You’re better equipped to survive the trenches of adulthood if you’ve been to a Nigerian boarding school. Don’t believe me? Here are seven stories that prove boarding school is a training ground for real life.

Smuggling food in and out of places

I went to an all-girls private boarding school in Abuja and it never felt like a private school because of how much I suffered. There are so many lessons to pick from my time there, but the one thing I had to quickly learn was how to sneak food out of our dining hall. I was a very slow eater and the dining master and school prefects never gave us enough time to eat. 

Ten minutes into the rubbish food they served, they’d start using mop sticks to chase us to class or evening prep. And they never let us take the food out of the dining hall. So I had to be smart and find ways to sneak food out. Sometimes I’d stuff bread in my beret or squeeze it into the pinafore we wore over our shirts as junior students. 

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But the most embarrassing one I did in JSS1 was sneaking out eba and egusi in my metal cup. I wasn’t in the mood to eat at the time, but I knew I’d be hungry during night prep, so why not? I stuffed the food in my cup, left it by the dining hall window and returned to pick it up an hour later. Yes, the eba was cold, but at least I didn’t sleep hungry. If there’s ever a war, I know exactly how to steal extra rations without getting caught.

— Ortega, 23

Turning everything into a business

Everything in my secondary school was contraband: money, garri, gala, sweets, Nutri-C — even perfume wasn’t allowed. I had to get creative to sneak them in. I’d tear holes in my mattress to hide sweets, roll cash into my detergent container and pay the gateman to keep whatever items I couldn’t get into the hostel. 

Eventually, I realised I could sell my provisions for up to quadruple the price in JS 2. Since there weren’t a lot of people with access to contrabands and we didn’t have a tuck shop, I made cool cash. I sold one ₦10 stick sweet for ₦50 and ₦50 gala for ₦100. My sales typically went up during Valentine’s Day because everyone was out to impress their crush. That’s how I saved money to pay for baking classes during the school holidays.

— Faith, 24

Minding your business is like second nature

I went to Becky Parker College in Akure. My motto in boarding school was “fight dey fight no dey, always stay guided”. I never wanted to be caught in the middle of an issue that wasn’t my business because it’s not my head people will use to settle their matter. And even if the fight wasn’t my business, I also had to be on guard in case I needed to run or defend myself. That’s something I’ve taken as a life lesson on the streets of Lagos.

— Ola*, 30

Being street smart

I was in a Federal Government boy’s college between 2007 and 2013. My provisions typically finished in two or three weeks because senior students always bullied me for them. I never bothered to ask my parents to get more for me because I knew they struggled to buy everything I needed in the first place. So I was pretty much in survival mode. 

I had to be resourceful because no one was going to be giving me their provisions to eat. During break time, I’d go to the kitchen to volunteer and help the women cook. And for picking beans or helping them cut ingredients for fried rice, they’d give me an extra plate of food and some fruits. It sounds ridiculous now when I think about it, but I couldn’t depend on the three measly meals we had from school. So that extra food meant the world to me.

The kitchen staff eventually became my “guys” and helped me survive not having enough money in school. I don’t think I would’ve survived without them.

— Paul, 29

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Take risks and face the consequences head on

I went to a conservative Anglican school in Abuja. I’d rather not mention the name, but if you know, you know. Back in 2009, I was a bit of a wildcard. And one of the craziest things I did was jumping the fence of my school to go party with friends in JSS3.

Until I was caught and expelled in SS2. Normally, we’d come back to school between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. and wait for the hostels to open up at 5 a.m. But that night, there were at least three teachers on stand-by waiting for us. I guess they’d taken a roll call and figured out we weren’t around.

I didn’t take the situation seriously until my father came to get me the next morning. The man beat shege from my body in the centre of school. But I survived all the drama and eventually got into another school the following year. The experience was scary, but it gave me some level of confidence in myself. I’d do it all over again if I could sha.

Bathing with cold water becomes a superpower

My family lived in Nassarawa, but I went to a boarding school in Jos. With all the cold there, there was no hot water to bath. And sometimes, there wasn’t even water at all and we’d have to wait for school to buy jerry cans of water.

As a junior student, I was saddled with fetching water for my SS2 bunkmate and her friends first. By the time I was done, I’d have to manage whatever water was left. I know it sounds dramatic, but I swear I could use a bowl of water to take my bath back in 2009. Call it “rub and shine” or whatever. As long as the water touched my body, it was a bath.

— Paul, 28

Your brain has an in-built alarm system

I’ll never forget the face of Matron Mac from my boarding school days. That woman would furiously ring the bell for prayers at 5 a.m. sharp and they didn’t born you well not to jump down from bed immediately. The one time I decided to close my eye for a few extra seconds, she designed my body with copper wire.

After six years of being in the same hostel with her, I instinctively wake up by 5 a.m. every morning to date. Many years later, no matter how tired or hungover I feel, it’s like the trauma from the bells, wire and yelling wakes me up.

— Biodun, 26

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