The third event was in SS 2, my penultimate year in secondary school. A bunch of us were going to the Nigerian International Secondary Schools Model United Nations (NISSMUN) conference and you were our designated chaperone. I was 16 at the time and the ‘juices’ were on a high, rebellion was knocking at the gates.
When we got to the city of Abuja and I found myself with a little change in my pocket, hotel lodging and amongst all those pretty girls from far-flung parts of the country, I decided that the NISSMUN conference business would be secondary while I spent most of the trip having fun. So when there was a call for interested candidates to contest leadership positions, my hand stayed down. I was on vacation, remember?
But sir, you happened again. Just before the window for candidacy submissions ended, you assembled our school entourage at the back of that massive hall in the International Conference Centre and you proceeded to give us a vivid tongue-lashing. IK was the only one who had indicated interest in running for Secretary General (that guy never lost focus for even a minute in this life) so he was exempt; the rest of us got a scolding so bad that I called myself before the parole board of “Me, Myself and I”. Immediately after, I threw my hat in to contest for Chairman of the Security Council of the Model United Nations.
This picture was taken during my manifesto speech; I remember using my words to paint a picture of a future that we could all be proud to say we were part of making. I remember looking out at the crowd and feeling completely in my elements, even while butterflies ran amok in my belly. I remember feeling grateful for even the chance to stand there and talk to all those brilliant people.
We won the election and under my Chairmanship, the Security Council did exceptionally well. We did so well that I was specially celebrated after the conference ended. When my name was called as ‘Best Male Delegate’ on the award night, I remember walking up to the podium wearing Kenechukwu Okudo’s shoes. Kene had come with a spare pair and even though it was a few sizes too large for me, the shoes felt better than mine which had been too tight and almost crippled me. Shuffling through the crowd of applauding people, towards the stage to claim my award, I had whispered thanks to you under my breath. For pushing me.
Three major people had made sacrifices for me to go on that NISSMUN trip: both my parents had made a sacrifice to pay the hefty entrance amount; and my sister who was in SS 3 at the time and should have gone (since the folks could only pay for one) had given up her spot for me to go. Even knowing all of this, I had forgotten what a privilege I’d been given and I needed a sharp kick in the butt to remind me. Thank you for being that foot. That conference, the things I learnt there, and the people I met have not stopped blessing me till date.
Oh, guess what else I won from that trip…a girlfriend! You probably don’t want to hear it; heck, the word ‘girlfriend’ for a 15-year old surely has you cringing but I can’t help you there, sir. It was a good TRIP…all of it. 😁
P.S. I went digging and found this picture on a website. Some of my friends will kill me for digging this up but I wanted you to see. You look so young here that you could have been mistaken for another student…except for that big folder in your hand. 😁
I shared this letter on social media in three parts (a part per day) and by day 1, many of your former students with whom I’m still in touch reached out to share their stories and fond memories of you. Some of the attributes their stories bestowed on you are strict, funny, patriotic, passionate, intelligent and the most recurrent of them all – fair. You were a fair man. Seeing as you were quite the disciplinarian, I bet you don’t get to hear a lot of these testimonies. The way I see it, you had choices and instead of going for ‘most loved’, you elected to be the strong arm of the law we needed. I surely needed that strength – the rebukes, the punishments, the whippings – all of it.
I am still quite the distance from being the man I was meant to be but if I have ever steered the right way on this ongoing journey, I hope you know that you were – are – one of the key reasons why. I hope that the life I have lived, am living and will live, proves to be a worthy ambassador of the best parts of you.
I may never attempt teaching as a profession because experience has taught me that behind its FAÇADE (read /FA’KAYD/) of ease lies high degrees of toil and sacrifice. You – and all your colleagues – are simply heroes for taking it on, for taking us on.
I will still call you from time to time, so you can holler ‘OOOO-JH-UKWU!’ and guffaw in my ear . If I ever get the chance though, I shall like the opportunity to tell your children how their father with the squinty stare and seemingly perpetual bunch of jangling keys in one hand, impacted my life. 😊
Thank you, sir.
By Chisom Ojukwu