Life in 60s Nigeria for Marconi College instructors
Diane Carrick’s letter on page 4 concerning her father GE Lilley and the editorial note below it refer to the Marconi College team of instructors in Nigeria to train young Nigerians who would operate and maintain the multi-channel radio system that Marconi had installed linking the large interior through repeater stations in jungle and in the northern desert areas on the edge of the Sahara. Fred here describes the way of life for them in Nigeria at that time. Ed
The training school was about three miles away from the Government Residential Area (GRA) at Ikeja which had the Lagos International Airport nearby and provided a selection of flat, bungalow and semi-detached house for the instructors, generally flats for married couples without children and bachelors, and bungalow or house for families.
Nigeria is a large country covering different land zones, from the coast where Lagos exists, to a vast jungle in the centre and dry dessert to the north, with different peoples living in these zones. The local people were Yoruba in the west, Igbo in the east and Hausa and Fulani in the north, which meant the students would have different life styles and attitudes, each with their own language, and the northern population was essentially Muslim. English was used throughout which was fortunate for the Marconi team.
The students were a mixture of these races with a preponderance of Igbo and Yoruba, but the use of English as the working language eliminated any problems of understanding. Since this was in the early 1960s a blackboard and dictation was typically used to transmit information. Learning students’ names was extremely useful in controlling activities and keeping their attention.
Climatic conditions near the coast were hot and humid, the latter being the principal problem. Driving a car to work early each morning and home again in the early afternoon required a special seat/back wire cushion to keep the car’s seat fabric from burning one’s back. Mosquitos were abundant and in earlier
years this coast was known as ‘the White Man’s Grave’ but fortunately the tablet of Paludrin each morning did ward off malaria although it didn’t stop them from biting.
The working day with the students was 5am to 2pm but then preparation for the next day and perhaps marking their efforts took time but left some for the family and getting out. Daylight was early in the morning but suddenly around 6 o’clock in the evening it disappeared, so no English dusk to enjoy. Marking students’ papers during the evening required a pile of blotting paper under the wrist to prevent sweat pouring onto the paper and distorting the writing thereon.
There was time to relax: the Airport Hotel was nearby with a bar and swimming pool, the airport itself had food and drink as did the Club, and Lagos was only a handful of miles away with shops and the beach at Victoria Island: a swim on 1st January was nice even if the waves could often be dangerous. A small ferry boat could take you across the harbour to the much safer Tarkwa Bay but the sun was too strong to sit out too long. The main rains came continuously over the June to August period but remembering that earlier name for the area Marconi insisted that its European staff had to have a 6-week break during the rains and go to a European climate: 6 weeks holiday in England every summer allowed views of green pastures that were not harsh to the eye.
The high humidity meant that during the time in Nigeria the housing had wardrobes down to floor level, where inside was a row of light bulbs continuously lit to keep the hanging clothing from disintegrating from moisture. Open a drawer and a small Gecko (little lizard) might jump out; those living behind the hanging wall pictures darted out to catch resting insects and so were tolerated, but the big 15inch long orange/black lizards were too much to allow inside the house.
Occasionally a picnic might be arranged going to the coast but eastwards towards the border with Togo, and this would give a beach with no other people present, fruit bats in the palm trees and a small ferry boat to cross the barrier creek with a wait among the coconut palms for the ferry boat.
This is the lifestyle David entered when he settled in as a Marconi instructor at the Oshodi P&T School living in the GRA at Ikeja, one that might well have not lasted much longer because soon after the Nigerian civil war (Biafran War 1967-1970) broke out. Sadly many of the students that we had passed through the college would not have lived to serve their country in the way that they had been trained. We kept in loose contact with David & Doreen until they moved to Australia when the contact became the Christmas newsletter from them.