Tribute to my teachers on Teachers’ Day
I have, for a very long time, suffered the nagging guilt of not being able to write this tribute. Each year, since I resolved to do a tribute to all my teachers on Teachers’ Day, the event often stole in without notice. I was fortunate a few days ago, when a family friend who is a teacher told me that Wednesday 5th October was going to be this year’s Teachers’ Day. My mind immediately went to work thinking about this special breed of humanity without whom there would have been no civilization and the advancement made in our world today.
As I thought about the idea of teachers’ day, I saluted the minds that framed the thought of dedicating at least one day in a year to the celebration of teachers. However, when one thinks of the role teachers play in the development of humanity, the sacrifice they make, their commitment and everything they put in to advance the world, then it would not be out of place to celebrate our teachers everyday. No matter how great a man is or was, he must have been taught by teachers at one point or the other. Presidents, governors, professors, lawyers, doctors, engineers, inventors, bankers, were all taught by teachers.
Reminiscences of my first encounter with teachers have now become very dim. That was when my parents thrust me into a Koranic School in our neighbourhood in Kaduna. All I can faintly remember now are the fury of the Mallam’s cane, crying pupils, the loud recitations and the small writing board that we used. I was later admitted into LEA Primary School also in Kaduna. Again, my memory of that school and the teachers were that of a tall bearded man who frightened us with bulala.
The earliest concrete memory of my teachers was formed at IMG Practising School, Oke-Bola, Ibadan. I entered the school sometime in 1978 as a Primary Two pupil. My first teacher was a woman whose name I can no longer remember. She was very friendly with us pupils, however, I cannot recall too much about her. When I got to Primary Three we got another teacher in Mr. Ajayi, a very tall and quiet man. I can still remember how much pains he took to make sure that we did the right thing. I had become quite fluent in Yoruba language and joined others in mischief making that gave Mr. Ajayi a hectic time. Mr. Adesina whom everybody called “master” because he was the school’s scoutmaster became my class teacher in Primary Four. My group of mischief-makers met more than a match in “master”. He wielded his cane with an uncommon ferociousness so that we didn’t need anybody to counsel us on good behavior before we adjusted.
The 1981/1982 session saw me resuming studies at Mariere Primary School in Evwreni in the old Bendel State. It was from here that fondest memories of my teachers began to take shape. I was admitted to Primary Five B and my teacher was Mr. Peter Mukoro. He was very young, compared to other teachers in the school. I admired him a great deal from the first lesson he took us as he spoke very good English and maintained a permanent smile. He drew me to himself like he would a younger brother. He called on me each time he wanted a pupil to read the English reader aloud. The next class, Primary Five C was taught by Mr. Ofoyeju. Mr. Mukoro must have told him something about my reading ability. One day, Mr. Ofoyeju breezed into my class, whispered into Mr. Mukoro’s ears and summoned me to his own class. He asked me to spell some words, which his pupils couldn’t spell, on the blackboard. I did so correctly and he put a cane in my hand asking me to lash every pupil in the class. That was how I became a celebrity in the school. When it was break time, many of the pupils in Primary Five C offered me ice cream and buns so that I would be lenient with them next time. Mr. Ogako who was famous as a disciplinarian taught Primary Five A. The three of them teaching Primary Five arms often exchanged classes and taught us. Some of the earliest substantial advice I got in life came from the trio.
I moved onto Primary Six B and Mr. Joseph Ukueku became our teacher. He must have been in the Boys Scout at one time and he inspired us a great deal. Mr. Solomon Ogadie, always well dressed, taught Primary Six A. There were other teachers in Mariere Primary School then that I can still remember. There was Miss Oyibo who later married Mr. Mukoro. There were Mrs. Iweanya, Messrs Edafiejeke, Okievo, Okuah, Emunemu and very importantly Mr. Philip who was our handcraft teacher. Mr. Philip was visually handicapped, but he taught us excellent handcraft and how to play musical instruments! I owe many of my ideals of life to the inspirational songs he taught us.
