Have you ever had a heart to heart conversation with your children? I mean, sitting down to laugh and play and allow them to open up to you. I had that experience on Friday, October 23, 2020.
Should I say, this was the good side the current lockdown that started since Wednesday, October 21 offered me and my family – opportunity to unravel – to discover each other in a uniquely profound way?
In many ways, yes! For the first time we really had the type of conversation we never had before since they were born – two of my daughters – one 17 and the other, 14.
My God! What these two lasses bottled up in their young and tender hearts and had been carrying for years without their mother and me knowing – for all the care and interest we thought we’d taken. I discovered that to try to get everything might be as difficult as going into a deep ocean to try and identify all you could find beneath it. Impossible you might say!
But that’s probably what those little children have ensconced in the cavity of their tender hearts. Loads and loads of secrets you may never know, even as they smile up and pretend that they know nothing.
I had a little glean into that ocean and what I discovered, has kept me very uncomfortable. But it also tells me a lot about the society and why we are probably what we are and where we are as a people. After that, I began to have the full idea of where our SARS began and why we may never truly eradicate the SARS in us. For, we are, in essence, SARS unto ourselves.
How did it all begin, we were all together in my room laughing and chatting over many things, watching some of the videos emanating from the various dimension of the #EndSARS protests that have now turned into riots.
Apparently inebriated on the spirit of the moment, we delved into their days in the boarding schools. My first daughter, now 17, who is awaiting to write her post Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), was pulled out of Queens College while she was at in her Senior Secondary School (SSS). The second one was also pulled out from Nigerian Navy Secondary School, Ojo. I’m naming these schools because they are still standing and might therefore wish to take interest into the revelation of what might be happening under their noses, assuming they are not aware.
For starters, my first daughter got admission into Federal Government Girls College (FGGC), Shagamu, but was moved unilaterally for inexplicable reason to Federal Government Girls College Effon Alaiye, in Ekiti State. In protest, after a futile effort, I contacted my friend, the late Senator Uche Chukwumerije, then Chairman Senate Committee on Education, who ask me to make a choice of any Unity school within Lagos. The choice was between Federal Government College Ijanikin and Queens College Lagos. I chose Queens College for obvious reason(s).
Did I ever know that I was practically putting her in hell? Those hellish experiences came out pouring out like a broken water pipe on Friday. Did you know that your daughter could be going through such hell now without telling you? Did you know what those children go through and are not telling you? I got to hear and know and nearly wept.
Are you aware that your child, yes, that your tender child that you pamper and shield from doing some menial jobs at home, lest she broke into pieces like a chinaware is in fact doing some prison work in school? Do you know that they could be woken up as early as 5am to go and start fetching water for her seniors? Yes! That your 10-year-old daughter? Do you know that she could stand there for hours on end with about five different buckets that must be delivered to her seniors before she could fetch her own? And there were injunctions. If the water dropped on the floor while she was delivering it, they would ask her to return back to the tap and refill the bucket? Did you know all these about your child?
I could understand it during our time because I was already 13 when I went into secondary school and at that age, could withstand some of the tough tasks. Besides, I was also a toughie myself, coming from Ajegunle. But even at that I never saw it, because my school was all day and punishment by seniors was near non-existent.
In the case of my daughter, she was just nine years. We withdrew her at 13 in SS2, because we were disappointed with her academic output and returned her to the private school where she did her nursery and primary schools, having gotten wiser about the illusion of Unity Schools.
Until now, my daughter never told me that they actually did the job of nightsoiling – onyeburu nsi, agbaekpo – evacuation of faeces. She told me how they were forced to pound the faeces in the toilet basins to make them soft enough to be flushed. This job they did with mopsticks. That is after scooping the ones on the floor, with all the maggots, shitty water and dirt. I wept inside, even though I was smiling. Then I began to understand more about SARS.
What about feeding? My daughter narrated to me how she could go for days without food, real food that is, because she couldn’t eat what she was served, how on her first day in school, she could not eat her beans and yam porridge because she saw broomsticks inside.
But hear this! They once had a very good meal, even better than what she used to eat at home including sizable chicken in their food. Why, a top government official had announced that he was visiting the school. They even had ice cream to boot! You see! But the said official eventually did not come. That was the only time my daughter had good food throughout her stay.
Now, if you didn’t know, during our time QC, as was popularly known, was way out of our class. It was unarguably the most prestigious female secondary school in Lagos, if not the entire country. That was why I didn’t hesitate when Chukwumerije mentioned it to me. I was chasing reputation. And I was not alone. Even in the middle of admission term, long after the process had ended, many were still bringing their children, because everyone wanted their children in the school.
I was lucky that I acceded to the mother’s decision to withdraw at the time we did, a year before the outbreak of the outbreak that nearly devastated the school and left some of the students dead.
The story of my second daughter at the Navy School, was no different from what her elder sister told. In fact, I was always wondering why she always looked sickly each time. In her own account, she told me that her first shock, was when one of the senior students on her first day in the hostel, asked her to colour her (senior’s) cup.
She was asked to colour the cup brown. She didn’t understand until she was told to bring her provisions. It was an euphemism for asking for her provisions. But you know what, the senior students don’t ask, they take. So, we were now buying provisions each time until we now learnt to keep them with one of the school teachers to secure for her.
Like her elder sister, she was subjected to the torture of being woken up at odd hours and made to fetch water, pound faeces and other odd jobs for the senior students at the pain of intense beating at the slightest resistance.
My daughter told me of how some of the senior students became so emboldened and practically went overboard to lock one of their juniors in a metal box.
These are apart from the lesser problems of having her beddings – mattresses, bedspreads, uniforms, pants and bra either stolen or forcefully taken away.
Daddy! Do you know that sometimes I had to hold going to toilet for two weeks and even more? That most times I don’t eat? Do you know that’s why I was always crying whenever I wanted to go back to school?
Now, why didn’t you report all these to your teachers, I continued to ask them. If you report and they are punished, are you not going to come back to the hostel? They will beat you the more.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I interjected constantly? But it’s the same thing. They will still beat me. They can beat you with anything. So we had to bear it. It’s not easy to report.
But don’t get it twisted. It is generally not the fault of the school administrators, at least not in everything. The blame for poor feeding and lack of regular checks on the environment like the toilet facilities could be heaped on the school authority, but that of intimidation and punishment, are entirely the by-product of fear.
Though I mentioned two schools, I’m told that it is a general phenomenon in boarding schools, especially those schools we struggle to put our children, because of old reputation. Even my wife confirmed this much, because, unlike me who ate palm kernel, she grew up with butter and attended boarding school.
I’m also aware that the situation is not different in our universities. But while you are dealing with adults in the universities, what do you say about children, most of whom still carry the damp patches of the birth fluids on their heads?
I write this today because not only was I so shocked that I never got to know this truth even after priding myself with some clairvoyance prowess, but because there are so many out there who think they know their children, but are, like me, swimming in an ocean of ignorance.
I have also been specific mentioning the names of the schools and circumstances so that people don’t take this as fiction. Perhaps, the management of these institutions, government officials and other strategic stakeholders, may begin to change strategies – pay unscheduled visits to these schools at auspicious times. That may help.
To parents: Are you still wondering where the SARS starts? Talk to that your child today. Find a way of taking a peek in that locked closet of her heart. You will be surprised how much SARS you might find.