While waiting for the second flight, we met a lady who was taking her younger brother to Jos for the same Command Secondary School Entrance Interview I was going for.
We lodged at TATI Hotels, sharing a luxury room with Olumide Adedoyin and his big sister. We were meeting at the Airport for the first time, yet we had no qualms about sharing hotel rooms. That was how it used to be in the ‘80s!
Command was going to lodge the Candidates for the period of the interview, leaving two adults and a Pre-teen behind in the Room. Fast forward to today, would you share Hotel Rooms with someone you’re meeting at the Airport for the first time?
We both gained admission, and at the risk of being vain, I shall disclose that I made it at an overall Seventh (7th) position. With the offer of being a day student at King’s College (which was turned down because my Mum preferred I boarded), an eventual reposting to Federal Government College (FGC), Okigwe (Imo State) with a promise I would be transferred the second year to join my cousins in FGC Port Harcourt, another offer letter for Command Day Secondary School, Ikeja, I did not hesitate to jump at the offer to go to Jos.
Going through a Nigerian Army funded School during the Babangida Administration meant a lot, for one, Unity Schools are equalizers. From the Child/Ward of an Army Private, a Lagos based Civil Servant, or of Generals like the Shagayas and Madakis of that time, we were all clad in Olive Green Shirts/blouses over UAC Green Trousers/Pinafores/Skirts. No one wore Shorts in Jos; it was too freaking cold!
This setting was also the NIFETEP/TELEFEST Television Festival era, the time a prototype Hollywood known as the TV Village in Jos was at the peak of her glory. The Mentas (Papa Bitrus, anyone?), the Amatas, Sadiq Dabas those we would have called TV gods came freely to our schools to visit their Kids, Alas! We never deemed it fit to ask for autographs.
My mid-term breaks were spent in ITF Quarters, Hilltop Estate in Miango. Mrs Okoro, God rest her soul, was my Guardian. Modele, one of her daughters, who is doing well as a Soul Artist used to taunt me because the strict regimen ensured I remained pitifully thin. I went with them to St Piran’s Anglican Church during those breaks. Schooling in a Military setting ensured you are either a Catholic, Protestant, or a Muslim. Having further Denominations was a luxury the Nigerian Army regimen couldn’t afford.
I recall how students after the first week in school were stripped, made to roll on bathroom floors with water poured on them while they were flogged with belts while they chanted ‘I am a toad, I have a long tail, cut it for me’ .
We bore the pain as Junior Students, looking forward to our ascension to ‘Boarding School god’ status the day we become Senior Students. That hope was however dashed when the then Commandant, Lt. Col Azubuike, later replaced by Lt. Col Edward Vincent (that was their rank back then) restructured the boarding system such that students were placed in Hostels based on their Classes. With the exception of the House Prefects, any Senior Student found in Junior Hostels was summoned on Assembly Grounds the next day and portrayed as ‘going to Junior Hostels to beg for food’. There we were, faced with the task of washing our Toilets while preparing for the Certificate Examinations. These things have a way of taking their toll; Command Secondary School Jos recorded an abysmal failure rate that Academic Year. ‘Protest Vandalism’ also peaked at this period.
Just like the youths trapped in the Projects of South Bronx in the ‘70s New York, the harsh conditions of the Boarding Schools in the ‘80s made us find solace in Hiphop. Neighboring schools like Naraguta Grammar School, St John, Joseph, Murumbas had seen better days. The government of the day for whatever reason was in no way friendly towards Mission Schools. They had been largely ‘taken-over’ and severely under funded. The only Mission Schools that remained at an all-time-high were Hillcrest and Kent Academy. They were American Schools that had some room for ‘Nigerian Ajebutters’ whose parents could afford the fees. Although the Nigerian Music Industry of that age was Reggae inundated, Jos remained a Hiphop territory. You did not have to be super-rich to have your Hiphop gear, Katako Market sold high quality, fairly used ones. My only disdain for Katako Market back then is that our clothes that ‘disappeared’ from the lines usually found their way to that same market. I remember a certain classmate, Odunayo Babajide who walked up to one of the School Cooks allegedly sporting his stolen Sweatshirt. All the cook said was ‘see me see trouble o! wetin I go buy for Katako Market!’ (What trouble is this?! I bought it from Katako Market!)