While Mr. Richard Imoniruvwe was our headmaster, Mr. Urheriri held forte as his able assistant. By the time I finished primary school in June 1983 I had been so conditioned and made better by my teachers. They taught us discipline, punctuality, neatness, hard work and other virtues, which still sustain many of us. Our teachers spoke very good English and they were always well turned out. In those days, we respected our teachers a great deal. We held them in awe.
When I entered Eni Grammar School also in Evwreni later that year I was ushered into a new world made wonderful and enthralling by teachers. Our teachers were phenomenal. They inspired confidence in us and stirred our impressionable minds to the infinite possibilities of knowledge. They had magic in their words and held us spellbound dispensing knowledge and ideals. For sure, we were introduced to new subjects, more advanced and complex. We were no longer taught by one class teacher, but by many subject teachers.
Mr. Emehi Akpomedaye dazzled us with Literature, Mr. Lucky Ayisire was ignited our imagination in Fine Art. Mr. Emmanuel Disi Okorodudu’s voice boomed during History lessons as he regaled us with stories of the great empires of the Western Sudan. Mr. Agbogi was the games master who also taught us Geography. Mrs. Tina Okedu taught us English and Mrs. Edah taught French. There were also Messrs Okome, Ufuoma Adaka and Okpakpo. Mr. Jim Edah was principal and he had Mr. Erhidu as vice principal.
Around 1984 and 1985 almost all the teachers who taught us in classes one and two left the school to better their lot elsewhere. When the school resumed in September of 1985, we had a new principal in Mr. Aron Shaka who took over from Mr. Whegbere, Mr. Edah’s successor. We had new teachers like Miss Ann Okojevoh, Messrs Ifeanyi Opuh, Jonathan Agbaghara, Osheho Ahweyevu, Friday Umurhohwo, Alex Djesahwa, Clifford Olomukoro, William Okah, Mrs. Grace Ejoh, Miss Phina Amuta (now Mrs. Origho). The years; 1986, 1987 and 1988 saw the transfer of more teachers to Eni Grammar School. Messrs Amami, Godwin Awhin, Peter Adahwara, Adjarho, Joseph Utobivbie, Michael Mokena Odeimor, Semiteye, Miss Ese Ahweyevu.
The new teachers stood tall before us and proved to be good ambassadors of the teaching profession. As I grew older, I was able to access their intellectual capacities and appreciate the sacrifices they were making. In those days, the certificate year began in Class Three when students got introduced to subjects they will sit for during the West African School Certificate Examination that was then taken in Class Five. My school was founded in 1980 and since the location which is Evwreni was then a rural setting the school was regarded as “a village school”. For that reason, government’s presence and interventions were unfelt.
Hence we didn’t have enough teachers. The few teachers we had worked themselves to the bone to ensure that they taught us all the subjects in the curriculum. Some of them taught up to five subjects and moved from one class to another resting only during break period. Mr. Jonathan Agbaghara was not only the labour master, but he also taught us Urhobo, Mathematics, Geography, Physics, Chemistry, Biology at a time when there were no qualified teachers to teach those subjects. He gave us his all physically and mentally to ensure that we were not stranded academically.
Our teachers were long-suffering and they were ennobled by the sacrifices they made. Mr. Djesahwa our English teacher built so much confidence in us. He was very rigorous and thorough and the result was that the “village school” boys and girls, that we were, won many prizes during interschool debates at the expense of better-established township schools.
