My Most Memorable Visits

Okoye Gosife Janefrances

Copyright 2021 by 
Okoye Gosife Janefrances

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash
                                              Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash
Episode 1

The 5th of August, 2017 was a day I will never forget. That very day, we were to have the grand finale or the national level of a quiz I had been participating in right from the parish level. I and my partner together with a few others including the MCA animators travelled to Benin for the quiz to represent Lagos Archdiocese being that I was the first and my partner was the second position at the archdiocesan level. I was from Isolo deanery while my patner was from Ikeja deanery. Right from the parish level, I had scaled through all the other levels including the deanery and archdiocesan and by God's grace had made my way to the national level with my runner up as my partner.

We had travelled to Benin city in Edo State on the 4th of August 2017 which was a Thursday for the quiz which was meant to hold the following day, 5th of August, 2017, a Friday. The quiz was to hold in one of the minor seminaries in Benin city. The place was a sight to behold. The minor seminary was very neat and beautiful. There was not a speck of dirt on the floor. It was serene and very large with a lot of buildings neatly arranged in it.

That early Friday morning, I woke up, bathed, dressed in my MCA national uniform, revised the quiz booklet over and over again, ate breakfast in a large dining hall together with the other children who came from different parts of the country for the quiz. After our breakfast, I went to pray to Our Lady of Perpetual Help rosary in front of the statue of Our Lady Mother Of Perpetual Help. As I went into the Hall for accreditation, I had some kind of unusual feeling but I ignored it.

During the accreditation, a problem arose, the age limit for the quiz was fourteen years and one of the participant's fourteenth birthday fell on that day. The judges refused to allow her participate in the quiz because the rules clearly stated that no participant should be fourteen years of age or above. After so much pleading from different angles, she was finally allowed to take part in the quiz, that settled the case and soon everything was set.

At about 9:30 am the quiz took off and it was a very hectic one. We were about 110 contestants to represent 55 dioceses and archdioceses in Nigeria and the answer pattern for the quiz was word for word. All the questions were taken from a particular book which we had all been given to read and after every round, those who failed were eliminated. Luckily for us, we were able to clear our first two rounds after which we were informed of the Bishop's presence and we went to celebrate mass in the chapel. The mass did not take long. Before the final blessings, the Bishop prayed and gave his blessings to all the children contesting in the quiz.

On my way back to the hall, I remembered vividly that the second stage of the quiz, the deanery level in which we used a method termed answering your father's name and in that method, although you have a partner, your partner can neither answer for you nor make up for the mistakes you made while answering the questions. At that level, I had failed my first two questions. If not for the encouragement of my mom and other friends present, I may not have been able to scale through that level. I thought to myself, what if that incident had repeated itself at this final stage, that means that we would have already been eliminated. Oh! thank goodness.

We got to the hall and the quiz continued. More dioceses we're eliminated as the competition went further, everything became tougher as the tension in the air gained momentum and to compound the already existing tension was the stern looking faces of the judges.

And then it came, that question. It got to our turn to pick and my partner picked, and when the question was asked, I stood up to give the reply since I knew the answer. Taking the microphone, I answered the question but the judges especially the questionnaire kept their faces glue to their books as if I was wrong and then the questionaire spoke "you still have time to change your answer". My partner pulled me by the Hem of my cloth and kept willing me to change the answer I had given. After a while, I couldn't endure her nagging and the uncomfortable faces of the judges. It felt like every seconds took a milinneum to count. I finally said what she wanted me to say but this time around, the judges neither said anything nor changed their expression. After some seconds, my partner started pulling me again opting me to say something else, but I carefully shunned her telling her that the judges had their eyes on her.

After a while, I gave up hope, it felt as though I had lost. I simply stated my initial answer but without confidence and with a low voice and then the bell rang. The questionaire spoke again, "you are wrong". All the other judges looked at her but she showed no emotion. My final answer as well as my initial answer was correct but because I had lost confidence, I didn't shout it out loud and so the audience couldn't fight for me.

The questionnaire took advantage of that to eliminate me so that Lagos Archdiocese will not lose a threat to her own diocese, Sokoto diocese. When we left the contestants sit and went to meet our animators, my partner started blaming me for our failure. She claimed that she was about to tell me the correct answer before I sternly told her to shut up. I tried to defend myself but her coordinator stood by her side. I simply kept my mouth shut.

We returned to our hostel. My eyes were filled with tears, I couldn't stop crying especially when I knew that my initial and final answer was correct, just a little more confidence was what I needed to scale through. My bitterness was further magnified when I learnt that Lagos Archdiocese had won the quiz the previous time it was held, last four years. My whole evening from 3 pm when were eliminated till about 7 pm when the MCA national rosary procession was ended, was spent crying.

