First Gentleman with Wilson Orhiunu
Email: email@example.com Twitter: @Babawilly
After the Star Wars Production concert, there was money in the pocket. That meant freedom to do whatever I wanted to do. Like go to Omotas Chicken and gaze on those drop-dead gorgeous hot roasted chickens rotating in slow motion under bright lights and pick one for myself for 10 naira. Food was important in October 1985 as were clothes and love. I was going out with a dental student who dressed very well. I just loved to go out with well-dressed girls. I liked to dress up to go out and my group of friends had a ‘clothes pool’. We tended to share clothes and shoes all the time. Mobo drew the line at perfumes as he didn’t want to attend parties smelling like everyone else.
Madonna’s ‘Dress You Up’ was No 13 in the US in October and I felt well dressed. I fell in love and the world was sweet.
Gonna dress you up in my love
All over, all over
It was one hot year and the showers had to be visited twice a day. I hated the showers and toilet cubicles. One of my roommates always went to the loo with a lit cigarette. His own form of aromatic incense and I could not blame him. Using the loo was like being invited to have your bum bitten by cobras but with the added choice that you could go through eight cubicles and choose your own cobra. It was a nightmare choosing which toilet to use. All the cobras looked evil and you were pressed to choose the least evil of the lot.
Those who had ladies staying overnight had to first survey that the coast was clear before they moved their babes in for a shower. This was usually in the dead of the night.
The world was seen through the eyes of psychiatry. Professor Ebie and Binitie taught us during the day and we practiced on each other during the night. Mania, hypomania, and paranoid schizophrenia were diagnoses we heaped on each other but never depression.
The country had the greatest psychologist ever to be president. A man of the people imposed on the people to the detriment of the people and they all loved him. Human psychology was used to delude people into suffering more and smiling even more. Human beings love to be flattered and showered with gifts, and our President had a reputation for listening to people and giving them gifts which made people feel special. Then he goes and does what he always wanted to do anyway; while keeping, that smile going. We were living Stanley Kramer’s 1963 Comedy It’s a mad mad mad world in Nigeria and just like it was in the movie, money was involved. It was at this time we began to hear tales of audacious armed robbers in Benin City and it was to get worse. The legend of armed robber Lawrence Anini was beginning to take root.
Things began to get difficult economically. Inflation and unemployment was on the rise and there was no freedom of speech as we lived under the military dictatorship of Military President General Ibrahim Babangida who appeared to be building a personal brand rather than a thriving country.
Like Fela called it, it was all an Army Arrangement.
Ward B1 was where we went to clerk patients. I recall a man hooked on Pethidine who was being weaned off. He suffered from sickle cell anaemia and was in a lot of pain. My questioning irritated him so much and I was too young to negotiate things pragmatically. I had a list of questions I had to go through. In the end, he stopped talking and just stared at me. It must be hard answering the questions of a novice when you are in pain.
Uselu Psychiatric Hospital for clinical rounds was instructive. There was a lot of schizophrenia. We had to watch an electroconvulsive therapy session. I don’t think I have recovered from the shock. It was a cross between a death penalty gone wrong and the torture of an enemy soldier in an African war. There was no general anaesthesia, just a sedative and the strapped patient fitted away under the straps that secured them to the bed while the electric current was passed across the brain.
That was one career option crossed off. No way was I playing with electricity like this! This was not Jack Nicholson acting in the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. This was real life. The agitated depression was shocked straight out of the head in Uselu. Then you smelt that the patient had emptied their bowels. On the other hand, these were the lucky patients. Those in the villages were chained by herbalists who attempted to whip the mental illness out of them with Koboko (horse whip).
I soon started having nightmares. The earth was on fire and Jesus appeared in the sky and everyone around me rose into the air to meet him while I was left behind. I woke up sweating and petrified but told no one.
I thought, ‘I cannot come and die and go to hell o. Not after all this heat I have been suffering in Nigeria’.
I began to think of a visiting preacher to Uniben in 1981 called R W Shambach whose crusade I attended somewhere in front of the main library at Ugbowo campus. He asked for the sick to lift their hands in prayer and I did as he instructed for I was suffering from a throat infection. Suddenly a tingling sensation took over my throat and all pain was gone. I responded to an altar call and had someone ‘follow me up’ for a few days but I was a Jambite desperately seeking a ‘Get down on it’ experience. I absconded from the faith.
This time was different, however.
In November 1985 at a Christ Chapel concert in Unilag I accepted Christ into my life but on returning to campus, my girlfriend and I dressed each other up with our love like crazy and the Kingdom of God was forgotten. By December 1985 I attended the Christian Union Christmas Carol service and came out when an altar call made. It was well attended and I got strange looks from a few friends.
By the next day the news had spread.
Wilson don join CU
John Mark came to wake me for prayers about6am every morning and went with me to fellowship meetings. Mike Fubura gave me his tape recorder and loads of cassettes. The music changed. El Shaddai from Amy Grant’s 1982 Age to Age album was constantly playing. The culture was different and the songs were not just to dance to but were played for the lyrical content. In a little while by Amy Grant and Soon and very soon by Andrae Crouch both spoke about seeing Jesus after this life was over, so my priorities had shifted as moved by this songs.
The madness continued in society and General Maman Vatsa was arrested on the 20th of December on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government. He was killed by the fifth of March 1986. Stories came out of him being childhood friends of President Babangida and the message was clear. If his friend did not escape his wrath, don’t even think about it!
After a happy Christmas, inflation was the countries New Year resolution. January 1986 brought with high prices.
Then there was news that Nigeria had joined the OIC – Organization of Islamic Co-operation without prior consultation. The pen and even free speech were not mightier than the gun.
I joined Zoe Broadcasting Network, a pirate radio station that broadcast on Saturdays run by the Christian Union. I had a thirty-minute slot where I placed music. I was astonished when I first went into the room in Hall 3 where broadcasts took place to find some wires and a radio transmitter in a plastic soap container attached to a tape recorder and a microphone. It looked a mess but it worked! The amazing project soon ended as someone complained to someone etc. Living in a climate of military rule meant all novelty is viewed with suspicion.
I was soon planning a gospel show with the club we had formed call Omega Promotions. The first show and club launch was on the 25th and 26th April 1986 and was quite successful. A new brand had been built.
I worked on a Community Health Project measuring blood pressures in policemen in Benin and wrote it up before binding the work.
The class was then split into groups and we were shipped to Ogbona for a community health posting. We stayed in a hostel during this period. During this time we did some valuable field work going from house to house examining children. I had never seen such poverty in all my life. Some children were malnourished.
It was a fun time with my classmates and I recall soccer games and cooking and eating together (perhaps just eating).
I passed my psychiatry and community health exams and it was hello final year!
By August 1986 Benin City was proving to the world it could match every nation pound for pound in the sector of celebrity gunslingers. The US had their Dillinger and Al Capone; the UK had their Robin Hood and Kray twins while Lagos had Dr Oyenusi. Lawrence Anini was the new star. He too was a psychologist and brand builder. Through a kind of perverse generosity, he robbed the people and banks at gunpoint and threw money in the air in public places for his adoring fans to scramble for. People desperate for good news loved their evil, charismatic and psychopathic armed robber. The military president was not amused.
In August 1986 one Prince Kinsley Eweka was executed for armed robbery. His last words were ‘my friend and his gang would avenge my death’. It was highly odd for a member of the Benin royal family to be killed in the way. Soon the whole Benin knew who this ‘friend’ was; Anini.
One country could not house two violent brands. Someone had to go and it was not going to be the soldiers.