I grew up in Enugu, a quiet town in the south-east of Nigeria that has been touted as serene, beautiful, progressive and is beloved for her coolness (see http://www.travelstart.com.ng/blog/most-loved-cities-nigeria/). Looking back, I would say I grew up privileged – not Chelsea Clinton or Davido kinda privileged, mind you. I grew in a charming bungalow situated on approximately 800-900 meters square of land owned by my father. I had my every sane wish, as a child, granted – when I wanted a baby sibling at age 10-11, I got one. I was surrounded and doted on by loving relatives. I had tons of friends – I was quite the popular gingo. And I went to good schools. My first years of school – Nursery, I had white tutors/carers, and by Nigerian standards, that’s like studying at Eton with Einstein-like personalities as your tutors. I soon progressed to Primary school whereupon I proceeded to spiral down the hill towards dumber and dumber. From then onwards, I was a lazy student. I didn’t strive for intelligence. I would sooner read a Wole Soyinka or a Charles Dickens, with all the big grammar, than read my notes or open my textbooks. I had it good and I took it for granted.
Fast forward to age 13. I had lost my only sister, my family was going through harrowing times, my interest in educating myself was on an even downward spiral. I was a disaster. My father was deeply worried. Which boarding school to transfer me to became the topic of regular debates. I, for one, was in favour of FGC, Enugu – it was hip! – but my academic record was too poor for the (then) elitist school. Then came this man from Umunze whose cousin’s children attend a nondescript secondary school near Umunze. Apparently, the children were the epitome of intelligence and hardwork. And suddenly I’m on a convoy of two vehicles laden with luggages, with my (almost) stepsister headed towards a small village in Anambra State. I was appalled when I got there. Demonstration Secondary School, Eziagu was in the middle of nowhere, literarily. Initially, I hated it. Immensely. The students stared a lot and many were saccharine nice to us. The food was terrible. Classes were intensive. For the first time in a long time, I had to be attentive in class. I couldn’t deal. But, I didn’t have a choice. I had to be smart or be ridiculed (teenagers are the meanest!), so I picked up my books and tried to know what’s up. Plus, there was this teacher, Ms. Ndeche – yeah, that was yeeeaaars before Chimamanda made the title become hip in Nigeria. Ms. Ndeche is, hands down, the best teacher I’ve ever met. She taught English Language and Literature in English – my best subjects because of the many novels involved. In Ndeche’s presence, you better shape up or ship out. She didn’t suffer fools at all. Gradually, with her making me one of her favourite students, I shaped up. I had the best grades in her subjects and I started to do well in other subjects. Except Math, that is. Funny, considering my late father was a Math whiz – well, he was a whiz in every subject he took in school – and my son is a burgeoning Newton. Anyways, I hated Math. I disliked, intensely, it’s mean teacher. I would sneak off to the library to read Jane Austen during Math period. A habit I soon quit when the meanie teacher made me and a group of truant boys transfer water from a full 5 liter bucket to an empty 5 liter bucket, across a 100 meter yard, under the hot sun, in front of the judgy teachers’ staff room, in full glare of mocking teenage meanies, using a table spoon. It is the most excrutiating punishment, on the most embarrassing day of my life. Afterwards, I hated Math even more. That said, I attended and graduated Sec School as an average student. I barely made the Law faculty of Madonna University.
When I look back, all I see is my father encouraging me to be more and me lapping up the encouragements like they’re my due, but never really going the extra mile to do more and be more. Well, more is relative yeah? To many of my peers, I’m doing more. To my classmates from Demonstration Sec School, it’s unbelievable how far I’ve come since our time at Eziagu. But, but, but, the one opinion/accolade I care about is my father’s, and he’s not here to give it. So, these days, I just imagine that I’m having a conversation with him about, say, Pres. Buhari and the ministerial list, or the droll, hard to read Nietzche, or Butler on gender performativity. I imagine his laughter and the calm and coaxing way he has of swaying one to his side of the argument, and I smile and thank God for the years I had with him. And…No, I’m not schizophrenic. I’m only a daughter who misses her motivator and valiantly clings to a rock that never failed to support, of good memories of a father who was stern but loving.