Chapter 4 - The Final Blow

The Final Blow

I arrived in the Cameroons after an hour’s flight from Port Harcourt. You may like to know I was taken on loan as one of the temporary instructors and the only African to the bargain. During our Cadet training in the Police Officers School, we were sent in 1959 for a Leadership and Citizenship course in the Man O’ War Bay, Victoria.

I shall mention just the relevant incidents. In this course, among many other activities, a cave expedition in the continental shelf of the mid—Atlantic happened to be one. When the course started, the first week was devoted to leadership training after which permanent leaders for the duration of the course were elected.
I was elected leader of Dan Fodio House. All members of the course set out on this cave expedition under the leader of their respective houses, with the Director of the centre, Mr. R. E. Snowell, supervising.

To an adventurous youth, it is an interesting enterprise. I was particularly advantaged. because I was from the Niger Delta. On many occasions I had taken a plank and followed lofty waves into the sea to Akassa and returned by an on-shore wave at will. One day, as we went into the sea and finally into a dark cave, we were greeted by a large number of bats. The current in the cave was as violent as a rapid. With life jackets on, we clung to rocks and successfully pushed our way through. Before and after any expedition, be it mountaineering, swimming, or a sea expedition of this type, A each leader counts his men to ascertain that he arrives with the same number as he started. This procedure had been necessitated ever since two Government College, Ughelli, students got missing during a mountaineering expedition from the Bay to the 16,000 feet high Cameroon mountain.
Meanwhile, we arrived at the other end of the cave and clambered through rocks to the shore. Every group counted its men except one and owing to the cold and the awry expedition, everybody hurried to the Centre, changed and went for supper.

In the evening, there was the usual assembly where all I leaders reported their roles to the Director. During the check at 7.30 p.m., it was observed that three' members of Schwitzer House were missing. I need not mention the panic which struck the Centre. The notorious hazards of this course were once again on the lips of feeble minded gossips. They started narrating the queer feelings they had when we
advanced into the cave. The awful welcome of the bats was in itself sinister and that some deity was with the utmost certainty placed in that cave, they divined.

After scanning through the Centre and making sure they were not just lurking around or had not gone to town for wenching, the Director appealed for calm and with two other expatriate instructors prepared to return to the cave, I was excited over the new adventure which had presented itself and to which I felt I was best suited. I approached the Director and told him of my desire to accompany the party.

"Why do you want to take this risk, Isaac?" he asked.

“What risk?" I asked rather annoyed.

"You know this is no triffling business, Isaac."

"I know. I am a star swimmer, you know. And besides, we Rivers people have peculiar ways _of searching for persons missing at sea, believe me," I replied.

"Well then, come on," he agreed after looking at me astonishingly.

We set out in swimming suits a few minutes to eight. The water was cold and the tide was high. All`the rocks which helped us to find our way to the shore during the expedition i were under water. As we swam out to sea, I found that there was an incoming current, but the sea was quite calm. Therefore, if these chaps were drowned, then the incoming current would take them to the small stream which led to the cave. If their drowning had not been more than say thirty minutes to one hour, then trusting in Lady Luck, a brisk artificial respiration would suffice. I searched the stream and found that it was empty. I concluded that they must be crouching on some rock which had not been overtaken by the tide. I thus started giving the usual echo signals of at search party. After some repetition there came a yell from within the cave. With the Director watching me with happy bewilderment, we swam faster to the mouth of the cave where, we found them on a rock whose surface could have been submerged in less thanhalf an hour. I made a chain of them with the weakest of them, a member from Sierra Leone, placed in the centre and waded from the edge of the rocks to the shore.

Life came back to the Centre once more and with great joy, we sang to the praise of God and prayed that no such incident repeated itself in the future life of the Centre. This led to my being trusted as a natural leader. At the end of the course, with other activities to reckon, I was able to make the exceptional mark in a confidential report "Leader above average, interested in every aspect of the course."  That summarises why I was recalled to the instructorship in the subsequent course.

All the instructors arrived a week before the actual course started, some of them coming all the way from Britain with similar experience on field adventures. In order to keep the week occupied, we embarked on building a well for a village just on the Cameroon-Angolan border. The greatest asset to this border town was the ready availability of smuggled drinks such as Whisky, Brandy, Betola and Anice.
The weather during the period of April to September was extremely cold and we had to make do with a lot of drinks. We returned two days later to complete planning for the course. I was lodged in the Rest House where there was a sharp contrast between its comfort and the rough activities of the Bay.  There was a soft double bed room furnished with r reading lights, a neat toilet and a softly furnished sitting room with a fridge. Allow me to ask the question: "What else do I want?" However gruesome an adventure may be, I feel always flattered when there are cool hot-drinks. You wrong me if you conclude at this juncture that I am always in the bottle. I do not drink unnecessarily, but when I do, I always have alcoholic neutralizers, especially at a serious bacchus party.

