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OAU Amphitheatre (The Ugly PHL 101 Experience)

If you've been to OAU, You'll know what a PHL 101 class looks like, PHL 101 is like a teeming Mecca. If you can face PHL 101, you can face anything. My shyest and boldest happened in a PHL 101 class.

If you’ve been to OAU, You’ll know what a PHL 101 class looks like, PHL 101 is like a teeming Mecca. If you can face PHL 101, you can face anything. My shyest and boldest happened in a PHL 101 class.

The Ugly PHL 101 Experience

…A sudden overwhelming heat took over my entire body, my throat dried up, my eyes started blinking, inviting hot tears. It felt like the whole world had joined hand to destroy me. I wanted to just evaporate into thin air, become distant in people’s memory, be gone! I could only think of one way to escape- to disappear. Sadly, I was a matter- I had weight and occupied space. I was not invincible, I had no voodoo to utilize. I had to bear the awful experience I had tried to avoid all my life. It was certain I was sculptured for the ridicule that day.

It was PHL 101 (Introduction to Philosophy I) in the famous Obafemi Awolowo University Afrika Amphitheatre. I was one of the almost, if not over five thousand freshmen taking the class. I had seen how much Dr Abiade liked his class to be interactive and quickly made sure he never noticed me in the class.

“I will literarily pass out if calls me out to answer or discuss one of his Theists versus Atheists/Free Thinkers topics” I constantly warned myself.

So to avoid Dr Abiade’s attention, I set aside one vague looking shirt like that and always wore it to PHL 101. My thought was that the colour was dull enough to blur me out of the students visible to the lecturer. I also made sure to get to Amphi early enough to take my preferred spot in the theatre- a middle front space, far enough to veil me from the Dr Abiade’s sight and near enough to make all he had to teach pass through my ears and slip into my brain.

It worked. I went and returned from PHL 101 unscathed. My invincible cloak was always at my service. The class was always fun. Those arguments always intrigued me.

One class of note was the one on first causer argument on the existence of God. The theists argued that everything was caused by something, i.e. your mother caused you, and her mother caused her, and hers did her, on and on till the first cause and that God is the first causer who caused everything to be, before they start causing others to be. The Atheists faulted the argument on its premise of ‘everything has a cause.’ If everything was caused, they say, then God must have a causer!

Dr Abiade would throw the two arguments and students would start jostling points- points for and against. When I say students here, I mean correct students, students who were like the Messi of the classroom, students who were sound and articulate, who could lay out their points coherently and get rounds of applause after their submission. Not poor students like me, we were the Yakubu Ayegbeni of the class, we could not even score against an open net. We weren’t sure about the finesse of our spoken English soundness of our ideas, even if one of the Cristianos in the class delivers what our mind had been nursing we would be like “I can only think it, I can never say it that beautifully”

So being the Chief Yakubu of the class, I would just sit down and enjoy the drama and lessons that PHL 101 brought.  It was all fun and revealing. I mean, One day, a Junior lecturer or Graduate Assistant to Dr Abiade (I actually didn’t know what he was) he sha deputised for Dr Abiade one day.

He could not move the crowed like the Star Teacher himself but created a fuss of his own. Man was like “When I just got to OAU, I was a devout Christian, always going to fellowship up and down… ah! I was such a fool. But thanks to philosophy, my eyes are cleared and I can now see that religion is tool of enslaving the masses.”

The Cristianos and Messis were immediately up delivering their  “No, it is actually an empirical illusion to say….” or “Yes, religion has been a deliberately machinated apparatus to draw the…” Speeches.

The Junior Lecturer or Graduate Assistant (whatever he was) could also be proud of his performance though he didn’t teach us a thing. the Messis and Ronaldos of the class did almost all of the talking.

Nevertheless, it was fun, like always. I always looked forward to PHL 101 until one day when fun became furnace for me. It was Dr Abiade on the podium, with his microphone in one hand and a handkerchief in the other. He was talking about Idealism and Realism. At first, I got confused when he was talking about the Ideal world, the world of forms and stuffs like that… I was like “these philosophers are just never tired of thinking weird.”

But before long, I got the gist. Talk of illusions and reality, talk about ‘you might not be seeing what you think you are seeing,’ more like you are holding a white candle but I can tell you it is red. He was talking about what if all your life was one long dream? Your WAEC, your JAMB, admission, this morning, this class, what if all was a dream?

