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HomeExecutive BriefThe Spirit of Discipline: Joseph Itotoh’s Legacy at ICC and Beyond

The Spirit of Discipline: Joseph Itotoh’s Legacy at ICC and Beyond

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By Tunde Olusunle 

Joseph Odidi Itotoh, the legendary educationist who raised my generation at the famous Immaculate Conception College (ICC) in Benin City, was notable as a thoroughbred teacher, an uncompromising disciplinarian, and a school administrator par excellence.

He received us, enthusiastic little boys, into the luminous premises of the institution in September 1975. He would subsequently guide us with paternal commitment through the five most impactful years of our lives as teenagers, which largely shaped our personalities and perspectives.

As against the extant practice where school principals were reposted every two or three years, Itotoh was retained in ICC for 10 full years by the Midwestern and later Bendel State governments. This underscored official acknowledgment and appreciation of his revolutionary exploits in the institution.

Itotoh led a multiracial team of dedicated teachers and instructors to provide world-class education and instruction to us. Irish, Indian, Pakistani, Beninoise, and Togolese teachers collaborated with their dutiful and committed Nigerian colleagues to set us up on solid foundations in life.

In the academic session just before Itotoh’s advent, the institution posted an uninspiring below 50 percent pass in the West African School Certificate (WASC) O’Level examination.

The sleepless Itotoh pursued an uncommon reformatory project to radically reposition ICC. By his third year in office, the school was brandishing a 100 percent pass performance sheet.

This implied that the least performing students earned a minimum Division Three pass. This could get them into some polytechnics or colleges of education while taking remedial courses to make up for foundational deficits.

We could almost swear that Itotoh deployed supernatural enablements in the discharge of his assignment. He lived in the principal’s house within the school premises.

The cute bungalow sat on a small elevation at the back of the school acreage, abutting a section of the famous Benin moat.

There were localized myths and fables around and about the moat, which kept us in awe and trepidation. A certain midget spirit, ‘useku’, it was alleged, appeared from the moat from time to time in the direction of the moat.

It reportedly scared and terrorized those it found at the wrong places late at night! Itotoh had the entire topographical and geophysical map of the school on the lines of his palms. He toured the entire expanse of the school virtually every day, holding his famous whip to keep errant students in check.

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On his night patrols, Itotoh would beam his torchlight straight in your face if he found you loafing around, simultaneously calling out your name. He knew the names of each and every student in ICC.

Students of Bini origins among us usually whispered in hushed tones describing him as ‘ovbi azen,’ son of a witch!

Itotoh studied English at the University of Ibadan (UI) and obtained his masters and doctorate from the same institution. Such was the depth of his immersion into self-development as far back as those years.

He would serve as education commissioner in the 1990s and as Minister of State for Internal Affairs during the second term of the President Olusegun Obasanjo milieu. Such was the quality of Itotoh.

With deep roots in the English language, it was understandable; he had total resentment for the deployment of pidgin English and indigenous languages under his watch. This was as he strove to mitigate the pollution of standard English by other forms of the language in our young and impressionistic consciousness.

There was substantial compliance with this ‘fatwa’, especially with the reinforcement of Itotoh’s “commandment” by prefects on various briefs, who themselves were students.

I was the prefect in charge of Bishop Kelly House, for instance, and we prided ourselves as the largest and neatest house, ever dominant in academics and sports.

At our level as teenagers, therefore, we had begun to take preliminary lessons and tutelage in leadership and responsibility. We are all better for it today.

Most of us students in our time resided in Benin City with our parents or benefactors. During midterm breaks and holidays, we stayed in that historic city, which is swaddled with so much mythology.

It was a very robust melting pot, and we experienced the pulse and dynamics of the sociocultural space. Pidgin English was an inevitable medium between the various tongues and the conventional English language.

Our pidgin English lexicon was regularly enriched courtesy of borrowings by “broken” English, as some prefer to christen it, from the dominant indigenous tongue.

I recall the admission of the Bini expression ‘you go see Oba’ into modern pidgin English during my sojourn in Benin City. That phrase is an original Bini contribution to the lexicon of contemporary pidgin English.

Royalty and Oba-ship are ensconced in mystique, in Bini cosmology. The numero uno royalty in Benin Kingdom is the Oba. He is addressed and serenaded with jaw-breaking prefixes before the announcement of his name.

