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A reunion and memories of Jos

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Unijos


So it was that on the 6th of October 2018 the foundation sets of University of Jos, that is, graduates of years 1979-1983 met in Lagos for a reunion. It was a beautiful time for all of us. Faces one had not seen for decades showed up with sweet and distant familiarity. Recognition for some was not so immediate – some fat here, some wrinkles there. To be sure most of us, men and women, had grown round and thick in our midriff. Traces of the old looks were there; but with the passage of time and circumstances the boyish/girlish looks of most had gone. Almost everybody looked sharp and cheerful – the power of return a sweet past! The reticent ones were there too.

Those who went into the civil service have mainly retired from government employ either because of Age 60 or had been caught by the 35 year limit. The number of Jos-produced professors teaching in Nigerian universities and across the world is a testament to the quality of education which UNIJOS gave us in those halcyon years. The Friday evening casual assembly was the bomb. The shouts of joy when new faces arrived made the day. Some said the reunion removed five years from their age! Music was supplied by Fela’s protégé Dede Mabiaku and Veno Marioghae-Mbanefo, both products of UNIJOS! And did we dance to some of those old school tunes!

University of Ibadan operated a campus in Jos as University of Ibadan as Jos Campus till 1976 when the university took a life of its own, as a full-fledged university. Students were given the option of moving to Ibadan to obtain a UI degree or remain in Jos for a UNIJOS degree. While some opted to move others remained; same with the lecturers. The university drew its students from different parts of the country, from the north to the south. There were many students from the South east and Bendel. We had schoolmates from the North east as well. Jos was a beautiful place, the only Nigerian city which the weather of Europe, sort of!

The environment was serene and beautiful. The people were friendly. And we had a good time studying and playing too. We were few in number. Everyone knew everyone or knew somebody who knew the other. We bonded. We stayed in the same hostels, ate in the cafeteria and travelled on the same buses for lectures, from Naraguta to Main Campus along Murtala Way through Bauchi Road and Faculty of Natural Sciences. In times of students’ protests and the university was shut down we all boarded luxury buses that took us home to the south. We would have a long night stopover at Obollo-Afor and have fun drinking beer, palm wine and generally felling happy. From Onitsha while we continued the journey to then Bendel our southeast brothers and sisters went into the heartland of Igbo country.

Some thirty five odd years after we parted ways fresh from the university we met again. Of course most of are now ‘old’ men; no longer the young, vibrant and optimistic men who hoped to conquer and change the world. UNIJOS Made Us was our adopted slogan. We wanted to give thanks and say thank you to that innocent and beautiful university that grilled and prepared us for life. So we did. We were also mindful of some of our classmates who very early danced into the night, some in the early afternoon of their lives. We observed the traditional one-minute silence. And life continued. Life is for the living; and as long as we have life we must celebrate it till the final call comes.

About the time we were celebrating the reunion in Lagos fresh crisis broke out in Jos. Indeed it was because of fear of violence that we opted to meet in Lagos. We were concerned when we saw a video of shootings within the sacred campus of our beloved university! The image of students scampering in the Naraguta hostel premises were scary. The Vice Chancellor Professor Seidi Maimako who had promised to grace the occasion could not make it anymore. He had to be on the ground to receive visitors. We were relieved when the siege ended. The VC was represented by Professor Akueshi. Professor Ejike who was one of our teachers in the seventies and eighties was also in attendance. While considering the names of lecturers to be invited some names were ruled out because they were either bad examples of teachers or did not leave a pleasant taste on the palate, even after forty years. Quite instructive!

Memories of Jos! How and why did the serene and accommodating city of Jos, the famed Tin City degenerate into a savage, unending and decimating war theatre? Punch Newspaper reporter Friday Olokor’s narrative of the brutal encounter with men of the Nigeria Army was scary too. Was this happening in our Jos? The story of Jos is indeed the story of Nigeria – poor management of inter-ethnic relations and the settler-owner clashes which the elite cashed on for their selfish ends. The true story of the crisis cannot be told here. Suffice it to say that the current war of attrition serves nobody. Peace is crucial to development.

This essay however is a celebration of the character of the City of Jos and how peaceful co-existence and mutual cooperation helped to make us who we have become in life. Jos has become a metaphor for a dysfunctional Nigeria; the Nigeria which we did not foresee as we grew up. Jos created us when things still worked, not perfect, but still able to evince principles and ethics that have remained with us. It is that old Jos that we yearn for; it is the Jos that we celebrate. It is the spirit of that Jos that makes us call on the leaders of that once-beautiful city to return to the past.

At the time we left university there was no social media; but our reunion was made possible through the power of a WhatsApp platform. A few people drove the process after a unifying figure stood on the platform. The can-do and will-do spirit in the group was phenomenal. It was an affirmation of things positive; things beautiful and things eternal.It was that positive spirit that made us rally round one of us who took ill while travelling to Lagos for the reunion. The spontaneous response was exemplary both in prayers and in kind. It was the positive spirit which the city of Jos gave us and which we pray should return. How I wish that spirit could shape interethnic relations in Nigeria!


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