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“Don’t be discouraged. It’s often the last key in the bunch that opens the lock- Anonymous
S tand and Stare
The crowd to the information board area at the University of Lagos had a life of its own, as students moved in throngs towards the large notice board area where the much awaited 1997 Vice chancellors’ student admission list had just been published.
Every fibre of my being loathes a crowd of three, let alone a humongous group of people crammed together vying for a glimpse of just one name from several pages of small paper prints bearing the registration numbers of prospective students. Many of these students were amongst the crowd.
As I walked past, one student squeezed out from underneath the mass of bodies with arms outstretched in wild jubilation, thanking the heavens for his good fortune, while another walked away quietly lost in thoughts and fading away into the stream of pedestrians as they approached the faculty building.
I paid no attention to the list and the burgeoning crowd as I scurried off to a morning lecture that I was quite late for. A class that I had been attending for over a month in hope that my admission process would come through.
I had no idea how the admission was going to pan out, but I couldn’t afford to miss classes. So, there I was with my T-square and wooden technical drawing board briskly pacing to the lecture theater that I had now grown accustomed to.
I had learnt while growing up never to stand and stare as long as sheep and cows.
William Henry Davies’ poem titled “Leisure” accentuates this seemingly carefree behaviour of mine. Please permit me a moment to share;
What is this life if, full of care
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs and stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass, where squirrels hide their nuts in grass,
No time to see, in broad daylight, streams full of stars, like skies at night
No time to turn at beauty’s glance, and watch her feet, how they dance
No time to wait till her mouth can enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.
There was therefore no way I was going to spare time to join the group students, especially when I had no idea at the time that this was the famed admission list I had also been waiting on for some time.
My Jamb score did not do me much favor; it was barely above the 200 marks required to secure a place in any university in Nigeria. All entreaties to get a placement in the faculty of Engineering in the University of Lagos to study civil engineering was hinged squarely on that list on the information board. It was the VC list and the last chance for prospective students to join the academic year. Yet, I was oblivious to the implication of my walking away that morning.
My folks had reached out to a few university Professors and doctors through mutual friends and extended family members who had kids already in the university. Armed with my WAEC results, they proudly brandished my excellent result hoping it could bolster my chances of getting a chance to study Civil Engineering despite my Jamb result and score of 202, which at the time was deemed to have fallen short of the minimum for any engineering course.
They offered my parents several “alternative and equally promising” engineering courses that was adjudged deserving of my JAMB score; professional courses I had never heard of, especially Metallurgy and materials engineering as a consolatory option.
But these options met with stiff resistance from my folks. I had made my stance so clear, it was civil engineering or nothing!
My fixation with civil engineering was borne out of the need to be different. In my final year at secondary school, most of my colleagues wanted to study all sorts of engineering courses and none mentioned Civil engineering.
In the “slum” books (Millenials will have to google this), when I got the chance to fill one, a cursory glance at other pages and I could see that there was only one other person who consistently insisted and signed off his course of study as civil engineering other than myself. His name is Muyiwa Oshomoji, and he indeed made good that promise.
When it was time to fill the jamb forms, I could have studied any course of choice within the sciences but I suspect that my dad couldn’t fathom my unfounded insistence on studying this particular course. Judging that other professionals could guide me better, he opted to schedule a meeting with successful civil engineers and architects in the extended family. These meetings further reinforced my resolve to study the course.
It wasn’t exactly because I fancied the professionals I met, but I was driven by the innate desire to do even more than they had achieved at the time.
Since the academic session had already started and I was confident that there was a good chance I could study civil engineering, I eagerly joined the other students for lectures, laboratory sessions and the other academic activities. I got pretty popular for making small talks and being studious. I made a good number of friends too and you couldn’t tell that I hadn’t gotten an admission letter. To make things more interesting, I even got a space in one of the hostels and was residing full time on campus.
Nothing could go wrong!
Cultist for hire
All my teenage years, I wanted nothing more than to study at the University of Lagos. Graduates from this citadel of learning wore their pride like an ornament around their neck. It was a big deal getting into the school itself and parents paid through their noses to get their wards registered for a course there. The school was reputed for excellence and the environment was designed to be ideal for anyone with an urban outlook. I was just glad to be within that environment, the campus, the lifestyle and the buzz.
