By Bamidele Johnson
In 1973, my dad, who worked at the Western State Ministry of Education, was transferred from Oyo to Ibadan, with his office at a place called Leaf Road. I do not remember what term schools were when we arrived in Ibadan. I had left my school in Oyo and needed to go to one at our new station.
The closest to us at the Imalefalafia area of Ibadan, where we lived, was Ansar-U-Deen Primary School near the Liberty Stadium. I spent only one term at the school before moving to United Missionary College (UMC) Demonstration School where I completed my primary education.
Perhaps because of the brevity of my stay, I do not have many memories of my time in the school. I remember the school as offering me first lessons in Islamic Religious Knowledge in which we had classes in the history of Islam, which I enjoyed and I think helped me in the university when I took a course, Introduction to Islam, in the Department of Religious Studies.
One of the teachers for the subject was a slim and stern man to whom part of the teaching was outsourced. He was not a full member of staff. He lived opposite the school where he ran a Quranic school.
We called him “Malim”. Among other things, he taught us songs which, if you failed to render well whenever he demanded, brought jeopardy in the shape of savage flogging. Malim’s son, whose name I no longer remember, was in my class. His dad never spared him.
One day, he was asked, along with some other pupils, to sing a song, which went thus: “A n’korin Anabi e dake/ A n’korin Anabi e dake/ To ba je ti Fela e fo s’oke/To ba je ti Sunny e o su di po/ A n’korin Anabi e dake (We’re singing about the Prophet, but you’re not joining us to sing. If it were Fela’s song or that of King Sunny Ade, you’d be thrilled/ We’re singing about the Prophet, but you’re not joining us to sing.)” It’s a song I still remember.
Malim’s son was unable to render the song satisfactorily. His father was apoplectic; eyes gleaming with menace, which instantly resulted in a rain of lashes. The boy attempted to flee. Malim dared him to. He froze, with his face a mask of tears and mucus. His chest heaved.
Malim continued to wallop him, apparently pissed at the shame the boy had brought. Teachers, Islamic or otherwise, were not known to take kindly to their kids flunking tests.
Other kids looked on in dread. We were used to corporal punishment, but what Malim dished out whenever our concentration wandered was off the scale.
Kids attending his classes knew they had to sit still, concentrate like a secret service agent or pretend to.
The song test was administered on another chap. He flunked it. Malim “entertained” him like he had done to his son. Blood squirted from his face.
He tried to run and was warned not to. He ignored the warning, ran outside, wailing really loudly. Malim was blasé. He went on with his lesson. At the end, he walked out of the class with what was left of the canes he came with.
We went to see our mate after Malim’s departure. He was quaking, had thick welts on his body and I think a wild swing of the cane caught him above the eye, causing the gash from which blood gushed. He went home from there.
The next morning, he was brought to school by a man, who turned out to be his dad. The man was yelling at our headmaster and demanding to see Malim, apparently to intervene in the matter with his fists. Malim, luckily, was not in school.
My classmate’s dad, a thick and skyscraping man, I believe, would have flattened our Malim. The headmaster and other teachers managed to calm him down and most likely, told Malim what happened. He never did that again till I left the school.
Teachers of that era, including one in my secondary school, tend to confuse physical abuse with disciplining a child. They thought nothing of leaving you with bodily scars and didn’t care whether or not you got mental scars, which I think many kids did. I won’t have anyone do that to my kids. Flog, don’t brutalise.
Some eight years later as a secondary school kid, i was holidaying in my auntie’s house around Sango in Ibadan. It was at a time Prophet TO Obadare was about the biggest preacher in the Southwest. My auntie is of the CAC. With my cousin, Wole Makanjuola, we attended the crusade every week day.
What struck me most were very tall heaps of new brooms, which i found were used for exorcism. Women and girls thought to be witches and emere AKA Ogbanje believed to have caused misfortunes for their husbands, fathers, uncles and aunts were flogged with brooms until they bled. Liberally. Some of them allegedly confessed before being whipped, while confession was broom-aided in others.
We were warned not to walk past the exorcism venue to avoid being infected by demons exiting bodies of the possessed. I didn’t think those methods were right and was sufficiently aware that the Bible does not prescribe such. Also importantly, the earliest seeds of my disagreement with the demon-centric theology that is the rage today were sown.
I do not think flogging of students of Quranic schools with excessive violence is prescribed by Islam. Online, i have read debates about it in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, an indication that there’s no explicit command to turn the backs of people into something like corrugated sheets. I disagree with excessive violence in the instances stated. No justification for it.
*Bamudele Johnson, journalist and public affairs analyst, writes from Lagos