In 1993 I was a young boy playing street soccer, police and thieves, and "mummy and daddy" in the heart of Yoruba land, Ibadan. I could read and write Yoruba. At that young age, I read T. O. Fagunwa’s books at the same pace with which I read Chukwuemeka Ike’s Toads for Supper. My heroes included Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Bola Ige, both Yoruba men. I was a proper Yoruba boy, thought like one, and was destined to grow up like one. Until September 1993 when there was a sudden change. Like the branch that was grafted into another tree, my orientation would never be the same again.
In 1993, I was admitted into the Nigerian Military School, the changes were immediate and profound. I will resist the temptation to write a little of experiences as a crab. But I remember the first time I heard a name like Ellis Abakasanga! I couldn’t help wonder how funny the name sounded. I was to get used to more strange names after that. My occasional escapades to town introduced me to a language and culture different from what I had known. Soon I was caught up in the craze for Indian films then prevalent in northern Nigeria to the extent I occasionally parted with my limited cash to see an Indian film in the cinema. I chose friends based on a common goal, survival, and not on ethnicity. The least on your mind when dodging from company duties was the ethnic groups of the provosts chasing you or of your dodging crew.
No doubt NMS was the place to build nation leaders. Few other secondary schools in the country admit the same number of students from each state of the federation all in one set. You get to meet people from various cultures and, if you will ignore few ignoble occurrences, it did not matter your tribe or religion in survival. So it is not surprising that despite being of the same tribe, Bola Abimbola and Femi Falayi as provosts made my life miserable nor did it have to do with the tribe when Farouk MaiAbba set out for me all through his stay in NMS (no regrets sirs o. It was the life). Also, the dread for Ibrahim Waziri or Tony Bassey, 2 Boy PMs at various times in my time in NMS, had no variation with ethnicity.
As military training is designed, every boy soldier learns the importance of teamwork thereby building camaraderie. You buy and serve jobs together, you serve jobs as course mates for job bought by an individual, as a group you are at times asked not to report for a parade until all your course mates were complete (hence the duty of all to make sure all were present). There were also lots of team competitions: cross-country, watermanship, drill competition, point-to-point, to name a few – even relatively individual sports like table tennis were converted to team sports as all were made to clap and sing to "give morale" to the company representatives. Woe betides you if one of the class six boys decides that Shehu Lukman lost a match because crabs did not give enough morale! When people ask me where I grew up, I answer this:
I was born and partially bred in Ibadan, I was fully bred in NMS.
In 1999, I left NMS a Nigerian. I no longer saw myself merely as a Yoruba boy. I had brothers born of the same pain and groan, ex-boys. I had friends everywhere in Nigeria. I could enter any town and as long as an ex-boy was there I felt at home. Such is the spirit of ex-boyhood. Some of my civilian friends wonder at how high I regard ex-boys, over 10 years post-graduation, I try to explain, they try to understand.
In 2013, take a look at Nigeria and what do you see? I wonder if there ever has been so much acrimony between ethnic groups like there is now. From allegations against the governor of Lagos State, Fashola, of being anti-Igbo to shocking accusations of ethnic bias amidst military officers – a lot of examples are the reality in our nation today. If you are frequent on social networks and pause to read various comments you can readily pick out the ethnic group of various commenters based on their arguments. These days everyone seems so ethnic conscious. I will not now bother to postulate reasons for this increasing ethnic awareness. However, there is a question we must ask one another;
Are ex-boys allowed to be tribalistic?
While I leave that question unanswered I will note however that I have on few occasions seen ex-boys argue based on ethnic lines.
The Last Frontier: A lot of intelligence reports predict a break-up of our nation. I have always believed in one Nigeria. I have always believed in the unity of this great country of ours. I have always believed that like in the US (of A) we can find peace in the diversity of our various cultures. The politicians are tearing us apart, the sacred military, is gradually joining in, where lies the hope for our nation? Can I sound the bugle and hail all ex-boys to heed the clarion call of nation-building, of shunning ethnic bias to fighting in our various cocoons to unite Nigerians? If the politicians cannot do it, if the military (as evidenced in most previous coups) cannot do it then there is one more group of people I see: my fathers, Ogas, friends, and junior colleagues, that last frontier is us – ex-boys. If we cannot shun or fight tribalism, who else can?
I leave us with that famous creed I learnt by heart within an hour of being on parade ground after series of head-cracking during rehearsals for drill competition – The Soldier’s Creed.
My honor is My faith
I vow My faith in Nigeria
The supremacy of our constitution
Our heritage of liberty
My duty is my service
To defend Nigeria everywhere
Her territorial wealth and people
The cradle of our freedom
Whenever the clarions call
Whatever the price or odds
My faith is one and ever
To the Federal Republic of Nigeria.