Then I started craving for some attention. In the late 90s, it was fast becoming a fad that young undergraduates and teenagers joined clandestine cult groups. These groups held the university system in Nigeria under siege for decades. At some point in history there were spats of violence but mainly amongst rival cult groups. Occasionally it caught the attention of the mainstream media, but many violent attacks went unnoticed and never got media attention.
The cult groups therefore held a semblance of power within the campus and with an organized hierarchical leadership structure, they offered protection and camaraderie for teenagers who longed for social relevance as they found themselves drowning listlessly in the new school environs.
I was even more intrigued by the symbolic gestures, handshakes, dress sense, insignias, actions, spoken slangs, ceremonies, uniforms and designations, so much that I longed to join.
But alas, I didn’t know how! I had no friend who had confided in me of his membership status, neither could I identify anyone to approach with the offer of my humble and willing self to join the “elite and dreaded cult”
So I opted to reach out to them through my dress style. Somehow, I thought it wise that if “members of the cult group” could see me dressed up like one of them, they would reach out and ask me to join in. I couldn’t wait. But first I had to get me some new shirts and pants.
That year I joined a couple of my friends to the popular Yaba market (Tejuosho), which was a couple of bus rides away from the school to shop for shirts. I bought quite a number and they were mostly black shirts with all sorts of crested symbols that I assumed would get me noticed. Then I bought a good number of jeans, socks, boots and a bandana, and they were all – you guessed it – Black!
I recollect one time I was leaving home for the university and my aunt (of blessed memory) noticed the combination of my black outfit, she drew my folk’s attention to it and specifically claimed that I had joined a cult in school.
Of course I vehemently denied this allegation. It would have been worth the trouble if I had already joined. After all, this was only the dress rehearsal. I hadn’t even gotten noticed yet.
And so I labored; walking and often hanging out in front of the male hostels clad in my black attire, flaunting my black boots while deliberately walking towards groups of students that looked like rough neck niggas.
But something just wasn’t right. I wasn’t getting noticed. No one was beckoning to me. Not one mention. Not one wink. I was getting frustrated.
To imagine that I wasn’t yet a full-fledged student, yet I was openly clamoring for relevance in the violence-prone cult groups on campus. During the day time, I was a studious student, submitting assignments, writing notes, joining in class banters, and in the evening, I would walk through dark alleys, hoping that I would at least get noticed.
Can someone tell me why no one called me?
When I learnt later that afternoon that the VC’s admission list had been published and that a good number of students in my situation had the pleasurable moment of seeing their names on the list, I quickly abandoned the other lectures and walked quickly to the information Centre.
It was when I approached the stand that I realized why there was a crowd earlier in the morning.
Good enough, the crowd had thinned out. Safe for a handful of other hopefuls, who perhaps had faint hopes that there was an error on the published sheets that would soon be corrected.
I had unfettered access to the wooden board that had only half a dozen pages of names and registration numbers of the fortunate students.
With racing heartbeats, I scanned the list from the department of civil engineering. There was nothing to see but two strange names. None of these names were alternative versions of mine. I was so disappointed that I felt my knees buckle. I looked again, blinking several times wondering how it was possible that my name was not on the list.
Would that mean that the past 5 weeks on campus was going to be a complete waste?
I made for the pay phone centre. There wasn’t any mobile phone and so I had to pay a token to call the landline to my dad’s office.
Between labored vituperation and anxiety, I told him that I wasn’t offered admission on the VC’s list.
The voice on the other side of the phone was quiet and calm. He asked a few questions, one of which was;
“Did you check the other departments to see if your name is on their list?”
I wondered why I would check the other department when all I wanted was Civil Engineering or nothing!
I was willing to write another JAMB examination or stay another year to get to study that one course, but settling for anything else was not an option, I told myself. Although at this time, my faith was wavering.
When I returned to the information board, I calmly perused each line, slowly and deliberately, one department after the other. And there it was- my name- nestled with 5 other names under the Faculty of science, department of mathematics!
My disgust and anger left no one at the stand in doubt that I was nothing but a disgruntled and ungrateful fellow. I had my name on the list and anyone in his right senses would be excited to have gained admission into this beautiful urban university. But there I was, the ungrateful lot, marching away in disgust as I boarded the next bus to Obalende to see my dad at his office.
I was not going to settle for less.
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