The young ones of nowadays usually wonder what life was like without GSM. Some of them had asked me directly and I had always given them two examples. The first was when I was ‘Corpering’ at Government Secondary School, Azare, Bauchi State (1980/1981), when my parents would not know whether I got back to base safely until I returned again.

There were no telephone lines and the letter I would have written, would still be in transit by the time I visited home again. The second was how I had to travel from Igbo-Ukwu (Anambra State) to Enugu and join a sluggish queue so as to be able to have a conversation with my elder brother, who was then in the US of Aids. The journey was tortuous, undertaken with a middle-sized Bedford lorry, the type they call ‘bolekaja’, operated by S IJURO brothers and took one whole day.

I also gave a hypothetical example of a staff who came in from Maiduguri to consult with his boss at Lagos, only to learn on arrival that the boss had travelled to PH that morning!

Well, as our people would say, there is nothing you will not find in the native-doctor’s skin-bag. I just stumbled on an article, detailing my experience when my brother had an accident at Ore on 6/10/99. The piece was published in almost all the national and regional newspapers then but the one I saw was published on page 3 of Hallmark National Newspaper of 1/12/99. The paper titled ‘Provide Telephone in Ore’, actually won a prize (of a WHOLE N500) as the ‘Star Letter’ for the week. I hereby serve it undiluted.

You don’t need to ask how life was before the advent of GSM after reading this. Here we go. Ore gained international attention following its dramatic capture by Biafran forces during the war. When I later gained admission to study Economics at the University of Ibadan, I saw Ore, ‘life’. The busses plying Onitsha-Lagos route usually stopped at Ore for refuelling by the vehicles and their passengers. It then cost N5.00(Five Naira, only) for an Onitsha-Lagos routes with the luxurious busses, the most popular of which was Ekene-Dili-Chukwu. Ore became a regular feature for me when I reluctantly became a Lagosian.

Generally, I perceived Ore as a Big Town, which should ordinarily boast of modern facilities. However, as our elders would say, it takes the wind to expose the anus of a fowl! The wind has blown on Ore and I found out that contrary to all expectations, the express-way was the only thing big about Ore. Here is the full story.

At about 6pm on 10/10/99, I received the shocking news that my elder brother, who just returned from USA and was on his way home, was involved in an accident and was rushed to Ore General Hospital, together with the driver. By the time I got to my house at Okota Lagos, two other relatives who received the sad news earlier, had left for Ore and promised to telephone with the situation report as soon as they got there.

While awaiting their call, we wanted to get through to Ore so as to make enquiries. We went through all records and even went through a Newspaper house (I think it was Daily Star) but could not obtain the telephone number of anybody at Ore. Meanwhile, anxiety mounted because we did not hear from those who left earlier.

By 5am the following day, I was on my way to Ore, promising those at Lagos that I would telephone them immediately I got there. When I arrived at the General Hospital, I received the sad news of the driver’s death but nothing concrete about my brother.

I asked for directions and went to the nearest private hospital. There was also no news about my brother there I asked the nurse on duty if I could make a call from their office and if not, to direct me anywhere that I could do so. The lady looked at me as if I had committed heresy and responded, ‘Here in Ore? You are NOT serious’! I was confused. She then explained to me that there was no telephone either in the hospital or anywhere else at Ore, as there were no telephone services in the town. She then advised that if I needed to telephone anybody, I should go to Ondo (about 110kms away).

It was then my turn to exclaim: ‘You just be joking’! But she was damn serious and that explained why those who arrived earlier did not send any feedback. I continued with my search and got to the Police Station where a Traffic Officer gave me some meaningful information about the accident and the cheerful news that my brother survived.

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He also advised me to go to Okitipupa (about 29kms away) to make the needed telephone call because it was nearer and the road was not as busy as that of Ondo. So, I left for Okitipupa, a town I had not visited before. I got there, and located the Telephone Exchange, which was situated off Broad Street (You see, Lagos does not have a monopoly of Broad Street).

However, my problem became compounded: there was no light and I was advised to wait till 11am when they would start the Generator for me to make the call. It was about 9.30am then. I was at a dead end. There was no telephone facility at Ore and after getting to Okitipupa, I had to wait for a generator, which I was not even sure was in a good working condition.

There was also no certainty that the line would go through: there may be no dialling tone, the line on the other end might be engaged or may be on TOOS (Temporarily Out of Service; a very regular term in those days) or other 1001 NITEL generated reasons. I decided to return to Lagos, rather than waiting for the genset and an uncertain telephone call.

By the time I got back to Lagos, there was a ‘missing-person’ alert on me. My brother, who had minor injuries, went straight to Enugu and telephoned from there that morning. Those who left earlier had also telephoned from Benin but nothing was heard from me until I came back ‘life’ much later. So when my people received the good news about my brother, they went into another panic mood as the person who went to search for someone was apparently missing! All because there was no telephone service at Ore.

Well, all that was well that ended well. I later relaxed and reviewed the whole episode. If there had been telephone services, I would not have travelled in the first instance because the first party would have reported with the sitrep. I would have saved the time and resources (I hired a driver for the trip) and avoided the risk of travelling (I had a burst-tyre on the way-while in motion). The tension and anxiety that lasted for almost 24 hours would have been avoided

The absence of telephone at Ore, and any other town for that matter portends calamitous consequences. How do doctors communicate in emergency situations? How does the community inform the police of robbery incidents?

How do businessmen transact their businesses? How do government departments and corporate entities communicate with their headquarters? What if the usual communal riots erupted, how do people communicate?

The big question however is why is a town as old and strategic as Ore is without telephone services? You know how it would have played out if it were today. Those who arrived at the scene earlier would have been busy taking and sharing pictures rather than assisting those involved in the accident. The family would have heard the story first from Facebook et al. and we would have received up to 100 telephone calls and messages within a few minutes of the incident! Since then, my brother, Prof MC Muo (now of UNIZIK), had never travelled by road unless he was the one driving!

Ik Muo is a lecturer at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ogun State, Nigeria, and has been a columnist for over two decades

QUOTE: So when my people received the good news about my brother, they went into another panic mood as the person who went to search for someone was apparently missing! All because there was no telephone service at Ore