It was two months into second semester in The University of Benin(Uniben). The new course time tables had already been mastered and the new courses themselves de-mystified. Lectures were at a dull stage and classes had become soporific. The initial fear of failure had been mastered or rather postponed till the first or second wave rumours of exam time table postings. Routine had been set. At the time, there was nothing new. New cars had been bashed and repeatedly scratched, new clothes had been shown off, new girlfriends acquired and sampled; no further conquests feasible till next session. But worse, home brought foodstuffs were on their last lap, and there were two months more till the end of session.
Guys were hungry, broke and bored. This was a critical period. The school ambience was in anticipation; ready for anything. Distractions would have been welcomed and indeed, necessary. This was a good time for the University authourities to allow shows, parties or even crusades. But authourities were always ever clueless.
In history, the combination of the three elements of hunger, penury and boredom had always been productive. The products, however, were usually of a certain nature commonly detested by authourities. The quality and kind of products were hinged on the class and nature of the people suffering from this elements. The product of this three elements in a University,say, in Chicago, would have resulted in a hapless youth opening fire on his fellow students. The effect of boredom, penury and hunger in a University in Palestine–if they had one there–,would have caused some Jews to be bombed up into the arms of Abraham, their father. The effect in Russia would probably had been the theft of a few nuclear missiles or even military tanks. The effect in Universities in China and India, would had naturally been hushed up,and kept from the media.
The effects of the lull in the hubbub of University of Benin life was thus of a quality unique to Uniben and hence, unique to Nigeria. And a Nigerian situation is always….proudly ,and humourously Nigerian; throw in the African quality for good measure.
There were five huge student hostels in Uniben. Halls 1 and 2 were female hostels ,and Halls 3 and 4 were for guys. Hall 5 was for all finalists. The penury and boredom in Halls 3 and 4, male hostels, were largely attributed to the wiles of the occupants of Hall 1 and Hall 2. Hall 3 was the largest, oldest and most dilapidated hostel in University of Benin. A foreign war News reporter might have mistaken it for a refugee camp. Hall 3 occupants had less joy and much dissatisfaction, it was only natural, then, that the matter started — like all trouble in Uniben–in Hall 3.
That Saturday morning, a lanky guy, gingerly maneuvered himself down from the top bunk in a third floor room in Hall 3, taking pains not to rattle the bed too much to avoid bringing down the whole thing. It was the last surviving bunk in the room; he would be lucky if it lasts the semester. Thank God, next session he would be in Hall 5. He picked himself through the still sleeping bodies on the floor and went out the door. As it was lecture free day, some students were already on the hostel football field,others were washing utensils or clothes. Washing clothes in the hostel was a tricky affair as one had to sit down and observe the clothes as they dried. Clothes in Hall 3 had a habit of disappearing from lines even before they dried. Our guy, proceeded to the mini market overlooking the football field and close to the hostel entrance gate. The mini mart was housed in the same block with the Hostel common room and security office. He greeted the woman who ran the shop,
“Good morning, aunty.”
“Gimme beans; brown beans, two cups”.
The woman measured out the beans, using a small, tin-milk can, opened at one end. She poured it into a nylon bag and gave it to him. He gave her 40 naira. The woman shook her head in rejection, and said,
“Beans don cost. Your money na 100 naira”.
“100 naira for two cups of beans”? The buyer asked in disbelief, raising his voice for the benefit of the hostel mates around. He got their attention immediately.
“Aunty, you wan start to steal from students”? One of them rudely asked, feigning shock.
“Na your mama be thief!”The woman threw back, snatching her nylon bag of beans from the buyer. A flurry of colourful insults commenced between the students and the woman.
More hostellers gathered and angrily discussed the new state of affair. What were they to do without beans? In the male hostels, beans was a delicacy, a daily habit. The reason for this had never been known .But It was the first thing a new student learnt how to cook. Beans sold even more than condoms in the University of Benin, which was saying a lot. Hall 3 students claimed that beans was medicinal especially when spiced with ‘ganja’. It was a sure cure for exam fevers and was even used to stimulate the brain, for better understanding. The aroma of cooked beans was the first smell one perceived after entering the male hostels. The influence of beans was most glaringly observed however, when one approached the hostel toilets ,and at night the gun- loud farts from sleepers frequently alarmed hostel security.
The insults had gained in both volume and ferocity, the sales woman by then had upgraded by raining curses on the retaliative students and their irresponsible ancestors. Things perhaps, would have taken a different tangent had it not been for a stray shot fired from the hostel football field.The stray football, missing its first intended purpose, which was to score a goal, decided to give itself other missions: It sparked off the tumult proper and brought the attention of footballers and fans to the scene. The ball flew smack into a shelve in front of the mini-mart, scattering loaves of bread, satchets of milk and other food provisions. The hostellers wasted no time ,they made a mad dash at the shop .The sales woman seized a broom and charged into their midst in fury, trying to save her goods. The uproar had attracted the hostel security, who tried to save the shop from the inevitable bare-stripping. All the while, more hostellers now fully awake, joined in the furor, most clad only in boxer shorts. The dam had broken. Boys were scampering away carrying loaves of bread under each arm and some in their teeth. Most of this loot were snatched by oncoming hostellers as the looters ran past them. Hall 3 was having much fun.
In a thrice, the shop was laid bare even down to the light bulb at the ceiling. The drinks in the deep freezer were all gone, so was the radio. The freezer survived perhaps because of its size, though an attempt was made because it was moved and abandoned near the door. The shop having lost its attractions, the hostellers turned on the hostel security, and their office. The security men where easily overwhelmed, since they had no guns. They ran for their lives having received innumerable slaps and kicks. None of them had any pockets left. The hostellers proceeded outside their hostels, singing war songs, many whooping in sheer delight. By then, the other hostels had caught the fever and were under going similar revolutions, even the girls were not to be undone ,and having conquered they all converged in front of hall 3.
