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Trouble welcomes the year 2020



There is the story of an ancient Headmaster who was best remembered for what he asked people to wish him every new year.
These Headmasters were heaven and earth to the communities where they served as the head of the primary schools they managed. They were particularly remembered for their insistence on discipline. They believed and preached the Biblical tenet that trouble-making resides in the chest of children and the young. And the cane is the instrument with which to rid the child of trouble-making.

Your usual headmaster was the most qualified in the school. He would have been to St. Andrew’s College, Oyo, one of the highest educational institutions in the western part of Nigeria. Until the inauguration of University College Ibadan in 1948, it was the premier place to go to be a teacher. A number of books have been published on St. Andrew’s Oyo the best known being St. Andrew’s College, Oyo (1896 – 1978) by T.O. Ogunkoya The book is subtitled “history of the premier institution in Nigeria.”

Whatever variety of Christianity was taught at St. Andrew’s College Oyo The Cane was central to it. The Cane, the teacher, the school. Some of us were really not too keen to go to school. Being brought up by a single mother with innumerable uncles ( both brothers of our mother as well as loving adventurers) offering to discipline either of us, it was a relief that she did not hire out the discipline of her boys. The fear of the cane was supposed to keep the boys on the straight and narrow road of good behaviour. Yet, there were outright trouble-makers, boys who took the cane like milk and sugar to their lemon tea.


There were also adults who were adult trouble-makers. Were they not caned when they were small? Or is it that it did not matter?

There is a particular plant atorin is its name. It is pliant, tough and enduring. Even when the skin comes off after much work the exposed plant is ready to work.

What was a school about? Vaguely it was about learning. Except that that aim got lost between the teacher, the cane and the pupil. Somewhere in one of those innumerable school magazines, first publishers of Nigerian writers and writing, there is an ode to the cane.

Were female teachers also users of the cane? There were a few female teachers in the schools of those days. They were two types. There was a skinny newcomer graduating from primary school into the first experience of work. Such was recently pupils and did not punish their pupils. They were the Warner’s, always warning the naughty pupils that one day will be one day when she would descend on them with the cane.

The second group of female teachers were usually robust and well-heeled. They were usually married with a number of children, some of whom were in the school. They were not usually efficient users of the cane. They were to be seen testing the pliancy of the cane long before they would apply it. And when they applied it, they were feeble and ineffectual. The trouble-makers loved to be caned by these mature teachers. They would scream to high heavens as the cane landed. As soon as they had been given the three or six or twelve lashes they would run to the corner and declare how the caning did not pain them at all. “Why were you screaming then?” Someone, scared stiff of and caning, would ask. “Why did I cry? It was for show!” Which is how he got the nickname “For Show”.


Some times, these mature female teachers hired out their caning usually to the office of the Headmaster or simply H EM. And there was no rationale as to which she would send to H EM. It could be that she is tired physically. Or she is fed up with the cane since it makes no difference to the behaviour of the pupils. But whatever her reasons for sending an offender to the Headmaster to apply the cane, it was going to be bad for the subject. Such pupils were usually considered difficult pupils likely to take their parents to prison.

There was a particular teacher who seemed to have accepted the job of a teacher simply to cane pupils. He came to the school with a bundle of atorin. They were dried to different levels of dryness depending on the age of the pupil to be caned. He seemed to have studied caning as he went through his educational institutions. He also caned in special clothes, not in normal school clothes. He usually reserved all his caning until after school. If you have two heads and four legs don’t show up for the caning session. “You leave this school or I leave this school” was his option for those who contemplated running away from the caning session. As a small boy with no idea of the possibilities of the future, you had no idea where you would go to if you did not go to school. Some times the pupils sent to the office of the Headmaster for caning ended in Mr. Moody’s session. Years later, we met at university. He was as gentle as a dove. And he did not remember being a specialist cancer in primary school.

Our particular Headmaster turned out to be a kind-hearted family man. Yet every new year when people wished him the very best in the new year he would refuse such greetings, swinging his head from left to right and left again. No, don’t wish me anything good in the new year. Instead wish me trouble, a lot of trouble. That way, I shall be able to test my strength against every difficulty that will confront me. I will become lazy and I will avoid any and all challenges that life throws in front of me. So, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues and pupils, pray that many difficulties will come my way in the new year. It is only in the face of these difficulties that I will be tested along with my friends and enemies. Let it be so.


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