Let me start by making a confession. But for the entry requirements of the University of Lagos, I’m not sure that I would ever have ended up leaving the city where I had spent my formative years to head roughly 610 kilometres east to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). I had always wanted to read Mass Communication because after watching so many movies when I was growing up, I wanted to end up being a top-notch film director in the mould of Stephen Spielberg, the man behind some of the biggest films ever produced, including such classics as Jaws, Jurassic Park, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Shrek and Schindler’s List among others. However, the Almighty had other ideas for me. My failure to get a credit in mathematics barred me from Unplug, which classified it as a Social Science and awarded a B.Sc.
degree unlike UNN, the only other varsity running a Mass Comm degree programme back then, and had it under the Faculty of Arts which meant my pass was sufficient to gain me admission into the nation’s first full-fledged indigenous, and first autonomous university. And thus began my journey outside my comfort zone to a region where their citizens in Lagos had made one have a negative perception of them. Back then, many of them were bus drivers and conductors and had an unfriendly attitude. As a result, we youngsters who were not from their side of the country were not predisposed towards them, and yet it was their heartland that I was heading to, and would be there for the next four years of my life. Thus, it was with some trepidation that I embarked on the trip with my late father who, coincidentally, had spent some time in Enugu, where he was one of the engineers that built the headquarters of the defunct African Continental Bank (ACB) in the ‘50s. My mood was not enhanced when on getting to the school I did not see the im-posing buildings that dotted other universities like Unilag and University of Ibadan. But my father quickly put a dampener to any thoughts of my leaving by telling me in plain language that I would be finishing my tertiary schooling here, and what should be more important to me was the quality of education, and not buildings.
Sadly, it was clear that even though the 30-month Civil War had ended in 1970, it had adversely affected the development of UNN, which meant it lagged behind other higher institutions. Unfortunately, even when I left four years later, not much had been done in terms of building up the school to the level of those not affected by the war. And so I began my sojourn at Nsukka. On my very first day in the new environment among people that were not Yoruba like me, I met an Igbo student who quickly dispelled any preconceived notion I had of them growing up in Lagos. Unlike most of my mates who were housed in Zik’s Flats, because I had arrived at the school late, I was sent to a hall of residence on the main campus, Isa Keita, where I met Emeka (I have forgotten his surname). Emeka immediately took me under his wing – he showed me my room (213B), department (Jackson Building), library and Students’ Affairs building, and eventually took me to the cafeteria where he bought food for me. Back then, Nigeria was still good and students could still get food on campus at highly subsidised rates of 50 kobo a plate. Emeka gave me a booklet of N10.50 voucher (which covered a week’s feeding), saying when I finally bought mine I could return it to him (which I did when I bought a booklet on Monday). This was someone I had never met before in my life, whose only means of communication was English, yet he went out of his way to make me feel at home.
This singular act went a long way in making me have a rethink about the people we used to derogatorily call Yanmirin. It was from him that I first realised that the Igbo were not one united monolithic group that we thought they were in Lagos, and actually had issues among themselves in their region. Another thing he pointed out was that they had different dialects, and if you wanted to rile someone up, call him or her a Wawa when the person was not from that part of the state (now Enugu). Some two years after being admitted into the school, I decided that I was going to contest for a place in the Students’ Union Government (SUG) whose ban had recently been lifted by the school authorities. Of course, I knew it would be foolhardy to gun for the highest position of the SUG, which was the presidency, but I fancied my chances that I could still win a seat to represent my hall in the student’s body,which was still a big deal, considering that I was a ‘minority’.
And so I began my campaign, moving from room to room on my floor, selling myself to them, even though I was up against a son of the soil, who clearly believed he had the advantage because he could speak the language. At the end of the day, maybe he underrated me, however, when the results were counted, I comfortably triumphed. I felt so much at home in the East that in my 200-level, rather than return to Lagos for Easter, I decided to follow an Igbo friend that had been our neighbour in our days in Surulere to his village, Nnewi, in Anambra State. I must confess that the one week I spent there left many fond memories that I will always cherish for as long as I live.
However, I will be lying if I say everything went smoothly and there were no negative issues that I tackled. Yes, there were, but overall, I really enjoyed my time at UNN. Back then, unlike now, when the security situation in the country has nosedived, I was able to move around and visit many places and beyond, mainly having communication issues, which was to be expected due to the language differences; I never really felt out of place or threatened. I dwelt extensively on this issue because of the unfortunate incidence of ethnic profiling that occurred especially during the governorship election of March 18. For me, I really marvel at the reaction of some of my friends whom in my wildest dream I never expected to be so jingoistic towards the Igbo. While we do have bad eggs among them, and they are often domineering and brash, we can also find the same kind in other ethnic groups too. At the end of the day, I feel we just have to find a way of living together to build a nation of our dreams irrespective of our ethnic differences.