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Chief of Naval Staff @57 and the Tale of Two Awwals

By Yakubu Liman In 1979 when the nation was transiting from military to Civilian rule, we were also transiting from primary school to secondary school.…

By Yakubu Liman

In 1979 when the nation was transiting from military to Civilian rule, we were also transiting from primary school to secondary school. I was one of those admitted into the Government Secondary School, Kawaji, along with other boys of my age that successfully passed the stipulated common entrance examination and interview by the Education Ministry in Kano. So also two Awwals. Awwal Gambo and Awwal Dankaka.

Kawaji at that time was on the outskirt of Kano and was one of the boarding schools that was turned into a day school to allow for more student intake. And to say we were ‘many’ was an understatement. Because we took up all the then-hostel accommodations that were converted to classes that year. The class counts started from ‘form One A to One to I, with an average of 35 students in each class. My humble self and the two Awwals were in Form One i.

We usually call each other by our first names, but since we had two Awwals, we adopted Awwal’s surname ‘Gambo’, for easy reference. However, whenever Awwal was mentioned it was Auwwl Dankaka because of his notoriety. And as if in the movies, the two Awwals were the direct opposite of each other in toto.

Dankaka was slim and of average in height, very dark in complexion, while Gambo was plumpy of moderate height and in total contrast to Dankaka, very light-skinned and always wears the white kaftan uniform and a compulsory matching white cap and the school badge and white shoes. Always immaculate.

While Dankaka wears a white short-sleeved shirt and only kept the buttons in place at the sight of the principal or a teacher to avoid rebuke. He wears the cap, but it was always pushed to his forehead to convey that air of meanness, toughness, and notoriety.

Most of Kawaji’s students were from Dakata and the adjoining communities with few from far away places inside the city and beyond. Gambo was from Tudunwada/Brigade area which is not very far from the school, while Dankaka was from Gunduwawa one of the rural settlement along Hadejia Road, and I was commuting to the school from Kofar Mata, inside the city.

We were served lunch at that time by the government because of the rigid routine imposed by the education ministry that made us stay from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, Mondays to Fridays. Classes commenced at 8:00 am after morning assembly and ended at 1:00 pm. The time also teaching and non-teaching Staff closed for the day.

After lunch and prayers, we returned to the classroom to observe prep, forced to study on our own and also left in the care of the prefects among which was Gambo, and the teachers on duty. At 4:00 we observed another prayer after which we went for sports and extracurricular activities up to 6:00 pm. We then go home.

During lunchtime, all students lined up at some distance from the kitchen according to their class. The Gambo and other Prefects call out the names of each class serially and they all come in single file, enter the Kitchen one after the other take a plate of food and go to the dining hall and eat.

But as usual then, whenever ‘form One I was called out, all the class members closed one eye and marched to the kitchen chanting “One Eye” to the chagrin of the prefects. At the top of these unruly and many deviant behaviors was Dankaka.

The whole class at one time or the other had to suffer for his delinquency because you dare not point him out for fear of reprisals. Gambo was most times exempted as the then class captain or ‘monitor’ as we called him.
Furthermore, Dankaka always escaped from school after lunch and not participating in any of the extracurricular activities. At a point in time, a serving corp member teaching us Agriculture had to abandon our class and never came back after Dankaka attempted to assault her at the school farm during practicals with our class. She refused even after the disciplinary action taken.

Gambo on the other hand is the exact opposite of Dankaka as noted earlier. He was made the class captain (before being prefect) and was able to weather the storm and challenges with Dankaka and his cohorts on his neck to win the admiration and commendation of our teachers.

Of note, were Uztaz Saleh a Libyan who taught us Arabic and Islamic Religious Knowledge IRK, and Monsieur Toledjrapou Mohammed a Cameroonian who taught us, French. They all took a strong liking to Gambo for obvious reasons.

When we started school Awwal was nicknamed ‘Gambo Rizi’ for swag, as it was the in-thing then. We later nicknamed him ‘Gambo Leee’. Courtesy of our expatriate French teacher.

Almost all our teachers at that time were expatriates and ‘Monsieur’ as we call him, and usually after reading long French passages and reading after him with difficulty and repeatedly, when it was our turn to read, he always looked in the direction of Gambo and pointed at him with his cane he says in the most authoritative voice “Gambo Lit!” Meaning, Gambo read!

“Birds of the same feather”, as the saying goes, “flock together”. This became apparent when our IRK teacher asked another teacher to look after our class during his absence. As a Christain with no knowledge of Islam and also wanted to engage the class meaningfully, he asked if there was anyone amongst us who could volunteer to talk about the subject as per what we were taught. The whole class shouted “Liman!” and was forced to take the floor, quite unwillingly.

I did what I could in English on his insistence. Because he wanted to follow what was going on. The class ruptured into “Allahu Akbar” and told the teacher that I did well and that everything I said was in order. From then on I was nicknamed “Liman” properly and teasingly dubbed the ‘social uztaz’. I also earned a close friendship with Gambo who from then on confided and became his crying shoulder on his troubles with Dankaka and his gang.

Subsequently, Gambo was made a prefect and much later left Kawaji in our second year to Rumfa College. But we were together with Dankaka. However, I cannot say precisely what happened, but he did not complete his secondary with us nor has he transferred to another school. He just stopped coming. Rumor had it that he dropped out and became a political thug and lost his life in a fight with party opponents.

“Rome wasn’t built in one day” as the saying goes, so also the character and sterling qualities that uplifts man to greatness. Gambo is now Awwal Zubairu Gambo, the Chief of Naval Staff CNS and has just clocked 57 years which inspired this writing. Happy belated birthday.

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