Alhaji Abdulkadir was the Managing Director of NIDB in 1985 when then-President Babangida made him head a committee on IMF following the heated national debate on whether Nigeria should go the IMF route or not. I had a good relationship with him and visited his office from time to time – often without an appointment – to pick his brains on national issues.
This was the case this fateful day when unknown to me, a scheduled meeting of the IMF Committee members was to take place. He indulged me as usual and said we could carry on with our discussions until the arrival of the members. We were ten, fifteen minutes into our discussion when the early arrival of two of the members was announced.
They were Ambassadors Adesola and Tejuoso, two illustrious Old Igbobians. I knew Ambassador Adesola very well when he was still in the Foreign Service as he was very useful to me with my foreign trips. The other I had heard a lot about but not yet met. I was introduced to him more as an Old Igbobian than as a journalist. Immediately, the atmosphere changed.
There was camaraderie; there was conviviality. These were Old Students of three distinct generations of a school finding a common ground and sharing jokes so easily. This made the bemused host ask what was so special about the school. His committee members were happy to tell him. He then asked if Igbobi College was the Barewa College of the south. It was suggested to him instead, that Barewa College could be the Igbobi College of the north. General laughter ensued. Each side was still protecting its turf when I made my exit.
I hardly do a two-part article as I had been told very early in my career that it was an indulgence to expect your busy readers to carry the trend of a previous article in their heads for a whole week. This week, I am making a slight exception. The article will still not be in two parts but a follow-up. I had written last week, about the 90thAnniversary of Igbobi College.
The response caught me by surprise. Not just from Old Igbobians who reached out to me, but also Old Students of other schools. Many identified with the nostalgia of reliving the ‘good old days’ irrespective of the schools they attended. Some commented on Igbobi College being described as a noble school and insisted jokingly that theirs were nobler. Some said I must have missed my way as I should have chosen their schools instead. Many of the comments reflected the pride and affection they had for their respective schools.
Many also lamented the fate that befell their schools because of the ill-conceived government take-over of schools and the dog in the manger attitude of some State Governors who have neither the will nor the resources to maintain the schools and yet are unwilling to return them to the original owners. You could feel the bond these people have for their former schools from their comments despite the fact that no school is perfect.
Many of those willing to sacrifice time and money to bring their schools to their old glory should those short-sighted Governors change their minds, have nothing to gain personally since their children have long passed the secondary school stage. This strong umbilical cord between student and school which makes some people be prepared to trust a stranger just because he is an Old Student needs some rational explanations.
Why for example, are people willing to do so much for their alma mater and yet unwilling to lift a finger for their country? Why should the bond for a place they probably stayed in for five or seven years be stronger than the bond for the land of their birth? Why should it bother them if an institution they will never have a need for again goes into disrepair and yet seem unperturbed if the country they will always live in goes to the dogs? People who are willing to salvage their alma mater are equally willing to exploit their country. It is curious and disturbing because a well-run school in a badly run country is really anathema. It’s a question of time before one stains the other.
I sent the message on why people are generally more loyal to a school than country to a few people whose opinions I respect. Some are yet to reply – the message probably got lost in the hundreds of messages they receive every day. A few gave valuable insights while some used the opportunity to further knock the country.
I was able to distil the following, however.
1) People are nostalgic about their formative years and the friendship they made during those years.
2) People attribute whatever they have become to the moulding they received in school.
3) The rules of engagement were fair across the board and largely non-discriminatory – for example, a cut-off mark would apply to everybody and nobody with a lower mark would be promoted above you.
4) The school prepared them for a better future and more importantly, a better version of themselves.
5) The gains or even the pains of the school through its former students served to bond the current ones.
6) There was trust in the intentions of the school. Finally, every student believed he was at least noticed if not valued by the school and efforts were made to bond the past with the present and the present with itself.
Nigeria on the other hand gives very little indication that it cares for its citizens. Or that a just and equitable system would foster a stronger sense of oneness. While schools turn a blind eye to tribe and religion, the country exploits the same. While schools give their past and present students a sense of pride and belonging, the country promotes the opposite.
While students trust the leadership of their schools, citizens of Nigeria don’t. It is however important to report someone’s comment at this stage. It said ‘loyalty to Nigeria by Nigerians is strong outside the country. Very strong. But once back home, it disintegrates due to sectional and religious gravitational forces. Fond memories of shared values during the formative stage of life provide a refuge from the ensuing chaos.’
In other words, Nigerians should be able to discover their loyalty to Nigeria if we can somehow control sectional and religious forces by having rules of engagement that are fair across the board and largely non-discriminatory. 2023 is just around the corner. Can we find such leaders who can turn the page by making Nigerians have pride and trust in their country? The type of pride and trust they have in their schools.