“When you go home, tell them of us and say
For their tomorrow, we gave our today.”
John Maxwell Edmonds
It is a famous epitaph penned by the renown English classical scholar; John Maxwell Edmonds in commemoration of the fallen of the battle of Kohima and has remained evergreen years after the second world war. Ironically, this happens to be the title of a book on Nigeria’s former Head of State; General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, better known as IBB. It was a book prize I won in my final year in secondary school and was basically a compilation of selected speeches by the enigmatic General. I never could understand what IBB gave for my future and two decades after, I am still at a loss. Nevertheless, I liked the General and my affection ironically derived from, if nothing else, the frequent closure of the Universities those days. I looked forward to the frequent industrial actions embarked by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). It meant an escape from school, and an opportunity to head to Lagos and make some money.
School was boring. I studied Accountancy and by my reckoning it was the most boring course of study. Unfortunately, I couldn’t complain to anyone as I single handedly plotted my way to that discipline. You see, I was meant to study Medicine and was well on my way till I began to wonder why I had to continually prove myself and compete with my two elder brothers in everything I did. I was a full science student but after some discussions with some of my classmates on the prospects of Accountancy, I decided that it was the Course for me and that was how I set out to miss my Chemistry school certificate exams to ensure I achieve my plans. The plan worked; without Chemistry, I could not apply for Medicine and I eventually secured admission to the University to study Accountancy. The trouble with that Course is a story for another day… My creative mind could never fathom why I had to abide by the many rules and it never made sense to me why I was made to attempt all questions in an examination. I was used to reading the topics I fancied for an exam and sticking with questions from those topics, no matter how tough, but now I had to cover the whole syllables just to pass an exam.
Idumota, a bustling commercial centre in Lagos Island, was home to a thriving auto parts market that was the hub for the West African Coast. Peugeot, being the Car brand driven by the vast majority then, was the real deal. My Uncle was a big player in that market so I was presented with opportunities to work and make some money in the process. So, yet another strike action and here I was in Lagos hustling.
On this bright Friday, just some days before Christmas, the Accountant alerted me to hang around as I was needed for a transaction. I was delighted, I knew what I was needed for, I had handled that a couple of times and it was rewarding. Simple task… take some foreign currency to a fellow in Surulere, pay the fee provided for the transfer and make as much as N5,000 for myself. You think the amount was small? Think again, this was 1994. On that day the amount was 380,000 French Francs, converted from the day’s sales proceeds of 6.4 Million Naira. I had calculated my gain and was on a high. I was set to leave Lagos the coming week to enjoy Christmas with my folks. I knew no risk, I knew no fear, I just hopped on a bike when I realised using the Staff Bus for the trip made no sense due to the traffic. As we approached Carter Bridge, I drifted off in thoughts, what a way to sign off for the weekend… It shouldn’t take me more than an hour and I would be back, job done and more importantly, my pocket heavier.
That was the prelude to the most traumatic experience of my life, as at then. I found myself entangled in a case I neither bargained for nor was prepared for… Now the same liberty I longed for had come to haunt me. I held IBB inexcusably responsible for that harrowing episode, though by then he had stepped aside for his cohort; General Abacha. I should have been in school, minding my studies. What in the world did they give for my tomorrow? when they just couldn’t reach a compromise to keep students in school, where they were meant to be. It wouldn’t have required so much to meet the demands of the Lecturers. If things worked as they should, perhaps I could have been spared the horrors of that December.