Memories of My Time in King's College
It is interesting to try to put myself in your shoes and imagine what from my Lagosian days you would find interesting ! These are the memories of a very young, totally inexperienced, Englishman who found himself abroad for the first time, in his first school as a teacher and also caught up in the still existing 'expat' community that lived on even though its end was clearly in sight and approaching rapidly!
I was born in 1934 in Southend in Essex ( not far from London ) – my father was an artist . I went to university ( the first and only member of my close family to do so ) and did a history degree. In my time at Leicester University I got to know several Nigerian students – this was the first time for me to meet anyone from outside the UK. This included J Ade Ajayi – the future professor of History -with whom I kept in touch – either in London (where I sampled Nigerian food for the first time in his London flat ) – Ibadan, Cotonou or the UK.
I offered my services as a teacher to the Colonial Office and was sent on a year's study in London. I stayed in Hans Crescent – an overseas student hostel ( next door to Harrods !) and got to know a lot of students from Africa in particular. The Training year was meant to help us teach in the tropics – it didn't. It was run by men some of whom had been in the Nigerian Education Dept before and just after the war. Dr. Norman Miners and I were given some intensive language training in Ibo. Yoruba might have been more use in Lagos but the Englishman teaching Yoruba didn't want to be bothered with us. As it was, we couldn't really use it in school and didn't have opportunities to use it outside. But the study did give us a feel of how West African languages work.
We sailed from Liverpool on MV Aureol in August 1957 – my first time out of the UK. There were about 10 of us colonial officers (!) on board going to Nigeria. I and Norman Miners had been allocated to the Federal service – the rest to the North. West and East Nigeria didn't want any more colonial education officers ! We were only told where we were going when the boat docked at Freetown. There were only 2 options for me and Norman – King's College or Teacher Training College in Kumba in British Cameroon. Fortunately, as neither of us had ever taught we were not sent there to train other student teachers! There were Nigerian students on the boat that I knew from College – but of course we colonial officers were in first class and could only meet them by going back into lower class cabins. In 1957 that seemed desperately old-fashioned.
On arrival in Lagos there was a lot of colonial stuff ,which to us in those days seemed odd and faintly amusing ! We had to sign the Governors Book and later on got invited to a Garden Party on the lawns of Govt House where Sir James Robertson came out in a white colonial uniform and a white helmet with ostrich feathers on top to give medals to postmasters etc. We two were put in the new flats on the top of KC alongside PH Davis and Rex Akpofure. There were two other Nigerian staff at the other end of the school. Koko ( whose first name I can't pull from my memory - old age!) and Gabriel Iwuchukwu.
Norman was given Hyde Johnson House and I was put under Rex in Panes House. ( I learnt afterwards that there had been questions asked as to whether it was appropriate for an English 'expat' teacher to be put under the authority of a Nigerian – amazing at that time so near to independence !) In fact, Rex was my head of Dept as well as we were both historians. Rex and I became good friends which lasted after I had left KC – in Paris we met up – he called in to see us in Cotonou and we stayed with him and Anne in 1972 on our last trip to Lagos and back in the UK we corresponded and phoned. I took over Panes House and the History Dept from him when he left to go to Paris. Exploring on the web recently I have found a UNESCO statement about The Racial Myth produced by Rex in Paris in 1964 where I can hear his voice again ! And also some work he did when he was at the Commonwealth Education Dept.. The marvels of modern technology.
The staff was still heavily laden with expat teachers – relations were good and friendly but the two groups didn't mix socially partly because all the other expat staff lived out in Ikoyi. Naturally Norman and I mixed more with the students out of class and with the other Nigerian staff on the compound. I went to them for medical and other advice and I well remember enjoying a joke with Koko in the School Assembly when he leaned across and showed me a hymn describing places round the world needing the Gospel with a line clearly meaning West Africa – ' where apes swing to and fro ' ! As we couldn't see any swinging around, we had a good 'quiet' laugh.
