AT about the age of four, Arthur was very eager to go to school with his older brothers and cousins. His desire was usually highest after the holidays, during which he had played all day long with the older ones who were then at school. At the reopening of school, he would trek about two kilometres to school with those already registered only to be sent back home because he was not yet of school age, which was then between the ages of six and seven. In fact, the conventional practice at the time was to ask a child to put his right hand over his head and grab his left ear. The belief being that a normal child below the age of six and seven would be unable to touch his ear in that position.
Arthur spent his time playing with other children his age in the village, supervised by the men, particularly after the planting season. They would play a game called “akpa”, where a conical wooden object was spun on the ground and then whipped with a cane to make it continue to spin until it eventually fell or stopped spinning. A similar game was also played with the empty dry shells of various sizes of snails. The difference was that the spinning shell was assisted to fall upside down while spinning, instead of falling on its side. This later game was called Nkoso.
Another game they played involved stringing bows with palm-tree fronds (Ekwele) and using arrows made from raffia palm fronds, to shoot cocoyam stems buried shallow in the ground. The men also taught them how to prepare sticky gum from the sap of the ogbu tree, to set traps to catch small birds. They also took Arthur and some of his younger friends to the farm to weed and tend the plants. They were also very keen participants of all the traditional events taking place in the village.
In January 1935, Arthur was eventually enrolled at St. Mary’s Catholic School, Onitsha. But at the beginning of the following year, he had to leave for Ogwashi-Uku to live with his uncle, Thomas Akunne, in Ogwashi-Uku. However, he never forgot Willie Achukwu one of his classmates at StMary’s School, who had made quite an impression on him because not only was he brought to school by his father in a car, he also had well-packed sandwiches and sweets for lunch.
At Ogwashi-Uku, he started attending the government school with his cousin, Sunday Onuora, who was a few months older and the first child of his uncle, Thomas Akunne. He had no remission for the one year he had spent at St Mary’s. Nevertheless, he made steady progress until the Second World War broke out in September 1939 and his uncle who worked for the government as a district interpreter, was transferred to Bamenda, in the then West Cameroon, which had been ceded to the British Government under the trusteeship arrangements after World War One, and was administered by the British Government through Nigeria.
The family decided that Uncle Thomas would go alone with one of his w1ves to Cameroon while the children were dispersed among other uncles and relations to continue their education. Arthur was eventually sent to Port-Harcourt to live with his father’s halfbrother, Alfred Okagbue Mbanefo, then a stenographer and personal secretary to the general manager at Niger Motors, a franchise of United Africa Company (UAC).
Arthur got to Port Harcourt in January 1940 not knowing what to expect. Port Harcourt then was a dynamic modern city with electricity not only in the streets, but also in the houses. The streets were paved and the town was very well planned. In fact, it was then nicknamed the “garden city”. The pipe-born water was distributed and people collected water from standing pipes at strategic places in the streets. This was completely different from the village where they had to go through the bush to streams to have a bath and draw water for the household.
Life with Uncle Alfred was completely different from life in Ogwashi-Uku. Uncle Tom had two wives and seven children including Arthur, living with him, together with several servants; whereas, Uncle Alfred was a young unmarried man at the time.
At times, he was suspended from attending classes for non-payment of school fees. He was also made to perform strenuous domestic work before going to school, as well as on his return. Things were so difficult for him that on a number of occasions, out of frustration, he escaped and went back to his parents in Onitsha, without Uncle Alfred’s knowledge. Having no money for his fare, he would plead with Chief Agina – who was later to own Agina Transports, and who, at the time was a lorry driver for K. Challarams Limited and drove to Onitsha every week to deliver and collect textiles on behalf of Challarams Limited from the UAC where Arthur’s father worked as the accountant-to take him to his father’s office in Onitsha under the pretext that his father had sent for him.
