Former governor of Anambara State Peter Obi has just touched my heart. Last week he paid a visit to St Peters College located in the rather remote village of Garaku in Nasssarawa State of Central Nigeria.
“This is the first time a personality of his status will visit this school”, Reverend Saaondo the Principal of the school proudly proclaimed. He said since the school was set up, not even a Local Government chairman has cared to visit it.
This was not just a flying visit. The former governor spent the whole day with the students – worshiping, playing and eating the same food in the schools dining hall together.
It reminded me of the day our State Military Governor in the defunct Benue Plateau State, Police Commissioner Joseph Gomwalk took the Administrator of the East Central State, Mr Ukpabi Asika to our Secondary School. The civil war had just ended and the road from Jos to Gboko where our Bristow Secondary School was located was a death trap. Jos to Gboko is less than 500 kilometers but in those days, it took a whole day or two days to make the journey.
But there was J D Gomwalk, tall, young (he must have been in his early thirties), handsome and humorous with his guest all the way from Enugu in East Central State. We were literally in cloud seven when he added: “I have come to show you one of the schools we are proud of in Benue Plateau State.”
He told us about the man Mr. William Mukcle Bristow in whose honor the school was named; how he was the first Principal of Gindiri Boys High School and he (Gomwalk) was the first Headboy of the school. We learnt about the great good works Bristow had done all over northern Nigeria to educate young northern children like us. Finally, he exhorted us to aspire to be as great as W M Bristow.
Ukpabi Asika also spoke. He did not have the charm, elegance and humor of Gomwalk. He was a bit plump and short; his gottie beard made him look rather funny. He made a short hardly audible speech. But it was enough to us that such an important man in Nigeria followed our governor to hear the success story of our school.
Our Principal Miss Geraldine Vandenberg an American lady always felt proud when such people came and appreciated what she was doing in Nigeria. The whole visit which did not last up to one hour has remained indelible in my memory.
Gomwalk and Asika were old pals at Nigeria’s Premier University in Ibadan before the political crisis that plunged Nigeria into a civil war. By some strange coincidence, Asika remained in Ibadan as other Ibos fled to the East to later declare a republic of Biafra. Gowon in appreciation of his commitment to Nigeria’s unity made him the Administrator of the newly created East Central State.
Their visit to Bristow inspired many of us. We too wanted to go to that university that produced the Gomwalks and Asikas of this world. Thank God, some of us lived to achieve that feat and became proud products of the first and the best university in Nigeria – the University of Ibadan.
Those were the days governors took pride in educating their young ones. I remember the incredible thing the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello Premier of the Northern Region did in the first republic when one John Onaiyikan produced the best secondary school result in the whole of West Africa. He drove straight to the school compound of St Michaels Secondary School in Aliade in Benue Province and offered the brilliant pupil a scholarship to study whatever course in whatever country of the world of his choice. John Onaiyikan decided to be a priest. Today he is a Cardinal at the Vatican.
What amazes me about the crop of leaders we have today is their lack of interest in the education of the so-called “leaders of tomorrow”. Compared with their predecessors of the 60’s and 70’s, their attitude is most regrettable. This poor attitude is most prevalent in the northern part of this country. As a northerner myself, I feel most ashamed when I see the horde of beggars roaming menacingly on the streets.
The ugliest sights are those of the young beggars known as almajeri. Some people try to justify this inhuman and repugnant system on the basis of Islam. I have spoken to many authorities in Islam and they all agree that Islam does not encourage begging or the most irresponsible behavior of giving birth to children and throwing them on the streets. This practice is not Islamic.
The almajeri system provides the foot soldiers for the murders, rapes, kidnappings, Boko Haram and the herdsmen mayhem that has turned the once peaceful and expansive space of northern Nigeria into one big slaughter house.
Northern Governors must show active interest in the education of the younger generation. Visits like what Peter Obi did in Garaku will certainly help in motivating the young lads. I am a living example. Gomwalk and Asika inspired me to study at their alma Mata. Al Makura, the governor of Nassarwa State where Peter Obi visited last week has done a good job in renovating primary and secondary schools in the state. He needs to go beyond that. Gestures like those of Peter Obi certainly help.
I have never met Peter Obi. I hope to do so someday and shake his hands to say “your excellency you touched my heart with your visit to St Peters Secondary School Garaku.”