First Gentleman with Wilson Orhiunu
Email: email@example.com Twitter: @Babawilly
By September 1983 we felt euphoric. We had crossed the Red Sea and were drinking Red Red Wine in the land of promise that also flowed with milk and honey for the non-drinkers. Having passed the second MB exams and the biochemistry re-sit, my name was now written in indelible ink on that roll call of medical students. The prevailing wisdom was that unless one did something crazy like murder or steals a lecturer’s wife, one was guaranteed to graduate as a doctor.
We were intoxicated with different things in that class. Some with the success of crossing over; others with youth, strength and beauty. Of course, some were “all of the above”. UB40 were Number 1 in the UK and it was all about the ‘Red Red Wine’. Life was sweet. By November Prof Lionel Richie was urging us to “throw away the work to be done Let the music play on”.
All night long was how Ugbowo campus rolled. The song at Number 10 on the UK charts was a metaphor for life in our campus ecosystem. Young, strong and gifted, you did it all night long. Actions depended on your affiliations. The sea dogs sailed, the palm wine drinkers gyrated and the buccaneers sailed with a crazy rallying cry; let the devil that leads you guide you!!! Haba!! Imagine passing JAMB only to end up being led by the devil! Then there were the other confraternities, Eiye, Black Axe and Maphite who all moved at night. The “daytime” clubs were the Skomit Club who held the Miss Skomit Beauty contest and they were prim and proper people. Klova Club, Lions (Leo Club) and the Rotary club also existed
Members of the Christian Union prayed for all our souls. It was all night long for everyone.
There was a group for everyone, sport teams, board game players, and various tribal groups collectively called Parapo.
Faculties had societies whose aim appeared to be the organisation of parties and meetings. Those who loved politics went to the Student Union Senate either representing their halls of residence or contesting for a seat in their faculties.
I tried my best to throw away the work to be done but a heavy textbook and a weak right arm meant I did not throw the work far enough. G & G, as we affectionately called our main text for the year, was always within eyeshot. Goodman & Gilman’s The Pharmacological basis of therapeutics was the main compass in this year’s voyage through the Sea of Pharmacology. Having watched from afar the stereotypical images of doctors and nurses giving tablets and injections, it was now time to get up close and personal with drugs. Impressive sounding words like Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics gave one a certain air of superiority when talking among ourselves albeit loud enough for eavesdroppers to hear and marvel.
I belonged to my own corner of the ecosystem; the dancers. We formed a group and got on with keeping fit and practicing. For the first time, I began to notice the power of dance on the observers. I had classmates who played football; games lasting 90 minutes with a 15-minute break in between each half. We all watched them and patted them on the back. When it came to the dancers who usually danced to songs lasting no more than 10 minutes in a single performance, you got applauded but some felt you were not serious with your studies. Dance has a way of living on in people’s minds long after the dancer has forgotten the steps. The illusion is that the dancer is permanently dancing.
Pharmacology introduced us to the blood-brain barrier. Most terms studied in class usually made its way into our daily conversations in the hostel. Alcohol, that drug that needed a large quantity to bring about a physiological effect was talked about a lot. In addition for the guys, girls went through the blood-brain barrier with relative ease. We were permanently falling in or falling out of love, a most intoxicating period.
If Ugbowo campus was Onitsha, then every Saturday night was an Ofala festival. The one hosting the hottest party would be the Obi and crowds would gather at the front of Hall One to be transported to the makeshift palace where the night long festivities would occur. My friends and I pulled resources and threw a party where we paraded as Ndichies (red-cap chiefs) while our girlfriends were the Ikporo Ogbe association (wives in the king’s clan)
So intoxicated was I that I tossed off my red cap and ascended the stool reserved for the Igwe at that party. Booze, love, youth, who knows what moved me.
I served in the Student Union Senate in the 1983-84 session (so says my certificate; I don’t remember too much about it).
The second of December 1983 saw the release of the Michael Jackson video ‘Thriller’. It was on the NTA news and Vincent rang like crazy to call us to watch it. We were all blown away. By December we went home for Christmas with ‘Thriller’ on our minds
It’s close to midnight, something evil’s lurking in the dark
By the 31-12-83 there was Change as Major General Muhammadu Buhari braved the harmattan to stage a coup. Gone was our Alhaji Shehu Shagari. The New Year continued where the last one stopped. Culture Club was No 7 in the US charts in January 1984 with the ‘Karma Chameleon’ tune that had the line
Karma, karma, karma, karma, karma chameleon
You come and go, you come and go
Which mirrored our soja come soja go government.
The mood soared in February when we danced to Madonna’s ‘Holiday’ with its infectious intro and addictive bass line. Everyone’s top was plastered to the skin due to sweat at parties and a table fan was stationed over the stereo’s amplifier to avoid overheating. The DJs used cassette tapes. No CDs or MP3s.
I read my G&G and life was sweet. We experimented with a certain cat in the lab. Injecting drugs into it and checking its heart rate. It died in the end, foaming at the mouth. Can’t shake that image.
Dance practice was in the evenings while we learnt about drugs all day. Someone tipped us that the Klova Club was to stage a male beauty pageant to rival the Miss Skomit contest and the first prize was to be a brand new car (The usual prize in Uniben at the time for pageants). My group of friends started planning where they would seat in the car. I would drive and my girlfriend would sit up front.
I soon heard the sponsor with the car had pulled out. I went on to contest despite little real faith among friends that I would win although Mary Onochie said that I would. I won and became the first ever Mr. Uniben much to the displeasure of the Black Axe and Eiye confra boys in the audience who had some of their members contesting. A mini-riot with flying bottles of beer broke out and I was smuggled out of the main auditorium.
I made the NTA network news which was a big deal at the time. Fame was the new red red wine.
Dance practice continued till we performed our own version of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ at the Miss Skomit 1984 beauty contest which was well received.
I continued hanging out with my G & G till I passed my Pharmacology exams. This year was one long Made in Onitsha Ofala festival full of drugs that crossed the blood-brain barrier at will. Love, beauty, youth, strength, good fortune, intelligence, good education and God’s mercies were all in abundance.
(God is God)