Some years ago (maybe to this day), attending Armitage was a big prestige. At least among many provincial Gambians. The school has raised against time to maintain its prestige as good school. Armitage students and ‘products’ always wanted their presence felt in every gathering. On the contrary one synonymous description for Armitage students among rival rural high schools was ‘Armitage students like to bluff’. You maybe excuse for doubting the high level of rivalry, enmity and grudge other schools has for Armitage until you witness the interschool athletic competition in rural Gambia. Every school’s aim is to win Armitage-the giant. During my days in Janjangbureh, Armitage was struggling in the sports arena despite having a very enthusiastic and experience sport teacher/coach Mr ‘Hangon’ Haruna Cham. Each year we had to bear the mockery and pains of defeat like Arsenal fans.
In my essay (Armitage a hell on Earth?) I recounted the trials and tribulations I encountered during my time there. It generated lots of debate among my peers some of whom told me I made them shed tears. On the other hand some ex-student who thought a caption is enough to tell the contents of a whole essay decided sending me messages like ‘why are you calling Armitage hell?’ ‘You are ungrateful” Nonetheless, I met some people who advise me to continue writing. Meanwhile as alluded before Armitage has played a key role in making me the man I am today. And talking of today, from thousands of miles away, I joined the sons and daughters of our land in celebrating the 90th anniversary of the founding of this great school. In Armitage the rules weren’t written in a book or on the wall but they were well respected. Perhaps besides Armitage and the security institutions, nowhere in Gambia rules were much respected. Perhaps not. But Perhaps.
Just after returning from the summer holidays in 2006, we were hungry for power and our rights as senior students. We had toil and suffered with patience for two years. It was time to concentrate on our books, live like African monarchs then finally faced off with the much feared yet highly anticipated WASSCE exams. However one guy called Jarra who was employed as an IT teacher wanted to deny us our rights. It was a big disappointment and lack of respect for us when he announced that we should join the junior students in the dining hall to eat. It was a big insult to grade twelve students. A taboo. We thought he was joking. It turned out Jarra didn’t minced his words.
On one fateful evening after the junior students ate their dinner, Jarra ordered the kitchen committees to throw away the remaining food meant for us. The junior students returned to the dormitories with empty bowls to the waiting-hungry seniors who were observing Ramadan. In a short duration they had mobilized themselves to a good number and heading to the newly appointed principal Ebrima Joof. Like the grade tens, Mr Joof was a green leaf as well. Unlike his predecessor Mr Hafna-who was on a study leave, Joof don’t understand the rules of Armitage. Hafna has on the other hand has been in Armitage for about three decades and understood how to governed the school. I don’t mean Joof wasn’t capable. He was capable but Hafna knows how to control the mindset of students.
I was coming from my ‘guardian’ home-who had insisted that I should always go to his house to break my fast. From a long distance I started hearing noise. It was getting dark. The road was dusty. The voices were getting nearer and louder as I walk gently on the road. After few a distance, it became apparent that it was my badge mates. I suspected it was about the ‘food collection’ issue. But no it might be another girl has fainted again. The fainting of girls was too rampant in the school those days. People believe it was done by evil jinns. One newly-arrived grade ten student had to cry for help one night after mistaking his own image in the window glasses for a devil. Some students had convinced us that there are indeed many devils living in the school environment. The hypothesis of their claim was it was only the finest girls in the school that do faint. You may be bewildered when you suddenly witness a girl going unconscious then suddenly pick up a conversation. Meanwhile I continued walking until I reached the principal’s gate, the group of grade twelve students was five meters away from me.
They were walking and complaining. No one was listening to someone. All talking in different tunes. They were led by popular boy Omar Mbakeh. I was sure they were angry and my earlier prediction was right. Those in the front row shouted my name. ‘Edrissa Stop’. Come join us. In seconds they had surrounded me. Mbakeh then explained what had unfolded at the dining hall. I became bitter. Then told me they were heading to the principal’s residence to report the matter. I was impressed. And give full consent to their movement. Some of the boys had started raining insults on Jarra from the back. Meanwhile Jarra was strolling around the school, bluffing among the junior students whilst calling us names. We selected Mbakeh as our spokesperson then proceed to Mr. Joof’s residence.
In few seconds after arrival at his door, he came out to meet us. Mbakeh explained how everything unfolded and how Jarra has broken a highly respected and valued tradition in Armitage. Jarra was himself an ex-student of the school. Thus it was a deliberate act of provocation. We then set out for the school with the principal. When we arrived Mr. Joof started inquiring among the teachers about the incident but one Mr. Touray shouted “please don’t listen to this foolish people”. “They are useless”. This angered the boys. They then started insulting. In seconds, some had reach for rocks and started throwing on the roof tops. Many joined. The teachers disappeared. The junior students became very scared. They were already in their classroom on daily night studies. The throwing of stones continued. The noise was loud and scary. Some of the protestors went to the classrooms of the already traumatized junior students forcing them to get out. They had started crying and calling for help. They were as scared as a newly relocated chicken. After a while the boys decided to stop. The police were already in the campus. Then the girls started fainting, one by one. Dozens of them fainted and it continued deep into the night.
In the following morning the director of regional education for region 5 at the time Babucarr Suwareh came to the school. We were all invited to the hall. After a lengthy deliberation, he announced that he has been provided with the list of individuals who wants to ‘overthrow’ the school administration. The ring leaders he announced are ‘Colonel” Omar Mbakeh, ‘Lieutenant’ Jewru Suso and ‘Captain’ Seedy Jorbateh. The list was very long and all those students were unfairly suspended from school including my good friend Muktar Jallow (Rest in Peace). Some students were included in the list even thought they weren’t part of the rioters. Jewru like me was a losing head boy candidate and some staff feels he was instigating problems but he was innocent. The last time I met Mbakeh, he was a military officer, I remind him of the Colonel title, and he laugh then said amen. Director Suwareh by all standards was a man with impeccable leadership characters and has on many occasion demonstrated it.
We continued to enjoy our rights as seniors. We developed good relations with other students and teachers. In fact we made them proud by producing good results. Mother Armitage, I know you are hearing me. Happy birthday once again. We are very thankful for producing the professionals that helped shaped the history of our country. You have indeed live to the dream of your founders mother Armitage.