This is the second part of this 3-part letter. Read the first part HERE
The second event was still in JSS 1; it was maybe the second or third term, just after I joined the Debate team. I forget the name of the opposition school now but they were one of the few key ‘competitors’ we had. The debate was also slated to show on NTA, so major stakes were involved.
You shared all the debate club members into Speaker groups – first, second and third – and whomever performed the best in each group would represent the school as the first, second, or third speaker. I was the youngest and newest member of the club so I was in the third speaker group. That group also had one SS 3 student so I didn’t even fancy my chances – heck, nobody fancied my chances; we all just assumed I was there to ‘earn my stripes’ and be prepared to represent the school in later debates.
The first thing you did that impacted me was insisting that we all write our arguments. I had been in a few debates in primary school but we never wrote our arguments; instead, all we did was cram scripts that had been written by our teachers. Because you insisted however, I was forced to research and write it down – not bullet points – all of it. And when we submitted our arguments, you led us in point distillation sessions and eventually, you edited and supplied us with final drafts of the arguments…for ALL 3 speaker groups. Even for you, that was a LOT of work. This was my first taste of speech preparation and it taught me the vital skill of writing it all down; a skill that since then, has seen me ace countless debates, speeches, and MC/Hosting gigs.
Then you picked me as third speaker!
I remember the tension in the Physics lab after we each presented, on the day final speaker selections were slated to happen. I knew I had done a good job but I was not the popular choice – I was too new, too young and too small. Tope was in SS 3 and there were weighty reasons to give him the slot, even if I had performed better – it was his last year in school and that was his last shot, whereas I still had six years to do many more debates.
But for a man who flogged us incessantly for not abiding by the rules, you, Mr. Adawisi, didn’t play by the ‘rules’. You picked me. You also handled the unconventional decision so well there was no bad blood between Tope and me. As I exited the recording booth at the NTA studios after we lost the debate, I was in near-tears; I felt we had been robbed of our victory and I was scared the blame would fall on me – the unconventional 3rd speaker – even though I had done my lines perfectly. It was Tope who first came up to me and wrapped me in a bear hug so soothing that till today, I remember the itchy texture and perfumed scent of his sweater. He told me, “I am so proud of you!”; it meant everything.
Tope is a good man (I have run into him in Lagos a couple of times) but you helped him be good in that moment because of how delicately you handled the whole selection business. Apart from slapping on another layer of reinforced concrete on my self-confidence, that entire experience helped point out something I was – am – exceptional at – speaking. Too many people today live out their lives and die without ever discovering their special gifts; you helped me find mine at age 11. A gift I could never repay.
P.S. Do you remember this line from the third speaker script: “…but behind the façade of their religiosity lies a high degree of hypocrisy…”? It has been 19 years and I still remember your ‘big big’ grammar!
Speaking of, how come you never told me the word is pronounced /fəˈsɑːd/? You allowed me to be shouting /FA’KAYD/ up and down. On National Television! Smh. Just know that the two of us will share the embarrassment…in fact, no, the embarrassment is all yours. My excuse? I was a minor. 😊
This is the second of a 3-part letter. To be continued…
By Chisom Ojukwu