“Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.” – George Orwell, ‘1984.’
If you go to Bristow today, every graduating set nicknames itself. “0’20 Magical” “0’18 Fantastic” etc are all examples of set names you will come by. My kid brother will graduate in 2024, and they already nicknamed their set ‘Phenomenon” in wait for their grand day. Heck, they already have a Facebook group for their set. You will never know in a million years why this trend exists at the famous William Muckle Bristow Secondary School, Gboko until I take you on this expedition. As a matter of fact, there would be nothing like that if not for some group of brave young folks who transcended that arena in 2014. Oh, gracious, June 7th, 2013 is a day I will never forget in a lifetime.
The typical Nigerian boarding school setting is an environment that needs no long introductions to a good number of people out there. The tensed relationship that existed between the senior and junior students in there is akin to the brute between cult groups. Toxic is an understatement, chaos a somewhat clearer description, and “fire and brimstone?” sounds more like it. There was simply no peace for the student who was not an almighty senior in the boarding house, and the powers descended hierarchically to the very least of them all which was the form one student, popularly known as the ‘injuka’.
Between SSIII and SSII however, the indiscretion was fiercer. Since SSII was always going to succeed the graduating set as the new dons of the arena, the incumbents always melted their last fury on them – you know, it was meant to be the last draw of blood before they too ascended the throne to be almighty seniors. Our case as SSII was not any different during the 12/13 academic session. While their whole reign they walked the dons walk and did all that was on their bucket list, then came mid-May when they were done with their WASSCE and had to go on two weeks break before resuming for their NECO senior secondary examinations.
Those two weeks were heaven in the arena for us – the soon-to-be almighty seniors. This period was always a time for the power-thirsty SSII who had endured five years of wait to have a taste of what it felt to be unquestionable, and untouchable in the boarding house – and boy, did we take full delight in those weeks as you would expect; when the cat is away the rats in the house throw a feast.
Our reign would be cut short, and normalcy restored in just about a week and a couple of days. Some of the senior prefects even resumed a few days before our two weeks were complete. Then came the inquiries about all that had transpired in their absence from the quarters who took the brute of our temporal rule of the arena. They needed not to ask around for long, because some aggrieved juniors who were victims of our exuberance narrated without much ado. In fact, some of the senior prefects had instructed their school sons to keep watch for them because they knew a lot was about to go down in their absence.
Various lists of offenders fell out: those who went to the dining hall bare-chested, those who wore prefect uniforms, those who took double rations at the dining and caused food shortage, those who attended church service in classroom uniforms, those who escorted their girlfriends to the dormitory after preps, those who did that and that, and soon all of SSII were culprits for one offense or the other awaiting punishment which was, of course, severe trashing by the cane at the hands of the returning seniors.
Hell would break loose on Friday. Very early that morning, after rumours of our perdition had gone around school, we awaken to gory sights of preparation for our reckoning. Have you been to Bristow before? Let me tell you what: all the branches of the trees in the valley behind the boys’ hostels were plucked and piled into stacks like firewood waiting to dry under the sun before being taken to the fire. We observed in awe, although we were prepared by all means to not be the ones on whom those sticks would be wasted on.
Now, Fridays were always different because night preps ended earlier than usual for devotion at the chapel before students were later dismissed for their dormitories. While we were converged at Miss Vandeberg Hall, the butcher came for the meat. It was the senior Makurdi house captain who first walked in, in his signature beast mode walk – shoulders at neck level with his back hunched – and asked one of us to come with him. Gboko was the guy he called out. His offense? He wore the head boy’s uniform and did lots of other crazy things; he was the guy who popped up in all the stories, boy was actually the spotlight, so they wanted to begin our humiliation with the boogeyman. Cocky move there I must say.
Gboko hesitated for a moment, so the prefect came back protesting his noncompliance, and before we could know what was going on, he landed Gboko a dirty slap in the face and gestured a “follow me” – mind you, FCS handover service was going on – but we would not let Gboko be taken out for the slaughter alone, so we grumbled and our voices raised in protestations, and before the prefect was within a breadth of space of stepping outside the hall, the rest of us followed. “SSII get back to your seats” were the last words I caught the deputy Head Boy shouting as we made our way for the exit.
Out of the hall and we tried to run behind the cybercafé towards field 1 to the staff quarters, but we met resistance. Some SSIII guys were behind there and hard to say now if they were waiting for us. Since we could not pass there as we intended, my mates who were already prepared for the showdown pulled out their weapons and began to swing at them. This was where it all escalated and soon, the entire school was roused with shouts and cries from the rest of the students in the hall and those who were outside.
