St Kizito National High School

St Kizito National High School was founded, in a sense, in 1949 by the first Irish missionaries who came to the ancient city of Benin. The school had started as a Catechetical Centre for teaching the then reluctant new converts the ways and doctrines of the Church. It had not remained a Catechetical Centre for long.

Anyone familiar with the history of the ancient Bini people knows they were always slow to accept the religion of the white men – something that was poles apart from their traditional ways of worship. Hence, it did not take too long for the catechetical centre to fall into disuse.

Since the primary purpose of the centre’s establishment had not been met, Father Roderick Wall, in 1961, a year after Nigeria gained independence, decided to add more structures to the few ones that still occupied the place at the time. It had been his intention to transform it to a school of formal learning. He had hoped that the Binis would be more receptive of western education than they were of western religion.

He was right.

By the year 1975, the school had made a lot of progress with children and adult centres of learning. It owed its maiden name, St Kizito Child and Adult Educational Centre, to Fr Wall.

Due to the high academic excellence that soon became notable of the staff and students of the school, many were attracted from the surrounding cities and states to the school.

In 1986, the then military government took over the school and renamed it St Kizito Centre of Learning. Before long, the Government had eliminated the adult arm, making it St Kizito Secondary School in 1990.

By the time the establishment was returned to the Archdiocese of Benin City in the year 2000, under the then civilian Government, so much had gone wrong. That same year, the institution was closed down by the Archdiocese. The long process of rehabilitation followed, beginning with the provision of excellent boarding facilities.

St Kizito National High School became the name when it was reopened in 2002.
Despite various transitions and transformations, the academic excellence of the school was never compromised. In fact, it continued to wax stronger. However, the same could not be said of the morals.

The character of the students faded with time. The management of the school had always been more concerned with upholding the intellectual side of its motto – ‘the best at all times’ – rather than make any resolute attempt at shaping the morals of their students.

It was only in September 2009 that the Archdiocese of Benin City thought it wise to have chaplaincies in all Catholic schools under their ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

Maintaining the standard St Kizito had set for herself meant fees were on the high side. So those who gained admission were mostly children of the rich. Forming the character of such students was never easy; that they were all boys made matters a lot worse.

The responsibility of managing St Kizito National High School, Sapele Road, Benin City, now rested on the shoulders of Dr George
Oriakhi, the principal. He had assumed the office as far back as 2002 when the school got a facelift.

A man in his mid-sixties, George Oriakhi looked young for his age. No streaks of grey marred his hair that remained as dark as ever on a head that looked more canine than human. Because of his height, not many were able to notice the smooth balding spot at the very middle of his head. Huge gold-rimmed spectacles dimmed the fierce gaze of eyes that seemed to have a life and will of their own. Not much went by the man unnoticed.

Oriakhi always walked like someone about to pounce on the nearest thing in sight – an effect made possible by his gait. He was feared and respected, especially among the staff and students. His presence exuded such self-confidence that whoever happened to be at the receiving end of his attention felt intimidated. Perhaps that was because he alone had three doctoral degrees to his name among the entire members of staff in the school.

That Sunday morning, George Oriakhi stepped onto the balcony of his house, located at the staff quarters of the school compound. He looked at the view before him, frowning at the tall overgrown grasses dotting the entire landscape. It was obvious that the gardeners had not been very diligent with their duties these past days. Something had to be done about that now that the holidays were over.
Looking into the horizon once more, the man scratched his balding head.

Somewhere else that Sunday morning, Ehis stood in front of the mirror, staring at his reflection in disbelief. He looked like a member of the St Kizito family already. He turned sideways, making certain that the striped green shirt was well tucked into the all green khaki shorts he had worn as soon as they got back from the church earlier. The pair of sandals on his feet was brown and simple, as the prospectus had directed. He was very proud of his general appearance.
“Ehis, Ehis!”
The boy bent his head a bit towards the sound of his mother’s voice.
What does she want now?
“Here, Mom?”
Ehis took one last glance at his reflection and raced up the stairs, taking two at a time.
“Here, is where?” The voice called again.
“Here, is the stairs, Mom. Scrap that, the corridor,” Ehis added, having just gone past the stairs adjacent to the corridor leading to his mother’s room.

Anne came out of her room, into the passage. “You look smart in that outfit, darling. I am starting to feel positive about your going to school, after all.”

