AWOLOWO HALL: THE FALL OF AN EMPIRE.

As Jesus sat at the feet of the elders learning and asking questions, I found myself glued with rapt attention to my father’s stool as he recounted lovely stories from the greatest citadel of learning. I had fantasized also about attending the same place if at least I could get an experiential background to relate to those tales. How the student union showed zero tolerance to oppression and repressive policies, the aesthetics and bespoke structure, the academic environment, the ‘’round the clock’’ nature, to mention but a few. More importantly, I wanted to go where he found love.

When the time came to make that choice, I didn’t think twice. It was not even up for debate or discussion. I faced stumbling blocks to my decision because they believed I would have more edge if I were to apply to a “less academic competitive’’ university and the fact that the school academic calendar was coming behind in a snails’ race. All attempts to convince me were turned on deaf ears.

If Obafemi Awolowo University were to be a state, Awolowo hall would have been the capital. A capital completely run by students. Located after the health centre, the structure of Awolowo hall is one that can only be found in few places in Nigeria. Comprised of 8 two-storeyed blocks, 8 bungalow buildings (annex) and a self-help block, Awolowo hall for years behind and decades to come will remain different. It had four outlets. One leading to ETF, another to the ever bubbling spot for the freshmen, “Anglomoz”, a little gate by the buttery and the main gate. A hall that never sleeps and is never empty even when school is not in session. Male alumni of the institution always make sure they point out the room they stayed in Awo as it is commonly called whenever they meet a student of the school anywhere. It was such a thing of pride. Indeed, the hall churned out great minds in the cream of society.

Awo Café, a monumental place, was the major decision making ground for student parliamentary issues. Cases of students’ misconduct were also moderated there. Most of the times, it stood as a reading ground for both male and female irrespective of the hostel rules. A funny occurrence that always comes up when people read overnight there is that of an Awo boy just shouting at regular intervals, distracting the people reading. My heart desire was to be one of them. The mischief-makers with tongues sharpened like swords when the war of words takes off.

Another thing noteworthy about the hall is the overpopulation. A room that is supposed to have six people can take as much as twenty. The bond of brotherhood is so strong irrespective of different backgrounds. It is widely known that when allocated space in Awo, you can stay there till the end of your studentship. The people that decide to remain there after their officially allocated year are known as “legal squatters”. In a place with so many people, you may not have your personal effects stay with you for long. Slippers, buckets, shoes, clothes spread outside etc. can just decide to go missing at any time. Stealing was rampant, but the prayer is never to be caught. Awolowo hall has zero-tolerance for thieves.

Another strange occurrence is hearing a member shout at the top of his voice in the middle of the night, “igbin le mi o”, translated as I am being chased by a snail.

The hall was like a city on its own. Some rooms had become butteries. I mean, fully functional butteries with deep freezer, owned and managed by a student. Other rooms had like a business centre, where people could print and photocopy documents. Other people majored in selling foodstuffs. Personal shoppers were also on hand. Old women from town come to make money by washing the clothes of students. Students practised their various crafts even while in the hall. Electricians, woodwork, shoe repair, phone repair, laptop repair etc.

Facilities like the bathroom and toilet were nothing to write home about. The water pumped to the hall was so terrible and with different shades, brown most especially. The water was so bad that it was named after the Vice-Chancellor (Omi Omole). Well, there was no choice. It was used like that. Most people would rather take their bath outside at any time of the day than use the bathrooms. The toilets were so bad that people would rather go into the field to perform what is called “shotput”.

Whenever the cleaners finished washing the toilets, about five people would run there without water and mess it all up. By the time the cleaners would come again the next day, their arsenal is always fully armed with curses of different sizes and shapes.

Students would go as far as stealing the water fetched by the cleaners in advance for the next day as a result of the erratic supply of bad water. A new administration later came in and renovated the toilets.

