Vincent Ifeanyi Bamidele Maduka and Wife
Still as unassuming as he was when he became the first director-general of the NTA, Vincent Ifeanyi Bamidele Maduka recalls the roots of his simplicity and work ethic in this encounter with Funke Olaode
Growing up in Lagos
I was born on October 5, 1935 in Lagos. But my late parents hailed from Illa in Oshimili North Local Government of Delta State. By the time I was born, my father worked as a foreman (they repaired buildings, paint new structures) in what was then called the Marine Department in Apapa which was like a ministry in those days. My mother on the other hand was a housewife. Due to delay, my mother had only two children. My immediate elder sister (still alive) was born in 1928. There was a large gap between us because I came seven years later. And because I tarried in coming when I was eventually born, I was named Ifeanyi meaning there is nothing too difficult for God in Igbo. And after waiting for another five years without another child my father took another wife who bore him three children. I grew up in Epetedo Street which was far end of Tokunbo and Freeman Street on the Lagos Island. There was no electricity in my household but we had street light. Growing up in the Lagos of old was interesting. Apart from rolling a wheel along the street, we made boats out of paper, and raced our boats in gutters. Gutters were clean because we had the health inspectors. So the water flows and we used to race our little boats to see which one was going to end the race first. It is not like today where gutters are blocked, smell and you see stagnant and dirty water everywhere. Lagos wasn’t as big as this and not even as populated as this. We had another game as kids; we used to count the number plates of an oncoming vehicle, which showed how few they were. The end of my street was also the garage where the Greek and the owner of Lagos Bus Service, Mr. Zarpas used to park his buses. And Zarpas were the major buses around then.
An adventure gone awry
My parents doted over me as a kid. Although my parents could be regarded as disciplinarians I was told that I was spoilt as a child. They still had their measurement for punishment. For instance, if you were good with your studies, you were likely to get away with a lot of things. Nevertheless, I still engaged in house chores. I used to fetch water in the standing pipe outside the house and sometimes you had to fight for yourself if it took a while to get to your turn. I swept the household, washed the dishes, broke melon (egusi) and prepared soup ingredients for my mother. So I didn’t get into a lot of trouble. Of course, I wasn’t doing them willingly. I remember renting a bicycle for a penny, riding it, falling down and bruising my knees and getting beaten for doing it without permission. Those were the parental control in my time. We also played all manner of pranks in secondary school. We had beds which were made of long flat timber planks. Sometimes we would remove the middle plank from somebody’s bed and spread the bed sheet neatly. If you wanted to make his case worse, you could put a bucket of water under the bed. An unsuspecting one would not know that there was a trap. Nobody was hurt as they would always wait to get their payback.
Losing a school year
I didn’t begin my elementary school until age five. Apart from running little errands at home, where I lived was mixed: we had Moslems and Christians and there was “Ile-Kewu” where children learnt Arabic. The beating was serious so I didn’t join properly. Also, we had lessons where you were introduced to the English and Yoruba alphabets. I eventually began my elementary school in January 1941 at age five and three months at Lagos Government School. I was taken there by an elder cousin who was in Standard V. We wore Khaki uniforms to hide our dirt. Also, we had one teacher who caned if you hair was not parted, an evidence that you had combed your hair. So when you are running to school and you hadn’t combed your hair, you use your fingers to put a parting on your hair. Of course, the man knew and you would get caned.
I finished my primary education in December 1948. I later proceeded to King’s College in 1949, a competitive post primary education of those days. Going to Kings College was a divine intervention because I didn’t pass the entrance examinations at my first attempt in Standard V but passed to St. Gregory’s College. I was happy that I was going to secondary school. I had a cousin at King’s College and one of his visiting days coincided with my preparation to resume at St. Gregory’s College. This cousin told my father that I should not be allowed to go to St. Gregory’s. Then King’s College and St. Gregory’s were great rivals. He assured my father that I would pass the following year. I broke down and started crying because some of my classmates were going to secondary school. My father was convinced easily, King’s College fees were cheaper than St. Gregory’s and that was how I jettisoned the idea of secondary school that year.
