Major Norman John Miners (1931 - 2020)
I was 13 years old in 1957, in the first form [Form 1] at King's College, Lagos when twenty-six-year-old Major Norman John Miners arrived along with Mr. Tim Doust. Not only was Mr. Miners twice my age, his reputation had preceded him. He was introduced as a 'scholar' – which he undoubtedly was, having bagged a First-Class Honours degree in Classics from Corpus Christi College, Oxford University. He looked very intense, stern and foreboding.
He was immediately assigned the hugely onerous task of teaching Latin in addition to the even more awesome duty of House Master of Hyde Johnson's House which had a reputation for harbouring the most troublesome boys! I can only whisper it with great trepidation as my father (Chief J.K. Randle) had been the House Captain of the same Hyde Johnson's House (and School Captain/Head Boy) about thirty years earlier.
Perhaps I should add that admission to King's College was based on a keenly contested annual Entrance Examination followed by a very rigorous interview of not more than a hundred candidates, before the final selection of only forty-four boys from all over Nigeria (and the Cameroons, which was then part of Nigeria). The admission list to King's College was a must read (published in the Government Gazette and newspapers) in all nooks and corners of our nation. It was considered the ultimate mark of distinction – albeit a first step towards assured greatness. It is only in recent years that basic arithmetic compels one, while celebrating with classmates on their landmark birthdays, to rapidly conclude that they were much older than the age they declared when they were admitted.
If my memory serves me right, even before the arrival of Mr. Miners, the new students had been allocated to their "Houses" (and dormitories) – Mckee-Wright's; Pane's; Harman's and Hyde-Johnson's. Somehow through the grapevine, we learnt that the troublesome boys were to be despatched to Hyde-J. There we were – Duro Ajayi; late Tunde Onitiri-Cole; Bola Osinbowale; late Olabode Johnson; late Oyewole Browne; late Adekunle Elegbede; late Babatunde Odedina; Ekundayo Simpson; Deji Fadina; Tayo Gibson-Roberts; Patrick Ani; Winston Bellgam; Tunji Ijaiya; Samuel Adeniyi-Jones; Juventus Ojukwu; late Bayo Adefope; and Henry Akpata etc.
Anyway, Sunny Kuku was in the line-up. Even now, we are not sure whether it was he himself who immediately declared that Hyde-J was his obvious destination; or whether it was the other boys who made the choice on his behalf and volunteered (donated) him to Hyde-Johnson's House.
It was a great privilege to be taught by Norman John Miners and my only regret is that this tribute is being delivered long after it was overdue – as an acknowledgment with gratitude for his dedication and generosity of spirit which went far beyond the call of duty in the classroom, the sports field (he was not a keen participant but an excellent referee/umpire/judge); weekly drill in the cadet corps (on Wednesdays) and the annual camp in the bush as well as his "taming" (without resorting to canning !!) of Hyde-J boys.
In spite of his aversion to corporal punishment, he was compelled occasionally to make exceptions in disciplining Hyde-Johnson's boys. Considering the large number of exceptional students that emerged from Hyde-J, the cane did wonders!! The seeds which Mr. Miners planted and nurtured have sprouted a bountiful harvest of superlative achievers amongst Hyde-Johnson's boys. The list is profoundly intimidating – Vice-President; Governors; doctors; engineers; architects; chartered accountants; judges; lawyers; surgeons; diplomats; politicians; dentists; journalists; bankers; oil moguls; captains of industry and commerce; generals in the army and their equivalents in the Navy, Air Force, Police, security agencies; Traditional Rulers; Ministers; Archbishops; Chief Imams; Permanent Secretaries and Vice-Chancellors of Universities etc.
His formidable influence was not confined to Hyde-Johnson's House for which he had primary responsibility. He was truly in his element when with consummate passion he exposed those in the Sixth Form to the boundless joy of not only Latin but also Classical Greek. Till today, I still savour those evenings spent in his flat directly above Pane's House where he entertained those he specially selected to join "The Thinkers Club" to think freely without any boundary regarding the universe of knowledge and versatility of logic.
His mantra was: "No knowledge is wasted".
He went about his duties with a sense of purpose – to mould future leaders who would be well grounded in civics; ethics; ethos and character in order to SERVE the nation rather than be served.