He is, therefore, the Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, before the preferred appellation of the incumbent monarch is mentioned. Oba Akenzua II was in office during my years in Benin City but was succeeded by Oba Erediuwa just before I left.

The Oba of Benin sparingly makes public appearances. Except, of course, during specific traditional events in the Bini traditional calendar. He is equally seen in public when he receives high-ranking dignitaries who seek to pay homage to him when in his domain.

The Oba of Benin will not be found in places or events capable of denigrating his office as prime monarch-spiritual leader of his people. Seeing the Oba, therefore, is a tortuous, tedious labyrinthine excursion.

Rabble-rousers are therefore admonished not to court the kind of entanglements that will precipitate a figurative quest for the pardon of the Oba, who will be hard to access.

Swear words and expressions were also common on the streets during our growing up years. Such invectives range from the peripheral, maybe pedestrian, to the presumably more potent, vile, and vicious.

Some verbal missiles indeed deliberately and intentionally appropriate deep traditional motifs for desired potency and rapid action.

Ogun, the dreaded Yoruba god of iron and metallurgy, occupies the same podium and reverence in Bini epistemology. Because of its potential for instantaneous and efficacious destruction, ogun is dreaded and venerated in Bini cosmology.

The invocation of ogun in an adjudication in a contestation is taken very seriously by sections of the Bini nationality. Most will prefer any other form of verbal deployment in the course of an altercation to the invitation of ogun in Bini culture.

This video of metal joints and other components on the Second Niger Bridge has been trending in the last few days.

A concerned Nigerian recorded the site of the excavation of heavy metallic components of the face of the bridge from a point, which in engineering is referred to as the “expansion joint.” Much as the narrator spoke in Igbo, we can piece together the fact that the crime is associated with sellers of scrap metals in Anambra State.

They are those he described in the narrative as dealers in “iron condemned,” headquartered in Onitsha and its environs. You couldn’t but be thoroughly exasperated watching that clip. Just days before, I had gotten into a robust but civil engagement with a gentleman on some platform on a related issue.

There was a news item to the effect that police outriders will henceforth patrol the Third mainland bridge in Lagos, which has been serially vandalized by thoughtless vagrants. It was recently rehabilitated at great cost by the federal government and will henceforth be on regular police surveillance.

My point in the banter with the person in question was that monitoring the bridge will be better and more sustainably done by deploying technology. This is what is needed in the protection of our prized national assets, including our oil pipelines, which are eternally at the mercy of a hydra of rogues.

My sparring partner reminded me that regular, physical security presence on the bridge will also discourage many people with suicide propensities, who seem to prefer the Third mainland bridge as guillotine.

Tears cascade down one’s cheeks when you imagine the depth of the destructive propensity, the anti-development disposition of some Nigerians. They are those we least believe harbor criminal intentions in any form.

Have we forgotten how a syndicate in Abuja engaged freelance garbage workers to steal virtually all the metal coverings of manholes on the streets of Abuja?

The CCTV cameras on a particular Abuja avenue showed the driver of a Toyota Sienna van hauling his loot into his open space van in one such operation. Just weeks ago, military personnel on guard duties at the $19 billion, ultra-modern Dangote refinery in Lagos were arrested for stealing cables from the newly minted pride of Africa.

They aimed to render prostrate the behemoth of an industrial complex even before it commenced operations. These are the kinds of Nigerians our system has bred, the vampire Babylon system, to quote the great reggae idol Bob Marley.

Nigeria’s President, Bola Tinubu, has a lot on his chest. He asked for the job anyway. While poring through the files and folios of the variegated problems on his desk, the preservation of multibillion dollar national investments requires speedy attention.

Tinubu has shown himself a taskmaster on certain issues, like the lightning speed with which he requested a new minimum wage template from his finance minister, Wale Edun, and the jet turnaround time with which the document was reverted.

Tinubu urgently needs a road map for the preservation of those possessions that guarantee our national lifeblood. As we urgently anticipate that compass from the desk of the President, let me invoke the famous curse: As many as remain in the business of undermining this nation, ogun, go kill all of Una!

* Tunde Olusunle, PhD, is a Fellow of the Association of Nigerian Authors (FANA).

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