Sigma Club’s biggest event of the year was usually the Havana Night, a giant carnival that attracted guests and artists from as far afield as other West African countries. Preceded by several months of elaborate preparations, the carnival usually took a lot out of us. The final stage of those preparations was a massive rally of floats that would snake its way through the streets of Ibadan on the day before the carnival, with some floats reserved for members of different societies on campus. Surprisingly, one of those floats used to be reserved for members of the Pyrates Confraternity. The fact that such a relationship existed between both societies never ceased to amaze me. Founded by a group of seven young men during the early years of the history of the university, the Pyrates Confraternity, whose members claimed to be ‘sworn enemies of convention,’ was the very antithesis of what Sigma Club stood for. Whereas the Pyrates Confraternity was founded as a counter to what was considered the growing aspects of the ‘students colonial mentality’ at the time, ‘and to protect the ladies from the undeserved harassment of chauvinistic males’, Sigma Club, on the other hand, embraced aspects of the so-called ‘colonial’ dressing codes that the confraternity was opposed to. But from all indications, it appeared that at some point, way before my time at Ibadan, one of the floats of every pre-Havana Carnival was, as I said, reserved for members of the confraternity, who would be all decked out in their regalia on the floats. It would seem that the relationship between the two groups was cordial in those early days, which explained why some undergraduates, like the late Dr Frank Ukoli, were both Pyrates and Sigmites!
It should be noted that the original Pyrates Confraternity has since transformed itself into a nationwide Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) that’s committed to a variety of philanthropic projects in parts of the country. (Years after I left the University of Ibadan, the CB himself initiated me into the Jolly Roggers Deck! And since then, I have proved myself to be a salt-coated, weather-beaten sea-dog!!!)
Our rain doctor had now arrived with his team, complete with amulets of all sorts of charms, a specially designed cow whisk, and a rusty and battered locally-made cooking stove. The rain doctor set up his operations in the enclosed area visible from the Mellanby Hall end.
The Havana Carnival was an unusual spectacle, a tribute to the skills, industry and dedication of ingenious twenty-something year-olds, proud and daring vicenarians who were convinced that anything was possible. The preparations were meticulous, and the details quite precise. Nothing was ever left to chance. And the team effort that went into pulling off the event was, compared with other clubs or societies on campus, quite exemplary.
I have never forgotten the 1970 Havana Carnival. In those days, the event’s venue was the sprawling area from the Trenchard Hall, through the old open space in front of Tedder Hall and Sultan Bello Hall, including the old Students’ Union building. For the event proper, we would cordon off a part of the main road from the front of the administrative building, which housed the university’s principal officers, down to the road that led to the science departments and laboratories, and create an enclosed fenced-in area, using well assembled and tightly strung thatched, raffia palms. Surprisingly, those weak fences were hardly breached throughout the all-night event.
The 1970 Carnival was billed to be the biggest to date. We invited an unprecedented number of bands to entertain, five in all, namely, the Ramblers Dance Band of Ghana, Fela Ransome-Kuti and his Nigeria ‘70 Band, King Sunny Ade and his African Juju Band, Sir Victor Uwaifo and his Melody Maestros and Tatalo Alamu’s Apala Band. We proudly tagged it ‘the best assemblage of musical artists anywhere in the West African sub-region at the time!
By April 1, arrangements for the scheduled Saturday, April 11 carnival were in full gear. Then, two days to the event, Ibadan was enveloped in heavy clouds that wouldn’t go away. On Friday, when the Ramblers Dance Band arrived in Ibadan by road from Accra, scattered rains were recorded in many parts of Ibadan. It suddenly dawned on us that we could be in trouble with the weather because apart from the event inside the Trenchard Hall, the carnival was a completely open-air event. Weather forecasts were hardly taken seriously in those days, so we did not bother to check. But even if we had checked, a date had been fixed for the event months before, so, indeed, we had to proceed with the event, irrespective of weather forecasts!
In our confusion, someone suggested that we should consult a rain doctor whose reputation in the business of holding back rains was legendary. The Sigma Chief, E. T. M. Lawson, then a medical student, was skeptical that the services of a rain doctor would work. But he caved in to pressure from a majority of us. And although the asking fee from the rain doctor was on the stiff side, we were economically buoyant and comfortable enough to accommodate the hefty bill. The rain doctor had assured us that there would not be a drop of rain on the night of the scheduled mother of all Havana Carnivals! That mattered a lot to us. Come the Saturday morning of the carnival, it drizzled a little. But since it was still morning, we remained hopeful. Undeterred by the dark clouds that forebode a storm, the regular Havana attendees had started to gather by dusk. Our rain doctor had now arrived with his team, complete with amulets of all sorts of charms, a specially designed cow whisk, and a rusty and battered locally-made cooking stove. The rain doctor set up his operations in the enclosed area visible from the Mellanby Hall end. Apparently, the way it was supposed to work was for the rain doctor to cause a plume of smoke to curl and rise from his rusty stovepipe, carrying, presumably, ‘magical’ pollutants into the atmosphere to meet the dark clouds and prevent the rains from coming down!
By now, it was close to 8 p.m., and the dark rain-bearing clouds, laced with the intermittent streaks of a lightning flash, prepared us for the worst. Then, even as some of us stood over our rain doctor, watching him, suddenly came, first a drizzle, and then the deluge. The heavens simply opened up. It wasn’t just a downpour; it was akin to a fierce tropical storm. We left the rain doctor in the rain as the thunderstorm caused us to take cover inside Trenchard Hall. For close to one hour, it rained cats and dogs. When it was over, and we all came out to confront our rain doctor, he was gone, disappeared entirely from the scene, with all his gadgets! We searched everywhere in the hope that he had himself taken cover somewhere within the precincts of the event. No. He was nowhere to be seen. He had simply vanished, and we never saw 117 Ibadan: University of Ibadan him again. He never bothered to come back for the balance of his fees, which was not tenable, anyway, since the contract wasn’t fulfilled!
To our amazement, that year’s carnival still turned out, surprisingly, to be one of our best. The crowd stayed back until the early hours of Sunday morning, enjoying the festival in the variety of options it provided them. For us at the Sigma Club, we learnt our lesson the hard way, never to consult a rain doctor again because, to use the current terminology, they are ‘419-ers’!
Excerpted from The Road Never Forgets, a Memoir by Yemi Ogunbiyi, published by Bookcraft, 2022