What’s in the name, you may ask, of a school, a person or anything at all? So much, if you believe my father, who, when I was growing up in the 1980s and pop stars were popping up all over, would dissuade me from being called Michael Jackson or anything along those lines. I did get called one of the Jackson 5 anyway, apparently because people believed I was a terrific dancer, and Michael remains my best musician of all time.
My dad wanted me to be called Karefa-Smart, whose head, he told me, had been bought by the Whiteman because of his genius. If you are my contemporary, I don’t know if you ever got told this. In any case according to my uneducated father, Dr John Karefa-Smart had all the degrees in the English alphabet and wanted me to be as educated as he believed the country’s first foreign minister was.
But when I asked my dad why he would not let me attend school outside Kono district since diamond mining was the preoccupation of the youth, he contradicted himself saying there was nothing in the name, and discouraged me from realising my dream to attend such schools as Bo School (Bo Government Secondary School for Boys) or Boys School, as the Magburaka Government Secondary School for Boys is known.
Many of my contemporaries in my home town of Bumpeh, in Kono, who attended Boys’ School, had all the girls at their beck and call when they returned on vacation. Not me whose school was just four miles off. It would seem the farther one went away, the more the girls fell head over heels for one.
Anyway! But who does not hold their alma mater at the highest esteem? Common therefore to see everybody refer to theirs as the Oxford of the East, Cambridge of the North, etc. No wonder, therefore, that when I told a curious admirer recently that I attended the Jaiama Secondary School in Kono, referring to it as the best school the district or the east has ever had an alumnus of the Yengema Secondary School almost strangled me.
YSS was our bitterest rivals in the district so much so that when Mr Gandor was principal, we joked, he almost always found out about the whereabouts of our principal, KM Sulaimani, now of blessed memory; whether he had gone to Fourah Bay College or Ghana to recruit teachers.
JSS most times topped the district and sometimes the province at the WACE O’ level exams. But we went out of Jaiama and Kono years later, to realise that the success of a school was largely measured by how much influence its alumni had on the country’s politics: How many were cabinet ministers, senior civil servants, ambassadors etc.
This shook my pride somewhat as I had been basking, maybe hallucinating, in the academic achievements of people like Dr Aiah A Kpakima, the lead researcher on the black fly and the Oncho project and Prof Kpakiwa the co-founder of the insulin solution. They both attended the Jaiama Secondary School.
So, it also became apparent that the longer a school had been in existence for, the more impact it was likely to create. It brings to question therefore why, when in 1906 the British colonialists wanted to establish a secondary school in the provinces they chose to do so in Bo, southern Sierra Leone and for the sons of chiefs only, at least up to a point. Whatever the reason for that, it gave a significant edge to that part of the country, which churned out the bourgeois of the provinces and produced the first crop of the country’s post-independence leaders.
But it is also fair to say that Bo School has served as a potpourri and has jelled somewhat people from all corners of the country especially the north and south, the country’s geopolitical dichotomy. At Fourah bay College, it was very much remarkable how the two would bind as if they came from the same womb, all in the name of the Old Bo Boys Association, OBBA.
They made us see OBBA as a religion, so that when Brig. Maada Bio (an old Bo School Boy) came to power in his palace coup in January 1996, just weeks before pending elections, it was incredible how these OBBA fellows united overnight in their call for “Peace Before Elections”. In other words, giving more time to Bio to stay in power and probably perpetuate himself there. It became all too obvious to me how the Bo School phenomenon had metastasised throughout the nation’s body politic.
I did not travel to Bo for the OBBA 102nd anniversary last weekend but I imagine the country’s second city was probably not as awash with festivities and agog with fun and frolic as was the case in years gone by. The subliminal feeling of being out of political power must have etched a feeling of the old boys some of whom still reel at the mandate of the people. Cashed in by their rivals, the Magburaka Old Boys’ Association (MOBA), who had been lurking in the dark for a generation. Now their illustrious son, Ernest Bai Koroma is the country’s first gentleman. I can quickly and proudly add that the Number Two man, Samuel Sam Sumana, attended my school, JSS. Ha! Ha! Bo School, where are you? You have been mobbed by MOBA it would seem! Just kidding!
To cap it all, Boys School, founded in May 1950, was glowing over the weekend as they also marked their fifty-eighth anniversary. A far cry from what was obtaining in Bo, Magburaka was sparkling. Why not, after all a good number of President Koroma’s cabinet ministers are alumni of the Magburaka Boys’ School.
It is probably an opportunity to develop the school which has been lagging behind in recent times so much so that even relatively newly-established Benevolent Secondary School in Makeni, which I also attended, has overtaken it.
The picture is even grimmer for the education of women on the north. The girl child education initiative initiated by the former government should be improved upon. To achieve this, the country’s foreign minister, Mrs Zainab Bangura, an Old Girl of Mathora (the sister School of Boys School) should be a very effective ambassador. So also should the Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs, Mrs Musu Kandeh.
The women of the north need to be uplifted. Backward traditions spanning generations and warped government policies over the years left them at the bottom of the scale. Have we asked ourselves why the vast majority of street traders, beggars and other lowly people are northerners? This is both a scar and a scab on the conscience of any conscientious Sierra Leonean and must be healed and smoothed NOW!
And how about exchange programmes between northern and southern schools if only to help bridge the geopolitical divide that I fear is getting deeper and sharper. The two must know each other better and live together more often. And those schools in the east and in the west can help arbitrate. Otherwise it can get worse at the tertiary level and further deteriorate in the country’s body politic! Let not OBBA be an SLPP affair and MOBA an APC one. Please bring OBBA and MOBA together, to stop the country from going further asunder. By Umaru Fofana