“…he will be assisting me….” That was all I could keep myself focused enough to hear. Morning devotions of recent had not been my thing. I didn’t understand the concept of having morning devotions when half of the hostel was asleep right there in the common room during the devotion. I would later find out the “he” was Mr. Alabi.
Mr. Alabi would need to be described in encyclopedias for one to have a full understanding of him. He was an efficient workaholic. He had just been made my house master by he way. I was in SS1 at the time and within a week, he would turn the entire student administrative structure of yellow house upside down. He removed all SS2 dormitory heads (dorm heads for short) and started replacing them with SS1’s. That obviously didn’t score him any points. Luckily for me he made me a dorm head, the down side was I still had a morning chore and it was washing 4 toilets! He didn’t care that dorm heads weren’t suppose to have chores so that they could supervise efficiently.
Mr. Alabi for most of the students was a source of constant frustrations. He made new rules quicker than the Nigerian government sets up committees. One instance I remeber he ‘decreed’ that no one should use a blanket when ironing clothes in the common room. I wondered how he expected us to iron clothes on the concrete slabs in the common rooms without any blankets. Devotions were also ‘supernaturally increased from 15mins to an hour, I remeber one instance on a Saturday morning when devotion went on for a little over two hours. Yellow house boys became a point of mockery because of Mr. Alabi.
Eventually Mr. Alabi was moved to red house because clashes with student and management became too much, or so we heard. Surprisingly, his ginger didn’t die down. A short while later he was moved to green house. The same ginger went on. At one point, Mr. Alaba was made to supervise night prep and he did it so well that his ‘zealousness’ impressed management but just made we the students to want to kill him! The fact that he knew nearly everyone in school by name was not even helping matters. His amplified voice and eagle sharp eyes never missed their targets.
I discovered at one point that Mr. Alabi was sort of evolving or growing as he moved from house to house. His devotions were no longer unnecessarily long but were still sometimes long, his rules and decrees started resonating with some people though they were still few and he went from public enemy to one of the most approachable staff and then the anti-Alabi camp slowly began to diminish.
As for me, I was always pro-Alabi. The fact was no matter where they put him he stood out. Mr. Alabi had been a staff for less than 6 months and he was more popular than the new principal! He didn’t just stand out for controversies, he stood out for efficiency. While he was at yellow house (a house that previously came last at hostel inspection), we became major title contenders each week for the neatest house although we did destroy our competition by comming last every now and then. The same happened in the other two houses. In every house he went to he downgraded the importance of the maintenance department. He was the plumber, electrician, carpenter and all round handyman. He would buy bulbs and fix when they spoilt. He would mend the spoilt net doors as much and as often as he could. He would buy and install ropes for hanging our laundry and many times he did all of it from his own pocket. Most times we just came back from class and met new lights and fixed doors and assumed it was maintenance.
He was the go-to-guy for anything that needed to be done with precision and speed. His methods were out of the box and his results undeniable. Recently he was put in charge of the schools store. The last I heard, all bureaucracies and red-tape had vanished. He has his own air conditioned office now at the store which is a far cry from only the two bedroom apartment he had as a housemaster which he often shared with someone else. I remeber while I was a prefect Mr. Alabi and the chaplain were the people we went to when we needed pep talks. Sometimes those pep talks would go on for hours and we would be trying to hide the sharp pains ours legs sent to our brains.
I wish there were more Mr. Alabi’s in Nigeria today. Uncompromising, efficient and result oriented. Politicians like Mr. Alabi are those who will add their money to governments just to make sure amenities and infrastructure were in place rather than add governments money to theirs. Civil servants like Mr. Alabi are those who go to work to actually work and not just kill time and earn a salary. Policemen like Mr. Alabi are those who go beyond the normal often inefficient police procedures and be innovative and vigilant. Religious leaders like Mr. Alabi, go outside the walls of their church and get involved in nation building. We need people who learn from mistakes rather than increase in efficient mistake making.