First Gentleman with Wilson Orhiunu
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The optimism was back in the 1985/86 session. New girlfriend, new everything. The country had acquired a new leader in the person of Ibrahim Babangida the military President who disarmed the nation with his ability to smile. The nation was ecstatic and refused to accept that this was merely a soja come soja go exercise. It was practically the same team and reserve players on the bench even though we had had a substitution.
Starved of good news, the deluded community called themselves Argentina and dubbed the lone substitute Maradona. This was a most appropriate introduction to the 85/86 season of community health and psychiatry. We were to learn that some ailments afflicted the community and had to be dealt with at community level. Good nutrition, clean water, housing and electricity affected the health of the community and cannot be solved by giving one family a large sum of money. Rejoicing at the entrance of an unelected leader who held a gun but not our mandate was a psychiatric symptom of its own.
Everybody craze but we started in optimism.
I had checked in to Room 229 in Hall 4. Unit 3 with my roommates, Buddy, Jerry and Gani and my favourite brown little fridge (a prize from Mr Uniben contest) was parked in a corner of the room. I recall rushing to the fridge thirsty and finding cold and completely empty bottles. Didn’t happen often though. It was customary for each roommates to have “a long staying” guest. Ernest stayed with me and Daisy with Buddy. Gani had Ned Mojuetan.
A guy a few doors away tested my patience. He came in the mornings with his toothbrush and asked if I had any toothpaste. I handed over my Colgate and he squeezed the life out of the poor tube like he had the mouth of an alligator with 85 teeth to brush. Other times he came for polish. “You get polish?”
He put his cloth over his index finger and swept out enough polish to shine the boots of the whole Supreme Military Council in Dodan Barracks. We later became friends and he told me he did it intentionally to wind me up.
He died a few years ago and I always remember his mischievous face.
Hall 4 Unit 3 had rooms which opened into a central courtyard where the taps were and we washed our clothes there out of plastic buckets while radios from the rooms played Madonna’s ‘Into the Groove’. One afternoon, a boy screamed hysterically for his jeans hung on the washing lines in the courtyard had been stolen. He assured us that he hung it up “this very second”.
We formed a vigilante group in eight seconds (Nigerians unite against a thief very quickly so long as peanuts are stolen) and soon found a trickle of water on the floor. The droplets lead up to a room where we accused a guy. He dismissed us and tempers flared. His wardrobe was searched and the wet jeans appeared as did an assortment of slaps and kicks.
The jury formed in two seconds and we marched him shirtless in the direction of Hall One. That was the girls’ hostel. A crowd formed as we walked out of Hall Four and guys were very liberal and generous with the kicks and punches. Some in the mob recalled instances when they had clothes stolen wet off the washing line and then threw wild punches at the thief who walked with the stolen wet jeans around his neck. Someone suggested we strip him naked.
Now being marched to the girls’ hostel naked spells the end of life (if our young eyes). Soon people began to plead and he was let off but not without a few kicks to help the message sink in. Violence hung it the air like the ubiquitous mosquitoes and could strike at any time.
We were like brothers in Room 229 and a lot of things were shared including our desire to make money. We decided to stage a music concert that would make up a lot of money. Being in the same room meant we didn’t have to go anywhere else for meetings. We just kept on planning.
We called ourselves Star Wars Productions and settled on Felix Liberty, a relatively well-known pop star at the time famed for his song ‘Lover Boy’ as the main act. I went over to his house to arrange his appearance- no contract or any such thing. I paid the advance and we shook hands. We also paid for the hire of his instruments for the night.
We had no money so drew up a list of about 22 creditors who we promised 5-20% returns on investment. We all brought in investors. We must have talked a good game as we raised all the money needed. Shows make or break in Hall One. If the girls wanted to attend then the guys followed. Our research soon showed Felix Liberty wasn’t exciting the hearts of the ladies. A pop group called Brakes in the University of Ife was suggested and off I went to Ife. I took a few notebooks to read in the car but the speed with which winding roads were taken between Ore and Ife meant I had to pray for my own safety. I didn’t go with an address. There was no telephones or social media. These were the days of ‘turn-up media’. I asked around campus and soon was at the residence of the music group, which was fronted by a set of twins who were easy on the eye and quite charismatic. We agreed an advance fee, I paid and we shook hands on it and I was back in school.
