The development, simple as it seemed, led some parents to withdraw their kids from school, because they could not afford the money. But for those parents who had discovered that education was the nucleus needed for the future advancement of their kids and family, there was no going back. It was a case of no family wanted to be left behind. The last resort could be to borrow money, sell their land or farm, or deprive themselves of
certain necessities to be able to have their kids in school. No intelligent peasants wanted their children to become farmers or laborers, because farming with crude implements in comparison to mechanized agriculture in developed countries was viewed as hard and less lucrative. The white collar workers were kings.
The blue collar worker lived in his own horizon and was applauded if he had financial breakthrough. There was a belief that lack of education made people enter vocations other than white collar. Therefore, parents were ready to provide the means for their kids who chose to learn to remain in school.
I was one of those lucky ones. Even though, my father was not rich in the real sense of the word. But he was ready to meet the demands for me to attend elementary school, like my two brothers before me. I was fortunate to be in school. I knew kids who did not want to learn even though their parents could afford to place them in the best fee paying schools. I did not know that my parent’s decision to have me in school at all cost, because they wanted good life for me, and a wish to pull the family up from the bootstrap of poverty, coupled with my own desire was the beginning of a lifetime of hard struggles to learn breaking through obstacles to acquire knowledge at all cost. An education, a process of learning about how to read and write that had become like an acquisition of gold and diamond.
My life struggle did not become manifest until sometime later when I approached the final class in the elementary school. When it became apparent that my parents lacked the means to pay for my high school education, and I would become like so many other children who were sidelined and deprived of the chance of earning high school education. It did not occur to me until that moment, that education was a product that had to be purchased with money. And that if your parents did not have money to pay for your education, it might be a defining factor of what the future would be, and the seemingly basement role one would play in the society.
I was not ready to settle for the unenviable position. I wanted to be like my eldest brother who had completed the elementary education and was undergoing what I viewed as a higher level of education, what was then called modern school. Already, I had my immediate elder brother in the same school which I attended. I was also told that my eldest brother passed through the same school: Ansar- Ud –Deen Primary School, Ogbon Agbara, Ile-Ife. The first year in school was like a familiarization process. I did not begin to know and identify classmates until the second year when I knew a school mistress who brought a new dimension to learning that enhanced my childhood wish to be in school.
My first year seemed to have been lost to playing and noise making, and had little recollection about what we were taught beyond how to write alphabets and numerals on a small black rectangular plate that we used for learning how to write. I remember events in my school years from this time and later on cascading into a future struggle for me to acquire education at all cost, when it became clear that my parents could not afford to pay my way through high school.In my second year, I met Mos, a fat boy with thick and bold traditional marks on his cheeks. He always had money.
He lived with guardians. And because of the way they used him, an all purpose utility worker in the house and in the cooked rice sales, sold to the public in a mini restaurant in front of a tailoring shop that also doubled as their home, the way his guardians never used their own children, gave him access to unaccountable amount of money which he brought to school and splattered on his mates. He was generous to his mates who were close to him. Due to the closeness between us, when a girl with whom I shared the same seat in class exhibited a lewd sense unexpected of children of our age, asking me and her to do what adults do, I confided in Mos. He advised we should await the girl on her way home, to warn her not to repeat her lewd demand again. And we did.
The next day after we had warned her, her father, a respected Moslem in the town came to school with her and reported the matter to the headmaster, about how we accosted her
daughter. And the headmaster called me from the morning assembly, and asked me to come along with him to his offi ce, where the girl waited with her father. I was stunned when I entered the headmaster’s office, and saw her stone faced standing with her father who was all smiles-his usual countenance. And immediately, the headmaster subjected
me to questions about why I and Mos threatened her on her way home the previous day. I was certain that she might not have told her father what she sought from me that resulted in our warning her to keep away from me.
“Why did you and, (what is the name of the other boy) flog her on her way home after school yesterday?”
“We did not flog her, sir. We only warned her to stay away from me.” I told the headmaster and could not reveal the truth about her forbidden lewd advances.
“Why must you ask her to stay away from you?” he queried fiercely. “Where is the other boy?” he asked no one in particular.
