Harry visits his alma mater (2)
We are still with Harry. He arrived at the town of Ganye around 8.30am in the company of a friend. The town, like the road that led to it, did not appear to have undergone any substantial change. Of course there were new buildings but the streets were essentially the same. One thing, however, consistently attracted his attention. That is how everything appeared contracted: the tall appeared shorter, the far closer.
As such, all the places he visited appeared compact. Buildings that he used to consider monumental turned dwarf. When he first arrived here as a child, all adults, including his schoolmates, appeared to him as big as Goliath or Gulliver. Last week, no one appeared so exaggerated in his eye. He could look at almost everybody, eye-to-eye, stand with him shoulder-to-shoulder, parallel, at zero degree elevation. Where he needed to walk hundred steps to reach a place, fifty could take him there now… This differential in visual perception made the whole visit to his alma mater brief. It took little time to go round the school from the assembly ground to the hostels and classrooms and finally to the principal’s office.
There was the assembly ground where Harry and other students used to gather on Mondays and Thursdays to listen to their principal, Malam Sule Ningi (or Sule Daji as he was known in his hometown Ningi) whom they feared and revered. It was he who gave Harry the first impression of what a leader should be. He was responsible a disciplinarian who employed the principle of ‘stick and carrot’ to the letter. As he stood on the ground last Saturday, Harry could almost hear the voice of Ningi saying: “I would like to see the following students immediately after the assembly …” No student would ever like to hear his name mentioned in that list.
There is no doubt that in the eyes of his students Malam Sule had the charisma required of a leader. In fact, students believed that he had an asiri (a metaphysical power) that made him effectively control his students. Harry has always listened to him attentively, as did most other students. His speeches were consistently constructive, exactly what was expected of a leader, a teacher or a father. He would observe, inform, advise, warn and, in extreme cases, punish, commensurate with the gravity of the offence, with bulala, ‘fatigue’ or, on very few occasions, suspension. Harry cannot remember when the principal expelled a student.
Malam Sule cared for the future of his students. He never held an assembly without seizing the opportunity to advise them, especially those in Form V and Upper VI. When it was a few months to their final exams, he would quote the Arabs, saying, “Jaffal qalam (the pen is dry).” He would consistently advise his students on the importance of education, on the necessity of good behaviour and obedience to authorities. He was a man of proverbs. Harry and other students always liked to listen to him as he moved from one theme of his speech to another, speaking the Queen’s English. When they reach their classroom, they will imitate the principal before their teacher arrives. One particular student, now a Ph.D. in History – Umar Hardo – excelled in capturing the speeches and gestures of Ningi. Throughout his stay in the school, little Hardo did not cease to be a source of humour to his classmates.
On two occasions in 1975, Harry witnessed the deep sense of compassion of his principal. He was later to find out that strong personalities, like that of Ningi, are quicker to touch under pitiable situations. On the first occasion, a Form IV student from Kumo, Buba Muhammed, was hit in a scuffle with another student just after the evening prep on a fateful Saturday. He fell unconscious and was rushed to the hospital immediately. When the students woke up the following Sunday, they were hit by the rumour of his death. Shortly after, the principal called for an emergency assembly. His mood was unusually sober. There he described the circumstance that led to the death. As he confirmed it, he lost his voice and broke into tears. This immediately triggered a response from almost all the students before him. They wept and wept. Of course the news of Buba’s death was enough to make them cry, but seeing their Principal, whom they have always considered indomitable, do the same right before their eyes was a scene too hard for the gentle and innocent minds of the students to bear. His tears undeniably justified theirs.
That was a truly a black Sunday. Death, as if waiting for the slightest opportunity, took Buba, under the painful circumstances that did not come from the overwhelming hand of sickness, but through the hands of a classmate with whom they have lived together for at least three years. The sorrow of the students was deepened by the fact that Buba was among the best students in the school. He combined many qualities: handsome in look, neat in appearance, obedient to his superiors, friendly to his classmates and gentle to his juniors. He was diligent in his class just as he was consistent in the Mosque. Harry remembers him always as the slim, light-complexioned admirable boy who would often wear the tisbah around his wrist in the evening. The Northeast did miss him as a student, but, undoubtedly, Bauchi, and now Gombe States, have also missed the chap that would have lived to be a formidable personality. May God have Mercy on him!
