I remember today an important incident in my High school days, this was in my SS1 class during year 2005. I was in the art class which in my school then was notorious for having some of the oldest and dullest students in the school. These guys were fully grown as at junior school and were merely waiting to write their O’level exams in two years’ time and bid bye to education (most impregnated girls by graduation in 2007, some went into trading or other vocations).
My school had a tradition of holding literary and debate/quiz competition every Wednesday of each week. All students were to attend compulsorily albeit, the best students in the school participated in the competition proper. As stated earlier, my class had more of unserious students than good ones which made it difficult to compete with the four science and commercial classes (classes A & B were sciences, C & D were commercials, E and F were arts and I was in E class). Each class had not less than 60 students which means our Wednesday intellectual competitions were always well attended by over 300 people, including our Principal and teachers.
Week in week out, my class came last whenever we debated or had a quiz. The two art classes shared failure equally between themselves each week, we never tried to change the status quo, we shamefully maintained it. Some of us who were bright students felt bad each time results were called out but within the next 1 hour we were gallivanting around as usual. Our class teacher must have devised a plan on his own as one day towards the end of the 1st term he made a new proposition. He proposed a plan that unlike before when the class captain and a few regular faces represented the class, a roster would be made and everybody will eventually participate.
This was perhaps the best plan ever as it not only ensured that mediocre students stopped representing my class every week but that each student was given a chance to showcase themselves. It was the start of personal development for some of us. Before I knew it, it was my turn to represent my class and due to my earlier reputation my colleagues voted me to be the chief speaker in the debate. We got our topic few days in advance & it was titled; Mixed schools are better than single sex-schools. We debated in the affirmative while the other class opposed the motion.
That was my first ever debate and the beginning of my widespread popularity in that school. I started preparing for my debut as a debater and as chief speaker, I was bound to use 5 minutes while my two other speakers speak for 3 minutes. My sister noticed I was more serious at home which was due to my sourcing for points which prompted her to help me out. She tutored me on my comportment, gave me virtually all the points I later built upon and some big vocabularies that swept my audience off their feet.
I can’t really remember most of my points that day unless I check my records (for I kept that paper somewhere at home) but my class ended up in first position at the end of the debates. I had finished my conclusion by saying something like, “now I hope I’ve been able to convince you but not to confuse you by saying EMPHATICALLY that mixed schools are far better than single-sex schools!” When I got to the word ’emphatically’ I had raised my voice as a way of stressing further my point to the crowd, this was a ploy my elder sister had taught me at home. The plan worked all through, never before had anybody debated in my school so beautifully, I was elated not only in winning but also in having been able to stick to my sister’s coaching and not forgetting my points.
The delectable & smart Mrs Areo, my English teacher, called out the result and the crowd scattered when it was apparent my class had won. That day, some of my teachers wanted to change my class to sciences as they thought I shouldn’t be in the arts. Thank God that plan failed for I would have been a miserable student of science. I’ve gone on to fulfill my dream of studying law and a bright career awaits me. My mathematics teacher, Mr Akanji was the lead advocate for changing the classes of those of us who performed better than ‘what was meant for art class.’ My fellow debater, Suara Akeem (who doubled as my school’s best maths student) was moved from my class to science class A that same day!
There was a general conspiracy in all public schools in Nigeria during my time to admit the brightest students in the science classes (can’t say if it’s the same story today). During registration, my family had pressured me to be in one of the science classes and my dad followed me to school in his police uniform in a bid to pressurize my teachers to change me from arts. How that life-defining scenario went will be written in another story on another day.
Back to my debate, my reputation soared higher as a result of that victory & I became a regular representative of my class in every week’s debate or quiz. We attended some inter-school debates competitions in neighbouring schools and I remember vividly the one at Loyola College where we weren’t given an opportunity to compete after so much preparation and anxiety within our camp. Those people in that school were probably too scared to give us a slot as their own presentations and arguments were riddled with mistakes.
Within my class, my classmates talked about the debate for over a week. Some of them came to encourage me and I could vividly remember Olalekan Sesan saying, “why don’t you debate regularly since you know how to do this so well. Why did you wait till now to come out?” My class captain, Oladipupo Shamshudeen came to doff his hat. He had been a regular representative for my class in the weekly competitions and part of my winning team. Outside my class but within my set, there was the funniest of all experiences. Toweh Toba, my very good friend who’s now a sailor in Romania was in A class then.
Toweh Toba, of all I said in my debate, stuck to my conclusive word ’emphatically’ and never seized to remind me whenever our paths crossed in the following weeks. Whenever he saw me, he yelled out “Mr emphatically!” Imagine me playing football with my friends during the lunch break and someone calling out “EMPHATICALLY!” It used to be very crazy & funny. As simple as the word seems, as 14 year old African kids then some of my school-mates were hearing it for the first time. Personally, I learned to embrace my lexicon when I discovered how good vocabularies could win a public argument.