His father had asked Chief Agina in 1940 to take Arthur to Port Harcourt and to hand him over to his uncle. Each time Arthur escaped to his parents, a distance of nearly 200 miles at the time, his father would hand him over the following day to Mr Agina to be returned in the same vehicle to his uncle, against his mother’s wishes.
Undoubtedly, the situation was distressing and did not aid Arthur’s psychological development. However, the tough experience taught him how to stand on his own without the protection and comfort of his parents or guardians. He also learnt to work for very long hours without complaining because there was usually no one to whom he could complain. In 1940, Arthur was just ten years old.
In 1942, Uncle Alfred was transferred by his employers to the company’s branch in Aba. This meant that Arthur had to move from St. Mary’s School Port Harcourt, and was eventually enrolled in Christ the King Catholic School, Aba. Meanwhile, Uncle Thomas had returned from Bamenda and resumed at Uyo in the Old Calabar Province at the end of 1942 and it was a very happy and excited Arthur who rejoined his uncle and family at Uyo.
That year, when Arthur returned home to his parents at Onitsha, he was initiated into the Masquerade Cult. His cousin, Sunday Onuora, was also initiated. This was the first significant tradition for young boys in Onitsha, and generally in Igbo land. At that time, an Onitsha man who was not an initiate of the masquerade cult could not marry in Onitsha. It is normally intended to initiate the boys into adulthood.
What Future for Arthur?
Arthur returned to live in Onitsha. He had hoped that after his higher school education, his father would arrange for him to pursue a course in Medicine somewhere in England.
But his two older brothers, Sam and Frank, who were already in England, had not been as successful in their studies as their father had expected. Sam had been studying medicine for over eight years, and had still not qualified. Frank, who had registered to study engineering, later changed to architecture, which meant the elongation of his planned period of study.
In those days, people who went overseas to study were unable to return until they had won the so-called “Golden Fleece”. Families, therefore, saw those who failed to return as lost. Arthur’s father had told him that there was no way he was going to lose three sons overseas. He would, therefore, not consciously send his three sons overseas as they might not return to Nigeria in his lifetime. At least one, if not both of those outside must return before he could allow Arthur to go. Arthur had no choice but to obey his father and wait. He was, therefore, content to seek employment while waiting.
Various opportunities existed for Arthur in Onitsha at the time. He could work in a bank, an international mercantile house, or teach. Arthur preferred to teach in a school so as to keep abreast with his books while biding his time before going overseas to pursue his education. He and his father soon decided that he should explore the opportunities in either of two schools where his father had friends with connections. These were Christ the King College (CKC), Onitsha and Okongwu Memorial College, Nnewi.
Arthur and his father pursued openings in the two schools. Both schools offered him employment, but he chose to teach at Christ the King College because the school was less than twenty minutes’ walk from his family home. Also, Onitsha was an urban city with most social amenities like electricity, pipe borne water and a functional general hospital, while Nnewi town was still rural with hardly any urban facility. He taught at the school from January 1954 until he sailed to England m November 1955 to further his professional education..
As a teacher at CKC, Arthur lived in the staff quarters within the school premises. Amongst his African colleagues at the time were Donatus Nwoga, who taught English Literature and Latin; and later became a professor of English at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Isaac Anozie, who later took a degree in Law and became a legal practitioner; Alphonsus Anyamene, who eventually pursued a career with Lever Brothers Nigeria Limited; and Bernard Forlon, a brilliant, energetic Camerounian, who was an ex-seminarian, with whom Arthur shared a bungalow. Bernard later returned to Cameroun where he played various roles in national politics of his country until his demise on 26th August 1986.
Arthur taught mathematics and science, two subjects for which he had great flair and which had consistently engaged his interest in and out of school. He enjoyed teaching at the school and was happy for the respect and appreciation he received from his students then and in later years. He was always in class on time, and neither the principal nor any of his senior colleagues had any complaints about his work. He also attended church with the students whenever he wanted. It was not compulsory for teachers to attend mass at the college.
