Bomb Blast

On One Memorable Night...

I particularly remember this incident which happened in August 1967. It was approaching the end of the second term of our first year in school. We were told that a number of our seniors had not returned to school, but had gone to the Eastern Region as advised by the secessionist government. The civil war had broken out with Eastern Region of Nigeria declaring itself the Republic of Biafra, and the Federal Government of Nigeria declaring "police action against it. But things were not going according to plan. "Police action" had not deterred the rebel troops from overrunning the Mid-Western Region sometime in August and within a couple of days, the fall of Ijebu-Ode, Ibadan and ultimately Lagos appeared imminent. In a nutshell, full scale war had broken out.

At this point the government of the Western Region decided to close schools and send the students home. Until then, we were well shielded within the confines and the womb of our beloved GCI, the sounds of war were, for us, a distant echo. At the close of the day, we were unusually invited to the school Assembly Hall and D.J. Bullock, our Principal, informed us that the school was closing down for reasons of safety from the war. There was a different sense of foreboding and reality when we sang the song reproduced hereunder, as the consciousness dawned on us that some who were singing may indeed not return:

Lord, dismiss us with Thy blessing,
Thanks for mercies past received;
Pardon all their faults confessing;
Time that's lost may all retrieve;
May Thy children, may thy children
Ne'er again Thy Spirit grieve.

Let thy Father-hand be shielding
All who here shall meet no more
May their seed-time past be yielding
Year by year a richer store;
Those returning those returning
Make more faithful than before.

We were despatched to our school Houses to pack and evacuate the rooms the following morning. Suitcases and boxes were to be retrieved from the box room, lockers were to be emptied and stacked together to one side. At this time, I lived in a cubicle at the dormitory known as "Block". Block is a long single storey building with two rows of cubicles separated by a long corridor. There was little to the building except the ceiling mounted, unshaded light bulbs in the long corridor and two sets of toilet facilities at one end. Block was home to Form 1 and Form 2 boys sharing a bunk in each cubicle and two Lower Sixth boys in curtained cubicles with single beds at the other (non-toilet) end of the block. One side of "Block" corridor was occupied by Field House boys, while the other side was for Grier House boys-the maroons.

And so, as we finished assembly early that evening, the Head of House and Mr. Arodudu (aka Aro Black') our House Master bid us travelling mercies. Oyeleye was Head of Grier House, while the late Ogunruku was Head of School. He wished us well and we were despatched to pack and get ready for our morning journeys back to our various homes. It was an earlier than usual night, and if truth be told, we were more excited than anxious or afraid. But the bombing campaigns, the so-called air raids, had started and we had received appropriate instructions on what to do, if ever there was a bomb alert. Radio stations also broadcast "in case of a bomb alert, you don't scream or shout, you don't look out to the sky, broken glass may ... blah blah blah" or so went the repeated advertisement for the Civil Defence Corps. So we had a good evening of chat and talk about bombs and guns as we stacked empty wardrobes as "protective, part barricades". All ready for the morning, we changed into our pyjamas and went to bed.

Deep into the night, probably about 3.00am, we were awakened by a sudden loud deafening noise. We mused: What!!! This definitely had to be a bomb, dropped right on our roof. It crashed through and exploded right down the corridor Chaos and pandemonium broke out as boys scampered out of the rooms. More crashes and bangs followed as we raced in various directions, once you got out of one of the only two doors in or out of "Block". In the dead of the night, some ran towards Grier House, others towards Field House. I ran towards the Dining Hall area, not particularly because I was thinking of food, but frankly, that was where my instincts directed me and my legs took me to. Curiously, everywhere else seemed to be peacefully asleep! It was not long before we stopped and realised that there was no fire and nothing was smouldering, neither were there soldiers shooting at us.

Gradually we made our ways back to "Block". Two of our seniors, Sotubo and Akanni Owoo (if my memory is right) were waiting to comfort and reassure us that there was in fact no bomb. I do not know if they too had run for their dear lives. So, what was the loud explosion that threw us into panic? Oh, that? One boy on his way to the loo had tripped on something and mistakenly knocked over a stack of empty lockers and they landed face down, on the floor with a big bang. On a quiet night? With all nerves on edge? For most of us, the civil war had truly started.

Much later, at the end of the war, we were blessed to have Uzoanya Okparanta and Kevin Ezem, our erstwhile seniors, join our class after losing some years to the war, but safely returning to school in 1970.

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