Making it to King’s College
I summoned up courage, went back to complete my Standard Six and entered in January 1949 with a full scholarship from the examinations which covered full tuitions and boarding. Four best candidates in the whole country were given scholarships in a school that took only 25 boys in the whole country. The best four among 25 boys selected were given full scholarship: Me, Akparanta who became solicitor general in Rivers State but died this year, Olori Itun who came from Epe and Adedipe who later became a pharmacist. I kept the flag flying and did the school certificate in 1953, stayed back for another two years for higher school certificate in physics, chemistry and mathematics. With those subjects, I gained admission to study electrical engineering at Leeds University in England. I had two mentors at school who influenced me to study electrical engineering: Prof. Victor Williams who later became a professor of electrical engineering at University of Ife and Prof. Seriki who was Professor of engineering at University of Lagos. Seriki was three years ahead of me when he was leaving school for Manchester to study engineering. I said to myself that I had to study engineering. I got Western Region Government scholarship to pursue a degree in engineering. It was my first time outside the country.
Going to England
It was interesting going to the white man’s country to study. I remember at King’s College, majority of the teachers were expatriates and they were really grooming us to go and study in their countries. In fact, it became a sort of competition among them as each one was telling us about his own university, how they were better than the other man’s university and so on. So there were some elements of excitement about going to study abroad. It wasn’t really a terrible culture shock when I arrived in England. We had mixed with these white men at school and the history we learnt was European history in my time. It was colonial era and there was no Nigerian history. The cold was a terrible experience. I got to England end of September 1956 and my birthday was going to be that week that I arrived in the UK. There were no hostels in the campus but near the campus. And you are not likely to get a room in the hall of residence. I was quartered with a family, ate with them and had a room in their house. It was not like a flat where you are independent. I remember the landlady and the husband programmed everybody to have a bath once in a week with hot water. It was winter when people didn’t sweat much and again, they were rationing. We changed our shirts three days. I remember you only changed your collar and not your shirts by placing a disposable collar on your collar shirt. So it was luxury for you to bath everyday in England in those days. This was in October and it was getting colder than I have ever known in my life. Now came my birthday and there was no hot water for me to bath. I said I cannot avoid not to bath on my birthday. I decided to use cold water and I shivered all through. But if you played sports which I then did, you bathed in the sports arena. That was how I systematically found my way out of that situation. After spending three years at Leeds University, I had to do an internship to qualify as a professional engineer. I moved from Leeds which was an hour from London by train to Chelmsford where I spent two years working with Marconi Company of the famous radio inventor. From there, I got an automatic appointment to Western Nigerian Television (WNTV) Ibadan in 1961.
Working with WNTV
I came back from England to resume at Ibadan but the kind of job I was doing was not sufficiently challenging. I was rather unhappy because the engineering I did was theoretically based. It was meant for designing, manufacturing, research and development. Here, I was to repair and maintain. The technicians were more competent in carrying out the routine maintenance and repair. So I applied for scholarship to go back to school. I got a Commonwealth scholarship that same 1961 to go for a master’s degree either in Canada or Australia. The idea was to get out of the practical engineering system which was not challenging and to move to academia. But because I was a Western Region government scholar, I had a bond, they were short of engineers and they could not release me. That dream was aborted. In 1962, I was offered appointment by the University of Ife as an assistant lecturer in electronics. Even though both the WNTV and University of Ife belonged to the same Regional Government but they still refused.
