By Dike Chukwumerije
According to my friend, Aghogho Ogoh, whose memory is truly scary, it was Uncle Sam that nicknamed me ‘Opaselenge’. Only God knows what it means. He was my Primary 3 class teacher, St. Jude’s Private School, Festac Town, Lagos – in 1987, when IBB was sapping the country, but – truly– very few things can pierce the cocoon life weaves around children. And Mister Boateng, the head teacher, afro ever primed and tidy. He said it was ‘wek’ not ‘work’, and ran the school with a slightly liberal koboko. I remember the song, you know, but not the teacher’s name – the one with the guitar, who stood on the concrete path that split the play/assembly ground in two. He said that the love of God was a song you could sing to others as you walked along, with a smile on your lips and a spring in your steps… That that was all it took, sometimes, to make a difference.
And Miss Ngurube was my drama teacher. Form One. King’s College, Lagos. 1990. Thin as a rake. But she told me there was something special about me. I tell you, good teachers find the sun while it is still a firefly, and turn the soul – sometimes no more than a degree or two – to its true destiny. Mister Ebohon, stout legs descending from starch white trousers, taught physical education, while we swung like monkeys from the top bar of the slanted goal post. Sangros market was just over the fence, and on the days our football team – the King’s College Lions – took to the field, the grounds shook with the thunder of ferocious fans. But it was Mister Chime and his ilk, legendary boarding house masters looking down from the top floor on that pulsating field of budding souls; they were the ones with the difficult task of pruning.
And they did it well – fussed over the correct pronunciation of every day words, came down in the middle of the night to break up fights, or put out lights, endured the (now I know) extremely irritating pranks of pubescent teens (salt in petrol tank, doors booby-tapped with shit-bombs), but they persevered; made sure we would never forget the first 18 elements of the Periodic Table. In between epic power cuts and water shortages, and that one time when military tanks rolled down the streets, we learned the difference between being boys and being men. But it is only now that I can fully appreciate why they urged us, in the assembly hall, to raise our voices and shout it out boldly, those immortal words of our school song: ‘Present, past and future form one might whole. Shining forth emblazoned from one muster roll. When the call is sounded, all must answer ‘Here!’ Voice and bearing showing neither shame nor fear…’ Yes.
M.M Aliu said the same in his own way. Dean of Law. University of Abuja. 1996. It was my first year and every book in the library opened a door to endless possibilities. Mister Wilcox (Logic and Philosophy 101) said – ‘Read wide’. So, I read the Iliad of Homer, the Odyssey, Oedipus Rex, Antigone and (believe it or not) the mathematical theories of Euclid, all from the dusty shelves of that shoebox library, in between lectures, after lectures, head buried in the ideas of giants, just because Alex Izinyon (Law of Contract) said a lawyer should know more than how to file motions. How can I forget? Dr. Tile, Abdu Bawa, Kazeem Waziri, Kunle Omotosho, Nana Tanko. Tell me, my brother, how can I forget Dr. Wada? When he was the one who asked the questions that set my mind on fire, leaning against the lectern with coffee in his hands, and half-smile on his face.
I remember. Yes. I will not forget. That the ideas we have today come, in part, from the minds of others. And while we tear out afros chanting the names of our football heroes, let us not forget the real ones, in run down schools up and down the country; not politicians, these are the ones who, every single day, hold our future in their hands. Yes. Did Wordsworth not say so? The child is the father of the man. My brother, those words are not poetry. Those words are truth.
PS: Culled from Facebook with the permission of the author.