Power outages were few and far between (yet we complained), the school had a Power Plant, anyway. Sometimes, however, the Plant could be down or not powered on time, this was good news to us because it afforded us our Hiphop moments. Students would improvise for Strobe lights by flashing torches, while some scratched the top of wooden hostel lockers with coins in a rhythmic manner that would make a DJ Grand Wizard Theodore green with envy, others would beat lockers like drums while we took the ‘stage’ to break-dance, rap and at times sing. Knowing lyrics to Rap hits earned you respect and I was good at it till my Elder Sister scared me that my academic performance would drop if I kept using the space in my brain meant for my Science subjects for Rap lyrics. I never stopped, but I slowed down a bit.
Black Stereo Decks showed up at the turn of the ‘90s. For a Hundred and Fifty (150) Naira, you could buy a good one; however, for some of us who were on 50-100 Naira allowance, a three worded phrase: PERISH THE THOUGHT!
Although I said the School Uniform was a leveler, having a Stereo Deck (which you had to hide from the authorities) was an exception. Even with the Uniforms, some of us took the liberty of making sure our Uniforms were made of more expensive materials and we had designer sandals to match. Unfortunately, the term I persuaded my Mum to buy ‘Basket’ designer sandals for me, the then Admin officer, Captain Abang apprehended us all and asked us to toss them in a dry Well. Billows of smoke at break time confirmed the Admin Officer meant business. Funny enough, of the next set of sandals he impounded but this time hesitated to dump in the Well, a pair belonged to a friend of mine whose father was a Navy Commander. Based on ‘orders from above, the Commandant not only reprimanded him, he was asked to return the shoes! So much for equality and ‘leveler’!
Nasco biscuits thrived at a time imported biscuits could not be bought ‘off the counter’ these biscuits were made in Jos and there were so many varieties. Our best then was the Lincoln biscuit because it afforded some ‘status symbol’. Sold at One Naira, Twenty Kobo ( N1.20), It was the financial equivalent of a loaf, three packs of groundnut and one sweet. With a school recommended Pocket Money of Twenty Naira only, you do not get to buy that for twenty days in a Term of an average of Ninety (90) days per term!
There was something about the Lincoln biscuit that made it taste heavenly in Jos and very ordinary when you’re eating it in Lagos, at least till the Babangida SAP (Structural Adjustment Programme) took its toll and Maize flour became a substitute for Wheat flour.
We tried hard to save money for the vacations. Those that could afford to, bought Irish Potatoes at the Heipang located Jos Airport to take home to our Parents/Guardians. Some of us were so broke even the Taxi fare from the Airports had to be paid by our folks.
I remember the Eatery revolution, when PeeJays, arguably the first Burger Joint in Jos was opened. In spite of the rumors that it was owned by the then Commandant of our school, a lot of us still scaled the school fence to buy ‘Sierra Burgers and Quarter-Pounders’.
Our most frequented spot when we sneaked out of school however, was the Farin Gada Market where we bought a particular yellow colored loaf we branded ‘FG Loaf’. Some students were die-hard entrepreneurs. They resold the loaf in the hostels at double the price, and four times the price if you are purchasing on credit. Some of these guys have risen to CEO levels both home and abroad today, if only their business rivals knew these guys ‘cut their business teeth’ right from Secondary School!
I remember looking at the Hills, the Younger Granites that form the bulk of the Jos Plateau while longing for home. The gently sloping landscape afforded an opportunity to have an ‘aerial view’ of the city without being air-borne. At that point in my life, I never knew I would end up a Geologist, studying rocks and learning about the same Plateau I only had the opportunity to climb during my admission interview.
Unknown to me, those Six Years would turn out to be enough to bind my heart to the City that schooled me.
Vultures hovered around our School Chimney and perched on our dustbins, they were so common place in my school that they lent some credence to the Urban Legend that the school is located in an ancient burial site. We were also suspicious of Chicken Barbeque out of fear that the ‘chicken’ is actually Angulu (Vulture)…If only we knew there were other ‘Vultures’ we should worry about. The same Jos that became a refuge for those fleeing the Maitatsine riots of the ‘80s would later be engulfed by infernal vultures, leaving us with sorrowful Memoirs of a Cremated City.
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