Most evenings, he played lawn tennis with his colleagues and some students at the staff quarters tennis court. Life was as simple as could be imagined. Many of the students visited him regularly to solicit one advice or the other or to play tennis with him. Arthur reached out to all and sundry because he felt that being a teacher did not make him special. However, there was no competition amongst the staff because everyone had his own life to live. The college environment imbued him with positive values that not only strengthened his selfconfidence, but also improved his outlook on life, and enhanced his faith in people. He did not shy away from responsibilities, and had no cause to feel inferior to anyone.
Every month for almost two years, Arthur earned a monthly salary of £12. He took care of some of his basic needs, gradually furnished his house at the staff quarters, and spent quite a large portion of his salary on books. Extensive reading was a habit that he had formed in his secondary school days; he read all available printed matter on every subject of interest. Most times, what he read had no direct relevance to the subjects he had offered in school as a student, or to the subjects he taught as a school teacher. Reading was a hobby from which he could not restrain himself; the result was that he was always eager to buy any book that appealed to him.
In later years, Arthur re-established contact with a few of the students whom he had taught in CKC. Emmanuel Edozien was a bright student who later became a professor of economics at the University ofibadan. His older brother, Francis Edozien, who was also one of Arthur’s outstanding students, became a medical doctor. Fred Enwonwu became a lawyer and worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and James Agbasere was a scientist who achieved fame in his professional pursuit but died early.
In mid-1955, Arthur’s father was ready to send him to England to further his education, but he was in a dilemma as to how to convince Arthur to drop his ambition to train as a medical doctor. His desire was that Arthur should become either a chartered accountant or a geologist. One evening, Anieka held a long discussion with his son to convince him that with the knowledge he had thus far been exposed to; twelve subjects at Senior Cambridge School Certificate and four subjects at Higher School Certificate, mainly in science subjects and mathematics; he could pursue any career he wished.
Anieka told Arthur that the key professions he envisaged would be inevitable in the future economic development of Nigeria were accountancy, geology or mining engineering. At that time, only two Nigerians were known to have trained and qualified in the two professions; Mr Akintola Williams, who is a chartered accountant and Mr Ifaturoti, a mining engineer and geologist. Arthur’s father told him that arrangements could be made for him to meet either of these individuals if he decided to drop the idea of medical studies for either of the two proposed professions.
That was the first time Arthur was hearing about the two professions, although he had seen accountancy advertised in the popular psychology magazine which he bought and read every month. Obviously, he was not familiar with the details of his father’s work as an accountant at the UAC, as it was not common for parents to discuss their jobs with their families. Unfortunately, also, there was no accountancy or commercial education in the Nigerian school curriculum at that time. Arthur then asked his father which of the two professions he would prefer. His father who had worked all his life as an accountant did not hesitate to tell him that he would like him to be a chartered accountant. The case was settled.
Shortly after his father spoke to him, his mother called him and gave her admonition. She reminded him that she was completely illiterate and had never been to school. She did not therefore, understand the manner of the conversation that his father had with him, but she was intuitively persuaded that his father had weighed all the options and was fully cognizant of the nature of Arthur’s abilities. Anieka had allowed Arthur’s older brothers, Sam and Frank, to freely choose and pursue the courses they desired; he could have directed them to some other courses or professions, but he did not. She therefore, pleaded with her son to accept whatever his father had planned for him. After the session with his mother, he decided, albeit reluctantly, to follow the path suggested by his father and subsequently conveyed his decision to his father days after.
Moments of Grave Uncertainty
The politicians in the newly independent nation had quickly grown very intolerant of opposing views. Nigeria became politically independent of Great Britain on 1st October, 1960, and became a Republic in 1963. The principal political parties which won independence for the country in 1960 drew their leadership and membership mainly from the dominant ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, namely, the Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa. Not only were they so, loyalty of party members was to their ethnic groups and hardly did any of them think of Nigeria despite the motto of the country: “Unity in Diversity”. In fact, one of the leaders of one of the parties described Nigeria as a “mere geographical expression”. The political parties and their respective leaders, therefore, concentrated their efforts on gaining individual and group powers for themselves and for the sake of power itself.