We jolted back from the café and packed ourselves by the staffroom’s front yard. There, in a moment, we caught glimpse of the Head Boy chasing FK with a chain. Apparently, FK had found him and landed the chain on him a couple of times, so we ran after them till FK eventually bashed into the boarding master’s house. From there to the tennis court towards the staffroom, we kept shuttling on that way. Some of the seniors were still in their usual element and thought their confrontations could save their faces, but as many that fell into our group caught a whipping with belts, some were hit with wood, sticks, etc. We remained in pack under the shades of lights in wait for anyone who dared trespass.
At this point, these guys also regrouped and instead of running our way for a clash, they headed for the labour room and broke in, got their hands on cutlasses and every other equipment they could, and made way for the dormitory. On their way, they broke glasses on the TD, Biology, and Chemistry laboratory windows. When they reached the hostels, they spat their fury on our bags and cupboards, theirs was a feast of demolition which they made sure of, breaking bags, tumbling cupboards, soaking uniforms sprayed on the line in the dirty gutter channels, and so on.
By this hour some teachers at the staff quarters got alarmed and were on the premise; our principal and all his assistants and some other staff members. We were running to the hostels when we heard sounds of their demolition of our luggage but the teachers there already had us under restraint. It was such a loud night of action, so much happening all at once, but the fulcrum? We would not be treated to that humiliation, no way in the world. We had already planned and talked over this long before, that we would not let these guys beat us the way they planned because verily I say to you, somebody could have dropped dead that night if we had cowardly submitted.
Our principal was on bare feet when order was called and we (SSIII and II) assembled at the front yard of the staffroom for the kind of meeting you presume will follow an event like this in school. I recall clearly when the principal inquired why all of that happened and our Head Boy (SSII) tried to throw us under the bus with his sycophantic narration – you know, in that pretext which would have him alienated from the rest of us and in good stead with the school’s authority – and we shushed him up in no time. In a while, one of us told our satisfactory story to the hearing of all, which the seniors countered with every reason they could find to defend their very wicked plan for us that night.
The meeting could not quell our issues, and the SSIII went back to their block threatening reprisal on us by the time the teachers were back home. Well, we were led to our block which was the same building as theirs (SSIII), we got hands on the things we could salvage from the mess, and headed back to Miss Vandenberg Hall where we crashed for that night. On the east side of the school, our girls were having their own brawl with the senior girls, it was a night of total action.
Saturday the next morning was coincidentally a visiting day and the visiting parents met the school in wake of the Friday night showdown. Our seniors were still fuming over their failed brutality against us, spirits were still high, and emotions were boiling up. When the principal came around again that morning, by the look of things it was clear that these two groups would tussle it out if something was not done, and so we were stylishly dismissed on suspension – to return with our parents and sign an undertaking in two weeks. They had to stay back for their exams, but when we turned up again after our suspension, they were deboarded and fined money which they paid towards compensation for the destruction of the school and students’ properties.
We became dons in school earlier than any set I can remember from my time at Bristow and we called ourselves the LEGENDS OF 2014. What a coincidence even that we were Bristow’s 50th graduating set. Heroic stuff to me still because what happened on that fateful night, has remained the bravest thing any group I have been a part of ever tried in the face of a higher power. It was a fight, but one which was borne out of courage against a tyrannical and power-drunken group. Every time I have recalled this moment, I did with such pride and respect for my mates. We were young but not naïve, so we stood up for ourselves.
Today I know first-hand the power of speaking in group. I know that when there is a will, there is a way and sometimes you’re better off a rebel. Individually, we could never have stood up to those guys, heck, on average, they were older and stronger than us. The only reason we did not bow to them was that we perceived abuse of power on their side, – what would they rather have us do while they were away? – and so we made a plan to stick together.
In all life spheres, this is the only way to keep authorities in check if those under such authorities have perceived injustice. Speak the truth to power, and if need be, defend yourselves against the excessive display of it. I know for sure that if Nigeria was comprised of more minds like Bristow’s club 50, we would not be such happy slaves to the vicious thieving politicians who have crafted every misfortune and hardship in our social enclave today. A much higher power I know, and more damning consequences if the people ever dare, but how else would you rather have it, than be a citizen of a working nation where your rights, life, and property are guaranteed safety?