Harry visits his alma mater (1)
Last Thursday, our friend Harry received an invitation to the wedding of one of his closest friends, with whom he has interacted since 1974. After the wedding fatiha, he drove to Yola together with other friends that evening where they passed the night. The road was anything but comfortable. Surprisingly, it is in a State that boasts of the Vice President, Mr. Atiku Abubakar and the most important ambassador, Professor Jubril Aminu.
The following morning Harry decided to travel to Ganye to visit the family of his deceased guardian who assisted him in no small way during his secondary school days and to visit the site of his alma mater, which he had not visited in the past 23 years.
The journey appeared much shorter this time. Two things might have contributed to making his time scale shorter, from when he was a twelve year old. He has grown older. He was twelve twenty eight years ago when he took his first trip to Ganye. Between that time and now, he has travelled to many places, covering hundreds of thousand kilometres. Here are his routes in those twenty-three years.
After completing his secondary school in Ganye, he went to Ahmadu Bello University Zaria in 1978. That meant travelling 240 kilometres from his home village every three months for four years. He later served at Umudike, Umuahia about 460 km away from his home village. After the service, he took an appointment with the University of Sokoto, about 650 kilometres away from his home, between 1983 and 1992. He shuttled between Zaria and Sokoto during those ten years for his postgraduate studies. He would rush every month to Sokoto to collect a salary that never reached N1,000.00. His relocation to Kaduna and Abuja meant additional trips in search of better livelihood. The schedule worsened when he returned to his home village from where he travels to Bauchi – 100 kilometres away – in the morning of every working day and return in the afternoon to attend evening lectures at the University of Jos.
No wonder therefore that last week Harry saw the one-hour journey to Ganye as stone’s throw. Before he travelled to the town for the first time in 1974, the farthest towns he knew were Jos and Bauchi, 15 and 100 kilometres away from his village respectively. He travelled to Jos only once! That was when he fell seriously ill in January 1967. His mother had already lost hope on his survival. She was simply waiting to receive his corpse, just as she had received that of his then 10-yr old elder brother, Umar, who died the previous month. His father, who was an ardent supporter of modern health care delivery, was however more optimistic. He took little Harry to the General Hospital in Jos where he was admitted for a month. He thereafter returned with his son alive, cured. Harry was not to fall sick again, except for the malaria that often takes advantage of his lean frame and attack him every year during the last ten days of Ramadan. God has wished that he would live long to be a noisemaker at 40.
To Bauchi Harry was fortunate to travel thrice before his first trip to Ganye in 1974. The first time, he travelled together with his classmates for the ‘interview’ in 1974 and for an entrance examination into Sardauna Memorial College Kaduna and Arabic Teachers College, Gombe. Apart from these trips, Harry was at best, a village boy, whose daily voyage was to maraud the bush surrounding his village with cattle without any food to eat for most part of the day, except for the milk that he used to sip directly from the cattle in the late afternoon or the apiece of boiled cassava he would be lucky to receive from a generous Fulani woman returning from selling her milk in the market.
With an experience covering not more than 650 kilometres in his life by 1974, every small distance appeared longer than it actually was. But that was only a part of the story. The means of transportation was also a contributing factor. Harry and his schoolmates always travelled in lorries and trailers. Whenever they were lucky or rich enough to ride a Ford or Toyota Dyna minibus, then that was a story worth narrating to their friends in school. In it, they will not forget to mention that the driver was fast enough to reach 80 km/hr!
Two other factors that made the journey longer were perhaps the condition of the roads then and the type of people with whom our little Harry had to share a bench in the lorry. He now recalls how he once broke into tears at the public garage in Numan in September 1974. The powerful yan kamasho (commission agents), after collecting his transport fares and that of other passengers in the lorry, returned to their shade and left him and other passengers in the severe early afternoon sun for two hours. Amidst the sweat and smell of the passengers who sat by his side, Harry became overwhelmed. He remembered his mother and immediately burst into tears. That was not the last encounter little Harry would have with yan kamasho. He will narrate the second later.
