By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
“If you don’t like the stories, you’ll like the cartoons…”
From For di People to Concord Times to Independent Observer to The New Tempo to The Exclusive and now Africa Young Voices and Ariogbo, Teacher Lemp Lemp has emerged as one of the most favorite satirical columns in Sierra Leonean newspapers.
Where and how did it begin? What is Teacher Lemp Lemp? What makes the column so unique? On our 10th anniversary of dedicated service we bring you the full history.
Teacher Lemp Lemp began in For di People in late 2001 when the newspaper was going through something like a transition, to use a euphemism. The departure of Mr. Salieu Kamara (now Communications Officer, NMJD) and Mr. Olu Awonoor Gordon (the late Publisher of Peep! Magazine) from the newspaper left managing editor/publisher Mr. Paul Kamara (now Minister of Youth, Employment and Sports) gazing at the now feeble walls of the most audacious newspaper office at the time.
Mr. Sallieu, who had been the deputy editor, was on his way to become the communications officer of ngo Network Movement for Justice and Development. Mr. Gordon- the newspaper’s political editor but more renowned for his satirical column Peep!- was on his way to begin his own publication, Peep! Magazine. And with him would also go his satirical column. Shortly, Karim Bah (now Communications Consultant, UNDP), a standby for the big exits, followed suit by joining Mr. Salieu at NMJD.
Paul Kamara was left alone to grapple with the emergency. But at his disposal was a crop of rookie reporters including my humble self and one Benjamin Aki Palmer. I started off with a gossip column called ‘Stringer’ but Mr. Kamara later changed the name to ‘Stinger’. At the same time he refused to let the Peep! column go with Mr. Gordon, claiming that the column belong to For di People and not Gordon. However, though he maintained the Peep! column, it was not in the fashion of Mr. Gordon’s unique technique.
Nevertheless, I was thinking of something special; something that would be different in style from Peep! but one that would produce as much humor, if not more. Then one day, at the doldrums of my think-tank the name ‘Teacher Lemp Lemp’ sprang up. I was actually dreaming up a catchy one-word title not a three-word; but the name Teacher Lemp Lemp conjured some funny memories.
When I was a primary school pupil I remembered I had listened to the tape recording of a Themne play in which a classroom teacher called Teacher Lemp Lemp was the main character. By his teachings, or utterances, you would conclude -without any prejudice- that he was a clown. But in the remotest of Sierra Leonean villages he was the ‘master of knowledge’. I also remembered listening to a Themne song which goes like this. “Or teacher or wei, or gbhenyeme gbo e chieh co eyorko e chieh co eyorko…” In direct English translation it’s something like this: “This teacher hates me; I don’t know what wrong I’ve done him. He just hates me…”
And then I also thought of Lakunle, the comedy of a teacher portrayed by popular Nigeria author Wole Soyinka in ‘The Lion and the Jewel’. All of these images combined in my mind to produce the ultimate teacher- TEACHER LEMP LEMP. When I suggested the column title to Mr. Paul Kamara, a Themne by tribe, I knew the name Teacher Lemp Lemp would ring a bell.
Techer Lemp Lemp was borne out of the desire to be creative and funny, but the inspiration actually came from the late Mr. Gordon’s Peep! Column. When I started reading newspapers (after my A’ Levels actually) it took me some time to understand the satirical column Peep! and eventually appreciate its humor and essence. When I finally did, there were few editions that I’ve missed.
I grew up a great lover of comedy. I get easily attracted to people who make me laugh a lot. I’m quick to spot the funny side of situations I’ve found myself in. It’s kind of an escape route for me whenever I am entangled. To me life is just fun; you can’t just be too serious about it. Moreover, I’ve come to realize that Sierra Leoneans are a humorous bunch of people, even on their death beds. They are quick and crafty at creating comedy out of great mischief.
Teacher Lemp Lemp means Teacher Fast Fast or Teacher Quick Quick/ or Teacher Haste Haste, from direct Themne translation, a teacher that’s always in a hurry. However, figuratively it means a stupid teacher. A teacher who thinks he knows everything but actually knows nothing; a clown of a teacher; a bogus teacher.