I was at KC for 5 years. I taught history mainly – in 1961 the two English Literature teachers had left and I was asked to teach English Lit for HSC and also to teach some French and I started a new course in Economic history. Subject matter in history was too European but African history was just starting to come in – I went to a conference on African history in Jos in 1959. My main memory of that is getting there. Tar stopped at Ilorin – there was only the railway bridge over the Niger ( you checked there weren't any trains due !!!) and a raft pulled across by ropes to get across another river in the north and on the way home I called in at Bida – quiet village. How all that has changed!
The students were very hardworking – though there was the odd bit of trouble now and then. In the boarding house my nickname I was told later on was 'CAT' because I had whiskers ( I grew a beard to pretend to be older than I was ) and I walked quietly. We were authorised to cane boys I learnt and I did once and found it so demeaning for myself that I never did it again. One episode I remember was when walking (quietly ! of course) round the school in the middle of the night – I didn't often do that !!- at the bottom of the main staircase I saw a boy climb over the gate from the road and head off ,I think, to Hyde Johnson. I called out but he started running – so I ran and though I wasn't catching him as he turned at the far corner of the verandah the light shone on his face and I knew his name. I'm afraid I got him sent out of the boarding house for a week or so until Philip Davis felt he had better be let back in !! I met him again many years later and we laughed about it !.-What was his name ?? I remember one day at the start of the autumn term when we all had to check what the boys were wearing – I can't remember what we were checking but it became quite ridiculously complicated. The lads were helpful to an ignorant young Englishman ,when a particular word in a text kept recurring and causing helpless hilarity in the class, eventually one young lad summoned up the courage to explain to me what it meant in Yoruba!
I ran the Library and was interested to find there a large book with detailed pictures of the Benin bronzes stolen in 1897. That argument about their return still goes on ! Is that book still there? I had an assistant and we were able to go to a rather boring Librarian Course in Kumasi. The trip was interesting. On another occasion a group of the staff went to visit friends in Achimota and we came back with some ideas we thought we could try at King's. Some years I had to do the timetabling for the whole school and managed to book a music lesson in the main hall at the same time as a gym class. We had the usual speech days and were honoured when Tafawa Balewa came to give the prizes. That was the occasion when he inspected the Cadet Corps alongside Norman Miners.
One staff member I got to know was Chief Onabolu who came to teach art with some difficulty as his sight wasn't very good in those days. As the son of an artist I chatted to him and visited him in Yaba. On one occasion he invited me over for dinner and when I arrived he checked I had a jacket and then we set off and ended up at Ebute Metta where we went into a large hotel with lots of other guests – all in black tie evening wear – all clearly the top echelons of Lagos society – expat heads of departments – important business men – all men ! – They all knew the Chief but I felt extremely embarrassed as the only person there ill-clad for the occasion which was, I think a meeting of a kind of Lagos Dining Club for top people ! I felt 'Chief ! You could have warned me!
Other members of staff – Hez Offorum was there as was Robert Onyejepu and Agiobu-Kemmer. There was a young lady who had been on our course in London – Joy Emelumadu who came to KC briefly before moving on to a headship in the East. David Olagoke was also there before going off to run a school in Abeokuta. And for a time, we had staff members who had come from South Africa because of the Race Laws. One man, Mr. Evans, whose wife was declared 'white' while he was declared 'coloured ' found he had to get out , came with others to West Africa and worked at King's. He actually took over my flat for several months while I doubled up with Norman Miners next door. One of the more well-known folk in that group was Es'kia Mphahele -the author- who taught for a time in Igbobi College . I remember going to meet him at a meeting once in Yaba. And of course, there was my good friend David Somoye who was a historian and also a Methodist and as such helped me organise my membership of the Methodist Church at Tinubu Square Methodist Church. He took over the History Dept when I left and I met up with him when I came back briefly in 1972. By that time, he was in high office in the Education Dept.
