MEMORIES FROM EFFURUN BARRACKS
Sweet reminisces came flooding back at me when I read about the army barracks at Effurun, near Warri recently, although I wished that the context of this recall of sweet memories was not about land ownerships disputes between the host community and the Nigerian Army. When my father was transferred in 1983 to Minna, it was still called 20th Amphibious Battalion Barracks with that unique Post Office Code of P.M.B. 1114 that all primary and secondary school children somehow knew so easily in their hearts.
That was the barracks of my formative pre-teen and first-teen years, and now the memories are cascading down to my consciousness: my mother (late Mrs. Echinema Lucy Jonah) was the first to birth a baby there in 1979, just one week after my family’s arrival from the “Batcher” barracks located somewhere in the heart of Warri (the baby, my sister Inyanmu, died so tragically in 2013; she was 34 years old). That barracks was where a lot of my contemporaries and I experienced our first “self-contained” sweet-smelling apartments, fresh from the newest paintwork. I was one of just four altar boys at the battalion’s Catholic Church (re-named Pope John Paul II Parish, I think, because that pope’s 1982 visit to Nigeria generated a lot of excitement at this parish). I was baptised there on the first of June 1980. I completed my primary school at the battalion’s Army Children School (A.C.S.). Mr. Okoro, the headmaster, was immortalised in our own rendition of the “Thread and Needle” song. I recall Henry Dollor and Priestly Dollor, two brothers and my school mates, who were sons of an officer; I recall the unforgettable Inter-House Sports Competition held at the A.C.S. in 1981 (I was in Blue House, the Uzuazebe House); I recall that, as “barracks boys,” we were never scared of the dreaded Agbasa Cult (also called the Urhobo Headhunters) because our fathers had assured us that if any child or woman gets beheaded for the local voodoo customs “all hell would be let loose.” I recall our deep forays into the thick forest landholdings of the battalion to cut down palm- and coconut-trees for the sheer fun of it, to harvest cocoa pods, to harvest kola-nuts of different hues, to hunt rabbits, to “steal” from “Urhobo Papa” pineapple farms, to fish in shallow streams, to do wanderlust, to play at mock warfare battles, and so on. I recall my mother’s thriving provision store at the Mammy Market; I recall Sylvanus Aze, my sponsor at Baptism and First Holy Communion; I recall Mr. Samuel Ota, my form master at the A.C.S.; I recall the quiet mien of Ndidi Obonyano at the A.C.S. and it was a rude shock to be her classmate once again at the Federal University of Technology Minna. Sunday Adole Jonah, Department of Physics, Federal University of Technology, Minna