By Adamu Muhammad Nababa
Stories are sometimes told as fictions, but also in some instances they are gospel truths, just as the story I am about to relay as part of the misfortune that has befallen us today disguised as free education.
When I got admitted into one of the secondary schools in the late seventies in the far north, the desert part of the North-Eastern Nigeria to be specific, I was full of misgivings because of the long journey of about three hundred kilometres, and also more nervous and frightened because I have never been far away from my mother for even five kilometres for all of my almost fourteen years old at the time.
There was little provision for me, what was so abundant was the encouragement from relatives, especially my brothers who were all my seniors. I was made made to believe that I can make it, all I need to do was to be brave and confident, read my books and above all, say my prayers and be a good son. The school, my mother was told, will provide all my essential daily needs, so she shouldn’t bother getting all the assorted items she felt I must carry with me to school.
The journey was indeed difficult, and for every distance we made, I felt drifted from home, away from friends and relations, uncertain of those I will meet, unaware of who will feed me, or what I will be eating. I didn’t have answers to any of my personal needs and how I can handle them. Yet my mother let me went to school that I passed to start my secondary education. Did my mother really cared for me? Did my brothers really cared for me? Are they sure I can make it by sending me to a school far away from home where I knew no one? Why? I was in tears as I lost my way into the journey, not knowing exactly where I was going, without any one I knew as my escort, or even a companion? Well, I had no option but to accept their counsels.
I arrived the school with some students of the same age and perhaps having the same mentality. I was received by staff of the school who took me to a student hostel along with others, and each of us to a different room and introduced to a Head Dormitory who was a senior student and the leader in the room. We were eight in the room, two each share a double bunk with most junior like us taking the bed on the top. I was given a bunch of keys for my lockers and a wardrobe under it for my belongings. I was also shown how I would share my items into them conveniently. The Head Dorm, as he was simply called, briefed me on the daily routines and warned me I should strictly comply otherwise I will be punished for failing to do so.
We were assembled in the morning and told how we should adjust to live in a boarding school. A week after we have started being used to the routines especially how we relate in our classes and understand from where each of us came from. More perplexing was the co- education system where boys mix with girls in everything except when we retired to our hostels, and the order in the dining hall where we cannot start eating until a prayer is said by the order of the kitchen prefect. We found it difficult to eat with a spoon, a fork and a knife which you must use to eat. The order in our eating manners changed us a lot and the menu is nothing similar to what we were used to in our homes. When we were served a butter and a sardines with bread, tea and sugar cubes, we were a bit akward because of how we can follow the order of eating such a breakfast like foreigners. But that was the way of our life, now a wonderful memory.
Every week, we were also given sanitary items, tinned Geisha and Sardines as well as butter( Blue Band) for weekend. By the end of our first term, we have generally become acclimitized to the orderly requirements of the school.
The drama of the JJC was indeed in the hostel. Having come from different background, some of us were like myself for instance, met a situation where a senior student was Yoruba or Igbo or Igala and want to show off to his junior that you must communicate in English or shut up, and for how long can you keep quite? Some of our Prefects are from the southern part of Nigeria and many from other regions. The mix was tolerated and the competition to excel above everything. The Head student in my final year was Igbo and my best Games Captains were a Hausa and a Yoruba whom we idolized to date.
Lest I forget, on the second day of your arrival you will be given two set of white class uniforms, a set of sports wear of the colour of your hostel, a set of outing dress with a cap. And on your first day in the class, your form master will issue you textbooks and excercise books to keep in your class locker on which you took lessons. Any time your exercise book is filled, the form master will gladly issue another one to you. Indeed, we lacked nothing and we attend lessons without having a situation where we had no teacher for any subject. Our teachers were our role models and we felt so secured and relaxed with them.
We understand when we were in the intermediate class, it was the second republic politicians that were in charge of the country, but we were unaffected by their flaws at the time. School fees or PTA dues, Day Schools or Private Schools were alien in those days. With everything that we had, no one ever mentioned that it was the government’s gratitude of giving free education to it’s citizens. Of course, we know a lot have changed in terms of national resources and population, but the extravagance and greed by leaders, self aggrandizement and self centredness that suddenly gripped Nigeria in the late eighties have withered all the glory and order that Nigeria was known for.
Today, the category of schools we attended are what are refered as public schools, neglected and in the shadow of their former self. There are private schools from kindergarten to the University where you pay your way and get the certificates you want. The public schools, neglected as they are, are for the poor, the private for the rich. The rich run the government while the poor give the votes. The rich refuse to fund the public schools and steal from the government coffer to pay the exorbitant school fees in the private schools for their children. The children of the poor receive a less qualitative education and ended up as political thugs and hangers on, drug addicts and unskilled labourers. Pained to the bone, tend to resort to crimes and scandalous behaviours while the rich further move their Ward’s away from the shores of Nigeria to study in far away countries from the incessant ASUU strike whose universities as public ones are underfunded and their entitlements held for years.
The primary and secondary education rungs have systematically been left to rot, without funding and order, without merit or completion time. It is still in shambles. It is in the wake of all these education discontents, that a dubious politician will come to pronounce that he is giving a free education to citizens. Some state governor’s, who are so mean and disrespectful to their followers, tag the free education mantra and deception as compulsory!
Finally, it need no stressing that those of us who enjoyed everything free without being forced to even say thank you, are the ones at the helms of affairs of education telling lies without let up, denying the best education to the poor and educating their wards outside the shores of the country. If there is anything worth fighting for is to fight those ingrates who enjoyed everything free but now made it so exorbitant for the majority to pay for everything.
I feel distressed to see that I am a stakeholder in a system that I cannot pay back handsomely the good that was given to us gratis, where the education system is harsh and uncertain, where the poor is denied a chance and further deceived that a government is giving a free education. If I didn’t buy my uniform, sport wear, books, feeding and provisions, and taught every subject I choosed, how can I today claim I am giving free education to a child whom I asked their parents to buy their books, uniform, provisions, exam registration etc that it is free?
By Adamu Muhammad Nababa