I once lived in Nigeria– Femi Adeoti Column

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FEMI ADEOTI COLUMN

I once lived in Nigeria. I once experienced Nigeria fresh and raw. It
was a golden privilege.
I insist I once knew Nigeria. Yes, from the hinterland to the
mainland. From the rural area to the urban centre. Nigeria was once
safe, innocuous and pure.
I once lived in that Nigeria. And I did enjoy every bit of it. I first
had a relish of Nigeria on December 25, 1969. It was my first time of
going outside my immediate environment.
I left my Omido rural setting. I had lived all my life in that
community. Though, there were occasional expeditions to neighbouring
communities.
An undiluted village boy I was. And I left that rustic life behind,
naïve and innocent. I was to continue my primary education in faraway
Bauchi.
My late eldest brother, Mr. Timothy Tunji Adeoti, gave me that
opportunity. He was my mentor. He saw me through. He was
Engineer-in-Chief, Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), Bauchi.
I am eternally grateful to him. I followed him and his wife to Bauchi.
We had a stopover in Ilorin to catch a train to Jos.
It happened to be my maiden train trip. In fact, the first time I
would ever sight a train! I was a village boy up to that moment. Yes,
seeing modernisation at first sight.
The two-day train trip was one to remember. All through, no panic, no
apprehension of any sort. No fear of unknown gunmen, not even unknown
“godmen.”
There was not the slightest attack on our train. We travelled through
mountains, forests, plains, rivers, valleys, et al, unmolested. And it
was during the civil war!
We stopped in Kaduna. Our train was re-routed to Jos, to pass through
Kafanchan. You could smell friendliness, warmth in the air. It was
awesome. I really did once live in Nigeria.
Bauchi was then one rustic big town. It was in the old North East
State, the present North East zone. It had just one taxi plying its
streets. But it was extremely untroubled, calm, cool and collected.
It had some semblance of my Omido rural setting. I fell for it from
day one. Harmattan was effectively holding sway.
I got registered at St. Paul’s Anglican (Transferred) School, Bauchi.
A primary school by the “City Gate.” It was a very pleasant
environment.
It was not difficult for me to make instant friends. Pupils milled
around me in great excitement. I told them my stories. And they told
me theirs.
We lived in the railways quarters. That made it more than four miles
to school everyday. Quite a distance. So? My brother bought a bicycle
for me.
I immediately became the toast of the school. Everybody would want to
have a ride. Including the teachers! I dictated the terms and
conditions. A roster was drawn to that effect.
I had favourites among the pupils. They were my closest friends. I can
still vividly remember Adamu, Audu, Segun and Mahmud. Only Segun was a
Christian. We attended the same church. It never occurred to me to
know his state of origin.
He assisted me in picking some words in Hausa Language. Always handy
in bailing me out when pupils tried to play pranks on me.
With my bicycle, we navigated the corners of Bauchi together. I would
go to their homes and we ate together. We never bothered where we came
from. We only knew we were all Nigerians, living in Nigeria.
Then we moved to Kano in 1971 on transferred. That was clearly the
biggest city then in the North. It had the trappings of the past,
present and the future.
My bicycle became busier. There were more places to visit. The
friendly atmosphere did not differ a bit from Bauchi’s. It continued
unabated, unchanged.
Any Sallah was a festival to behold. I didn’t miss it throughout my
stay in Kano. The then Emir, Alhaji Ado Bayero, would ride on horse
back through the city of Kano. Colourful and fun-filled.
There was a Nigeria and I once lived there. It was packed-full of
friendliness, comradeship, openness, kindliness, cordiality,
companionability, amenability, etcetera.
I entered Esie/Iludun (Anglican) Grammar School, Irepodun Local
Government, Kwara State, in January 1972. As a boarding student, I
paid N45 per term.
With that, we were fed three times a day for three months. We received
free textbooks on all subjects. These were taken back at the end of
every year. That was sustained, it never failed.
I even had the rare opportunity of spending four and a half years in
secondary school. The year was collapsed to six months in 1973. There
was a shift in academic calendar from January to June/July.
That was the Nigeria I once lived in, experienced and enjoyed. Those
days are gone with the wind. Big tragedy.
In October 1976, I was at the School of Basic Studies (SBS), Kwara
State College of Technology, Ilorin. I did my “A” Level papers there.
It was another memorable experience of living in Nigeria.
It was completely free. No tuition, no payment of any kind. To cap it
all, we were given a bursary of N250. That was huge then. Kwara State
Government made it available. It went a long way to see us through
successfully.
Then, a meal ticket went for 25 kobo! Yet, many of us could not afford
three meals a day. We were even offered laundry service. That was the
time I once lived in Nigeria. Not anymore.
Oh, the university days? Glorious. I was at the prestigious University
of Lagos (UNILAG), in 1979. It was for a three-year course in Mass
Communications.
Government came to my rescue again. The grant this time was N650 per
student. And the meal ticket stood at 50 kobo. Even at that, I
couldn’t risk three meals a day. I wasn’t alone in this category.
But, I insist, I once lived in Nigeria. We had dreams. We had
aspirations. Some fulfilled, some others aborted. Yet, it was an
uncommon privilege to once live in Nigeria.
Pity! That Nigeria where I once lived was allowed to carelessly slip
away. We lost our footing to recklessness. Yes, to insurgency,
banditry, kidnapping, killings and terrorism. All these are rolled
into one: Insecurity.
In Nigeria of today, nowhere is safe. No place is secure. We all live
at the whims and caprices of these odd fellows: Terrorists, kidnappers
and killer Fulani herdsmen.
The evidence and proofs are more than overwhelming. We have those who
should know and act but they chose to do otherwise. They opted to
permanently live in self-denial.
Shame! The Nigeria we once lived in happily ended abruptly. It was by
no mistake of ours. But largely by those who were supposed to be
leaders. They became rulers and destroyers. They are small gods onto
themselves.
They turned everything practically upside down. In the process, they
killed our collective souls. They made a mess of our esteemed societal
values. They turned them to cow values. Now, they have turned the
Nigeria I once lived in into one massive zoo.
May this species of horrible characters never cross our unblemished path again.
Why? They are a monumental tragedy!

My error
I goofed last week. It was horrible and embarrassing. And I am not
making excuses for it. Far from it!
Bible verses in my piece, “Nigeria: A Nation on Edge,” turned out to
be a huge error. They actually belong to Psalm 121: 1-2, not Psalm
122: 1-2.
My sincere apologies. Thanks for tolerating me.

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