Prof Hope Eghagha
The immediate trigger of this essay is a response to one of my posts on my Facebook page ‘February 1978. BHS Port Harcourt when two scoundrels in Form 3 tried to do the unthinkable to me as Senior Prefect. God intervened. I forgave them long ago’, to which Toyin Adewale-Gabriel interrogated ‘Sir, please share the full story, what exactly happened? I think your story is important in this season of national soul searching on the issue of bullying’. I am writing about that painful experience today because it is time for soul searching. When I first posted a cryptic message ‘Bullying and violence in secondary schools didn’t start today. I remember February 1978 even while I was Senior Prefect’, the first comment came from Kote Onungwe Obe-Eleme: ‘the huge stone hauled through the window that landed on a bed where you were supposed to be sleeping? It was a miraculous escape, the story went’. This was not bullying. It was an assassination attempt!
Baptist High School Port Harcourt was a good school. Sound and committed teachers. Well organized activities in sports, chapel activities, music, and any other aspect of secondary school life. I remember such teachers as Mr Jack, the English teacher who taught pronunciation very well, Mr KKMD Braide, Mr Ogulu, Chief Horsfall, Mr & Mrs Sangoju, Mr Fred Alasia, Mr Vincent Egbuson, Mr & Mrs Jackson (American volunteers). The principal of the school, the always elegantly dressed Mr I.O. Izeogu was a no-nonsense and tireless disciplinarian. He effectively stamped his personality on the school once he took over, I think late in 1976. Some of the teachers whose names I mentioned never taught me directly because I was in the HSC class. Yet, I felt their impact and the impact of Baptist High School once I stepped into the school premises. The ambience and the regime of activities assured everyone that we were there for both character building and learning!
The school had six halls – Agbebi, Amakiri, Batubo, Brantley, Davies, and Florida – which accommodated over one thousand students. All the halls had House Prefects and Hall Masters, the latter being teachers. There were rules about the type, colour of uniform to wear, including the quality of the material. Khaki was the prescribed quality. Not ‘terylene’. Afro hair style was outlawed. I remember one morning when the principal conducted morning assembly and right from there, he sent those who were in breach of uniform quality and hair style out through the gate: don’t come back until you have bought the proper uniform or till you have cut your hair. To be sure, he had warned us well in advance. But nobody knew he would go that far to enforce the rules.
I have taken pains to give this background to BHS just to establish that it was a good school. But there were bad eggs. There was bullying as I found out when I became Senior Prefect. There were also would-be murderers in the school! It is my encounter with the latter group that I want to narrate in this essay.
On Friday afternoon of the week, once I entered my room, I suspected something was not right. (Well, as Senior Prefect, I had a room to myself). I saw water on the louvre blades of the only window in the room, though it didn’t rain that day. My sense of self-preservation wondered how water found its way into my room. Did someone pour it in during the day? I then took an action that saved my life. I moved my bed from directly under the window to the other side of the room. I moved the official cabinet in front of the window and placed my ‘portmanteau’ on the filing cabinet.
I had gone to bed a little after 11pm that Sunday night after we the prefects had gone round the school to enforce the lights out order. I recall saying my prayer after reading from the New Testament of the bible provided by Gideons International. I switched off the light and slept off. I hadn’t slept for more than thirty minutes when I heard a loud unearthly noise that shook me out of my slumber. When I opened my eyes, I could see the moon. The louvers were gone. The curtains torn asunder. I stood up, switched on the light. Time was a few minutes to 1am. What I saw shook me. A huge boulder was lying on the floor beside my bed. Shattered glasses were scattered all over the room. My portmanteau was on the floor. I opened the door tentatively then went outside. A few metres away were some of my fellow-prefects whom I had left a few minutes before. They were assembled and almost together asked me what happened. I led them back into my room. The screaming of disbelief was unanimous. Outside, near the window was a smaller boulder. As I found out later, after the loud impact of the first throw, the second fellow dropped his arsenal on the ground and fled. ‘We must get whoever did this’. ‘This is terrible’. I was calm. My faith had taught me to be calm in such situations. As young as I was, (seventeen going on eighteen) I had learnt how to measure my reactions.
I remember it was Adokiye D. who pointedly told me he knew (not suspected) one of the fellows who committed the heinous act. He said I should come with him. Along with the other prefects, we went to a classroom block next to the school farm, the area students named Zion. Inside the classroom were two students. Adokiye went on the offensive: ‘Sam, what have you done? Why did you run away from the scene of the attack? The Sam in question was one of my boys, a junior, someone who fed from me, visited me freely, and was one of my ‘intelligence officers’. Within me, I thought ‘Adokiye, you have the wrong guy’, but Adokiye was insistent. According to him, he was in the carpenters’ shed reading when he heard the bang. Immediately, he looked out the window and saw two figures dash off from the site in different directions. When Sam got to the block, he paused, and calmly walked into the classroom. Suspicious, isn’t it?
Though I didn’t believe Adokiye at the time, I took a step. I felt Sam’s hands. They were sandy. I asked him for an explanation. He gave me a stupid one. Yet, I found it difficult to believe he could try to kill me. For some reason, the principal did not visit the site until after school hours that day, after I threatened that I would rather go home and finish the term as a day student. When he saw the extent of damage, he sprang into action. About ten students were questioned by the police. Sam was not among those questioned. A few days later when I became convinced that Sam had been one of my attackers, I added his name to the list. It was now time for my final examinations, so I didn’t really follow up on what steps the principal took to punish the scoundrels. Decades later, I heard that Sam had been angry with me because I once asked him to level an anthill as punishment for a case of ‘two fighting’.
Shortly after, I said goodbye to BHS, not with painful memories, but sweet memories and forgiveness in my heart. My days at BHS were defined by the good, not the bad. The experience proved to me that I have a God who protects me. That God has been my God by His grace, the same God who shielded me in the kidnappers’ den in 2012!
Next week, I will write on some of the terrible experiences of teachers in modern private schools. I have also spoken words of condolences to Mr Sylvester Oromoni (Snr).
Professor Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha can be reached on 08023220393