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Was. Is. Will. The spellbinding sight of the throne would blush King Solomon green with envy. With a grin, the elephant walked majestically towards the throne, swishing his tail as his tree-trunk legs embossed map-like footprints in the brown earth.
He clambered up to the throne, turned around, made a throaty sound of satisfaction with his skyward trunk, and lowered his bulk into the baited throne, tumbling down the covered pit underneath.
Many traps don’t bear warnings. You’ve just walked into my trappy headline, “Yoruba rascals and Igbo idiots.” My trap has caught you, a big game. Upon reading the headline, your mind probably wandered along ethnic paths, “What’s this man up to this time?” “Uhmm, he must’ve blasted the Igbo, and their stupid leader, Iwuanyanwu,” “This stupid Yoruba boy has come again?”
Because I’m Yoruba, you expect to see me shooting at the Igbo, but I come in peace. You expect to see fire, but I bear water; you expect hate speech, but I bear the good news; instead of carrying a bag of bullets, I bear a branch of olive.
Now that you know I got you trapped, dear esteemed reader, why not sit back and enjoy this ride into Nigeria’s distant past when we sang, “…though tribes and tongues may differ, in brotherhood we stand,” and chorused, “Nigerians all, are proud to serve our sovereign Motherland?” Or, did we mean, “Our suffering Motherland?”
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Now, let’s start on an easy peasy, piece of chips note by going down memory lane to see how potato chips came into being. Potato chips, like the geographical expression called Nigeria, came into being by misadventure. Both weren’t meant to be but they came into being when Man violated nature in Africa, and gasped in exasperation and revenge in New York.
Here goes the legend of potato chips: Potato chips hopped on global menu in the 1850s after it was first made in a New York restaurant called Moon’s Lake House where an African-American chef, George Crum, performed the first potato miracle.
A customer, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, repeatedly sent back an order of French fries, complaining they were too thick and soggy. Annoyed by the picky customer’s demand, and bent on retaliating, Crum sliced some potatoes paper-thin, fried them till they curled up in crisps, and seasoned them with a ‘kongo’ of salt.
When the commodore ate the chips, his face lit up; he munched and munched, and munched and munched, asking for more. Thus, potato chips birthed in Saratoga and became a household name in New York, attaining fame even to the end of the world.
By ‘mistake’, I got admitted in the 1980s to read Chemistry at the University of Lagos. Oh, how I hated science subjects! But my father, Pa Bisi Odesola, would do anything to see his firstborn become a graduate. So, he urged me on, saying the sky was the limit if I could weld passion to commitment. But I had neither commitment nor passion for sciences; I was already taken by the arts.
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Without his knowledge, I bought textbooks for art subjects and studied for the General Certificate of Education conducted by the West African Examination Council. I also bought the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Examination Board form, and I chose Imo State University, Okigwe, because it offered English Language and English Literature as combined honours. In my GCE and JAMB exams, I came out with flying colours.
I couldn’t break the news of my coup to my father, so I went in search of my uncle, Deacon Tunji Fayese, who lived on Lagos Island, to confess my sin. After listening to my story, he dressed up, and followed me home to the mainland.
My father was happy to see his younger brother. They had a sumptuous meal prepared by my mother. After eating, they retired to the living room, where uncle Fayese unmasked the masquerader. His closing remarks at the end of his intervention, “Booda mi, e je ki Tunde follow dream e,” meaning, “My brother, let Tunde follow his dream.”
“Tunde!” my father called out. “Sir!” I responded as though I was faraway in my room, but I was actually behind the door, eavesdropping. “When did you have time to study for all these subjects?” “I used my spare time in the university.” “Are you sure this is what you want to do? “Yes, it’s what I want to do, sir.” “How did you come about Imo State University?” “I don’t know, sir; that’s what I saw in my admission letter, sir,” I lied.
Then, he prayed for me.
It wasn’t the age of mobile phones. Phones then were big and immobile, running on tangling black wires. There was no information about IMSU anywhere. So, my father decided to go with me to Okigwe, which was not new to him, but which was an entirely new experience to me, who had never stepped foot out of the South-West since I was born.
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The journey to Okigwe took forever. The fare was around N16. I enjoyed the roominess of the ‘The Young Shall Grow’ luxury bus, the stops at big roadside restaurants while my mind wandered about what lay ahead.
By the time we got to Okigwe, the sun had pulled down the curtain on the day and gone home into the clouds. We got accommodation in a hotel. The following morning, we headed to the campus, where we met an empty school, but got information about resumption, anyway. Lagos, here we come!
Upon the school’s resumption, I returned to Okigwe alone, via Owerri. At Owerri, it took a long time for the bus to Okigwe to fill up. By the time I arrived in Okigwe, it was dark again. I headed up to Okigwe police station, where I met an Igbo officer at the counter. I told him I wish to put up at the station till daybreak. He obliged me, pointing to a concrete slab, saying ‘if you fit manage am’. I was choiceless.
After a while, a man in mufti came to visit the officer on duty. They got talking. As he was about to leave, he asked his friend about me. The officer on duty told him in Igbo that I was a stranded Yoruba student. He told the policeman on duty to ask me if I wouldn’t mind to go and sleep in his house.
The officer on duty relayed the message to me. I said I wouldn’t mind. So, together, we left for his house. On the way to his house, I asked him where we could get cold repellent. He took me to a beer parlour and he knocked on the door but they had closed for the day. We went to his one-roomed house, a ramshackled stall made of rusty corrugated iron sheets.
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“You’re from Lagos, I don’t know if you can sleep here.” I said it was fine. He vacated his spring bed that was without a mattress for me. Though I had been initiated into sleeping on spring bed at the University of Lagos by my uncle, egbon Laolu Adegbite, I would’ve preferred to sleep on bare floor than on iron spring. But I couldn’t tell my Good Samaritan so.
So, I slept on the spring while he slept on the bare floor. I couldn’t believe it. I slept with one eye open, wondering if this was the same Igbo land which a couple of friends had warned me to beware of its people.
The following day, I ate my first Igbo staple, okpa, with bread. My host ate his okpa with akamu (pap). I paid the food vendor. I thanked my host and left for the campus in a public bus.
At the Admin Block, where I had to pay some fees and do some paperwork, something instructive happened. I came before a registration officer, who was in high spirits. He greeted me in Igbo but I answered in English. He looked at me from head to toe, and asked in Igbo what my name was. “I don’t understand Igbo.” “You don’t understand Igbo!?” he thundered. “You jus dey enter school, yanga don already start!?”
To be continued…
(Published in The PUNCH, on Friday, March 31, 2023).
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