I recall a clash I had with my expatriate boss. I was working at the Abafon Radio Station, a town outside Ikorodu at the edge of Lagos. The Western Region Government had chosen it (Lagos territory was a federal area and the idea was to beam its radio and television transmission to Lagos through Abafon). The bridge was so narrow and I used to drive from Ikeja where I stayed to Abafon everyday. On this particular day, my expatriate boss asked me to climb the 250ft mast to adjust something. I said I was not trained to climb masts, that there were trained mast climbers or aerial riggers. I said ‘sorry, I would stay on the ground and be instructing the man by wireless telephone’. After the argument, I reluctantly climbed it but didn’t like it. He asked me to climb the mast again but I refused. This man wrote a memo to the head office at Ibadan that they should stop sending them professors. He said he wanted practical engineers. Ironically, it has been in the system over the years when Nigerians come with practical engineering, they say they can’t be manager or chief executive because they don’t have academic qualifications. And when they come with academic qualification there will always be complaints. In my case, I wasn’t worried about that.
Silencing an old critic
After one year, I was posted to Ibadan and this man (my expatriate boss) was also posted to Ibadan and we met again. There was an incident that eventually brought us together and we became friends. WNTV acquired a video tape recorder which was very rare in those days and it didn’t work. Nobody had seen one before. I said I would try and make it work. They all chorused ‘Don’t come and spoil it. Have you seen one before?’ I said it is an engineering machine, the handbooks were all written in English and assured them that I would fix it. But they (the management) decided that they were going to bring the suppliers the following year. We didn’t have enough money so we made provision for them in the budget of the following year. I said ‘before they come let me see what I can do’. The general manager said they could not leave me with it because it is the most expensive one. The only condition attached to it was that I must be supervised by a white man. At the end of the day, I got it working. This Irish man who had persecuted me earlier on by writing to the headquarters now ate his words by writing another memo to the management that truly, they needed theoretical engineers because there was no way the machine could have been fixed. I saw these memos (what they had written about me) when I became general manager of the station. I rose through the ranks becoming general manager and chief executive of WNTV, Ibadan. I also moved to Lagos where I became the pioneer director-general of the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) in 1977 and retired in 1986. After my retirement from NTA, I floated an engineering and management service, a consulting outfit called Macrocon. I advise people, design system for them in broadcasting, telecoms, acoustic etc. For instance, we are working on a conference centre and just finished a radio station for the federal government. I also teach media communications at the Pan-African University, Lagos as a senior fellow.
Meeting my wife
I share the same professional interest with my wife because she also studied electrical engineering. We met at Ibadan when I was an engineer with the WNTV. Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology situated at the Polytechnic Ibadan then was converted in 1962 to University of Ife. University of Ife was later relocated to Ife. My wife, Engr. Joanna Maduka (nee Olutunbi) from Ilesha in Osun State was an undergraduate of University of Ife (Ibadan campus) when we met. She graduated in 1965 and became assistant lecturer at Ife. But when we got married she couldn’t keep maintaining two homes and she resigned. The attraction for me was this: Apart from her physical beauty she was interested in engineering and that strengthened our relationship. And when we decided to get married, there was a minor opposition from her side. My mother had lived in Lagos all her life and she was comfortable with my wife. Also, people from my area in Delta State were inter-marrying. But my wife’s parents were like how can their daughter marry an “Isobo man”. You know everybody from our area was regarded as an Igbo man. But I got on very well with my in laws later and we got married on December 19, 1967. The civil war had just started and I remember I was picked once by the security who challenged my presence in Ibadan as an Igbo man. Although Mid-Western Region had been created and many public servants moved to Benin. But there was no broadcasting station in Benin. And when they eventually had television in Benin I didn’t go. My wife had left her job as an assistant lecturer at Ife to do a post graduate study in the United Kingdom. After the security harassment and they even came to search my house, I decided to go to the Republic of Ireland to do a master’s degree in acoustic system. The marriage is blessed with four children – two girls and two boys. My first daughter is a medical doctor currently based in the United States; my second daughter is an engineer, went ahead to pursue a PhD in engineering and currently toeing the academic line in America. My last two younger boys are based in Nigeria. One works in a bank and the other one is into business.
Contentment is all that matters
I have been a lucky man. There is hardly anyone who can fulfill all of their life’s aspirations as there will always be new vistas. Although one could have done many things better or differently, but in terms of contentment, I am a fulfilled man. I am not running after anything and not afraid of anybody. All in all, God has been good to me and I am grateful.