The collapse of intellectual space at Ahmadu Bello university - the poetry

John Otim

*John Otim is founder editor of Nile Journal and columnist for Rupiny Newspaper

Professor Ronald Benge had a great reputation on campus. When his personal life seemed to be drifting and he had eloped with somebody's wife, his academic reputation just grew. Years later when he died, a London newspaper paid him glowing tributes. As a young academic and a new man on campus, Benge had been friendly and helpful to me. He would remain a lasting friend. That afternoon on the corridors of learning I felt completely at ease when a voice hailed me and bade stop for a while.

“Tell me John”, it was professor Ronald Benge. “What did you see in that ugly girl?”

I had not expected this. My new girl ugly? The angel that came to me in the morning! I searched the professor's eyes for signs of a practical joke perhaps. There was none. That evening when I got home, I looked again at my new girl. Later when the day was done I settled down alone at a corner to write a piece about the whole episode as a way of putting it all behind me. But it was not easy, the girl suspected something something was not as it should be, and would not let me be. I had a rough time disguising what I had to do. But in the end, do it, I did.

A year later on the eve of the professor’s departure from campus when the place still held much of its original charms, I presented or rather I performed the piece I had written that evening, now proudly entitled Angel of the Morning, at the writer’s club. The performance was followed by lyrics by Juice Newton. Lyrics of the same title, now played on stereo. it boomed in the classroom we used for the club meeting. Passersby quickly gathered at the door to see what was going on.The obvious discrepancy between the message of the poem, and that of Newton's lyrics did not seem to matter. From the moment it aired, the poetry was a hit. You could see that in the animated eyes of the people gathered in the room. I guess it was the mixture of romance, malice and revenge packed inside the poetry that so won this young audience.  

A few days later at the airport farewell, Ronald Benge who had not been at the poetry performance now surprised me. In one swift movement he produced from his breast pocket with a glint in his eyes, a copy of the poetry that he could see I had written about him. I was amazed at the power of the written word to assume its own existence. And now I tried to hide my embarassment with a laugh.

“I guess I shall in future be more careful not to cross another poet again!” Benge smiled and was all courtesy as his London bound flight was announced. We shook hands. “You sure dealt with me!” were his last words.

In future those same words would become the refrain for the new people who would soon take over the campus and cleanse it of all its intellectual pretenses. “We shall deal with them!” They promised anybody who stood in their way. But here now is the poetry provoked by Ronald Benge, and inspired by the Jamaican girl, and just now celebrated by the Ahmadu Bello University crowd, despite my own misgivings about some of its undertones.

Angel of the Morning

Sunday evening in Zaria:

heavy aroma of cigar

hung over the room,

his woman was by his side

she glanced at the woman

by my side

they hated each other



As we hurried away

the girl said

what mean, folks!

can’t even pay simple bills!

for their home was in darkness

electricity cut off!


The following day

on the corridors of learning

he approached me

“tell me John what did you see?

in that ugly girl”


I left school early

I arrived home early

I looked for my new girl

the angel that came to me

in the morning


And there she was

And I saw again those lips

those eyes

Angel of the morning!

John Otim