Flash Back – PJJ & RRD

One important thing that happened to me during my holidays was meeting a cousin called Vincent Ike. He was a graduate and was organising a fledgling student’s union for the town. He was tall and lanky and self confident. I was overawed. I was a totally unexposed and timid junior secondary boy from an unknown school in the backward north. How could I be hobnobbing with a whole graduate from the famous University of Ibadan? I joined the union and went with other fellow students to picnics at the Odo River Umuochu Village. Another thing about him that shocked me was that he had a Yoruba girl friend that he brought to Ndike! In 1956 that was unique, virtually unheard of. How could he bring a Yoruba girl the hundreds of miles from far away Yoruba land to the heart of Igbo land at that time when Nigeria was still a British colony? It was clear his parents were not in support of his actions. To make matters worse he and his friend walked about the village holding hands ignoring the young children who trooped after them, taunting them with derisory songs, `powam, powam’! Now that was a meaningless expression but it indicated outrage. At that time it was improper behaviour for a man and a woman to walk side by side holding hands in public.
I came back to school during that year’s harmattan, January. It was cold and dusty. Because this was a new school we were going to be there for six years before the West African School Certificate examinations. For me that was useful. I had been a playful student, hardly read my books, and therefore my performance was average and sometimes below average during my first three years. Part of my problem was that I had no relative to guide me or tick me off for poor performance. My father, an illiterate, could not. And he being an only son, I had no uncle or aunt to intervene. I had no senior brother or sister to look up to. My uncle from my mother’s side who put me in the school was not interested probably because of his frosty relationship with my mother. My half sister, Paulina from my father’s first marriage who was living with her husband in Zaria was not educated and could not intervene. So I just played. I played so much table tennis and ended up being the school captain. I played football and by the time I left the school was in and out of the college first eleven. I played lawn tennis, the variety I had explained in an earlier post.
But providence soon intervened. Our first principal, Reverend Freeman had left and had been replaced temporarily by Mr Kalejaiye. He was shortly thereafter replaced by PJJ. Those were the initials of Peter J. Johnson who was an English master moved from Umuahia Government College to be our new principal. He used to teach us English and suddenly the benefits of all my novel reading from primary school manifested. I was far and away the best student in my class in the English Language! I had been so hooked on novels that I would place one on my knees and read it whenever we were being taught a subject I was not interested in. I soon became a reference point. If there were any explanations to the class to do with précis or composition or grammar they were referred to me.  They say success begets success. Soon I discovered that I was strong in History and one or two other subjects. Seeing that success was possible I began to read my books more. But I regret I still did not do so as much as I should have. All the same by my fourth and fifth years I was one of the students to be reckoned with, one of the bright boys in the class!

By the fifth year things took and unfavourable turn. PJJ moved to other duties and RRD, R. R. Douglas, took over as English and Literature master. He was a short Scotsman with large head, bushy brown moustache and walked with bobbing head as if the head was what was propelling him forward. We simply did not get on. He favoured two boys and would always make sure that their grades were better than mine however hard I tried. He even once accused me of plagiarism when I wrote a particularly good essay. That really killed my spirit. That was at the time we were to choose subjects for the West African School Certificate examination. Because of RRD I decided not to offer English literature which I was also good in. I wanted to reduce my contact with him.

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