The road was not tarred all these years since when Nigeria won the plebiscite on Sardauna Province. Between 1974 and 1978, Harry had to manage being thrown up and down on the wooden bench of ‘911’ and withstand the vibrations of the car on the narrow, corrugated laterite-surface road. But all is now history.
As Harry travelled last week to Ganye, he remembered how God came to his rescue by securing him an admission into the secondary school. As his car moved on the now smooth asphalt-rendered road, he recalled the trauma that he underwent before his admission letter could reach him. It is a long story.
He had always wanted to run away from his daily routine as a child that cantered around four things: the herd of cattle; the farm; and the primary and Quranic schools. The four appeared as a ceaseless chain of engagements to our little Harry. If he would be fortunate enough to be admitted into the secondary school, he knew he would forever breakaway from it. In addition, he was aware of the social benefits awaiting him. Apart from the promise of a better future, it would give him the opportunity to live in a secondary school, wearing its different uniforms including the outing caftan, which he would proudly put on even during holidays, in consonance with the precedent set by his seniors in the village. The caftan had the badge of his school, acknowledging that he was different from the remaining majority of his age mates that could not find any placement in a secondary school.
But the ambitions of Harry, though fulfilled at last, did not come easy at first. Initially, he worked very hard for nearly 12 months, sometimes throughout the night, under the guidance of his headmaster and brother in-law, to prepare for the National Common Entrance Examinations. He passed the examination on first attempt, coming second only to a friend that is now an accomplished Quantity Surveyor in Kano. Three weeks later, together with other classmates, they boarded a Bedford to attend the ‘interview’ at Bauchi.
From his performance at the interview, little Harry was confident that he would succeed. But he was mistaken. Of course he did well, the fact that informed the decision of the authorities to send him to a strong school about 500 kilometres away. However, the admission letter did not reach Harry in time. So, one after another the admission letters of his seventeen classmates arrived the village, and one after another, they left for their respective schools, leaving little Harry behind. Every time the result of one of them arrived, he would expect that his would be the next. It was not to be. They all left and even returned for the first term holidays, after the 1973 census, with nothing good coming his way.
The most agonizing day for little Harry in those days was when one of his two study mates and cousin, the late Danladi Aliyu, left for Government Secondary School Misau, where he joined his elder sister, Zainab. Harry could not withstand the sight of his cousin leaving. So he left for the outskirts of the village to hide behind a locust bean tree. He would not return until when he was sure that Danladi had left. There he sat and wept, again and again. It was his habit to weep whenever he was overwhelmed by situations. He could not find an answer as to why he could not pass the interview.
The failure of Harry to gain admission into secondary school had implications beyond the psychological trauma he just narrated. It meant that he had to rear the cattle every morning hour alone, before his brothers would come in the afternoon to takeover from him. And on many occasions, as if to add salt to injury, they would arrive late.
It was disastrous because he was then just twelve years old. But in the tradition of the Fulani, a twelve-year old is big enough to be left alone managing a herd of cattle together with an equal number of the more notorious sheep in the bush. Whenever he went to the mountain to graze, little Harry would encounter little difficulty. There were no farms there. He could afford a nap. When he would graze on the planes however, that meant trouble, carrying the risk of the animals eating the crops of other people. On an occasion, little Harry almost lost his life, narrowly escaping the spear of an old man who was embittered by such trespass.
When he was not managing the risk of trespass, the cattle would sometimes just choose to be too difficult for the skill of little Harry. With his preoccupation with the agony of failure to secure an admission, Harry would cry alone any day the cattle chose to be unruly, which they often did. Under such situations, he would always recall his classmates who were already enjoying the luxury of classrooms, dormitories, uniforms and meals of their schools. There he was, running from one point to another, sometimes through the bush of thorny Acacia and the dry or muddy terrains adjoining any of the small rivers around.
When the sun was hot, he would resort to a shade of any nearby tree or shrub. When it rained, he would unfold his kabido, a thick raincoat woven from palm leaves, put it over his head and shoulder and turned his back against the direction of the shower. The rains did not pity Harry. They were as heavy as they were long, coming early in April and leaving late in early November.