Mrs. Okojevoh taught Christian Religious Knowledge and many of us became mobile encyclopedia of the syllabus. Our Mathematics teacher, Mr. Okah did his best to ensure that we assimilated Pythagoras, but it was not easy. He resorted to the cane. I recall an unforgettable incident. Mr. Okah had given us a Mathematics puzzle to solve. Many of us were in a quandary over what to do. So, Avwodiritaye Office, the Mathematics maestro told me the answer which I wrote down. Mr. Okah saw my answer and asked me to write down the process that led to my arriving at it. I got stuck and began to chew my pen. Then his cane spoke to my back ta ta ta while he said “write it down, Awhefeeada write it down” of course I couldn’t write it down. So the cane continued its lashing at my back while I wriggled. Some of my classmates still tease me with “Awhefeada write it down” whenever we meet.
The time we were in Class Five our teachers had so worked on us that we had become very eloquent with a good command and knowledge of the subjects we enrolled for in the final examination.
Yet our teachers did not rest on their oars. They waded through flooded footpaths in the rainy season and endured the severity of the sun in the dry season to implant knowledge in us. Mr. Umurohwo our Economics teacher was Adam Smith reborn. Adahwara was just as good as Stone and Cozens put together. Mr. Ahweyevu also could have contested the knowledge of Geography with Adeleke and Gocheleong. Our Government teacher, Mr. Odeimor sounded like Baron de Montesquieu as he taught us the principle of separation of powers, while Mr. Awhin who taught us History was himself taught by great historians at the University of Ibadan. Mr. Awhin’s voice was strident and authoritative as he told us about the “business acumen of Nana of Ebrohimi”. We were rhapsodized.
By the time we wrote our final examination in November 1988 we knew that we had not only passed through rigorous learning, but we were prepared to engage the world. But very painfully, years later, whenever I visited Mariere Primary School and Eni Grammar School, I leave the school premises very sad because of the decay that has taken place. Only about two years ago was a section of Mariere Primary School given a facelift.
I still interact with my teachers and I must say that the nation has not been fair to them. They gave their all to the nation and my generation and now they have nothing to show for their labour and sacrifice. After many years of faithful service to humanity our teachers are left to suffer deprivation. They live in a nation that is now hostile to them. Many of them are now in retirement and are being owed two to three years pension. The ones that are in service have not fared better. Their promotion is frustratingly stagnated even as some of them have not been paid salaries in twelve months!
Across Nigeria, teachers have not been given what is commensurate to their service and until this is done Nigeria will continue to flounder. We must realize that our most critical assets, our children, are supposed to be molded by teachers. Without good and committed teachers, Nigeria’s future is in jeopardy. Some people feel that sending their children to good private schools is the way out. But they should know that the majority 95 per cent of exploited children whose parents cannot afford fees for private schools will become the army of social malcontents who will hold the nation to ransom tomorrow. Governments at all levels must invest in education and improve the welfare of teachers so as to make the profession attractive and also bring out the best in them.
In the course of this year’s teachers’ day celebration, a governor in one of the south-south states charged teachers in the state to ensure that the state emerges the best in next year’s rating by the West African Examination Council. But he didn’t tell the world that teachers in that oil rich state have not been paid since January this year!
Government must reform the teaching profession and confer on it the dignity and privileges befitting the noblest of professions that it should be. For now teaching is an all-comers affair. The Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria and the Nigerian Union of Teachers should consolidate on the ongoing professionalization of teaching.
Our teachers should be trained and retrained and be made to enjoy lifelong incentives. The present retirement age of 60 should be increased to 65 to ensure that experience is not wasted.
I cannot end this tribute without mentioning my uncle, Mr. Patrick Urhobojavba (Urhobojevwe) who indeed was the first teacher I know. I began living with him in Primary Five and was still nestled in his house before I got married in 2003. My aunts, Mrs. Taiwo Igharo and Mrs. Kevwe Okpongoro are also teachers. So is my mother-in-law, Mrs. Christy Maduku. My dear teachers I salute you all for your labour, your sacrifice and most especially for also making a teacher of me. I do obeisance to you all. This tribute is in acknowledgement of my eternal indebtedness to all of you.
Dr. Awhefeada teaches literature at the Delta State University, Abraka.