Photo courtesy
Photo courtesy

I was 10 in JSS 3
We were young, happy and free of worry
Our songs and laughter carried by the wind
Our dreams were wild
Ambitions unlimited!
In New Bussa where school was
There was the River Oli
But we did not fetch water there
We fetched water from the bore-hole in the middle of school
For a 10-year-old girl
It felt like 10 kilometers from my dorm

If the senior girls really wanted to punish you
They told you to leave a bucket in front of the dorm
Take a spoon to the bore-hole and use it to fill the bucket
I usually started to cry before I started the journey…
Two hours of walking from bore-hole to dorm with an almost empty spoon
All the other senior girls were begging on your behalf
And you were released!

School was so much fun
And so routine
We were woken by school bells or the house prefect’s belt at 6.30
Bathed and brushed by 7
At the “dinning” by 7:10 where we said the Muslim and Christian prayers in unison
Breakfast over, we formed a straight file
And walked the other “10 kilometer” walk from dinning hall to class by 7.30
Even on the long straight file to class
All the gist from last night passed from girl to girl
The ones in Unity House, told the ones in Peace House
What senior So-and-so did
The ones in Faith House, told the ones in Charity House
About the bush-baby they heard crying last night

By 7.45, we were seated in class
Barely got enough time to settle
Before the Maths teacher came in…
I hated Maths and he could tell
So he always started class by saying
“Hajara, wear your louvers, so you won’t claim not to see the board”
The guy called my glasses louvers! And wondered why I hated his class
He turned back to the board
I stuck my tongue out
We all giggled
After which he promptly said, without turning back
“Hajara, you are serving detention today”
I stuck my tongue out again
We giggled, everyone in class will write my lines with me anyway
We were free…

Classes were over at 2
Lunch 2:15, went back to the hostel for 3
Siesta started at 3.30
In the 30 minutes between lunch and siesta, we washed our clothes
And talked about our next “socials” when the boys from Borgu,
The Federal Government Boys college nearest to us in Niger State will come over
We knew they would only have eyes for the senior girls
But we knew we’d grow to be senior girls one day
And hopefully start to get love letters and cards in the mail
We were free
Our thoughts were about our choices
We were free to be children no thought of being brides

Siesta started at 3.30
Was over at 4.30
At 5 we went to prep
At 6.30 we went back to the dinning
And at 7.30 we were back in our dorms
Showered and ready for lights-out at 8

My greatest fear then was the Maths teacher
And I easily learnt to deal with him by sneaking out before Maths class
Hence my degree in Law
My actual greatest fear were the wicked seniors and they were very few
I learnt to deal with them by TOTAL avoidance
And faking the occasional asthma attack,
After which no one wanted to come near you
For fear of being the senior who killed you

We called our house matron “Cari” because she always said
“You are making a caricature of yourself”
We called the Vice Principal Admin “Baba Burewa”
Because “Burewa” means ugly in Yoruba and he was…
We had code names for one another
Joined Home Economics because you could eat chin-chin, pancakes
and chicken when you had Catering Practical
We joined poetry class because Mr. Adekanye was the only youngish male teacher in our all-girls school
We stayed on because we fell in love with poetry for its own sake

We were young
We were free
Our cares were limited
Our choices simple
We engaged our wits
The society “parented” us
If you misbehaved in public any older woman could spank you
After spanking you she would say “tell your mother Mrs So-and-so spanked you because you did this”
If you were stupid enough to tell your mum
You got spanked again for “disgracing her outside”
Because it took a village to raise a child

Schooled in Niger, spent vacations in Jos, lived in Kaduna,
College in Kano, lived in Abuja as well
A female child in Northern Nigeria and life was beautiful for me
Today’s young girl in those same places
Lives a different life
Fears going to school
Big men with guns may shoot her at night or take her away
What they will do to her, my adult mind fears to think
She fears being a child bride
Because though this has always happened
A senator has made it a trend for a 60-year-old to marry a 10-year-old
It used to be that you married young but married someone around your age too…
Now she can’t go with her mum to the market
For fear of a bomb going off
Can’t play in the fields because it’s not safe…

Girl interrupted
Childhood snatched away
Budding dreams
Cut before their bloom
Bring back our girls
Bring back our girlhood
Bring back the environment that allowed us thrive
Girl interrupted
Must now be corrected!!!