My part of the plan was, as usual, tedious. I was to take a map and compass and track a Ross course for a distance of fifteen miles through the dreary jungles of the Cameroons, where apparently no path had been in use. I was to fend for myself. Points were marked on the map where I was to insert special signs on my track which were to be traced by the students during one of their Ross expeditions. I carried out the assignments with pleasure.

One outstanding credit to the Cameroonians is their public discipline. It is believed that when the Germans ruled the territory, stealing of any degree was treated with ruthlessness. In fact, anybody convicted of stealing was put into a spiked cask and rolled down from a hill top. Today, in the Cameroons, any precious property negligently left outside over night is preserved. Strangers are treated with respect provided they, too, behave well.

The course, lasted two busy weeks. We put the students in good shape. All instructors did their best to train them on the real implications of the words "Outward Bound t0 New Nigeria."

I was housemaster of Dan Fodio. On April 16, 1961, at about 5 p.m., I was in my apartment at the Bay arranging my mountaineering gear to lead the students up the Cameroon Mountain, the following day. I was also sipping some cool sweaty French beer when the Director of the Centre came into my bunk and handed over a telegram marked "Top Priority." I glanced through it and it was precisely summoning me back to Port Harcourt. I thanked him with no signs of premonitions and said I was prepared to leave the following day. Since there was no apology made in the telegram, I apologised to the Director for the impromptu withdrawal and eased him with all sincerity that it would be for good.  He left.

Now, my mind ran through a row of possibilities. Before I left Port Harcourt, the Inspector-General, Mr. C. S. K. Bovell, paid a visit to the Provincial detachment. During an interview with him, he had promised to promote me on my return from my secondment to the Man O’ War Bay. So, my mind optimistically ran fast to the conclusion that some officer may have been transferred and I was being recalled to act as an Assistant Superintendent. Also, I had been booked for the second batch of the United Nations Peace-Keeping force in the Congo and I naturally felt that such a paramount international enterprise would take precedence over internal matters. On the other hand, I felt too that I was probably going to be terminated because of that miscarried orderly room charge. Whatever was to happen, I was not too perturbed; I had a robust temperament and a constitution to bear misfortunes with fortitude.

I boarded the same Fokker Friendship plane with my return ticket to Port Harcourt. On the morning of the 18th, I reported at the Headquarters and was informed that I had not been terminated: I had been dismissed.

When an officer of the Inspectorate Cadre was dismissed, he had a right to appeal to the Governor-General through the Inspector-General. But in my case, I had not been allowed to use my last privilege. It was totally denied. I surrendered my identity card on the spot.

Shocked and dejected, I consoled myself with the hope that Nature had a higher calling for me. I was no longer surprised at my recall from the Man O’ War Bay, although the Director of the Centre had pleaded that my part at that time was absolutely indispensable. I couldn’t have been recalled without jeopardy to the course. Forces of evil had worked their way through in my brief absence. So I prayed, "Father of all who protected me from birth till now, if it be Thy will that injustice shall not prevail against Thy children, then lead me into the path of success and give me, O’ give me more strength to fight injustice." I packed and left the barracks, a ruined victim of intrigue.

Here was a profession which I had joined with all commitment. Granted there were youthful omissions; I was not corrupt. Did I deserve all this? I had handled over six thousand pounds paying the detachment monthly and not even a penny got lost or misappropriated. All my service lost for nothing. Fair enough! I was on probation for three years and I had put in two years and eight months. The final penalty for misconduct at the worst would have been termination. In this case, I was dismissed, a calculated attempt at ruiningemy future. Moreover withdrawing me from a national service regarded in overseas countries as a priority, an assignment given to only exemplary characters was, I thought, too much. Three days later, I met a friend who had heard of the mishap. He glanced through my school certificate result and whistled. He advised me to take the entrance examination into the university. I bluntly told him I could not do it. How could I reorganise my senses to suit academics? I told him if he asked me what the chemical formula for carbon dioxide or water or sugar was, I would not know. However, I later considered the suggestion and felt that, if I had interest in any further studies, it would be in science.

But there was an obstacle. There were only two weeks to the examination. Rushing throughmy dirty notebooks, I picked out the science notes. I read like one going in for a degree examination. My pride had been injured and if what my success meant was to shame the tyrannical elements of life, I would be satisfied. It was a miracle that despite all the obstacles in postal delays, all entry formalities were completed, and two weeks later I sat for the examination. One of the questions that (appeared was: "What are the conditions under which plants could thrive?" I answered with nine diagrams on the requisite culture solutions and a control.  Other questions were such as reactions of sugar in water and the like which even my grandmother can put down in lay terms.

A month later, the results were published and my name was the first on the science list. Glory be to God! That was my first victory and from thence, all my correspondence was of academic nature.

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