I could not wait to know the secret behind the puzzle of the uneducated Christopher suddenly becoming my classmate in college. And so, as soon as lectures were over for the day, I dashed to Christopher’s seat and held him by the hand, dragging him out with me, as he continued to smile, obviously aware of the mystery my heart must be anxious to have him unravel. All that he could
say at that moment was, “Denny, I know you must be very surprised to see me here. It’s a long story. When we get to the dormitory, I will tell you everything”.
Hand-in-hand we moved to our dormitories. I was in Lincoln House and Christopher was in Aggrey House. As we were getting to our dormitories, the bell started ringing for the afternoon meal, and all students were heading towards the school dining hall for lunch.
Lunchtime was immediately followed by siesta time, according to the school’s daily program. It was compulsory for all students to retire to our various dormitories and sleep for one hour.
When we all went back to our dormitories, I lay on my bed but was not able to sleep. My mind ran through my encounter with Christopher. I was anxious to go to his dormitory after the siesta when we would all be free to move about.
As soon as the siesta period was over, I rushed to Aggrey’s house to meet Christopher, who was also waiting for me to come. He was also as anxious as I was, to reveal this big secret to me, and so help me lay my mind to rest.
As soon as I arrived, Christopher offered me a seat and opened up:
“You know that I came from a poor family. I have three siblings – my elder brother and two sisters. My parents are so poor that they could only send my elder brother to school. They could not afford the money to train either me or my two sisters.
One day, one man who is a cousin to my mother visited us. In the course of discussions with my parents, he was surprised to hear that I had not started going to school. I was twelve years old at the time. He at once ordered that I must be sent to school and he would be responsible for my education. That was how my parents were able to prepare me for schooling with the money they gave them. They took me to our village primary school, bought the school uniform and all the necessary books required and I became a proud pupil of St. Joseph’s Primary School, Ndiaku. The school considered my size and decided to place me in Primary 2, instead of Primary one. At the end of that school year, I performed very well and was first in my class.
The next year then saw me in Primary 3. The year had hardly gone halfway, when, on the recommendation of my class teacher, the Headmaster of the school ordered that I should be moved to Primary 4 because of the way I performed in the term’s examination.
When I finished Primary 4, I went to Primary 5 at the beginning of the next school year. In Primary five, the same thing happened, mid-way. I was promoted to Primary 6, and so took the entrance examination to Secondary School with others. When the result came out, my name was listed among those who passed, and that is how you have found me here. I give great thanks and glory to God for all this. So, I spent only three years in the Primary school”.
All that Christopher reeled out to me was soon to manifest clearly after our end-of-year examinations in our first year in school. He came up with the first position and was automatically appointed the Prefect of the class when we entered year 2, as the culture of the school was.
Students who topped their classes with the first position were made the class prefect. So poor boy, Christopher became my class prefect.
All through our stay in the college from class 2 to class 5, Christopher remained the Prefect, and in our final year, he was made the Senior Prefect of the school.
When the results of the West African School Certificate Examinations were released, Christopher not only passed in Grade One but had an ‘A’ in all the subjects, to the great marvel of the principal and the entire school. He was indeed a great genius.
A few months later, the government advertised for jobs for school leavers. We all obtained the job application forms and filled in all that was required. A date was fixed for an examination involving English, Mathematics and General knowledge.
Thousands of fresh college graduates sat for this examination from all over the state.
A few weeks later, the result was published, in order of performances from 1st position to the last position which was about 24,000. The first name on that list who scored higher than every other candidate was this Christopher Ilo.
Everyone was anxious to see this boy. His name gave my alma mater a very big name because the question everyone was asking was “From which school? Which school produced this type of genius?”.
And so Christopher got employed in the Ministry of Works of the government as a Clerical Assistant. People from other government ministries kept trooping to the Ministry of Works where Christopher was sitting at his table of work to catch a glimpse of him. The crowd that surged into the Ministry to see him continued to grow each day that the Permanent Secretary in charge had to issue a notice warning all and sundry to allow Christopher concentrate to do his job.
One day, a friend brought to him a newspaper publication on an offer of a scholarship from the Russian government to Nigerians interested in studying at Russian Universities. Christopher immediately applied. When the result was released, he was among those selected. He was offered admission to study Mechanical Engineering up to PhD level. He was very excited and happy. Some of us who were his friends were not surprised when we heard of his success. His West African Examination Certificate scores were so excellent that no institution could deny him admission. And so, he started looking forward to the day he would leave for Russia.
Two weeks later, the result of an earlier examination he had taken to join the Nigerian Army also came out. It was published in some newspapers, and Christopher was among the successful candidates.
THE BIG PROBLEM OF CHRISTOPHER
A big problem then arose for Christopher. The Russian offer would take eight years, but the Nigerian Army offer would take only two years to become an officer in the Army with a big financial income.
Although a PhD in Mechanical Engineering would offer him a much bigger income than being a young officer in the Army, yet eight years was a very long period for him to wait before beginning to earn this big money. His family was very poor, and he was in a hurry to lift them out of that abject poverty. He thought all this over and sought advice from a number of people. Finally, he decided to join the army and abandon the Russian PhD project.
Shortly after, the Nigerian Army invited all who were successful in the entrance examination to come to Kaduna for a physical interview, and Christopher travelled for the interview.
The interview involved some physical exercises. When the result was released, he failed. It was a big blow to him. He felt very disappointed and fixed his mind again on the Russian University offer; which was then two months away.
As the Army Office at Kaduna was reviewing the entire recruitment exercise, it discovered that the candidate who scored the highest at the entrance examination failed the physical interview, and it was Christopher.
Christopher grew up in poverty. He was not well nourished from childhood, and that gave him a very slim body with tiny muscles. He could not be described as a strong boy, and so the Army did not find him attractive.
Sacrifice and Service
Following this discovery of his excellent academic performance, it was considered at the Army head office, that such a brain would turn out to be of great benefit to the Army, and such a candidate must be recalled. Consequently, an urgent letter was dispatched to Christopher informing him that the authorities had changed their mind about him, and had granted him success at the interview. Christopher’s joy came back and he began to make preparations to join the Nigerian Army.
After he got enrolled in the Nigerian Army, Christopher was moved to the Air Force Division. He was among those selected to be trained as Pilots. He then travelled overseas to one of the Asian Countries for training, and in less than two years, he was back in Nigeria as a qualified air force pilot.
When war broke out between Nigeria and Biafra, Christopher was one of the pilots deployed with Bomber jets to fight for Nigeria. He carried out a number of bombing expeditions. In one of such expeditions, he was sent to the Nsukka sector of the battle to assist the ground soldiers who were having a difficult battle with the Biafran soldiers there. He moved in with his bomber to bomb the Biafran soldiers and make way for the Nigerian soldiers to advance into Biafra. During that expedition, the Biafran soldiers shot down his plane and Christopher was killed instantly.
When news reached the Nigerian Army headquarters that pilot Christopher (one of their best pilots) had been killed, there was gloom everywhere, and the nation wept.