Shortly after Buba’s death, Ningi had a cause to once more break into tears on the assembly ground. It was on the occasion of the death of Ciroman Gombe, which every Northerner came to know especially through the condolence song composed by Shata. He was certainly popular especially among his people, and it appeared that they might have interacted with Ningi. The announcement was made at the assembly. Students from the former Bauchi Province, including Harry who never knew the Prince but had many friends among students from Gombe, wept throughout that morning. May God have Mercy on his gentle soul!
That was the assembly ground and its principal actor, Mal. Sule Ningi. Harry went on with his visit. As he walked pass the dining hall, he did not forget to take another look at a window that earned him a suspension in Form IV. The new principal, Anthony Yongo, had asked Harry’s group of five students to return home and bring the original factory cut louver glasses of the broken window or pay N20.00 before they could be re-admitted. It was the deputy head boy, ironically a friend of Harry, who mischievously framed a lie upon which the principal acted. He claimed that Harry and his group broke into the hall through the window ahead of other students. Without the benefit of defence, the Principal, who was very much unlike Ningi, sent Harry and his friends packing.
They left the premises and headed for town with nothing in their pocket except the N10.00 school fees that was recently sent to Harry by his brother from Kaduna. For two days they slept in the shop of one Malam Babaji, a tailor from Ningi, waiting for someone to give them a lift to Bauchi. For two days, they would go to the motor park and wait throughout the daytime, nothing good came their way except the false promise of the yan kamasho. On the third day, the Good Samaritan arrived and the group pleaded with him. He agreed to convey them to Bauchi free. But as they were about to board the lorry, the ‘yan kamasho insisted that the lorry would not leave until and unless Harry and his group have paid them a commission on the charity of the lorry driver! Twenty-five years later, Harry has not forgiven them for collecting his N3.00. He was among the happiest in the country when the Buhari Administration banned these merciless parasites in 1984.
Harry was eager to visit his hostels, Adamu Sanda and El-Kanemi. El-Kanemi is now ba shiga – a girls hostel. But Adamu Sanda House was open, ready to hug Harry. He rushed to see his bed position that was adjacent to that of his first friend in the school, Babagana Madu, a student from a wealthy and undoubtedly noble family in Bama. Harry still remembers that when they met for the first time on their beds, the two little boys had no common language to communicate with except English. Baana was a Kanuri, who knew only few words in Hausa. They are friends to date. They remained close, bound by their common penchant to study throughout their days at Ganye. They later went on to the same university where they graduated from the same Faculty. Harry is proud to say that his friend is now a lecturer with a Ph.D. in Mathematics, working close to becoming a professor.
Going through the entire school premises brought home an observation that Harry has been making for several years now. The structures in the school were built at different times. The first set, erected during the defunct Northern Region, was the core classroom blocks, laboratory, dining hall, hostels, many staff quarters and sports field, including a pavilion. What is fascinating to Harry was how these buildings still stood unique without any crack, with even most of their original louver glasses intact after nearly forty years. For the structures constructed during successive governments however, the younger they were, the weaker they appeared. These structures carry a political message for Harry. They were simply telling him that the standard of leadership in his country has been progressively deteriorating for the past thirty-five years, not withstanding whatever the advocates of modernization would claim, or the rhetoric that successive governments and their constitutions would speak. It is like the case of Abel and Cain, the two sons of Adam who presented a sacrifice. The one belonging to the pious – Abel – was accepted, while that of Cain was rejected. Angry about the outcome, Cain killed his brother and shouldered the burden of his sins. The structures, like similar ones throughout the North, were saying that it is difficult to imagine how the region would be blessed with leaders like those of the First Republic.
There were many more things Harry could remember by going round the school premises. He saw the different classrooms in which he sat to listen to his teachers or in which he studied. Mentioning his studies, Harry owes a lot to those among his classmates with whom he studied hard to enable them pass the WASC at first sitting. But he will not be fair if he fails to mention the kind assistance he received from two of his seniors who showed him great affection, and who are both successful bankers today.
One of them was Mohammed Mansur, who became the head boy when Harry was in Form III. He drew Harry closer and made sure that he gave him all the encouragement to work hard. Apart from teaching Harry science subjects, especially chemistry, which he was best at, Mansur almost spoilt him by carrying him along to his senior class to read after lights out, though that was just before he became a head boy. Well, reading after lights out was a pardonable offence, unlike smoking cigarettes and drinking burkutu (liquor), which many were fond of. Mansur was a serious minded student, who visited only three places in the school: the classroom, the dining hall and the mosque. Harry will never forget how in the final days as a head boy, Mansur stood by Harry and protected him against a house captain who wanted to cheat the weak boy. That was the last time Harry would cry in school. But fortunately Mansur was there. He rushed to him to complain, and with a serious looking face made the house captain instantly plead guilty and forced him to apologize to the boy. Harry really felt safe in the protective and warm hands of such a great personality.