He held us spellbound with his riveting tales about the heroic figures of Greek mythology – from the brave and powerful Hercules to Hector; Jason; Odysseus: Perseus; Prometheus; Aeneas to Achilles who as an infant was dipped into the River Styx by his mother. It made him invulnerable everywhere but the heel by which she held him.
It was from his vast knowledge of ancient times and distant places that he shared with us the magnificence and captivating allure of Samarkand, a city in Uzbekistan, famous for its mosques and mausoleums. It is on the Silk Road, the ancient trade route linking China to the Mediterranean.
There was also the Jade Dragon Cup. When this cup was made, it was believed that jade would crack if it came into contact with poison. If poison was placed in a Jade cup, it was said, it would result in the vessel splitting. So, the owner of the cup could drink without fear. Whenever old boys of King's College are invited to St. Gregory's College, they only drink from their Jade Dragon cups !! The inscription on the cup indicates that it was owned by Ulugh Beg, ruler of the Timurid Empire from 1447 to 1449.
Norman was a product of the English public school, having attended Christ's Hospital, London from where he won a scholarship to Oxford University.
He was passionate about education and his credo which tallied with that of King's College was the cultivation of a sound mind in a sound body. Added to this was a profound and non-negotiable commitment to character and integrity in all spheres of human endeavour.
His favourite quotations were delivered in flawless Latin and he would sometimes scribble them on the blackboard.
Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744)
"Act well your part for there the honour lies."
Sir Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965)
"Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm."
"Humility is the homage exceptional endowments must pay to nature and society."
Indeed, with his emphasis on character as the anchor sheet of leadership and driving vision, he was well ahead of Martin Luther King Jr.:
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character."
It was delivered on August 28, 1963 during the march on Washington D.C. by Blacks for Jobs and Freedom. Within a matter of days those of us in Upper Sixth Form were required by Norman to write an essay on the same subject as a challenge to detect if any one of us had the potential to match the captivating oratory and the elegant prose of the charismatic Martin Luther King Jr.
It was great fun to be in the cadet unit (I rose to the rank of sergeant-major but I was never involved in any coup plotting !!). Major Miners made it a point of duty to remind us during map-reading exercises at the bush camp that the compass is only a guide – to your destination. You ignore it at your own peril. Indeed, it is no different with a moral compass. Every compass is encrusted with a magnet with a mind of its own even when seemingly dormant/sterile and unobtrusive.
Major Miners' able lieutenant was Sergeant-Major Fort Lamy (Rtd). His catch phrase and command to all the cadets was: "March like one army !!". His bungalow was adjacent to Hyde-Johnson's House and a short distance from the armoury (and the squash court). His misfortune was that he had a Fulani wife who was much younger than him. He also had a pretty daughter. Come and see trouble. Hyde-J boys suddenly developed a keen interest in squash racquets which provided them with unlimited viewing of the damsels in the Sergeant-Major's household.
The stiff English upper lip was very much in evidence when Major Miners was confronted with Sergeant-Major Fort Lamy's complaint that he had been reliably informed of "suspicious movements" in the vicinity of his house whenever he was away on assignments to procure uniforms, web equipment, weapons and ammunition for his beloved Cadet Unit.
When asked to provide proof, the sergeant-major produced a list of suspects. Right at the top of the list was none other than you know who!
Almost sixty years later, he is still firmly amongst the unrepentant usual suspects.
In a final act of desperation, Sergeant-Major Fort Lamy declared his bungalow a "Military Zone" with a warning: "Trespassers Will Be Shot On Sight". Regardless, the dare-devils would not desist!
In 1959, Major Miners was an active participant in the selection of the students who served as volunteers in the conduct of the parliamentary elections. We did not let him down.
In similar fashion, we were recruited as enumerators for the census a few months later.
The following year, we acted as ushers when the British flag ("The Union Jack") was lowered on the stroke of midnight on 1st October 1960 and replaced with the Nigerian (Green-White-and-Green) flag. On all three occasions we were rewarded with letters of commendation signed by the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
Indeed, when the Prime Minister visited King's College many years afterwards, the cadet unit under Major Norman Miners' command "presented arms" to welcome the distinguished guest before he and his entourage proceeded to the Assembly Hall.
