I attended a very unconventional Secondary School and if you didn’t experience the things we went through, it is almost impossible for you to actually relate to them. Take for instance the ritual of selecting Provosts. Provosts were selected from amongst Form 3 Boys and they were the enforcers of discipline amongst the Junior Boys. Four Boys were selected from each Company and made Provosts. These special Boys who became Provosts in Form 3 invariably went on to become the NCOs (different leadership positions) in Form 4 and BRSM (the equivalent of your Head Boy, only much more) and Company Commanders in Form 5. More often than not, they went on to become fine officers in the Armed Forces and brilliant leaders in other professions. They were not voted for by their classmates. They showed the ideal character traits from the first year of coming into the School. It was called ‘parching garri’. Always finely turned out and never missing or coming late for any parades. They volunteered for work. I am not shy to say I never made Provost.
I remember one of the intriguing things about selecting Provosts. They had to go through a rite of initiation dubbed ‘Provost Shifting’! This was a process where the potential Provosts, most of whom would already be known by the other Boys, would be put through a night of horror. This was intended to harden them and make them merciless. A little charade would be played out. The Boys who would make the grade would have been intimated by their godfathers to be ready. Tonight was the night. The would-be Provosts would gear up and pretend to go into hiding so as to avoid the ‘shifting’. I remember my friend, Zoks, who was found hiding from the hunting party. Even I would have made Provost before Zoks. He was given one serious lashing across the back with the words: “you sef dey hide? Who dey find you? Will you get to your bed”.
The real prey would then be ‘hunted’ down and moved to a central location where they would be made to go through the toughest punishments in the military. The morning after was one of the worst days in the lives of the Junior Boys throughout their stay in the Military School. The newly badged Provosts would be unleashed like a pack of wounded hyenas. They all needed to test their new-found power.
This week, I came across a post in which some fellow was lamenting his daughter’s loss in a contest for the position of Senior Prefect in a Secondary School. I was largely amused and somewhat miffed by the account of what had transpired and the irate father’s disappointment at how his daughter had been played out. In his opinion, it was a reflection of how the country had deteriorated and how ‘things had never been so bad’. There are times we are so consumed by righteous indignation and our belief in the correctness of our course of action that we don’t see that while we are busy wagging one finger, the others are clutching at our throat.
According to this fellow, his daughter, a JS2 student had been tipped to become a Senior Prefect in SS1. Apparently, she was very ‘popular’ with her fellow students and even with the Teachers who had called him to let him know his daughter was the front runner to emerge as Senior Prefect after the students would have voted. He went ahead to design and print posters for his daughter’s campaign. I am fairly confident he was already planning a thanksgiving service for his daughter’s victory at the polls. Since he was a media man, he had probably planned to run some photo press release as well: “Brilliant Miss So and So emerges Senior Prefect after keen contest”! By the time votes were counted, his daughter had lost the election to a “a relatively low girl” (his words).
The teachers were shocked and the Principal was perplexed but the students had voted. The father of the losing candidate was incensed enough about it to make a post that went viral, and he even put his full name and that of his daughter on it.
Now, I must confess, I am somewhat of an old school type in some things. I can never understand how the selection of a Senior Prefect in a Secondary School became a popularity contest or a political battle. As I pointed out earlier, those put in leadership positions in the school I attended were selected on criteria that stood them out from the pack. Intelligence, responsibility, discipline, hard work. Not looks or ability to campaign. Definitely not based on popularity amongst your fellow students.
A lot of changes have been introduced into the way our educational system is run and not all the changes have been positive. In the old days, teachers would choose who they felt was worthy and would announce their choice to the students. Now the students vote and could pick anyone without any consideration for leadership qualities whatsoever. How does that serve the purpose of the school authorities or benefit the students?
Now to the grieving father who felt that our society was now pathetic because his daughter was outplayed in a game in which he was also a willing participant. According to him, his popular daughter lost because the other girl shared Gala to induce the students to vote for her. If this accusation is true, that presupposes that the other girl also had help from her father for her to have been able to afford to give Gala to the whole school. How does that differ from his own ‘donation’ of posters, designed and printed by him to help his daughter gain undue advantage over the competition? He could not stomach the fact that his daughter lost to the other girl whom he described as ‘relatively low’ (relative to his own daughter I guess) and he saw the loss as merely another indication of how ‘pathetic’ the society had become.
He could not see that he was complicit in the very thing he was complaining about. He could see the speck in the eye of the other child but not the log in his daughter’s.
While I agree with him that a lot has gone wrong with the moral fabric of our society with parents paying for people to sit for exams for their wards, and even going ahead to do thanksgiving when they ‘pass’. We now have teachers giving unearned marks to Primary school pupils in exchange for favours from their parents while the goings on in the universities are legendary. Nigerians are never shy to talk about how bad things have become. One thing we are however reluctant to do is look in the mirror to see what part we play in helping the country down the path of infamy. Like the gentleman in this story, how often do we overlook our contribution to creating the rot we complain about while shining the light on the failings of others. It’s time we took a look in the mirror under a brighter light. Maybe then we would see our warts better. That would be the first step to redemption.
– Bakare is a public commentator
Join our WhatsApp Group to receive news and other valuable information alerts on WhatsApp.