He walked smartly to the front of the hall. Uniform clean and well apportioned, shoes buckled, an attitude all his own.
He had been invited forward to deliver his speech, and his confident strut belied his 12 years of age and his life experiences. He wore leadership like an outer garment. Looked up, paused and began his speech.
But before then, his schoolmates, one thousand strong, had sang the two stanzas of the national anthem…more like chanting it with aplomb, with strong voices and with a passion so overwhelming it drove us all to tears.
It was clear that they believed in Nigeria with all their heart and all their souls. The anthem sounded different, every word full of nationalism, passion and pride. Every meaning pulsating from their little frames. The young lad then began his speech.
He greeted the Chair and MD of the North East Development Commission (NEDC) and the dignitaries who had gathered. He spoke with fondness about the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osibanjo, who founded the school so that their future would be better than yesterday. His words of thankfulness for the Vice President resonated throughout the hall.
Then he thanked the school’s management, their teachers and their caregivers, especially Dr Mrs Maryam Marsha whom he described as ” our mother” for their continuous care and love.
Aside from a few words he struggled to pronounce, he spoke clearly and confidently. He spoke about how most of them had arrived the school with no knowledge of reading and writing, and how now they all could.
Things we often take for granted. Then he told us how some of them are now in tertiary institutions and secondary schools.
This young man in a blue and yellow uniform continued in a voice that sounded like thar of a CEO, thanking their teachers for their tireless effort in instilling in them values and the much needed knowledge.
He took time to thank those who continue to support the school so their lives would be better. He then asked for more support where it is possible as they still had many needs.
Enveloped in applause, he brought his speech to a close and returned to his seat. The clapping refused to stop until the MC finally managed to break in and return us to the programme.
Happy children who were failed by people who took arms against their parents. Reconstruction. Rehabilitation and Resettlement taking place in the North East after the insurrection
Abubakar Ahmadu, 12 years old, is the headboy of The Learning Centre, Maiduguri, Borneo State, a school established for children orphaned by Boko Haram.
Children who arrived with no memory of their parents names and some had gone through so much trauma that they may have also forgotten their parents’ faces.
Children whose memories revolve around terrors so scary that they see but much rather forget. These are children whose lives are on the mend. Impressive and unbelievable.
We sat quietly all of us trying to process the information we are picking up in this school, telling ourselves how grateful we must be that we are not coming through conflict.
As was earlier mentioned by a colleague of mine with whom we visited, Kayode Komolafe, deputy managing director of ThisDay, the human cost of war is often underestimated. One thousand children orphaned by Boko Haram.
In live images, It is a humbling experience. Goose bumps all over my body. But information indicates more than 50,000 children orphaned. It bugles the mind.
We sat still and the MC then told us that the children had prepared a performance for us. They matched forward gracefully attired in the traditional veil… the ladies and the men in Babanriga circling around the women with protective glances. The traditional Kanuri ceremonial dance performed by 10 – 15 year olds children who are trying to forget their yesterday.
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Heart renderingly beautiful. Then the MD of the North East Development Commission, NEDC, Alhaji Mohammed Alkali, suddenly stood up and joined the dance to rapturous applause.
At this point, the chairman of the North East Development Commission, General Paul Tarfa gave a speech to encourage them. Study hard, he said, and how many of you want to be soldiers.
Many hands went up. I am glad, he said with smiles. Then he asked. Where is the headgirl? A young lady in the dancing attire tip toed forward. Beautiful, happy and smart.
Happy children who were failed by people who took arms against their parents. Reconstruction. Rehabilitation and Resettlement taking place in the North East after the insurrection. The North East Trust Fund is also part of supporting the school.
Thirty-one media executives had been invited by the North East Development Commission for a media parley and a tour of their projects.
The school has been supported by the Commission and they had come to donate food items and educational material. Again, the headboy was asked to step up to receive the items.
When I had the privilege to speak, I asked how many wanted to be journalists like us. Over half the hands went up. This visit was humbling.
I thank the management, staff and caregivers of The Learning Centre, Maiduguri. They are working on behalf of all Nigerians. As the headboy rightly put it, it is a sacrifice.
As for me, I consider the work of these caregivers a national service. Bringing up one’s children is hard enough, building up broken children is truly a sacrifice. I congratulate them.
I thank the North East Development Commission for the opportunity to meet an unusual headboy and a very happy headgirl. Let’s be kind to one another. No war is good war….