The Power of One: Covenant University, A Shame of Nigeria (II)
“If we do not now dare everything, the fulfilment of that prophecy, re-created from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sign.
No more water, fire next time.”
— James Baldwin
It began like those spy movies, where the authorities finally have the criminal cornered, and he has nowhere else to go.
The door burst open and the man was there, standing in the doorway with his arms crossed. “Get up,” he said. “Get changed. You’re coming with me.”
I put down my stylus — I was painting a self portrait for my birthday in two days — and I began to wear my clothes, patting down my hair. My roommates weren’t around, it was just me.
I didn’t ask him any questions, to do that would have been an insult to both of our intelligences — we both knew why he was here. We both knew what I had done.
As I was led away, there were stares and confused looks as I passed. I smiled and nodded, but that was to hide my shaking fingers and sweating back.
We got out of Joseph Hall, into the white bus, and we began the drive to CDS, where, for better or worse, Fate waited for me.
I was taken to the MSS office where I was sat down and my essay was read back to me.
The woman looked at me, sighed, and took off her glasses. “Do you recognise these words?” She asked.
I nodded. “Yes,” I said. “I do.”
“Are you the one that wrote this…essay?”
I nodded again. “Yes.”
She smiled then, but it was the smile a shark would smile after cornering its prey. Then, she chuckled. “You don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into,” she said. “Don’t you know the curse of Papa is on any who opposes him? And you, you’re just one person, what do you think you can do?”
I was quiet as beads of sweat rolled down my face. She was right.
In the office, there was a girl crying, filling an offence form. Her twitter account had retweeted porn and the school authorities got wind of it. She knew what was coming.
She continued. “Well, you’ll soon see, don’t you understand that this is libel, what you’ve said against your school? Are you not ashamed?” She stared into my eyes with the disgust saved for the devil himself, and she reached into her cupboard and brought out an offence form. She didn’t need to tell me much; I knew the drill.
“Hold on,” she said, looking at me, her eyes narrow. “In that form, you’ll say everything that Covenant has done to you. You better.”
So, I held the form in my hand, and the pen in my other, and I knew I had a decision to make. See, I’ve been in enough situations to know a trap when I see one. And this…this form, it was definitely one.
I wrote on it.
On the next day, May 16th, a day before my birthday, I was called to the Student Disciplinary Council on the count of “Impersonation: bearing a false witness of Covenant University to the media”.
I was scared.
I was lost.
I didn’t know what to do.
Waiting with me the next day were people with different offences. A group of final year women were there because their buttons didn’t cover up enough. Some guys were there for some dress code violation or the other. A family friend, beside me, was there because of an issue with a device technician. Different, yes, but, in all of us, was the idea that we were, supremely, fucked.
When my turn came, after two hours, I walked to the gallows with shaky feet and weary bones. I hadn’t slept much the night before.
I stood before the council, men and women who I had seen once or twice, none who knew me personally, and then, the Head of Student Affairs, my essay in hand, read it out loud to the room.
Nobody said a word, everybody looked at me.
I had many thoughts of what they would say to me, many ideas and conspiracies about what they would do, but none, absolutely none, had a kind looking woman in them, staring into my eyes and asking, “What did we do to you?”
When Nigerian elders ask what you did, it’s mostly because they’re about to take your words and hit you with them. But the way she looked, the way the others looked, something about it made me talk, and so, I did.
I told them about my religious life, and how I didn’t go to church, I told them about how hard it was to conform. I told them about my issues with their policies. I told them I didn’t mean to offend anyone, and that I’d take it down if need be, but that I just wanted to speak out.
And these men and women sat there, and they listened.
But those were half-truths, which, as you know, are only half-lies.
So, when I was asked, “Where you forced into this school?”
I paused. “No,” I lied. “I wasn’t.”
But, thinking about it now, months later, I shouldn’t have lied. I should’ve been honest. I was scared, and worried about what they’d do, and all that was on my mind was the many, many ways my father would kill me.
But still, I shouldn’t have lied.
I should have said yes, that I was. And most of us were. I should’ve gone on and told them the full truth of my experience. Of the thoughts I had, when my roommates were asleep, and all I would do was cry, and cry, because I was so unhappy, I wanted to kill myself. I should’ve told them that in these three years, I hadn’t known peace, that every semester felt like I was drowning deeper and deeper with the way I was treated. That, after the two assaults, I just didn’t feel like a whole human being anymore.
I should’ve told them about a friend of mine, who was taken advantage of by a lecturer, or my roommates, some of the strongest people I ever knew, who were driven to a dark depth when the suppressed attendance sheets were released. I should’ve told them that what they were doing, just wasn’t right. That they were hurting us.
But, I didn’t.
After I wrote my essay, students, hall officers, and even lecturers began to recognise me, and all of them bore that look on their face, the one that said, “That was just what I was thinking. Thank you.” And for me, that was more than enough. I want to write, and speak, and I want people to listen.
My pain in Covenant began with me, three years ago, crying on a foreign pillow, far from home, and scared of what would come next, but the pain ends with this: with me typing this essay and letting go of this weight on my back. I refuse to drown anymore.
There are so many people who have had their lives diverted because of this place, and I don’t think it’s right to ignore their stories. Stories are more important than you think, stories are what made Covenant what it is.
I write what I write, not out of spite, or anger, or attention, but for a need to see this place, and the people in it, myself included, become better.
To the MSS woman who read my essay to me, Mother Fate may bring you to read my work again, so, I think I have an answer for you:
If you let me, I will tell you a story.
It is a story that goes back thousands of years, to a small child, impossibly born to obscure parents, in an obscure land. The story is of the boy who grew to become a man, whose words the people sensed truth in. There were prophets then, men who spoke with the thunder of God, who held lightning in their feet, who boomed of judgment and reckoning.
But, the man — he spoke of kindness, and of love, and of the importance of faith. He spoke out for what he believed in, until his last breath.
It is a story that begins in a small barn in Bethlehem, surrounded by animals, and it is one that ends, on a cross, silhouetted against a dark sky with a storm that will never tire.
But stories don’t end, not really, they continue with you who read them, until your last breath. And that man’s story, it continued years after he died, his teachings surviving with the twelve and spreading across millions, then billions.
So, you tell me that I am just one person, and I tell you that one person is, and has always been, more than enough.
“Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
- Matthew 11:28
(New King James Version)
First article is here.