Having some free hours, I retrospect over one of my early initiations into issues surrounding corruption which led me to cautiously or totally refrain from criticizing government officials and leadership over corruption issues with the gusto I would have wished.
Playing then for my primary school at Aba, we had rolled from one victory to another till we got pitched against this primary school at Okpulu Umuobo, Ngwa hinterland or so. Smarting from recent victories, we were quite confident and just before kick off, someone had whispered to us that our opponents were all married men. Married at primary school age? It did not faze us but I yet stole a glance at them. Nothing much. Just poor and ugly jerseys.
We were all above 5 feet tall in my team. Meanwhile, the officially accepted standard height measure for primary school games was 4 feet, 8 inches. However, our teachers who were supposed to be our moral guardians had taken us through the rudiments of TUMMY TUCKING TECHNIQUE.
It’s a method where we would suck or tuck in our tummies so hard that we lost 2-3 inches in height automatically. Intent was to deceive the officials as our jersey tops covered the tummies. Chai! Corruption..that early? It perfectly worked and the officials were sold. That was how we won the victories till we met this opposition of a village, wicked school this day.
Now, on entering the pitch, my friend Victor, who was our goalkeeper, ( I will return to his story later) whispered something to the effect that I should check out the ‘yams’ on the opponents’ legs.
Not only the yams, I observed that the hairs on their legs and arms were so thick which reminded me of nothing than King Kong. I instantly believed the one who claimed they were all married men. Most shocking was that they were all short at less than 4 feet in height. What is happening here? All the signs I made to our coach to cancel, protest or postpone the match or just do anything was unheeded because he did not look my way. How can we play against these old men? Like a lamb being led to the slaughter, I literally died!
And so the match started. I don’t want to bore you with details of the catastrophe that transpired that day but on the only contact I made with the ball or one of the men (I don’t know which now), what I heard was gboooah! I could only remember seeing Angels in white apparel. They were feeling my face and pouring water on me and calling out my name. Later, I learnt they were the Red Cross who had saved my life off the pitch.
I could hear from a distance our coach asking me to get up and get back to the pitch quickly. Gradually I came to, and I did. I later learnt that all our subs ran away on observing the debacle that was to happen on the pitch. I turned to prayers all through the game as I did all to avoid contact with these savages. Somehow, I caught Victor our goalkeeper dodging the shots than trying to catch them. Thank God for nets.
Half time, our coaches all disappeared, which was just as well. The tradition was that during the breaks, our coach-teachers would launch over with canes, belts and other weapons and flogged spirits into us for potential and actual blunders committed during a game. It was inconsideration of the highest order. The school authorities should arrest and jail those teachers for such level of bestiality, but it somehow produced the desired results as we transferred the venom to the opponents and won games.
As if the teachers knew, on this particular day, on this match day, we were ready to fight, flog or maim them if they ventured near. We could not discuss strategies as we usually did after the whippings. We lost appetite for the glucose. We all had this steady gaze like saying, God if possible, let this cup pass…
On resumption, we were reluctantly running after these old, married, inconsiderate men all over the pitch with eyes fixed on the referee to spare us this misery and end the game. Our school-supporters abused us not a little. The opponent-supporters pelted us with all manner of names: Torotoro, (Turkey) OGBs (over grown babies), BFNs (big for nothing), egg yolk, salad shit, etc. Instant deriding songs were constructed. Chai! Chai! Dearis god…ooo.
Imagine the many opponents we faced on that day. Far as I’m concerned, that match lasted 7 hours!
Match end, Victor claimed there were lizard eggs, frog eggs, squirrel eggs, guinea fowl eggs, etc all over his goal post which explained the loss. He insisted the balls came 7 at a time. We clutched unto that alibi fiercely and our girls believed and allowed us return to school. But no one spoke about that match till I left primary school. I thought it was official.
Don’t ever ask me the final scores because I don’t respond to inconsiderate and banal questions.
So I ran into Victor on a recent trip to Aba early November. After a round of banters and catching ups, I asked our ‘Emmanuel Okala’ the obvious questions. First, why did he not see snake eggs on that day, and second, what was the final score of that match. (Imagine me that played 5 or the last man on that day asking a team mate such question). On the first, he laughed and laughed and was nearly choking which gave me the answer straight. On the second, he said the match ended 8:1 against us. But his real issue was that he could not remember our scoring even the goal we were awarded. He swore that the referee could have awarded us a goal in sympathy. He still reminded that it took the ball boys at least 30 minutes to retrieve the balls each time based on the distance the men’s (our opponents) shots went. (Our matches were played with only one football then).
So with all the tummy-tuck, deception and lies, we lost that game. Remembering the story today, many questions were agitating my mind.
Why was the parameter for qualifying to play matches then at primary school level the height instead of age? The average age of our opponents could have been 28 years to be magnanimous going by their hair, muscles, veins and arteries and voice levels. And, in sober reflection, if we had miraculously won that match, I won’t be here to send this post.
Why would the teachers, leaders and moral compass who should mentor impressionable lads of 11-12 years in the right way turn around to be the ones sowing the seeds of corruption and deception that early in life. That action actually taught me the ‘smartness’ required to always beat the system.
Now, you see why we need moral and values reorientation as a core subject in our primary schools. Religious Studies is taught more as a historical subject than a spiritual and moral guide to right living. Change should ideally start from kindergarten level than the way our current leaders are chanting it.
Apologies if I bored you.
Have a lovely Sunday and Merry Christmas in advance.