Idang Alibi: Buhari And The Principal Of My School

In the early 70s, precisely 1973, when children of my age were going to secondary school, I gained admission to a Mission school known as N.K.S.T. Secondary School in Adikpo in the then Benue Plateau State. There, we met Mr.Vanger who was the principal. About a year and a half later, he left the school and Mr. Andrew Kenti was made the acting principal. Mr. Kenti was a genial, liberal and extremely nice person; a perfect gentleman, but he lacked essential administrative skills necessary for running a school meant for grooming exuberant adolescent kids into well -adjusted young adults. As a result, things deteriorated.


The falcon could no longer hear the falconer. Students’ movement in and out of school became uncontrolled and uncontrollable. Madam Ikyatse, the school cook (‘cooker’, some students used to call her) was the cause/source of constant murmuring, grumbling and complaining with her cooking. The hostels and entire school premises were unkempt. As if these were not enough, the school itself was being serviced by unqualified teachers and indifferent non-academic staff. Mr. Kenti reminds us of former President Goodluck Jonathan, does he not? But let us get on with our story.


Things got so bad that sometime in 1976, Mr. Kenti and the story of the poor state of things in our school made a front page in The Nigerian Standard, the Benue-Plateau state-owned newspaper, under the then editorship of our evergreen Dan Agbese. Thirty nine years after, I still now vividly recall the picture of Mr. Kenti in an unflattering dress and in an uncomplimentary pose on the front page of that paper.


This story I am recalling now took place at a time in Nigeria when persons in positions of responsibility cared about things and their responsibility to correct any noticeable anomalies. Obviously irked by this adverse publicity in the media, the hierarchy of the N.K.S.T. Mission, owners of the school, decided to send Mr. Peter Iortsuun, an austere, stern disciplinarian, endowed with great administrative skills (much like Buhari), on a rescue mission to take over from Mr. Kenti. This reminds us of what the Nigerian electors did by asking Buhari to come on board in place of Jonathan who is generally seen as a very good man but an abysmally weak leader, does it not?


Mr. Iortsuun came and for a few days studied the situation on ground and outlined in his head and possibly on paper, the changes he needed to effect to restore the school to the path of sanity. To control movement, an exit card to be personally signed by the principal himself was designed and put to use. Henceforth, students who were not of the N.K.S.T denomination (such as Catholics) and who therefore had a different worship place in town where a majority of the school population worshipped, were now to go to their own place on Sundays in a single Indian file led by a senior student who must later account for the number that went and the number that came back. This was to ensure no defection, much in the manner of some Nigerian pilgrims to Mecca and Jerusalem who defect and melt into the crowd and never come back from their supposed pilgrimage to engage in intense spiritual activity!


To inculcate in the students neatness and ensure general sanitation, Mr. Iortsuun, much like Buhari’s War Against Indiscipline (WAI) in his first coming as military president, introduced competition for neatness. A panel of judges was instituted to inspect school dormitories every Saturday and any one that came first was rewarded with a big goat that was killed and used by Madam Ikyaatse to prepare soup to use with their pounded yam exclusively for residents of that victorious house. Come and see how we students did everything fair and innovative to ensure that our house won.


At the assembly ground on most mornings, Iortsuun will announce a new policy direction and conclude by saying that, ‘’this is one of the changes that I have introduced’’. This became like a refrain. Trust students, we promptly nicknamed him ‘’Changes’’, again, very much like Buhari who is known by his change mantra. Mr. Iortsuun used to practice what I later got on to know is called ‘’Management by Walking Around’’. At a certain indeterminate period of the day, he will leave his office and walk around to see what was going on in the school premises and hostels that needed fixing, caning or rebuking. A student scout or sentry who acted as a watchtower man on noticing him will issue a cry, ‘’Changes is coming’’! ‘’Changes is coming’’! And like rats at the approach of a cat, loitering students will dash into their classrooms in all directions and even teachers who were not too sure of their looks will take a few minutes to adjust themselves to meet the expectation of this very demanding and unsmiling man students affectionately called Changes.


I see a lot of parallels between Mr. Kenti and Goodluck Jonathan; N.K.S.T. Secondary School and Nigeria; Mr. Peter Iortsuun and President Muhammadu Buhari. What is missing in these interesting parallels, however, is that Buhari is yet to break down and define his change agenda encompassing all sectors of the political economy for Nigerians to identify the key thing or things he will do in each of the sectors and for them to key in and participate. His change mantra remains essentially an undifferentiated bundle difficult to galvanise the populace to follow him. All Nigerians know is that he stands for change. The question is: what change and in what specific directions? My pastor and spiritual father, David Oyedepo, is fond of saying that ‘’proper definition prevents diversion’’.


Again, unlike my dear former principal, Mr. Iortsuun, Buhari is yet to institute a system of reward for those who will follow his change doctrine and come tops to give his administration glory. Again, Oyedepo has another saying that ‘’proper knowledge of the benefit of a thing motivates participation’’. When the challenge came for the Israelites as to who could confront Goliath, the young shepherd boy David who later became king asked what the benefits were for the man who could kill the terrorizing giant! Perhaps, it was the set of tantalizing rewards, including marriage to the king’s daughter, that greatly motivated him to bring down the giant and cut off his head.


If, for example, Buhari introduces a N100 million annual reward for any MDA which best exemplifies his change government, to be shared by the ministers and the civil servants, he will be amazed how everyone will sit up to make his dreams for Nigeria come true.



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