Ehis stood frozen; his Mom looked stunning today. She was taking him to school for God’s sake. No one had told him this was to be a fashion parade. He went around her into the room.
Ehis knew he had the best mother in the world. She was patient, kind, and gentle. She was everything to him.
“Wow, Mom,” Ehis whispered, “you look take away.”
Anne gave her son one of her mind-your-own-business kind of looks.
“Where on earth do you get your vocabulary from? Is that even correct English?”
“Mostly from you and Dad,” Ehis beamed. “Absolute parental vocabulary, Mom. How do you like it?” The boyish smile was full of mischief.
“What?” Mock shock appeared on Anne’s face.
“Well, er, just kidding, Mom. You could say I get my vocabs from nowhere on earth since they are from cartoons and video games. And, Mom–” Ehis headed for the family bedroom, adjoining his mother’s “–where is Dad? I sure don’t want to be late for school! You know what they say about first impressions.”
“I was just about to ask you the very same thing. Why do you think I called you?” Anne followed her son out of her bedroom. “Did you check the garage?”
“Nope, can’t go into any garage in my condition. Don’t want to mess up my uniform now, do I?”
“Seriously? Watch your tongue, dear. Our garage is not any garage.”
Ehis frowned a bit. His Dad was not in the family bedroom. His Mom took the lead this time, taking him through the corridor, down the stairs, and back to the ground floor.
“You will most certainly not be late, darling. Your prospectus says that we should be there before 6 p.m., and this is just–” she glanced at the tiny gold watch on her wrist “–some minutes past 10 a.m.”
They were now in the dining room.
“Seriously, Mom, you do look like Cinderella, with this bluish, ever-changing dress of yours. You almost look Queenish.” Ehis was staring up at his mother’s face, trying in vain to see the effects of this latest comment on her.
“God help you boy.” Anne had her right palm on the smooth surface of the steel garage door on the passage leading from the kitchen. “And for the records, there is no such word as Queenish, okay?”
“Isn’t there? Okay, I’ll remember that.”
“But that does not make you look less Queenish,” Ehis muttered under his breath.
“I heard that!”
“Geez, Mom, you weren’t supposed to, Ehis said as he followed her into the garage.

Sam bent over the loaded trunk of his Kia Optima as he tried to fit his son’s bags inside it. He still busied himself with that when his wife and son made their appearance. He was a tall, light complexioned man. He had the build and carriage of a successful businessman, and the tiny lenses he wore gave him the appearance of the learned man he was. He had a very gentle bearing, possibly acquired from dealing tolerantly with customers over time in his profession. Many expected a bank manager to be patient even when he felt impatient.

Sam wanted to drive his son to school today. James, their driver, had offered to go in his stead, but he had rejected the offer. This was big. He wanted it to be a family affair.
“Hey, Dad, are we going or not? We’ve been looking all over for you.”
Sam closed the boot of the car with one swift movement and picked up the boy in a bear hug.
“Hey, Smallie, I thought you wanted to drive yourself to school today, so why bother looking for me?”
“Don’t call me that, Dad,” Ehis pouted. “I am already as tall as
Mom and truly a big boy now.”
Father and son shared a knowing grin – an action that merited them a hard stare from Anne.

Sam often joked that Anne was as tall as a tuber of yam, an exaggeration of the highest degree, of course. It was his attempt to remind her of her shortcoming as far as height was concerned. Sam dropped the boy, settled him in the back seat of the car, and made certain that he fastened his son’s seat belt. Then he went around the car to open the door for Anne.
“Thanks for offering to be my driver, Dad. You are one in a million.” Ehis was straining at the seat belt towards his Dad who had already gotten in the car and was trying to fasten his own seat belt.

Sam could tell genuine praise from flattery, since he was himself very good at both. This last one from Ehis was genuine and he was touched. “Thanks, Son, I do appreciate it. However, I am not your driver. I am only driving you for this occasion,” he said, pointing a warning finger in his son’s face.
“Looks and sounds the same to me.” Ehis was enjoying the moment.
Anne was used to this ‘father and son’ exchange, so she looked
on, happy that she was not caught in the crossfire.
“Very wise, Smallie. Oops! Sorry, Biggie,” Sam corrected himself. “But has anyone ever informed you of the simple fact that you sometimes talk too much?”
Ehis looked at his Dad and smiled. ‘Hey, Daddy, Daddy! I don’t talk half as much as you do oh.’ The boy smiled to himself. If only Dads knew the things their kids said about them in their minds!