“Come along.” he beckoned to me and I followed. “Alhaji, you can go. I will take care of
the matter. She can go to the assembly.”
The headmaster dismissed everyone in his offi ce. I tip-toed to the door, the girl’s father walked out, followed by the girl, and then the headmaster asked me to come along. I dreaded the moment, standing by the headmaster in front of the assembly.
The girl had returned to the assembly. Her father went toward the gate. Simultaneously, the headmaster ordered four senior boys to get out a desk, retreated to his offi ce, and later came out with canes in his hands. Fear, real fear, came all over me. If I decided to run from the spot, the big boys would have come after me, and the scene that would be created might increase the severity of punishment. I dared not. After a round of announcement to
the assembly, the headmaster turned to me.
“Mount the desk.” he ordered. I did not immediately. I looked at the big boys who took position round the desk and waited for me to mount. I suddenly found the courage. I walked into a spot that looked like a death chamber and mounted the desk. After I mounted and laid flat on the desk, he gestured to the big boys to hold down my hands and legs, and he began to apply the canes. By the time he finished, I had received what remained one
of the worst beatings in my life with a big scar on my left thigh to show for it. I could not reveal the incidence to my parents other than I was flogged by the headmaster, and they did not ask what might have caused the headmaster’s maltreatment of me.
They regarded it as normal, because corporal punishment was not a crime in schools in our part of the world. The incidence thought me to run from trouble. Mos, hardly in the
assembly, a habitual late comer because of work load at home, heard about what happened in the morning assembly and gave himself up at the headmaster‘s office, he evaded the assembly parade. His case as handled in the headmaster’s office. He got his lashes without publicity and walked away, mute.
Other memories of my elementary school days were sweet ones that propelled pupils toward making their marks in their preparation for examinations and savoring the joy of school life. When God saved one and did not come across a spoiled brat that could put one in trouble, one would relish sweet songs which we learnt in our early years in school. For example, there were songs that became interned in my memory, and those that I remember as encouraging us to pay attention to our studies, to aim high
and that with knowledge, the sky will be our limit. One of such songs goes like this… “Kayode, Kayode, run, run, come and see an aircraft; it is sweet to be seen when it
is fling; it is sweet to be viewed when it is flying away.” We were taught that if we read our books, we would ultimately end up in the class of people who fly in aircrafts; and we interpreted it to mean, that those who did not read their books may not aspire to the class of people who fly in aircrafts, success in business is more lucrative than tilling the soil in the farm with crude implements or pushing the cart in the open market for a living.
There was another song that was very popular in the school. It goes like this… “If you read your books, your shoes will sound ko-ko-ka, ko-ko-ka. If you read your books, your shoes will sound ko-ko-ka, ko-ko-ka.” We understood it meant if you read your books and pass your examinations, you would not only wear fine shoes, but your shoes would make remarkable sounds. The song often remind me of yet another song ‘Twinkle, twinkle little stars, how I wonder what you are, like a diamond in the sky.” The third song has an educational and geographical slant. It goes like this …”Mississippi, Mississippi; M- I-double SS- I, double SS-I, double PP-I…Mississippi!” The song prompted many of us, despite our young age to ask about the meaning of Mississippi and the teacher taught us was a notable river in America. It was a venture into geography, but the teacher did not care to show us the location of America on a world map. He left it as a challenge to our young minds!
On a Friday afternoon when the school was about to close for the weekend, the song was
usually, “We are h-a-p-p-y, happy! And so we are, and so we are, we are h-a-p-p-y, happy! It meant that we were happy to be in school just as we were happy to be going on a weekend after a whole week of studies. We had made progress amidst studies in school from Monday to Friday and looked forward to a happy weekend at home with our parents,
at play with our peers, and were still happy yearning to return for studies in school after every weekend.
I loved the songs, the message they conveyed and their meanings had impact on me. Everyday, I wanted to hear more and more of the songs. The morning assembly became what I mostly anticipated; it was the time senior boys were on the drums, a time to dance to the rhythm of the school orchestra; dancing that had remained intact in my memory. I remember vividly the joy exuded by all children at this session.