The brilliant folks resumed their deliveries…

“No, it can’t possibly be a dream,        I mean slept last night and had dream and woke up and came to this class,”

“Well, who says I can’t have a small dream in my big dream, sir I would simply wake up and resume whatever life I was supposed to be living”

Some slapped their own faces and spout “If this was a dream would be awake by now”

“But people have dreamt they had an accident in their dreams and still didn’t wake up” others countered.

I was fully engrossed in the process that I didn’t see the disaster coming. it caught me unawares and hit me hard.

“Young man, what if all of them over five thousand of them, including me do not exist, what if we were all products of your imagination?” Dr Abiade was asking me but I didn’t know.

People were standing to talk, he was sitting them down, it was my voice he wanted to hear. My invincible voodoo had failed! My vague coloured shirt was not so vague after all! At that moment, I was truly starting to think probable I was actually just imagining everything, since the day I wrote JAMB. I attempted to snap out of the imaginations but I kept finding myself in the frightening reality.

The time it took me to find my voice was enough for Ronaldo set his free kick, smash the ball against the opponent’s net, celebrate his goal and miss another header from a corner kick. I was silent for what seemed like forever but Dr Abiade had all the time in the world, it was like he meant me that day.

My eyes started blinking, inviting hot tears but I dared not let them run down my stiffened cheeks for the humiliation of that seemed greater than the impending one. It felt like the whole world had joined hand to destroy me. I wanted to just evaporate into thin air, become distant in people’s memory, be gone! I could only think of one way to escape- to disappear. Sadly, I was a matter- I had weight and occupied space. I was not invincible, I had no voodoo to utilize. I had to bear the awful experience I had tried to avoid all my life.

“If… if this was an imagination, I would be proud of myself. I would hope no one had imagined something similar and write a book about it, I would feed off it” I wanted to say but I couldn’t.

“I can’t imagine this” I finally said.

“You can’t imagine that everyone is an imagination or you can’t imagine me finding you in your grey shirt which you should have changed by now?” he asked, smiling.

“Both” someone said from crowd.

I was certain he was neither a Ronaldo nor Yakubu. He was most likely a ball boy.

The lecturer was obviously joking. Everybody except me got the joke and they all poured their laughter on me. Probably it was just a reaction or because laughter was supposed to be a thing of joy or because of something unknown to me, I can’t tell. I just realised my skin grew thicker. I got more reckless.

The worst happened that day but instead of killing me or drawing an undeletable stigma on my name, it became a turning point. I got little more stubborn, I didn’t change my grey coloured shirt. It was foolish of me to think, I’d be wearing one same cloth everyday and not be noticed. It dawned on me that my persistence donning of the vague colour made the vague more pronounced.

So since what had been had been, I decided to keep the attitude in the next class. I washed and starched the grey shirt.             I was like “Let people see me as the grey shirt man, as the Mr ‘I can’t imagine this.’’ I thought I had become famous, I mean I was stood up in the midst of over ten thousand intimidating eyes.

But I was wrong! I wasn’t any famous. The lecturer didn’t call me nor made any remark about my shirt, the students didn’t look at me twice, some did not look at me at all. They did not even remember me. I was not the first person to be stood up in PHL 101 class, not everyone saw my face, not everyone knew who I was, not everyone cared about my shit, that moment had passed for them, they had gone for other classes, they or other people had been stood up. They had moved on, I was the only person wallowing in the experience of the last class.

Then I realised, the only person that can ridicule me is me. I own the key to my self esteem. No one would make me feel good, if I don’t give them a chance. No one would ridicule me unless I give them a clue. I grew my confidence, my shyness got lost like a basic school kid’s pencil and I didn’t care to look for it. I stopped caring about what people would say or how they’d feel about my decisions and performance.

If act and peak, I will give the glory to God and take the left over from him. If I try and fail, I will try again, again and again. The mouths that ridiculed me yesterday would surely say “Baba I hail you oh!’ tomorrow.

My name is Biade Fola. I am forty seven years old. I am a bestselling author and a renowned motivational speaker. I used to be a shy person with a miserably low self esteem and a disastrously shy attitude.

Twenty eight years seems like a long time ago, but that experience in the PHL 101 class in OAU Amphitheatre in December, 1990 seems like yesterday in my memory. It changed my life for good!

I was always looking at outspoken people (people that speak sense ni o) with a huge sense of admiration. I looked at them as people I wanted to be but can never be. To me they were not ordinary, they were rare breeds. But the PHL 101 experience defeated that myth and made me someone people wanna be.

If you are reading this and you are who I used to be, you don’t have to experience what I did experience. Just get a hold on yourself. Those things you have always wanted to do but are too scared to, dare it, do it. People’s opinion counts less. Hit or miss, it’s on you not them so try it.

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