Reminisces: Life Before Mobile Phones Were Invented. How Did We Ever Live Without Phones?

The Oasis Reporters

April 28, 2021

Rotary telephone.

By Charles Monwuba

Our phones have become our everyday companion. This morning I left my handset in the bedroom . As my wife got set to go out, she brought it to me. “Honey, you forgot your companion in the room”.
We both laughed .

Indeed, that’s what the phone has indeed become, our constant companion.

But how did we even live in those days without them?

Let me share a story from way back. In 1978 an older cousin invited my brother and I to Ibadan for Christmas holidays. He had told dad, and apparently didn’t remember to follow it up.

We were 16 years old at the time and in form 4, today’s grade 11 or SS 2. As soon as we broke for Christmas we set out to travel down to Ibadan on our own, without even informing our cousin of our departure date or other arrangements. Phones were not available in our rural community called Oviorie, some 20 miles away from Warri. A telegram would have taken at least a week to get to him and that would have cut into the short Christmas vacation.

We hadn’t been to Ibadan before but knew that with the then Bendel Line Transport Company owned by the then Bendel State government (now split into Edo and Delta States), it was safe to travel on our own. Dad gave us our cousin’s business card . Our bus left Warri at about 1.00pm after we had arrived at the bus terminal at 7 O’clock in the morning..

Delta Line buses. One of the two successor companies to Bendel Line Transport Company.

Imagine the long wait to fill up the seats.
We got to Ibadan at 8.00 pm. It was a Friday night.
I went to the station manager to beg to use his office desk telephone to call our cousin. It was my first use of the telephone. I reached for my cousin’s complimentary card and began to dial up the number. Unknown to me I was only calling the office line at 8pm. He was a civil engineer with Ove Arup and Partners, a British-owned civil engineering consultancy firm at the time.

The phone at the other end rang and rang. It went unanswered. So I thought the Bendel Line telephone was the problem but the station manager swore he had used it all day. He was closing for the day but permitted us to pass the night in the corridor.

We quickly befriended the night guard who spoke only Yoruba. Right in the neighbourhood was the imposing Premier Hotel Ibadan. We left for the hotel to while away the night. At the hotel, we repeated our story to the front desk man and begged him to let us use the hotel’s phones.
We had concluded that the Bendel Line telephone was the problem.

He obliged us but again, there was no response.

We took in the sights of Premier Hotel, rode on the lifts a few times, enjoyed the chill of the air conditioners a little more before returning to the bus terminal to wait out the long dreary night.
Saturday morning came and still we could not reach our cousin. It was now scary.

Premier Hotel, Ibadan.

We went back to the station manager to see if there was any way he could detail his staff to take us to Ove Arup offices at least. Of course he had told us the night before the location wasn’t familiar to him.

Again, he showed the call card around but no one was sure the area Ove Arup was located. Ibadan was a vast city , we were told. We had become an irritation to him. So we were left calling our brother’s office lines repeatedly or getting into Premier Hotel to prank around.

By 2pm I decided to try the telephone one more time and this time a voice answered. ‘This is Ove Arup and Partners. Who’s on the line?’

With the shaky voice of one speaking on a telephone for the first time, and imitating the British accent (which I believed was the only way to speak in a phone) I answered: ‘I’m Charles Monwuba. Can I speak to Engr Ken Monwuba’?

“Engineer Ken doesn’t come to the office on Saturdays’ came the voice, and the person on the other end hung up. I quickly called back. “Hello Sir, we’re his kid brothers who have arrived from Bendel State to spend our holidays with him. We arrived last night and are stranded at Bendel Line.”

Tears were pouring down my face now. After a long pause, the voice responded, ‘well I have to dash to his home to inform him because he hasn’t got a phone at home’. We thanked him profusely and dropped the call.

After like two hours, our brother’s wife, the lady we all in the clan call Madam , drove in, in her Datsun Laurel. We hadn’t met her before but from her wedding photos from the previous year in 1977, a wedding every adult in the extended family had attended, we immediately recognised her.

We ran up to her and hugged. Our nightmare was over. It was a beautiful Christmas we had in Ibadan in 1978.

Our lives without phones.

Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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