He always made out time to select his canes. Those were like his identity. Ask five generations of pupils that passed through Ogbako National Primary School during his time, and they always remember him by his canes. He smiled as he thought of the “National” in the name of the school.
“Our people and their penchant for making things sound bigger than they are” He said out loud.
“Sir?” the cane seller enquired.
“What?” he glared at him, the smile suddenly off his face
“I thought you were talking to me” the seller said, and brought his head down in capitulation to the fiery eyes of the headmaster.
The headmaster smiled inwardly. He loved it when people bowed to his strict nature. Fear keeps people in line, and that is what he is all about—keeping people in line.
“I will take these twenty” he said, motioning to a selection of the finest cream-coloured canes that he had brought out.
The seller was not surprised. He had been the man’s “customer” for the past 5years. He knew that before him, there were other cane sellers too whom the headmaster dutifully patronized. He tied up the canes with two ropes, each for a separate end of the long canes, and handed the bundle over to the headmaster.
* * *
The headmaster was famed all around the community and beyond as the best disciplinarian ever. Many generations of students who passed through Ogbako National Primary School bear gory tales of severe, and several punishments meted out to them by him. In fact, during his tenth year in the school, a mild drama ensued one morning at the Morning Assembly, when he lined up all the teachers, and began to give each of them twelve strokes of his special cane for what he called their “corrupt nature”. Apparently, one teacher had asked pupils to bring sponges to him as “handiwork”, and a particular pupil in her tiny wisdom, brought a badly drawn picture of her family. The enraged teacher asked the girl to go home and bring sponges. The girl, being exceptionally vocal, insisted that she could not make sponges, so they could not have been her “handiwork”. But the teacher would have none of it, and in anger, gave the girl six lashes of the cane, and sent her home. The child cried all the way home and told her father who being hot-headed, rushed down to the school and reported to the headmaster.
He was incensed–the headmaster was. He fumed at the teacher’s level of corruption and sought to strangle him. The petty but scared teacher , like a kid who tries to justify his own mistakes by claiming that others were doing the same thing, told the headmaster that all the teachers were taking sponges as “handiwork”, so he thought it was the right thing to do.
“Under my nose?” The headmaster was hysterical.
His anger knew no bounds, and as a means of disciplining them for making a mockery of his anti-corruption campaigns in the school, he decided to flog all the teachers in front of the students. He was such a man; always all about disciplining people.
In the over thirty years of his stay in the school however, Ogbako National Primary School had gone from the best primary school academically in the entire state, to the worst. Granted that before, it was the most laissez-faire school, with teachers getting rich off the parents of pupils, but academically, the teachers were motivated to work harder for the kids of their patrons. Stories of Ogbako National, as a fertile ground for teachers spread like wildfire in those days, and many intelligent and ambitious graduates sought to come there. Until the headmaster was transferred there, and somehow, with his influence in the Primary Education Board, became almost “untransferrable”. Thus began the years of “ridding Ogbako National of corruption”.
The academic standards deteriorated as teachers found ways to leave. Yet the deterioration did not matter to the Board. What suddenly mattered was that in terms of teacher and student discipline, the school was their golden standard. During independence and Children’s Day celebrations, Ogbako National Primary School always came first, but when Common Entrance Examinations were taken, pupils from the school seldom pass, and as such end up dropping out. Once, an external researcher tried to find out from the State Primary School Board why this was the case. The research produced a simple result; creative teachers did not want to go to the school, so only the dregs were sent. The headmaster was duly told, but he did not care. What mattered was maintaining discipline, and he wished he had the powers to lie the researcher on the table and give her several doses of his special cane.
* * *
He liked to grind the pepper himself. Nobody else will give it the smooth watery paste he needed. Before grinding the pepper, he would have given the canes some slight cuts. Then he would pour the pepper into a long bowl he had bought when he though his wife was pregnant, and soak them in the pepper. The idea was to make sure that the small cuts would tear the skin of the person being punished–no disciplined. He hated the word ‘punish’. Makes one look evil– then the fiery pepper would soak in, and leave some bites after he had stopped flogging the person. It did not matter that when he sweats from wielding the canes, the pepper also bites into his own flesh and hurts him. It was a small sacrifice to pay for “keeping people in line”. “Keeping people in line” was the panacea to all social issues he would always tell anybody willing to listen. Once, he was told about the degenerative standard of academics in the school, and how it was affecting the pupils, but he glared at the person, and told them that getting his pupils and staff disciplined is the foundation for the growth of the school in all aspects.
* * *
30 years later, the foundation was still being laid.
- Polifiction is a dramatization of political events. It is hosted by Nnaemeka Oruh @liliemmyz