In this search for inordinate power, they became extremely intolerant of opposition parties and their views. They were intolerant of public opinion that referred to the excesses of the ruling party. This intolerance was soon translated to uncontrollable violence amongst the people that comprised mainly party loyalists.
Around this time there had begun the encroachment of the military into the governments of a few newly independent African countries. There had been a military coup d’etat in Ghana, which is close to Nigeria in West Africa. The Nigerian politicians were shocked; but in deep self-delusion, they claimed that there was no need for them to curb their excesses because Nigeria was too large and complex to be taken over by a military junta. But on January 15th 1966, a handful of concerned junior military officers staged a ruthless bloody coup d’etat in which many of the ethnic leaders of the various political parties were brutally murdered.
The political leadership, in panic, formally invited the military to take over the government. This they did and the head of the army who had nothing to do with the coup d’etat, General Aguiyi Ironsi, took over the reins of government. Six months after, in July, 1966, there was a counter coup d’etat by the soldiers who were mainly from the ethnic north. General lronsi was murdered, and from then on, things went totally out of control to the extent that in August, 1966, Nigerians were ordered by the military government in Lagos to return to their ethnic regions where it was considered they would be safe.
“Things had fallen apart”; and the leaders of various groups were talking of secession from the federation; questioning the basis of unity. Nigeria was broken and heading rapidly towards total disintegration. It was in this state of the nation that Arthur and his wife, Jackie, returned to Nigeria in 1966 not knowing what fate had in store for him. On arrival in Nigeria, Arthur was relocated to Port Harcourt instead of Lagos as was earlier decided by his partners in Akintola Williams & Co.
Mr Litumbe, who was the most senior partner of Akintola Williams & Co. in Eastern Nigeria, had to return to his country, Cameroun, following the deteriorating political situation in Nigeria. Arthur who by now had settled in Port Harcourt assumed responsibility for supervising the firm’s operations in the region. The Enugu office under Ike Nwaokolo now reported to him.
Meanwhile, Jackie, Arthur’s wife on 17th March 1967 delivered a baby boy. They named him Ubaka Mbanefo. Shortly after the birth of Ubaka, Arthur visited Lagos for the consolidation of the audit of the African Continental Bank Limited. This exercise was usually conducted in Lagos by the supervising officers in charge of the audit of the bank’s branches across the country. While in Lagos for this assignment, an incident occurred, which further threatened the unity of Nigeria. Some radical Nigerian Airways pilots of Eastern Nigeria extraction had hi-jacked a commercial plane of the company heading for Port Harcourt, and grounded it at Enugu. The news of this incident spread very quickly throughout the nation, causing panic particularly in Lagos. People were afraid that it could cause another senseless bout of killings of citizens from the Eastern region.
The assignment that brought Arthur to Lagos was virtually concluded and the partners in Lagos hurriedly decided that Arthur must return to Eastern Nigeria that night before events got out of hand and created unexpected difficulties for him and the firm.
At about 6pm that same evening, Arthur and Chief Sankey travelled in Chief Sankey’s car to Benin. The journey was safe and uneventful despite stops at several road blocks that had been mounted on the road by the Nigerian Army. Arthur and Chief Sankey arrived at the Government Rest House in Benin early the next day. After breakfast, Chief Sankey organised for him to be taken to the motor park near the Benin Airport from where he hired a car that drove him to Onitsha.
Arthur felt fear and tension during the journey. He was quite relieved when they eventually crossed the Niger Bridge at Asaba. At Onitsha, he drove to the home of his parents-in-law where his wife and new born baby were being nursed. He had lunch with them and headed for Port Harcourt in his own car, which had been brought to him at Onitsha because he had travelled to Lagos from Port Harcourt by air.
To be continued July 30, 2016