Sports were clearly very important in the school. In fact for a time I began to go through the files of the history of KC and discovered entertaining letters from the 1910s and 20s from the school authorities requesting the Colonial Office to send out suitable candidates for the staff mainly on the basis of whether they were good at cricket or football. I am not sporty at all though I did my best to judge long jumps and javelin throws and umpired cricket matches – even once I remember giving Rex Akpofure 'run out'. I'm not sure I got it right and I'm sure he didn't think so. I know Philip Davis used the squash court a lot but not me ! There was a very efficient workshop on site. Did we teach woodwork – I guess so. But one man there made me a lovely table with carved figures of animals on top which still lives by my armchair!
I have looked for any paperwork about those years but little has survived the passage of time and moves but I have dug out a collection of African folk tales which I clearly set as a punishment ! -lines in detention – for various misdemeanours ! The interest though lies in the names of those who were in the list!
- Amusa A Abisogun ( Panes) Boua Koua Dogbo Matha Aka Meteh
- Obiri (Hyde Johnson) A A Adeleke (Panes) Ogbonna N N W A Fatuga Adebimpe
- P S Omole (Panes) Molongo(Panes) C S Okoli Majekodunmi (McKee Wright)
- Samuel Lawson (Harmans) Okoli(Hyde Johnson) C E Okebugwu (Hyde Johnson)
- Okorie (Harmans) Achy Peter V O Sekoni
The stories themselves are very interesting – one of them says how he was told this story by his grandfather and someone writes several pages describing life in a Nigerian village. It's odd how some of these names I can recall even now – Adebimpe, Abisogun, Majekodunmi and so on though I would have a job to put faces to them through the beards and white hair ! And what about Essien , Edozien, Adeniyi-Jones, Gbadamosi , Bernard Obi ( with whom I have been in touch over the years and whom I last saw at Philip Davis' funeral and whose address I seem to have lost).
We had few opportunities to explore Nigeria because we had to be on duty during all the time we were in Nigeria as that time added to our holiday allocation which we had to take every summer. As I said, I did manage a History Course in Jos and the Library course in Kumasi. I also went on day trips to Badagri where one could be shown the chains of the slave trade. One could still get manillas. These reminders of the horrors of the slave trade which is having so many echoes in public thinking and acting now at last in the UK and I have been interested by the book published last year of Toby Green – A fistful of shells ' which explores in depth the political and economic effect of that trade in West Africa rather than its effect in the Americas.
We went regularly to Govt College Ibadan to play cricket and the staff went to Ibadan to see university drama- I remember a very fine 'King Lear' but the road in those days was dreadful – twisting and hilly and narrow with constant accidents. I did go to student camps in the West several times for students from all over but obviously some from KC. I remember being asked to talk about attitudes to work and told the story of my friend the head of the Baptist Academy in Lagos who when interviewing new boys said 'and what do you want to be ?' and was quite pleased when the young lad said 'a minister' but then the Head asked 'what kind of minister ?' and the answer was 'the kind that drives around in big cars '! We had an interesting discussion about the role of Trade unions in an independent Nigeria.
On one occasion, I think it must have been a student from KC, asked if I could take him to his village which was near the camp site. And I was astonished to see this young man about to head off to university throw himself full length on the ground as he met the village chief. Would that happen today? On another occasion Norman and I went to visit Tai Solarin in his Mayflower School in Ikenne? – A very interesting man. Nigeria could have done with a few more of that ilk!
We had historical trips – I remember one to see the sites at Ife – the Staff of Oranyan and some recently discovered heads. And I recall being guided one day by a little lad to a shrine which had a huge number of carved stone heads. -where was that.? It is now no doubt a major tourist attraction. In those days I walked through the bush for half an hour following the lad entirely alone!
Of course living as we did in the heart of town and overlooking the 'Racecourse' – where when I first arrived there were still horse races on some weekends ! – we had a grandstand view of the independence celebrations in 1960 – Azikiwe's speech and the firework display and the raising of the Nigerian flag. Though in the morning of that day I had a boy with a broken arm who needed to go to the orthopaedic clinic in Yaba and have the plaster taken off. I was on duty so I was asked to take him and found the clinic shut -trying to get back into King's was difficult ! through the crowds and police cordons – I had to tell him to stick his plastered arm out of the window and beg pity of the police!