After a while, I managed to console myself with help from my coordinator as well as the other children around. Though I had lost the quiz, I still had a lot to be thankful for. For the first time, I had left Lagos State to another state other than my state of origin and my state of birth and even though the diocese I was representing didn't win, my home diocese, Akwa diocese from Anambra state won. I had learnt a lot of new things, seen new things and met new people. I had learnt through my own experience that I should never give up no matter what the situation seems like. All you need to scale through might just be a little more confidence

I had promised myself after that quiz that I will never again lose confidence. So many years gone by, I realized that it was easier said than done. Writing this piece with all the pictures of that event still clear and vivid in my memory, I wish to tell anyone who would read it, never to lose hope despite the situation, a little courage can push you through like Joyce Meyer said, "A lot of people give up at the very bring of success".

Lagos Archdiocese had taken fifty dioceses and archdioces. Taking fifth position among a hundred and ten contestants was not all that bad. The best part of my trip to Benin was that I made new friends, as our greeting for M.C.A goes, "With children all over the world.... We are always friends". And you know the ironic part of it all, we went to Benin diocese took last. Their contestants had been eliminated after the very first round.

After thorough reflection on all that, I realized that I had a lot more to be happy for after all not all children who started the quiz made it to the grand finale of the quiz but I made it to the finals by God's grace. I cleaned my tears and replaced the gloomy look on my face with a simple smile determination fill my mind as i marched with the other children to the adjoining hall for our night of fun.

Very early, Saturday morning, we had our Thanksgiving mass with the other animators and children and after that, travelled back to Lagos. I had a wonderful experience at Benin and I hope to go to Benin city to participate in this kind of competition again, someday and to win this time around. Until then, never again will I lose courage.

Episode 2

I could feel the breeze, as the car sped down the road. I was sitting beside my mom, there were two other passengers with us besides the driver, the environment gave a beautiful view and despite the presence of other cars the road was not choked up. I leaned back against the car sit and soon my mind wandered in thoughts again. I could clearly remember how it had all started.

A very good friend of my mom who happened to be her colleagues mom had told her about a national essay competition held in honor of the Esama of Benin, Chief, Sir, Dr Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion which she said was already on. She asked that I participate in it and my mom obliged. My mom told me about it and asked me to check it out. I did but initially, I didn't get full information about it coupled with the fact that I had a lot to do at that time. One fateful evening, my mom asked me if I had checked the quiz competition out. I told her that I had and showed her what I saw. All I found was a set of questions, twenty five in number. All the questions seemed to be about one person, the Esama of Benin himself. I thought to myself that probably they simply wanted us to find the answers to the questions and send it as a composition but funny enough, what I thought was far from what they wanted. 

That same week, Thursday evening, at about five pm while preparing for a church program which was to be held within the evening mass of the day, I picked up my phone again to check on the essay competition. I simply wanted to be sure that I wasn't missing any vital information, but everything was the same except that there was a little note and a radio tape underneath the twenty five questions. I put on the radio tape and and kept the phone at a reasonable hieght, listening as the presenter spoke on the essay competition. I could tell from the voice that it was a man speaking. He said that the national essay competition held in honor of the Esama of Benin was the maiden edition, the very first of its kind to be hosted by the Igbinedion house and it was initiated by Dr Charles managed by Lady Cherry Igbinedion in Honor of the Esama of Benin whose eighty seventh birthday will be held on the 11th of September, 2021. He clearly stated that what was demanded of all the writers who wanted to participate in the competition was biography of the Esama of Benin using the answers to the twenty five questions as hints in writing the essay. He also said that the deadline for the first round was 19th of August. "My goodness! isn't today the deadline", I asked myself mmediately. I ran to the calendar immediately to check the date. I wanted to be sure that I was thinking straight but it only confirmed my fears. I had just few hours to go before the submission portal was closed.

 I immediately set to work. Being that I never knew the man in question, I had to make a lot of research to help me with the body of the essay. From researching and pasting in my word pad, I transferred it to my WPS for further editing. I finished the work at about 11:50pm and read through. I filled the submission form but had some difficulties in attaching the file body of my essay, and then there was network issue to compound my problems the more. At that point I felt very discouraged and frustrated, but there beside me was my mum to encourage me. I said a word of prayer in my heart and thankfully, heaven answered. With my mom's help I was able to submit the essay and my submission was accepted, I could finally heave a sigh of relief after being on high jump for hours. The essay competition was actually divided into three different categories, based on the educational level of the writers. The three categories were the primary, secondary and tertiary categories respectively and I belonged to the secondary category.

On Wednesday of the following week, l was going through my e-mail messages when I saw a mail sent to me from the Igbinedion house by Lady Cherry herself. The email stated that I was amongst those shortlisted for the final round of the essay competition and to that effect I would have to be present at the Igbinedion Education Centre, Airport way Benin City, Edo State,at exactly 8 am the following Saturday being the 28th of August,2021, for the final round of the essay competition. I immediately ran to the kitchen to tell my mom who was cooking about the message. I simply read it out to her as it was stated in the email. She was very overjoyed that my entry made it to the finals. She was ready to take me to Benin for the final round. Immediately my dad returned, my mom told him the news and he was in full support of our soujourn. Because of the limited time we had left, I immediately started preparing. We had to leave Lagos on Friday morning to get to Benin in the evening and prepare for the exam on Saturday.