On occasions, his problem was confounded whenever the small river that separated Harry’s camp and his grazing field overflowed. It meant that he had to carry the little ruminants across the river while he would himself hold fast to the tail of one of the cows. After his first experience, he learnt to be alert and cross the river with his animals before the rains started. The formula worked on most occasions.
If the daytime and the rains were cruel for little Harry, the night was not more merciful to him either. He must do one of two things: he would sleep with the cattle in the bush or study fiqh together with his brothers and sisters before his authoritarian father for two hours before they go to bed. When it was his turn to sleep with the cattle, he would leave as early as 7.00pm for the camp, in company of one of his younger brothers. They would pass the night there in the small makeshift thatch hut, together with the termites that would be devouring the dry grass with which the hut was made throughout the night.
So after the lapsing of the first four months without any hope of admission remaining, in January 1973, the headmaster, Mal. Aliyu Sa'ad, advised little Harry to return to the primary school and repeat class seven. That would enable him sit for another examination and begin another circle of hope altogether. He obliged, if even to run away from looking after the cattle in the morning.
Once more, Harry returned to the primary school, and whenever it was not his turn to pass the night in the bukka, he would go through the same old books that prepared him for another Common Entrance examination – the Quantitative and Verbal Aptitude textbooks. You need to watch Harry absorbed in solving problems from the two books. He did so with all diligence.
But every agony has its end. As God would have it, a Sunday afternoon that he will never forget in his life came. That day, it was not his turn to rear the cattle; he went to Dilimi River to wash the few clothes that he had. He returned tired and slept in the room of his elder sister that was married to the headmaster. After about an hour, her son came into the room where little Harry was sleeping. He called him saying, “Yaya, Yaya, tashi. Ka ci makaranta (Brother, brother, wake up. Your admission has arrived).” Harry did not believe his nephew. Instead, he shouted at him and returned to his sleep. The seven-year-old nephew that came to share his joy turned away disappointed.
But shortly after, the headmaster himself came in and woke Harry up. He confirmed the story. He has been admitted into Government Secondary School Ganye. The admission has truly arrived. Confirmed.
Little Harry did not know how to respond to the news. But definitely it remains the happiest moment he can recall in the four decades of his life. He may never be so happy again. Should he burst into tears? He was too confused and excited to know what to do exactly. He felt that his heart was about to jump out of his chest for the world to witness his happiness. He rushed to his mother, who had already heard about the news. You are in a better position to imagine her joy.
Harry was eager to leave. He approached his father who was performing the Zuhr prayer ablution. An enquiry into the location of Ganye started, as a first step to his departure. No one in the village knew anything exact about it, except of course that it was somewhere within the then North Eastern State. Some said it was around Mubi; others said it was beyond Maiduguri. All this time, little Harry did not care wherever it was. He would find it, in as much as it promised him delivery from the circle of hardship at home and make him an equal among his classmates that were already a month through the second term of their Form One.
Amidst the uncertainty as to where Ganye was located, Harry’s father almost broke the heart of his little kid. He suggested that since the place was far and unknown to anybody in the village, Harry should forget the whole thing. He should better wait for a closer placement next year. You can guess the reaction of our little Harry. Tears. Without wasting time, the father, who had always treated his son with a lot of compassion, conceded to his wish and gave Harry N4.00 for his transportation to the ‘unknown’ destination.
Harry hurriedly joined the next available lorry to Bauchi. He passed his longest night there and collected a note from the Bauchi LEA office in Kobi to the Principal of his new school at Ganye.
That was twenty-seven years ago. It was his longest journey then. It took him two days and N2.70 only to reach his destination safely on the same road that now takes only a couple of hours. It was full of anxiety. Last week, he was returning after twenty-three years to recuperate his memory about the school that left the longest impression in his life.
Next week we will continue with how the town of Ganye and his former school appeared to him during his last visit together with what ever he could recall from his life there as a child.
25 February 2001