When the first coup in West Africa took place in Togo on 13th January 1963 (on my birthday), Sixth Formers were required to write an essay on the topic: "Can It Happen In Nigeria?". It was Norman Miners and Tim Doust who marked the essays. Those were the days of magical and blissful innocence.
Norman Miners always predicated his prognosis about the future of Nigeria with a caveat:
"Ceteris paribus" in Latin, which translates as "All things being equal".
So we cannot hold him responsible for what Nigeria has become or the role played (or not played) by his former students in shaping the destiny of our nation where the current state of play is crisis upon crisis; injury upon injury; and rage versus revenge.
For me, the defining moment of Nigeria's descent into chaos and anarchy was not only the Civil War which lasted from 1967 to 1970 (with an estimated loss of three million lives). It was about twenty years ago while I was driving past King's College. Suddenly, there were yells of "Ole!!" (thief!!) as a young man was being chased by a mob. They caught up with him directly opposite Norman John Miners' flat within the college. The next building was the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
Apparently, the young man had broken into a car (in the car park of Independence House) and had stolen a phone. He was being pummelled by the mob when one of them produced a car tyre which he stuck on the neck of the alleged thief as a necklace. Someone else produced a gallon of petrol. In broad daylight the alleged thief was set on fire. His frantic pleas that he was an unemployed graduate and he had not eaten for three days were to no avail.
For several days afterwards, I scoured the newspapers but there was no mention of the horrific event I had witnessed. Neither was it reported on the radio or television. This was long before video cameras and smart phones. If Major Miners was still teaching at King's College, and had gone upstairs to his flat for lunch, he would have had grandstand view of the savagery and brutality. Several days afterwards, the ashes of the victim of jungle justice were still smouldering.
The argument that Norman John Miners did not prepare his students for a wayward and reckless nation cannot hold.
He gave Nigeria his best shot. For eight years of his sojourn at King's College he was a bachelor and his entire life revolved around the school. It was not until June 1965 that he (at the age of 34 years) married an English lady, Wilma Roberts, who was a teacher at Methodist Girls High School, Yaba, Lagos. The marriage produced two sons, one of whom is Deio.
It was Norman John Miners' good fortune that during his days as a tutor at King's College, his fellow alumni of Corpus Christi College, Oxford University such as Dr. Michael Omolayole; Mr. Peter Stallard (and Englishman) and Mr. Okudiafor; held key positions in Nigeria. There were also Dr. Frederick Esiri who later became a professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford and Professor Eldred Jones who became the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone (previously Fourah Bay College).
Mr. Stallard was the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Transport while Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was the Minister. He later became the Secretary to the Government under Balewa; and it was he who handed over to Mr. S.O. Wey, the first Nigerian to become Secretary to the Government.
The Principal Private Secretary to the Governor-General of Nigeria, Sir James Robertson was also an alumnus of Corpus Christi. Mr. Okudiafor was a Permanent Secretary in the Eastern Region of Nigeria.
Dr. Omolayole was the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Lever Brothers (now Unilever Plc.). On one of his trips to London, he visited Norma's Mother.
Actually, on 1st October 1960 when Nigeria became Independent, Dr. Omolayole was ensconced in the flat of Norman Miners which enabled him to enjoy a ring side seat at the epochal event, courtesy of the generous hospitality of his host.
According to one of his friends, when Norman was asked whether he ever used the cane on Hyde-Johnson's House boys, his answer was somewhat elliptical/and ambiguous:
"I only whipped them into line."
He did far more than that. After leaving Nigeria in 1966, he and his wife returned to the United Kingdom where he was awarded a Social Sciences Research Fellowship which he used to write a PhD at the University of Exeter between 1966 and 1968.
His thesis was on the Nigerian Army 1956-1966.
In 1969, Norman moved to Hong Kong to lecture at the University of Hong Kong and in 1975, he published the seminal book: "Government and Politics of Hong Kong".
He died peacefully in his sleep (aged 88) at home in London on 30th April 2020.
May his soul rest in peace.
The best tribute we can pay him is to commit ourselves fiercely and vigorously to the rescue of Nigeria from terrorists, bandits, kidnappers, money-doublers, false prophets; "419" fraudsters; "wonder banks"; cobras (who feed on currency notes!); magicians and snake charmers.
A Tribute by Bashorun J.K. Randle
Hyde-Johnson's, 1957 to 1964