Teacher Lemp Lemp is a satirical column poking mildly at the ills of society. It is mostly fiction fashioned out of real events and laced with humor to produce the maximum effect. Sometimes the stories are entirely made up.
It is written, generally, in the format of reporting news events in a keep-it-straight-and-simple (KISS) pattern. Sometimes it’s straight news; other times in feature style. Some other time in interview-question and answer style. The great plus of Teacher Lemp Lemp, however, is its ability to support his stories with pictures; some people call it cartoons. (I was actually an artist, not a cartoonist when I started the column). In journalism we say a picture is worth more than a thousand words, so the ability to use pictures lends more credence to my stories.
“If you don’t like the stories, you’ll like the cartoons. If you don’t like the cartoons, you’ll love the stories,” said BBC correspondent Umaru Fofanah in compliment of my column.
Teacher Lemp Lemp employs a wide range of cast in his writings. The ability to create characters is just enormous. Many of my characters are created from events as they occur but the most common ones are Black Scorpion, Rasta Sanxx, and Miss Susan Four.
Black Scorpion- portrayed as a Scotland Yard-trained detective- was inspired by the RSLAF soldier Mustapha Kamara (alias Scorpion), who captured the late dreaded rebel leader Foday Saybanah Sankoh in May 2000.
Rasta Sanxx- portrayed initially as a jack of all trade, but now a reggae musician- was inspired by the late RUF leader Foday Saybanah Sankoh.
Ms. Susan Four- portrayed as the indispensable senior employee of the ailing National Power Authority- was inspired by one of the oldest NPA machines- Sulzer Four.
Other notable characters include Pa Sorie Guma, Aunty Corruption, and the borrowed crew that form the Flag Brothers: Pa Jimoh and Boy Alinco (from Ikebe Super magazine- Nigeria), Johnny Walker, Berec, Michelin Man, Bolo Yeung, Aki and Paw Paw.
The main objective of Teacher Lemp Lemp is to entertain. In the process it is my aim to expose the vices of society, with a view to raise awareness and, eventually, prompt action.
Throughout I have endeavored therefore to stay clear of malice, hate and blackmail in my writings and to be as fair and objective as I can be
In my rookie years, I was criticized by a writer in the New Vision newspaper, Dan Joe Hadji, of imitating Mr. Olu Gordon’s Peep! column in For di People. He could have been right if he had used the word ‘inspired’ instead of imitating. Only Mr. Gordon did best what he did in his Professor Peep! page. Likewise, nobody can do best what I’m doing in my Teacher Lemp Lemp column. Professor Peep! was known mostly for his Incredible Theories, 10 things/differences and ‘Wonder dog’ Fifi and above all, for his biting satire. Teacher Lemp Lemp, on the other hand, has come to be identified mostly for his fiction and cartoons.
One reader, I can’t remember her name now, once accused me of denigrating the Muslim religion when I wrote that Rasta Sanxx had accepted Islam and had adopted the Muslim name, Malik El Zakat. I told her she had misunderstood us. Others have accused me of treating serious national issues with fun, thereby limiting the attention they deserved- in other words trivializing serious issues. Nevertheless, I continue to look forward to your objective criticism in a bid to modify and develop your favorite column.
Great thanks to the current Minister of Youth, Employment and Sports, Mr. Paul Kamara for giving me the freedom to showcase my creative ability. Thanks also to the late Publisher of Peep! Magazine for the inspiration. Mr. Gordon had unwittingly been a long distance tutor, and it was he who advised me to change the spelling from Teacher Lempe Lempe to Teacher Lemp Lemp.
My profound thanks also goes to the staff of all the newspapers in whose pages Teacher Lemp Lemp has appeared- For di People, Independent Observer, The New Tempo, The Exclusive with the exception of Concord Times which still owed me three months of salaries. Above all, many thanks to all my readers for your appreciative calls and encouragement.