The second person was Alhaji Sadiq Y. Wanka, a classmate of Mansur and a son of the late Wazirin Bauchi, Alhaji Yakubu Wanka. If the association between Harry and Mansur could be described as largely academic, the one between him and Sadiq was more social than anything. Here was a senior who took Harry as a blood brother. There is just no amount of words that would describe the affection he had for Harry. He took care of the boy and assisted him with so many things that he needed for additional comfort in the school. When he completed his WASC, Harry inherited whatever Sadiq had.
Harry has not forgotten his two seniors; he has maintained the relationship, addressing each of them as ‘sir’, the only way he would make them feel that in no way has he changed from being the little junior they passionately loved, assisted and protected so much. Harry has a lot of proofs to show that some people are born to live like saints.
Both Mansur and Sadiq graduated in 1976, continued their education at NECAS, leaving their little Harry behind, lonely. Though he has finished wiping out the tears of their departure and was then fifteen, able to stand on his feet, God in his infinite Mercy was kind to appoint a guardian for him, this time from outside the school, in the person of the late Malam Yusuf Maikwanuka. The interesting thing was that there was no blood relationship between Harry and his guardian. The only thing that brought the two together was that the elder sister of the guardian was married to one of the students of Harry’s father.
When he arrived at Ganye last week, his first place of call was the house he regarded as a second home. Since he came across Malam Yusuf in 1977, for the remaining days he would spend at Ganye, Harry felt that he had a support outside the school that was the epitome of safety, care and love. His guardian was always ready to answer his questions and grant his requests. Even when Harry did not ask, the guardian would present him numerous gifts from whatever in his richly stocked shop he thought would be beneficial to the boy, including dinner plates, cups, sugar and other items. The family of Malam Yusuf was also equally accommodating. Harry used to visit them any time he went out for Juma’at Prayer, or on the few Sundays that he went out for recreation.
This guardian was handy on a particular occasion. That was in June 1978, when Harry for the second time and for no reason then but sheer hatred, the principal ordered all students offering Hausa to vacate the school and return only after three weeks when the paper would be offered. That day, Harry, together with his group of ten friends who were all from distant places in Bauchi and Borno States were stranded. They left for the town, reached a culvert, sat there, with no place to go. Half of them were lucky to be picked by their classmate friends living in the town. Harry had no option but to carry the group at sunset to his guardian who accepted to accommodate them in a room behind his shop for the remaining three weeks.
Harry feels he is heavily indebted to his guardian. He wished he were alive, not to compensate him with anything, for that is the responsibility of God, but just to express his gratitude over the kindness he once received. However, as God would have it, the guardian died in 1990. That strengthened the resolve of Harry to visit the family last week. He found both wives and the few children around hail and healthy, pushing on with life. Whatever relief his visit brought to them was inconsequential; it was only a drop in the ocean of the generosity he enjoyed from their father and husband. May God be pleased with him!
It was getting towards noon. Harry had to rush to meet an appointment at a farm in Mayo Belwa. He said to the family, “O.K. I am leaving.” He stood up and walked towards the gate. He could not turn back. As he walked away, he could sense the eyes of the family set on him. His steps became heavier, his eyes wetter. He could feel their hearts thinking that they might not see him again for another twenty-three years. No. Harry has grown wiser and is trying hard now, at forty, to be more considerate to the feelings of others. Later in the car, he vowed to visit them annually, convinced that it is a pilgrimage worth undertaking.
As he drove fast away from the town, Harry had a feeling that the visit was successful. He has met with the family of Malam Yusuf, visited his former school and saw the changes the town of Ganye is recently undergoing, including the magnificent mosque under construction largely through the blessed effort of the Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. May God reward him abundantly! Until he returns next year on his pilgrimage, he will keep the memories in the chips of his brain, protected away from any virus that might attempt to destroy it.
Harry has received several requests from his readers to narrate his biography on the Friday noise that he publishes on page 14 of the Weekly Trust. Well, such readers have forgotten that autobiographies are monopolies of successful political leaders and celebrities. Harry is nowhere close to that, neither in dream nor in ambition. Instead, Harry Visits His Alma mater was a small window deliberately and cautiously opened, using the less irritating third person singular, just enough to enable them take a pardonable peep into the small warehouse where the memorable moments of his life as a child are stored. Good-bye.
5 March 2001