Things would simmer down if something was not done. Direction was needed. A law student was hoisted up on a fence by his fellows. An address had to be given, and the law students were good at that.
“Greatest Uniben students!” The law student bellowed.
“Great!” The hostellers responded. This was the usual form of greeting in Uniben before any speech or address.But this particular response was unusually enthusiastic, so much so,that the speaker could barely contain himself. Shaking his two hands high above his head he roared on:
“Greatest Uniben studeeeents!!”
Again,Uniben responded with a thunderous “Great!”
“Articulate Uniben studeeents!!”
“Indomitable Uniben students!”
“Ever corrosive Uniben students!”
He paused at this point and glared all around.Then he continued:
“Gbo- gbo!”came the response.
“Greatest Gbi- gbi!”
Satisfied and out of breadth,the speaker then,got down to business:
“This people are trying to take away our inalienable human rights; our freedom of survival and existence. They are constantly oppressing us. Now, they are threatening our right to food; our right to beans.” The crowd roared at the mention of beans. The speaker raised his hands for silence and continued, but this time in broken English,further grammer would have proved detrimental to his speech.
“They increase our school fees, and we no talk. They increase bus fair…we no still talk. Pure water for Uniben na 10 naira. No light for hostel , abi they wan kill us?” The hostellers roared in consternation at this point,truly seeking whom to devour,then someone raised a familiar chant: “Make we they go o,make we they go, oya- oya,make we dey go!”They rushed to the intra school transport buses parked in a queue at the nearest bus-stop and commandeered them. The buses quickly lost all their valuables: radios, fire extinguishers, handset chargers and even stickers. Most of the students however ,continued on foot. Their destination was not fixed,but they all headed in the general direction of Uniben Main gate,where there were more shops.
Saturdays were usually good days for the hostellers because the school’s Main auditorium was usually venue for wedding receptions. No Uniben hosteller had ever been turned away from the free food. But on that particular Saturday, the school authourity was hosting one of their numerous inaugural lectures at the Main auditorium and the state Governor was expected. The lecture would have been a good reason for a higher security presence, but that day, security was inconspicuously absent. Indeed, the sight of close to a thousand students on advance, many only in boxer shorts , would have made any security operative wish he had chosen another calling. The lecture however,had not started ,so no dignitary suffered any indignity. The mob arrived at the Main gate shops, and the looting began. The shop keepers were caught unawares ,some were even just about to unlock there shops. Well, the students helped them unlock faster, and the still locked ones were broken into. The female hostellers were not to be out done in the issue of the day. Some of them organized themselves into groups of, active looters and, loot transporters. The spoils would be divided later. The girls broke into cosmetic shops and hair salons, weav-ons and hair attachments were carted away. There was no resistance. The shop keepers and owners saw the futility and made way for the looters, swearing and cursing, but not too loud.
In front of University of Benin main gates was the Lagos-Benin express way, a usually busy thorough-fare. That Saturday was no exception. Across the dual -carriage express way, was BDPA, a sprawling off- campus student community. All that the students living in BDPA knew, was that an Aluta was in Progress. They proceeded to raid all the shops within there community and advanced on the express way. Unlike the hostellers living within the school,the off- campus dwellers were of a more radioactive and corrosive nature. They had much ‘liver’, much guns, and more matchets.This weapons arrived at the expressway presently, and things turned much more…. Nigerian. Two cars were over turned on each carriage way and set ablaze. Road block. The offering collection began in earnest. The students were quite polite about the collection:
“Morning Sir”, gun quite visible, “Please would you place your phones in the bag? No,no, remove your sim…ehh- henn,thank you, have a good day sir”. Another maurader went:
“Hello ma”,pointing with a wicked looking matchet, “is that laptop dell or Hp? Oh,dell. Nice. You see, ma,I would need this particular laptop for my project,so if u would lend me……”
Two other students walked to a bus heading to Lagos, one of them blowing into his gun barrel to remove imaginary dust, while the other talked shop:
“Good day all”, he began with a charming smile, “sorry to bother you this fine morning,but ehm, could you all please pass your phones into this bag? Dont forget to remove your sims.Oh, sir is that wristwatch Swatch? No? Don’t worry then, keep it. Another student was haggling with a man:
“No, no, no, Sir, I don’t need your car, you see, I’m a student and I cant afford to fuel it. Don’t you have any cash on you”?
And it went on like that. Transactions quite peaceful. There was no victor, no victim. Every one understood,they were all Nigerians after all.
By this time reports had reached the State Governor and other Stake holders, the students had to be pacified but meanwhile, mobile policemen were on their way. The Vice-chancellor went on air threatening to rusticate the whole students. He was smart enough not to be anywhere near the school. The Governor was smarter ,he advised the students to remain calm, and promised that they would hear from him before the end of the day.
The mobile police men arrived at the scene, with much swagger and sirens, brandishing guns. They were left to direct traffic, the students had gone,disappearing into thin air. Reporters tried to interview a few, but most students claimed to have been sleeping due to the previous friday’s vigil, some even feigned total shock,having just returned from travels. The reporters couldn’t find any one who knew, saw, or heard anything.
Later that evening, after spoils had been collated and shared, and bounties compared, and escapades retold; six or seven pickup trucks, filled with sacks of beans, rear ended into the hostels. The Governor had delivered. Thunderous cheer erupted from all the hostels at this sight, hostellers cart-wheeled and did all manner of dance jigs in jubilation. They were rapturous. There would be repercussions, they all knew; investigations would be made into the day’s events, affidavits of good conduct would be sworn and speeches made. All that didn’t matter, their beans had arrived.