FIGHTING FOR A GOOD NAME

Filed in General by on April 20, 2009

Curiosity and duty led me all the way to Benin City, Edo State, on Thursday, January 15.A letter sent last year by Ichie Amawulu Nwalioba Osii Onwuanyi to the then Acting Principal at King’s College, Mrs. (Barrister) Yetunde Awofuwa – who recently moved on to become Princpal of the Federal Government Girls College, Oyo – motivated that journey.

In the letter, which was referred to the King’s College Old Boys’ Association (KCOBA)by the Acting Principal, Mr. Onwuanyi had sought re-admission to King’s College, Lagos, along with his colleagues who had, in his view, been unjustly expelled from the College in 1944.

From the moment the matter came up for action, curiosity had arisen. Questions were raised on one’s mind:Why would a man who had been expelled from a college as far back as 1944 (64 years ago then), start asking for “re-admission” as a student of the same school? Why was it that important for him to raise such an issue, when he was already so advanced in years? And, in any case, what was responsible for the decision to expel him and his colleagues? And why did Mr. Onwuanyi think the expulsion order was not justifiable?

All these questions begged for answers until Friday, January 16, when failure to find him at his 11, Olua Street, Urubi, Benin City residence the previous day, necessitated going to the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH), where he had reportedly been admitted for a breathing – related ailment.
Much merit was found in Pa Onwuanyi’s appeal for re-admission with the other dismissed students. The college authorities, after the due consultations with the KCOBA, decided that the whole world would be informed about that unprecedented decision to re-admit them during the Centenary Celebrations between January 7 and September 26, 2009.

I am interested in this matter because only one meeting at UBTH with Pa Onwuanyi on January 16 convinced me that a man’s integrity should never be compromised. That if anything is done to tarnish your reputation (if you do have any worth noting, upholding or boasting about), it is your obligation or responsibility to do all that is humanly possible to set the records straight.

There, on the sick bed, laid a man who had been carrying a cross for 65 years. The cross of “expulsion”. To some, that was no big deal. To him, it was all trash. A cause worthy of championing was therefore unilaterally embarked upon by that extra-ordinary man, who proved, in his utterances offered with pauses for breath, that he and his expelled colleagues were indeed young patriots, worthy of immortalization by the Nigerian State and their alma mater, King’s College, Lagos.

What did Pa. Onwuanyi say that showed he was a patriot? What did he say that reveals the origins of disrespect for the rule of law in Nigeria? And is the rest of the world where colonialism still prevails, safe from the type of falsehood, arbitrariness and disrespect for the law and justice manifested by those who, in the British-ruled Nigeria of 1944, master-minded the expulsion of those innocent, welfare-seeking and fundamental rights-conscious teenage Nigerians who were unduly uprooted from their educational establishment? What can the British Government today do to ensure that those who wave the British flag and exercise authority on its behalf do not behave as the colonial agents did here in 1944, changing perhaps the fate and fortunes of youths who meant no harm to society, whatsoever?

As noted elsewhere, when answering the question of what had brought about the 1944 petition by some students of King’s College and their rustications, Pa Onwuanyi responded:
“It was poor feeding. The feeding became poor. The distance between the Boarding House and School was unbearable. The boarding house was in Bonanza Hotel, Tinubu Street. The school was in Onikan.
A person like Yesufu (the famous late Chief Abdul Y. Eke), with his bad leg, had to walk the all the way there (the 1939 – 1945 K.C. Set).
The atmosphere around the boarding house was very poor because it was surrounded by loose hoteliers and lodgers; there were also women of loose character (prostitutes) and a cinema house near the boarding house.

After writing to the Principal and complaining over these things, the petition was carelessly handled. The Principal, Mr. A.H. (Allan Hunters) Clift, P.K.C.,threw away the petition, saying he wouldn’t tolerate petitions from students. So, that made the strike inevitable, after consulting all prominent, knowledgeable figures in and outside the school.
We decided not to go to school one Monday morning (13th March, 1944), but to remain in the Boarding House.

What we saw later was that the Principal came with ASP Macnamara and another man, a fire brigade officer, who, armed with a fire-axe from the Tinubu Fire Station near Bonanza (Hotel), cut open the locks of the gate with one stroke of the axe. The Police decided to push us (the boarders, over 100), out into Tinubu Street. Then, we were pushed here and there, harassed by the Police for allegedly behaving in a rowdy manner, whereas they had come to push us out into the street. They pushed us into the Tinubu Police Station, under arrest.

In the evening, we were bailed by Sir Adeyemo Alakija and S.L.A. Akintola, then Editor of the Daily Service newspaper. We were charged to court later at the Santa Anna Court, Tinubu, under Chief Magistrate Debayo Desalu, who later became a judge.
After a long trial and prosecution by the policemen headed by James Egbuson and defended by the “cock of the Bar”, the late E.J. Alex-Taylor and L.J. Dosunmu, we were acquitted and discharged, freed of all the charges!

On the day of the judgment, within the next one hour after we had been asked to go back to the boarding house, eight of our students were conscripted into the Nigerian Army. A Senior Police Officer (black), Inspector Ozueh, was sent to the Boarding House. He ordered eight of us to report at the Military Barracks on Military Street, Onikan.

They named the eight. How they were chosen was unknown – not size or strength of body. No medical exams, either”.
It was rather painful to have learnt on Saturday, January 17, on the way back to Lagos (at Ore, to be specific), on the phone that the man had died, that morning, aged 85.
This “tribute” is aimed at putting in the public domain the patriotic and intellectual contributions of this citizen who lived and fought for a good name, truth and justice, in addition to his insight on the way Nigerian youths in his college were drafted into a war they knew nothing about. And how they were accused of causing public disorder, simply by writing a protest letter and locking themselves up in their dormitories in the commercial heart of Lagos, where they were alternatively boarded during World War II.

Some of Pa. Onwuanyi’s thoughts on leadership and life, from the funeral brochure titled “Portrait of a fulfilled life, Ichie Amawulu Osii Onwuanyi, KCOB, FPSN, 1923-2009),” are therefore worth reproducing:

* “Those who aspire to lead must first understand what leadership entails.”
* “Leadership is a total and genuine sacrifice of one’s time, individual interests, resources and even health, in the service of others.”

* “A true leader must beware of the corruptive influence of “self and flesh” in his handling of issues that confront him and those he leads.”

* “….my philosophy of life that guided my career… from King’s College, Lagos, Higher College, Yaba, Pharmacy School, Yaba, and my working life in Continental Chemists and West African Drug Company – at work and at play, as a worker and as a professional, is that truth and good words never die nor invite any disputations.”

* “We have been asking for and preaching peace and progress. Our utterances and actions should reflect our honesty in the desire for these essentials. We cannot use foul words at meetings and achieve peace. We cannot mishandle the purse of our age grades, youth associations, village or the Union and expect peace in return. We cannot spread false and malicious lies against ourselves; group and regroup for evil purposes and still sleep peacefully. We cannot tear our society into shreds by introducing negative distinctions. Let us work for progress by dancing together, sitting together, eating together. Let us emphasize our strengths and play down our weaknesses. In this, peace and progress lie.”
Are the people concerned listening, reading and thinking along those lines?
My testimony on this unique King’s man is over, for now.

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