“My recollection of events at SAJOMACO is not perfect. It is also predominantly from a boy’s perspective in a mixed school. From the limited conversations I have had with a few of our female classmates, their experiences appeared to be worse. I accept that not everyone will agree with the accounts as I have laid them out or with my perspectives, but I have tried to give a faithful account of the events as much as possible. I excluded some stories because I chose to focus on one theme : survival against the odds.”
Place : West Nigeria, St. John & Mary’s Unity Secondary School (or SAJOMACO). A boarding school known for its strict selection, high level and hard work.
Period : 1990-1996.
Former student Olubunmi Asaolu describes his stay there as a “survival experience” because of some harsh experiences such as underfeeding, modest living conditions, intense intellectual effort, or high pressure from both the teachers and their families.
In this memoir, the author takes the reader on an insightful excursion into the microcosm of the boarding school where many of the social relations are based on competition, authority or domination. The author insists on the “respect culture that doesn’t challenge the excess of our elders because the respect culture is very steep”. This culture was also the basis for the education system in the 1990 Nigeria.
Nevertheless, however tough his experience might have been, Asaolu’s writing remains unjudgmental without lacking distance. The account he gives is much more factual than critical so as to present SAJOMACO as a place that builds character as much as a high academic level, and therefore creates the space for debate.
The characters Asaolu admires most are those who, in his own words, “lived in and were part of the culture but they didn’t go crazy in their disciplining”. Balance, rather than excess, is what the author finally aims at.
A beautifully written memoir that gives the reader a glimpse into the weight and the limits of education and culture.
Surviving SAJOMACO : A Nigerian Boarding School Odyssey by Olubunmi Asaolu
Published by Olubunmi Asaolu (to be released in August 2021)
Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She has a PhD in Nigerian postcolonial literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She is also the author of a collection of short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. Trilingual in Romanian, French and English, she teaches English language and literature to highschool students in France.