We became obsessional in Room 229. We asked everyone if they were coming to our show and if they said no our hearts sank. We were now in debt, had printed posters and tickets, paid deposits to the main auditorium and to the artiste. Sleep now proved difficult. I had never had creditors in my life before and all we needed was a student to kick off against the military regime and a student uprising could lead to a riot and the campus will get closed and all investments would be gone. Of course, I didn’t tell anyone at home about this business venture.
“I sent you to school to read medicine and you have got involved in…”
I was petrified of the project failing. From Madonna’s ‘Into the Groove’ we had moved to the military-sounding Colonel Abrams’ ‘Trapped’ which was No 3 in October 1985 in the UK. We were all trapped in our room, as was the whole campus and in fact the whole country being led by a mixture of brute force and charisma with no sustainable ideas was trapped. We just stumbled forwards learning our community health and psychiatry along the way.
It was interesting how every psychiatric symptom in the book was attributed to someone in class. I recall my Robot dancing being referred to as catatonic stupor.
Ozo was a dental student and he appeared to sing ‘Trapped’ from dusk to dawn. I can hear his voice like it happened yesterday.
“Can’t you see I’m so trapped, and I don’t know what to do”.
To boost publicity for Star Wars Production we organised a medical symposium on AIDs with the hand bill having a mischievous question – Can mosquitoes spread AIDs? The place was packed as our consultant physician/dermatologist and lecturer Dr Kubenje gave a talk and took questions.
We now had brand awareness. Radio interviews followed and we secured some sponsorship for Life Beer who paid for publicity and promised us cheap beer on the night.
We had a musician called Gbubemi Amas (who had a well-received album Amas Grill in 1981) and we put his name on our poster without talking to him. I had gone to his house in Warri to secure his attendance (unannounced as usual). I just started asking people in Warri, “Where De Rabbit nightclub? Where Amas house dey?”
He had travelled so I planned to return but didn’t. We had good traction for our show with Felix Liberty and Brakes so he wasn’t needed anymore.
Amas must have seen his name was being mentioned in our radio and TV jingles and he took out a TV announcement distancing himself from Star Wars Productions.
My lawyers have been alerted to this matter.
That was when the panicking when ballistic. He must have seen Life Beer’s noisy adverts on TV and thought we were a big concern.
On the day of the show, it was like 2ND MB night all over again. Would people come? That was the first question on my lips the minute I opened my eyes in the morning.
The place was packed to the rafters.
People came from town in addition to the campus crowds. Life Beer flooded the place with cheap beer and half the guys at the back of the auditorium were tipsy and bottles could be heard crashing to loud applause.
I had visions of a drunken riot and the main auditorium being burnt down. I feared we could get expelled from the university. We had no real security guards and friends and girlfriends who were counting the money (as everyone paid cash) became nervous at the huge amount of money just lying there under the tables. There was a stabbing and while we took the victim to the hospital the money followed for safe keeping.
The show was meant to be closed by Brakes and their crafty manager refused for them to perform without the full balance. I came at him with all sorts of tantrums but he kept smiling.
After a long argument, we gave in and paid.
Their musicians were excellent and there was instant recognition of the bass line of the Dennis Edwards’s hit from March 1984 featuring Siedah Garrett, ‘Don’t Look Any Further’. The place was rocking and as promoters, we were smiling and rubbing our hands, until the vocals.
Brakes sang but the lyrics were not delivered to our liking or anyone else’s for that matter. They had laryngitis!
Someone to count on
In a world, ever-changing
Brakes had lost their voice. I feared a riot would break-out.
A Uniben guy rose and shouted in a loud voice above the awful singing, “Court!!” as was the norm in the Benin High Court.
Everyone rose as if to welcome a Judge and they walked in their thousands out of the main auditorium leaving Brakes to sing to an empty Hall.
Don’t look any further indeed!