Seeing his son’s face in the rear-view mirror, Sam could guess what he had in mind. He shook his head and decided to ignore the boy’s gaze. He inserted the key in the ignition, and the car came to life. The next minute, he had it gunning in the direction of the gate.

Musa, by now very accustomed to his master’s habit, even though he never quite understood why the man should ride his car that fast within the short distance from the garage to the entrance of the house, already had the gates wide open.

Sam cut from their street into the early morning traffic on Mission Road, gradually picking up speed.
What now? Sam knew his son could not be quiet for five minutes. “Yeah?” He eased on the accelerator at Taxona Junction and turned left.
“Mom says I get all the silly things I say from you. Is that true?”
Anne coughed.
“Look, Son, don’t listen to anything Mom tells you about me. She’s incredibly biased on my issues.”
“Don’t mind your Dad, Ehis,” Anne said, turning sideways to smile at her son. “He refuses to listen to the truth about himself.”
“Mom, I was just about to tell Dad about the many wonderful things you often say about him in his absence. But he has said not to believe anything you say.” Ehis drew close to his father. “Sorry, Dad, I guess I should forget about all those wonderful things too since they are not true either, right?” Sam’s own web had caught him.
“Can’t someone joke with you people? Haba! Believe all that your Mom tells you. I was only kidding.”
“Who wasn’t? Hurray! I won, I won!” Ehis was flapping his hands about his head, almost breaking the anchors of the seat belt.
“Did we seriously produce this child?” Sam asked his wife, shaking his head in disbelief.
Anne laughed out loud, “No oh! We bought him from the Bazaar, nonsense talk.”
“For the record, Dad,” Ehis was saying, “I love your suit. It is shiny new. Did you purchase it for the occasion?”

Now this was real flattery, and Sam recognised it for what it was. His only response was to insert an audio CD of Lionel Richie into the car’s sound system. He then increased the volume and began singing the lyrics of the first track to himself. It was the turn of the mother and son to share a knowing grin.

Two full months of holidays were over and work was about to resume in full swing. Resumption days always brought George Oriakhi a powerful feeling. The students of St Kizito gave his life a sense of purpose and meaning. He loved them deeply and was very concerned about their welfare, though his dealings with them never left much room for such a presupposition. The task of an administrator was not always an easy one.
Some yellowish birds had turned a few trees in the orchard in front of his house to a grand nest. They now flew about, making one cacophonous sound.
God! How the tiny-winged creatures were driving him crazy.
He peered through the rimmed glasses at the orchard yet again, taking note of the sun that was just then pushing through the haze of dawn in an attempt to make its presence felt. Adjusting the strap of the leather belt around his waist, George settled down on one of the cane chairs on his balcony and started skimming the pages of the national dailies. Somewhere in the distance, he could hear cars hooting.

Some hours later, the black Kia Optima drove through the gate of St Kizito National High School and stopped. Sam got out, took a car pass from one of the gatemen, and entered his son’s name into the big register meant for the new students. The whole place was a scurry of activity. Children clad in green striped shirts and green shorts were descending from the many cars parked near the gate, transforming the landscape into a sea of green.

Ehis remained calm, watching the spectacle with intense interest. He could hardly conceal his excitement. A few minutes later, Sam got back into the car and sped off towards the administrative block, some distance further down the driveway.
“Stop speeding, Dad,” Ehis pleaded. “I am trying to catch the view.”
Sam eased his foot on the accelerator. He looked from side to side, trying to catch the same view that was holding his son captive.
“Wow, Son, this is so impressive. I mean, all I can see is an endless sea of dead or dying grasses.”
The young boy kept a passive face. His Dad could say whatever he wanted. He wasn’t going to utter a word.

Anne had to admit that the scene was great. The green grasses were neither dead nor dying, as her husband had ironically stated. They stood tall and proud in the noon breeze, as though aware of the activities around them. The whole place had a serene look about it. Two king-sized football fields were to the left and right of them, some distance from the gate.
Heavy-looking flood lamps, mounted on tall metal poles, stood paces apart from one another on either side of the driveway. They soon passed by a grand chapel, located to their right. Not far from it was a white, one-storey building – possibly the Rectory. Farther down the road was the Administrative Building.
“I do hope you find happiness here, Ehis,” Anne remarked, almost choking on the words. She was trying so hard to bring her emotions under control.
“I will, Mom. Don’t worry, I sure will.”
Sam looked sharply at his wife.
‘Not again!’

To be continued…

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Image Credit @PIXABAY