Saturday 4 February 2006

Remo Secondary School (RSS) at 60

Early through school
Time passes as the 4th of February marks the 60th anniversary of Remo Secondary School in Sagamu, Ogun State, Nigeria.
I had the interesting advantage of doing a lot of things early, such that I was a year below the class average age in primary school and almost 2 years below that average in Secondary School.
My immediate sister even finished secondary school at an earlier age; she was only under 15, whilst I finish in 1981 at just 15 and a half.
We were up North in Kaduna when my parents agonised about where I should have my secondary education.
There were lots of options in the North and a very close friend of my mother really wanted me to school nearby, but there was a feeling that I needed to learn more of our traditional Yoruba background and hence, the South West offered the best opportunity.
More so, I was not that fluent in Yoruba, and with the entire commendable grasp I now have in Yoruba, I find that I speak Yoruba to almost everyone except my parents with whom I mainly converse in English.
Selection selects the worthy
Sometimes I wonder about the debate about admission selection that dominates the political debate in the UK when it comes to education.
For six months, I was in home school in Lagos with a relative who ensured I had what was necessary to do well. In one instance, as we were on our way to one of those entrance examinations we had an accident as our old banger ran into a rather expensive car.
That gave my guardian the impetus to acquire a new car which with the help of my father happened to be a Peugeot model 504 that was the car of the middle classes in the mid 1970s.
I attended a number of entrance examinations and in the end had a number of choices, but realised that whilst we did Arithmetic in the North, they did Mathematics in the South; the concept of negative numbers was alien to me, but I survived with a few lessons from an aunt.
Spooked in decisions
Odogbolu Grammer School was the nearest to my ancestral village Ijesha-Ijebu, but declined the offer when I noticed that the school literally shared its grounds with a graveyard.
I have seen a few ghosts; the experience was terrifying though the phenomenon sometimes begs for lucidity in explanation.
Mayflower School in Ikenne was considered the cream of the crop, but I was not successful in achieving the grade, so the next choice was Remo Secondary School.
As it happens it was the very first co-educational school in Nigeria, previous attempts at that model had foundered that no one expected it to work.
However, on the fourth day of February 1946, it opened its doors to new students, and I was in the class of 1976.
Admissions selection ensured we had a mixed bunch of students from all works of life and experiences, which was both wholesome and healthy.
Privilege of a good start
I was indeed a child of privilege, many who travelled from the North did so by train, which could be a very unhealthy exercise and probably unsafe for young ones too.
I flew in, was chauffeured around and kept well supplied with provision and necessities. I definitely did not lack for anything; my parents did almost too well in ensuring comfort in a wild place.
Certain events of terrifying nights which had me reading Psalm 23 aloud for hours on end lead to my being called Holy Ghost by some but more popularly Pastor.
One had to deal with the shame of bed-wetting on the one hand and just the desperation to carry on and out live that foible.
A hard life out there
The first two friends I made were just I was, born abroad with quite a bit of the tenderness that indicated we were not used to the hardships of boarding school, it probably made us ready targets for bullying, but we did have our wits about us.
You have to be wily and smart to survive in a setting where abuse could be meted out with importunity and some seniors did get their kicks out of that.
Part of the orientation included the selection into school houses; I was in Adedoyin house which came last for my  first three yearly inter-house games, the other houses were Falode, Mellor and Igimisoje all of which were names of founders or pioneers of the school.
Reverend Mellor who was a Methodist minister died in his eighties just at the end of 1976.
An academy for life
I did well in most subjects except Yoruba which was a compulsory subject until after the third year.
In the fourth year, my scores in the sciences were poor such that I had to do arty subjects like history and literature, but after the first term, it just was not my vocation and immediately, I switched to the full sciences and did quite well there.
Between the fourth and final year, we had summer school which was to help us prepare towards the West African Examinations Certificate, and in one of the most unfortunate cases of co-educational co-existences, some of my colleagues went on the rampage and attacked the girl’s hostel which left quite a few with injuries and material damage.
Judgement was swift, pervasive and indiscriminate; the summer school closed, we were sent home and not allowed to board in the fifth year.
A last year of lasting injustice
The fifth year is the most crucial year in any secondary school student’s life, the experience definitely marked everyone, especially those of us who had nothing to do with that fracas.
The board of governors then in their “all-knowing” and parochial manner did not even seek evidence from anyone, but it was also evident that the vice-principal then knew that many of us were not involved and would not get justice.
I barely did as well as I was able in my finals, however, it was enough to move on, I somehow still hold it against the school with regards to the way we were treated.
My last year was also quite interesting because then, the selection process had been abolished for just moving all the pupils from local primary schools to neighbourhood secondary schools.
Only once did I hear any of those new intakes complete a sentence in English flawlessly, it made me weep.
Schoolboys and pranks
I was quite adventurous, we went swimming in a quite notorious river at which we saw a medicine woman walk on water that much we observed as we could have broken the 100m dash record – heels touching heads – back to school, we could hardly tell the tale.
The worst times were the “mass attack” events which really meant the cutting of grass around the school which was just etched out of a forest, I never completed my allocation, sometimes, I got a good friend to help out, if he was not being feted by the girls.
We read so much pulp written by James Hadley Chase even made statements out of the book titles such as “You’re safer dead” and “The dead stay dumb”.
This in fact got other guys into trouble when they were suspected of being members of the Bucknor and Bucknor Chambers of Inquiry, I being Philip and my co-conspirator being Larry.
Well, we made our mark, in one instance; I posted a letter to the authorities about activities that involved us being forced to contribute money for voodoo amulets which would help us win the inter-school football competition.
Unfortunately, we were always second-best to Mayflower School, no matter how hard we tried.
Looking to celebrate at 70
As memories are recalled about those days, it is a shame that I did not make enduring friends of the boys I met at school; I suppose my strict upbringing forced my focus to educational pursuits to the exclusion of other adolescent pleasures.
As the school does wax older and more mature, I hope to be able to visit for the 70th anniversary, as the injustice meted out 26 years ago mingles with the joy of seeing all those whose lives were moulded as they passed through the school and the school passed through them.
RSS – Happy Birthday!!!

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