Another unusual task that befell all the staff was in the election of 1960? when we were all drafted in to be in charge of polling stations. Most KC staff got small huts in the middle of town but I was given a young man from the education dept and told to go out into Yaba suburbs somewhere -at a school with a fridge and lots of room ! Amazingly long lines formed outside. I found myself in a weird position of having to calm crowds worried about who had the right to vote and having to cope with a man said to be impersonating someone else. This was a challenge by either the Action Group or the NCNC reps there – so according to my instruction book I told the policeman to arrest him. I haven't ever done that since ! And he stayed arrested until the head of the police called by and sorted it out. And then we had to take the ballot boxes through the empty streets with tanks on the roundabouts. And then we could look out over the racecourse at the great voting boards saying who had won or lost.
After a few years in Lagos I grew tired of the social life in the expat community that I had been swept into. I stopped going to dinner parties and thus stopped being invited. In my spare time I started researching the history of KC – I started wandering around the town taking photos of the old buildings and cemeteries that were around still then ) I guess they have all gone now ) and I got involved in some work with the so-called independent (non-missionary run) churches – meeting some very interesting pastors and people. I had a lovely drive out one day to Abeokuta and Shagamu – seeing old friends – being taken round Abeokuta by a young lad – giving some kids a lift on their way home from school and wished I had been able to spend more time out of the school discovering Nigeria!
I also started re-learning French. My future wife, Margaret , was already working at the Methodist Secondary School in Dabou – Ivory Coast and in 1961/2 I got in touch with the parallel school in Cotonou which needed a teacher of 'English as a foreign language.' In 1962 I said goodbye to King's – flew home to UK- spent the summer learning French in Paris and flew back out in the autumn to Cotonou. We stayed in Dahomey – as it was then – until 1972 – just before the Kerekou Revolution -and the change of name.
In our early years in Cotonou I frequently went back to Lagos and kept in touch with staff there. At times I helped plan school visits to the Lycee Behanzin in Porto-Novo. When I went back, I would travel by taxi – which was always fun. On one occasion I went to do some research at Ibadan University and travelled there by taxi to Lagos and then mammy-wagon up to Ibadan. During this period of course the Biafran War broke out and ,as France supported Biafra and relief flights were flown from Cotonou Airport, the border was closed. The one link we did have once was when some bishops from Biafra came out on a relief flight for a peace conference in Ghana and they came to lunch at our house and shared some of their experience.
Having worked at King's College could have its advantages. Coming back from the UK with three small children we were booked on a flight to Lagos with a connecting flight on to Cotonou. Our plane was delayed and arrived at Lagos in the middle of the night and in the middle of the civil war. I tried to contact Rex but couldn't get the number and managed to get the airline to give us a hotel for the night. The next morning, I needed to get back to the Airport and just at that moment in walked an old boy of King's. We had a chat and I said "Could you take me to the Airport?" He said "I can't but my chauffeur can!" And so I was swept off to the Airport in a Mercedes. You can always trust the KCOBA to sort you out!
Our life in 'Dahomey' was very different to that in Lagos. We were much more part of a local community – meeting and working with folk in the towns and the villages around.
In 1972 knowing we were going back to the UK for good. I wanted to go back to Lagos one last time but the border was still closed. But being invited to the wedding anniversary of a local friend I found myself sitting next to the Nigerian Ambassador who having chatted found out our situation and told me to get to his office in the morning and I would have my visas! So we went through and spent 3 days there – just after Nigeria had changed to right hand driving ! I visited King's – met Agiobu Kemmer – tracked down David Somoye in the depths of the Education Dept and found Rex Akpofure – then CFAE – and stayed a night with him and family before returning home to Porto Novo.
Since then apart from Norman Miners and Rex and Philip Davis when he retired to the UK, I have had few opportunities to talk about or think about my days in Lagos. So it has been an interesting time writing this short account of those distant days in my youth. I hope it is to some degree entertaining or even interesting.
Pane's (Housemaster), 1957 to 1962