Awo hall notice board is impossible to go without mention. Apart from being a major information hub, it was where buyers and sellers meet to sell different items ranging from electronics to home items. It was always the centrepiece of advertisement for both entrepreneurs on and off-campus. The board was often always so filled that every print on it had to be taken down after three days. Close to the board was the hotspot for political and socio-political arguments.

The campus had different groups which supported Marxism, the Left-wing etc. Members of these various groups are very sound when it comes to political quotes and oratorical abilities. They always have you spellbound when they finish their speeches and end it with “Aluta continua, Victoria ascerta”. The basis of most of the arguments always stemmed from the rationality of decisions made by the University authorities. The hall was a home of conscious students.

One common factor for the Awo citizens is the ability to do what is called “Aro”. A dynamic way of taunting and making funny scenarios in different situations.

A tradition most associated with the hall is their aversion towards seeing females in the yellow hostel blocks. The brave ladies that have tried were escorted out most embarrassingly ever. Having to see as fifty boys come out, hitting spoons on plates and using foul sexual language, both you and the person you came to see might end up in tears. As a result, once a lady hears that you stay in Awo, she most likely would never visit you in your room.

The group called “Awo boys” apparently were the comical section of the hall and the campus at large. They do not pay for shows but they must perform at every show. Their tongues are always laced with different patterns and sizes of foul talk both in English and any other native language. They always look like an unserious group but most of them didn’t joke with their academics.

After the 2016/2017 session, the management rolled out a circular that all occupants of the hall must vacate because of renovations that would be carried out. Meanwhile, students were still very much on campus as they had to run SWEP, SIWES and teaching practice. The last batch was the final year people trying to finish up their project. All occupants of Awolowo hall decided to resist this move. ETF was the first hall to be conquered. All belongings of students worth millions of naira were thrown out of the rooms. Unfortunately, students that had gone home without any reason to stay back had all their properties unaccounted for.

Sensing the imminent danger and learning from ETF, the inhabitants of Awolowo Hall decided to put measures in place. Drums of water mixed with werepe were stationed at strategic places. Sticks of different sizes were loaded in a particular room. They also decided to shut off the 3 outlets out of 4 to stop an onslaught from three sides. Students took turns for the day watch and night watch at the single outlet. It was widely rumoured that the authorities were about to use armed men to carry out their objectives. For whatever case it was, they were not going to give up without a fight.

Seconds turned into minutes and minutes to days, no invasion. Could the management have given up? Or were they planning something bigger after seeing the strategy the students deployed? This was not a drill. This was the exact representation of what we had seen in movies. Something was about to happen, the aroma of the imminent was shrouded in thick darkness. The possibility of certain scenarios came to the front burner.

The Easter yearly celebration fell in that period. Unfortunately, the majority of the front liners in the resistance struggle decided to go home for the two days’ public holiday (Thursday and Friday) and return the next Monday. Alas, the management saw an opening. The die was cast.

On a fateful Sunday afternoon, precisely 1 April 2018, about 100 members of the Non-Academic Student Union(NASU) marched to Awolowo Hall with sticks, canes, cudgels etc. By that time, the numbers had decimated and residents were taken completely by surprise. As they made their way into the halls, anyone that resisted moving out was flogged like a market thief. People present in the hall that day had to move out their properties with immediate alacrity. The NASU members had taken control of the hall and changed all the padlock keys. They positioned a guard to the spot where a barbed fence had given way and the new fence was constructed in days to avoid students repossessing the already claimed territory.

By Monday, they started throwing out properties from rooms, destroying a lot of them in the process. Properties worth millions of naira and valuables weren’t accounted for anymore. To gain access to salvage any property, you had to beg and use phones as deposit before going in. It was a day of brutal wickedness. Eventually, the blocks were “renovated”.

That was how the great Awolowo hall was invaded. Many would never know how revered it was. It remains to be seen of how much of a dormitory it has become. A shadow of what it used to be. Indeed, an empire fell and the ruins have transcended years.

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I write as led!

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