Tunde Fagbenle: My memories of childhood

by Tunde Fagbenle

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We used to sleep over at each other’s house interchangeably. And our families were so close. We didn’t see one as Igbo and the other as Yoruba. We slept and ate at each other’s house and our fathers didn’t frown on it.

Dear Afam,

I don’t know where you are, Afam, I don’t even know if you are alive or not since about 50 years ago we last saw. That was before the Nigerian Civil War (or the Biafra War) broke. Ever since the war ended I have been hoping to catch a glimpse of you somewhere, run into you, read of you, or just simply meet someone who had been part of our childhood years and could just assure me you are doing fine somewhere. We were the closest of friends; nay, we were brothers!

I remember many things about our youth, about our Minna days in Keterengwari – as our area was called. I remember your family lived across the road from mine, almost directly opposite but for one or two houses, one of which was my cousins’, the Faniyans. We didn’t attend the same school, you and I didn’t.

I remember you were in Roman Catholic Mission School like most of your Igbo folk, and I was in the Yoruba-dominated Baptist Day School that also moved to the Bosso area as your school. When I say Yoruba, actually they were mostly Ogbomoso and Offa people. We also had a sprinkle of native folk. You guys in RCM used to taunt us like hell, calling us Bam-tuwo, Bam-teba, as if that was all we knew how to do – eat tuwo and eba! I can’t even remember what name we called you guys in return, but the rivalry between the schools was exciting and healthy. There was also the Native Authority (NA) School that IBB attended (although older than us), largely populated by the Gwari, Nupe, and Hausa peoples.

Do you remember, Afam, that day when we (you and I) wanted to order some stuff for ourselves from a catalogue for Christmas of that year? It must have been some toys or item of clothing. You cracked me up real good.

Yes, in those days in Nigeria one could pick up the catalogue of a store in England, select any item, and place an order by sending the appropriate amount in Postal Order and one was guaranteed to receive the item(s) in due course by return post. The Nigerian Post Office worked! – Just as efficiently as the ones in England!

Each of us had to make a choice of what shipment method he preferred – by air or sea – and the total cost of the order goes up by the choice. The fare by air was about twice by sea but also faster by much more. I had wasted no time making my choice – by sea. But you looked at the choices and their respective rates for a long, exasperating, time. “Afam, what are you waiting for,” I rasped. “Hmmm,” came your pensive response: “by bicycle no dey?”

I still roll on the floor whenever I remember. Yes, you were the frugal type. Indeed the impression we had in those days of the Igbo was of frugality if not stinginess. Your folk would go about with torn singlets or shirts, but make no mistake they have built a house or two!

I was better known then as Adisa, my oriki in Yoruba. When I got to secondary school, I changed to Tunde as I, in my ignorance, associated Adisa with being a Muslim just because I knew one or two Muslim friends bearing the name. So if you read this and wonder if it was the same brother of yours, yes it’s me.

Do you remember, Afam, those we grew up with in Keterengwari and other areas – the Hospital Area, Kwangila, and the Railway Quarters towards Canteen? Those bigger boys that used to beat us up, and the ones we looked up to? Do you remember the Odus, the Nwabukus, the Okafors, the Ugbodagas (Vincent and Casmir), the Imoukhuedes, etc. For some strange reason, and in retrospect, you guys were everywhere. And all I had for friends were Igbos with only one or two Yoruba or Nupe/Gwari. My Yoruba friend was Yekinni whose father, Abudu, was considered the richest man in Minna, whilst Bawa, son of the Soje Lapai, was my Gwari friend and Dansofo was my Nupe friend.

Most of the Yoruba in Minna were Ogbomoso and Offa who were mainly traders, contractors, teachers, or pastors, and they lived away from Keterengwari, mostly in Kwangila or Market areas – the Abudus (Ibiyeyes), Oyedeles, Ogunjumos, etc. Our own fathers were Railway workers. My father was Instructor Driver (ID) and retired as Locomotive Inspector (LI).

Have you since met any from our Minna days? I once ran into George Nwabuku some years ago in Washington, D.C at one of the many pro-democracy talks held in America where I was on self-exile in those inglorious days of Gen. Sani Abacha. Somehow George spotted me in the crowd. Good old George. I screamed and we hugged. I asked him of Anthony (my second best friend after you, LOL) and Rose, his younger siblings. I think he said he had lost them during the war. It made me cry.

Remember, George was older than us, he was my elder brother, Layi’s, mate. And in those days, George was one of the ‘best boys in town’, flaunting his attending King’s College, Lagos like a banner whenever he returned home on holidays. He was the cocky one. There was unspoken rivalry between him and my brother Layi who was attending Igbobi College, Lagos (he missed out on King’s College on account of receiving his letter of interview too late). I think it was because your sister Patricia fell for my brother rather than George who imagined he was the best thing to girls since strapless bra! (Laugh). Where and how is Pat? I hope she survived the war! So sad how all fell apart.

Do you remember, Afam, those social nights during the long Christmas holidays? School was January to December and the long holiday period was in December. The Social Nights held at the Recreation Club hall, remember? And it went all night long dancing to those Ghana Highlife tunes, or Roy Chicago, Eddie Okonta, Bobby Benson, Victor Olaiya, and then the foreign ones like the Beatles, Everly Brothers, Cliff Richard, Elvis Presley, etc. The bigger boys (George, brother Layi, Ojo Latilo (now sadly late), the Odus, the Ugbodagas, the Imoukhuedes, etc) ran the show and held sway. You and I were too young for much other than pretending. We didn’t have girlfriends and if we did, it started and ended in love letters only to take to our heels when and if, perchance, we set our eyes on the lass!

We used to sleep over at each other’s house interchangeably. And our families were so close. We didn’t see one as Igbo and the other as Yoruba. We slept and ate at each other’s house and our fathers didn’t frown on it. I remember how we spent our after-school hours playing football in the dust – first “toronto” and later proper football when we grew older. I was always shifting between being the goalkeeper and playing outside-left! We played until dusk when the first Mama’s call brought the day to a grudging close.

There are just too much to remember, Afam, of our youth in Minna. The memories keep my heart warm, but also saddened at the turn Nigeria has taken – an ethnic-riven, retrogressive – thinking, underdeveloped country.

Afamefuna Okapu, I hope you are alive and well. Yes, there was a country!

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Re-published on the permission of the author.

 

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