The car suddenly went still and I jolted back to consciousness. A traffic jam had suddenly built up on the road causing all the cars to be on a standstill. I checked my phone, it was already noon, I had been so into my thoughts that I lost count of time. Soon the road cleared up and and we continued with our journey, my mom was still chatting with the other passengers so I picked my phone and started to go through my essay again. After about another four hours of driving, we finally arrived at Benin. I looked through the window and I saw the bill board which read, "Welcome to Benin" that same sign board had welcomed me to Benin city the last four years when I came to Benin for the first time. Seeing it made more determined to give the national essay competition my all.

On our arrival, we went to check out the examination centre so as to confirm the location after which we went to the nearby Catholic Church to seek accommodation with the letter our priest had given us. While waiting for the priest, I  my mom went to the chapel to pray. Thankfully, the parish priest of the church accommodate and offered us a place to spend the night. After attending the evening mass, we thanked the priest for his warm hospitality. We were very grateful to find a place to spend the night, because we we're far away from home. Though I had come to Benin before, I didn't know anyone there. It was finally time to rest, I said to myself as I lay on the bed, finding our way around was quite difficult, we had to keep on asking for directions as we went. Fortunately we didn't get lost. I and my mom said our night prayers and then I closed my eyes to sleep knowing very well that a lot awaited me the next day. 

Very early the next morning, I and my mom prepared for the morning mass after which we left for the exam centre. Getting there, I was stunned by the number of people who were shortlisted for the finals. I later got to find out that about three hundred people were shortlisted for the final round. My dad called me that me that morning and gave me some words of encouragement which strengthened me the more. I was reading for anything, come what may. 

After the accreditation, we were dispersed into different halls for the exam. Just before the exam started, I said a word of prayer in my heart to the Almighty, seeking from him the grace to write well. Our exam questions were shared to us and at the sound of the word 'start', we all started writing. The exam consisted of twenty five objectives questions and a theory which demanded us to write an essay on the contribution of the Esama of Benin to the economic, political and socio-cultural development of Nigeria. Towards the end of the exam, I asked the examiner for an extra sheet to finish up my theory, but he refused saying that we had very little time left. I pleaded further but he still remained adamant. Due to his obstinate refusal, I had no other choice than to tidy up my essay with the little space I had left. I read through, prayed again as was my usual custom and submitted. As I left the hall, I heard the exam coordinator shout, "all the students have just twenty minutes more, please tell them to start rounding up". My heart bled on hearing that, twenty minutes was just the exact amount of time that I needed to complete my work, but circumstances had forced me to submit. I was left with no other option than to commit everything into the hands of God through prayers. 

After the exam, all the students with their guardians were called into the main hall at the adjoining building for the final address by Dr Charles. In his address, he mentioned the reasons behind the essay competition. It was organized not just to honor the eighty seventh birthday celebration of the Esama of Benin but mainly to create an avenue of healthy competitive rivalry through which young students can showcase their talents. He mentioned the award for the top three of each level. He categorically stated that the essays would be judged by lecturers from seven different prestigious Universities and that the results will be out the following Monday. 

After the final address and introduction of the judges to all the participants and parents around. I and my mom went back to our lodge at the church, packed our things, returned the keys to the room, thanked the priest once again and set out for Lagos. We got back home at about 11pm. My dad was very happy to see us. 

Episode 3

I kept praying as I waited patiently for the results. The following Monday, it was announced on itv that the results were already out but the schools of the winners would be contacted to confirm the identity of the winners. Tension filled mind but all I could do was continue praying.

On Wednesday, I received a call from Dr Charles, he told me that I was amongst the three winners for the secondary category but did not clearly state my position. He said I should get ready and come down to Benin with my family for the award ceremony. I was thrilled to find out that I was among the top three but was still a little tensed because I didn't know my exact position. I simply hoped for the best. It was until later in the night that I got to find out through one of the organizers that I was the star winner, which means that I came first.

I was so excited to be going back to Benin and this time around, our transportation and accommodation was footed by Lady Cherry herself because I was the only winner who was coming from outside Benin.

I went with my both parents, my three siblings and my class teacher for the award ceremony. Traveling to Benin again for the third time, I remembered how I cried on my first visit to Benin because I came fifth position in the MCA quiz competition finals but this time, I had made it to the top by God's grace. I was so happy and grateful to God for helping me achieve that great height.

The award ceremony was a very beautiful and successful one. Myself and the other winners were interviewed by a lot of media personnels. We were each accorded certificate of participation bearing our positions on it while the cash prizes were given in form of cheques.

I had always loved traveling and opportunities like this which makes it possible for me to go to new places meet new people and learn new things will never cease to excite me. As is always the case, the journey of an explorer is never limited to one place or a particular set of people. I've got a world to tour, and so, it's bye for now, see you next time.  

I am 14 years old and a student at Classic Comprehensive College.  I live in Jigbo Lagos.

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