This was my entry story for the ‘Unity in Diversity Nigeria Competition. There is an essay part that I have posted here as well. I hope you enjoy reading it.
Entering the walls of Ronik Comprehensive School, what greets you is its quiet and unruffled environment. You can hear the silence. It welcomes you as you make your way through the walkways and hallways. Classes are in session, but you can’t really tell unless you came close enough to the classroom blocks. Only then would you witness the quality of education we received within those walls. But a school is not defined by the beautiful physical environment it parades; it is defined by its products- the students.
If you went to a boarding school, just like I did, you might agree that, many of the experiences that shaped our lives did not entirely come from the classrooms or laboratories. They came from a more expressive and unpredictable environment- the hostels. That’s where the true manifestation of education is observed. That’s where our inclinations were exploited. That’s where our true affinities were discovered and sometimes abused. I’m not talking about the bullying or the punishments, hunger or discomfort; I am talking about the choices we made and actions we took, memories we made and shared, secrets we discovered and secrets we shared- some of which we regret, and others we don’t. Every other aspect of school is more or less, indoctrination. Sometimes, we can’t tell particularly how school changed our lives forever; all we know is that it did.
This story is about five boys: Phillip, a short, black boy from the South of Nigeria; Echezona, a young Casanova from the East; Alessio, an athlete also from the East but of Italian birth; Charles, the calm unpredictable fellow; and Edu, agile fellow with lots of guts. These boys- not born of the same parents, not related in anyway, not of the same tribe, never even met before until Ronik happened- gave unity a new meaning to me. Together, they called themselves the ‘PEACE-makers’, with peace spelled from the initials of their names- Phillip, Echezona, Alessio, Charles and Edu.
Encountering them individually would clearly expose their inadequacies, but as an entity, those inadequacies became less obvious. They were not all brilliant in class, they were not all from wealthy families, they were not all kind as seniors, they were not all wicked as seniors either, they were not all good at sports and they were also not all lucky with the girls. They didn’t even all get into Ronik at the same time. They were in SS2 when they became the ‘PEACE makers’. They barely had two years left in the school and I’m certain it was the best two years they each all had, even though they were sent out of the boarding house soon after they got into SS3.
It was not one particular incident that defined this realisation for me, there were several of them, but I would give this instance.
Every first Sunday of every month was a visiting day. It was the happiest day for every boarding student in Ronik. Your family and friends came visiting, but that is often not the high point of visiting day- it was the food. Parents came in their flashy cars, with their trunks full of food and drinks; otherwise, it wasn’t so flashy anymore. The ‘kitchen women’ as we called them back then, served meals in tiny rations so that we wouldn’t waste food. They believed everyone would be visited on visiting day and everyone would be taken care of appropriately. Eventually it proved so, but not everyone’s parents came with filled trunks, some didn’t even have cars to come with, and others didn’t just come at all. We would stand on the balcony and view the vehicles approaching from afar. A student would spot a vehicle and would take off immediately, screaming excitedly, “Daddy!” “Mummy!” It continued that Sunday until I was left alone, standing on the balcony, watching excited students running with out-stretched arms to catch the embrace of a parent.
A minivan rode into the school, I looked to see a boy or a girl running towards the vehicle, instead, I saw them, five of them. They walked down with such envious strides to meet the occupants of the car- two women. Alessio’s mum and Charles’ mum. The two had become good friends, thanks to the friendship of their sons. As they were offloading the content of the minivan, another vehicle rode in; a blue sedan, there was only one occupant, another lady, Echezona’s mum. She looked much younger than she was. He hugged his mum and then introduced her to Alessio’s mum and Charles’ mum. Then they emptied the content of the sedan’s trunk. Their hands were full as they made their way to the classroom blocks where other families sat in different classes to eat and spend time with their children.
You never really knew who they did or didn’t come for with the PEACE makers. They always had more than enough food you’d think that all of them got visited. They had rice in large quantities, stuffed inside containers so big their content could feed twenty hungry boys. Then there was chicken, juice, meat pies and ice-cream for desert I guess. If you were good enough a junior- which means doing their laundry and other menial jobs for them- you often got invited to share in their mini banquet.
Visiting days didn’t just end when the parents were gone. There was still the smuggling of items into the dormitories. In Ronik it was pretty difficult because, such items were prohibited in the hostels. You only eat food provided by the school. Money wasn’t even allowed in Ronik. Visiting days were the only time we were allowed to eat food not provided by the school. Students were always caught trying to smuggle food and other items into the dormitories after their parents had left. Some were lucky not to get caught. The PEACE makers didn’t need luck to smuggle their contraband into the hostel. They didn’t even need a visiting day to have contraband supplied to them.
Flashing back, I realise that what I saw, looking down from that balcony that Sunday, was truly a microcosm of Nigeria. With diversity in full display; in the dressing, the greetings, the language, the food and all.
PEACE makers didn’t really represent what they called themselves back then in school. In fact, that’s why most juniors dreaded them. If you messed with one of them, you messed with five of them. Multiply your punishment by five, that’s what you got for offending one of them. It was only wise to yield to their cravings, even if it meant your meal. But they soon got into trouble, after being on the housemasters watch list for a while.
It was at service in the school hall. The hall was divided into two, girls on one side, boys on the other. Normally, the girls led us through the praise and worship session. I’m not sure what I or two of my mates did to them, but they asked us to lead the praise and worship session that morning. They asked me to be on the other side, where the girls were. Back then, that was a big deal, but I obliged. We did what they asked, but it didn’t prove good enough for them. So they lined us up, all three of us, and beat us with their belts. The housemaster watched from afar and said nothing. But he did something unusual afterwards. He set up a disciplinary committee meeting that same afternoon, which was unconventional, that saw them expelled from the hostel and suspended from the school for two weeks, not all of them, just Echezona, Edu and Phillip. They were the ones that laid hands on us that morning. But they all decided to leave the hostel altogether, seeing that they couldn’t be together in the hostel anymore. Their rule was one for, all for one; and they stuck to it.
They were all not so brilliant initially, but Alessio made it to the top five in his class at some point, and they all made good grades in their SSCE result. They were all not from wealthy homes, but their relationship brought their families closer and hence, brought opportunities for their parents. They were not all good at sports, but they all ended up playing football on the school team. They were not all lucky with the girls, but soon enough, they were.