Honouring ‘Miss Uwawah’ my Primary 3 teacher
Last week I received a call from a senior citizen in Sapele, Dr. Tetsola informing me that my Primary 3 Class Teacher, Madam Elizabeth Diagbonya Igbinoba, known to us as Miss Uwawah ‘had danced into the night of her life’ (my own expression). She taught me in the days when all female teachers, save the Headmistress were fondly called ‘Miss’. Miss was a sign of respect which we had for the female teachers of those days. Whether or not she was married the female teacher was ‘Miss’. Miss Uwawah was beautiful in and out, and remained so till the very end. She was born 3rd May 1933 and slept the sleep of death 16th September 2017.
I recall Miss Uwawah from my primary school days at Academy Boys School Sapele, for many reasons. She was the first teacher to help me build my self-confidence at the primary school level by the way she managed the class and related with us. My Primary 1 ClassTeacher, one Mr. Esquire was very furious with the cane. I remember him for his ‘red eyes’, usually after break time and how anger was easily transferred to pupils for any slight mistake. He taught us very well though. I think he was killed during the Biafran invasion of Mid-West! I remember Primary Two Class Teacher, Mr. Sodjefor telling us stories and spinning tales about one ‘Mr. Ogodi’ to keep us busy. We learnt a lot through playing and never wanted to leave his class. I am told Mr. Sodje is still alive.
I encountered two teachers in Primary Three – Mr. Omugbe and the motherly Miss Uwawah.While Mr. Omugbe never spared the rod, Miss Uwawah spared the rod and made us better pupils. Mr. Omugbe’s daughter had the misfortune of being in my class. Each time he flogged us six strokes, Helen got twelve. He didn’t just flog Helen; he beat her, some times to the floor. In Primary Four my Class Teacher, Mr. Odu was a lazy human being. He had the habit of making us exchange our assignments and marking the work of our classmates. Once when my father inspected my books, he complained that there was a spelling I got wrong that was marked right; there was one I got right and was marked wrong. He said I should point this out to my teacher! Ha!
I summoned courage towards the end of the day to point out the error to the teacher. He chased me out of the classroom, saying I should go to my father to teach me. But he didn’t reckon with the tenacity of Papa. Papa, a former secondary school Mathematics/Latin teacher came to school the next day fully dressed in his official uniform as a Produce Inspector. He went straight to the headmaster. I was summoned to the headmaster’s office along with the teacher. ‘I didn’t send him away; the boy is lying against me.’ The truth was clear anyway. I went back to the classroom and the matter was resolved somehow, behind my back. From then on Mr. Odu treated me with respect, saying ‘You know your father…!
In Primary Five, my class teacher was the well-dressed, neat Mr. Akene who used to send the girls to do house chores for him during break time! I remember him for his furious anger, his anger-induced twitching lips, and red eyes. At the end of ‘Mental’, which was the first thing we did in the morning, he would ask us to form a circle and flog us one by one for missing some of the answers! He was a ‘wicked’ man to us! The height of it was when he flung his shoe at Hamilton Okotie, one of my classmates! I don’t remember whether that was why he was moved and one friendly Mr. Obarovbe took over. In Primary Six, it was the disciplined and well-organised Mr. Obiebi who was our class teacher. He was a good singer. His class was fun. Other teachers in the school who were by the way of different ethnic backgrounds, were Mr. Osumah (Asst. Headmaster), Mrs. Oritsejafor (Pastor Oritsejafor’s mother), Mr. Sagay, Papa Futughe (Music Master), Mr. Okeke, Mr. Ogbodu, Mrs. Nwop, the elegant and beautiful Mrs. Lydia Aso, and the ever serious and stern-looking, no-nonsense but handsome, Mr. Ukweni. The Headmaster was Pa Oyaide, the man who had taught my dad in primary school!
Now I return to the best teacher of my life, Miss Uwawah. When she took over the class, all tension disappeared. She had a cane quite alright but hardly used it. It was long before the abolition of ‘corporal punishment.’ She would teach us songs and tell us stories. She made teaching fun; indeed you felt embarrassed if you scored 4/10 or 8/20 in any of the subjects. Those were the days before subject teachers emerged. A teacher had to be an all-rounder. She was able to command the attention of the class in a friendly and motherly way, yet with discipline. In fact, no one wanted to offend her. Her two children would play with us and they became our friends. In the first term I came out 2nd in class, the first time ever. In the second term I was 1st, and in the third term 3rd. I remained on the top ten till I left that school.
Why have I recalled all of these teachers and singled out Miss Uwawah? These teachers meant a lot to us as teachers often do. Their commitment or lack of it affected us both psychologically and academically. They never left the classroom to do any other business. They did not organise extra lessons for us to pass exams; they also did not ‘help’ us to pass. Miss Uwawah put extra care to her teaching and made everyone feel bright and good in the class. She was a ‘TC 2’ teacher whose impact on me was amazing, eternal and permanent. So whoever is a teacher should know that pupils and students have a memory, and that teachers write their testimonials each day they enter the classroom to teach!
Long after I left university, became a teacher and subsequently a professor and a government official, I searched for out. This was in 2012. I traced her to her humble abode in Sapele. She was hard of hearing, but mentally alert. I had to write my questions or comments on paper; she would read and respond verbally. She was delighted to see me after I introduced myself. I told her that I had come to thank her for giving me academic confidence in life, while in Primary 3 in 1968; and that I was one of her grateful children. The emotions that day! I don’t think anybody kept dry eyes! The sad part was that she had lost all her biological children. Her grandchildren survive her though.
This therefore is a tribute to Miss Elizabeth Igbinoba Uwawah, excellent teacher, mother, friend, disciplinarian, mentor, and committed classroom manager. All I have now are memories of this woman, of Bini ancestry and Itsekiri linkage who made a dramatic difference in my early academic life. I am grateful that I was able to say ‘thank you’ to her in a very personal way before she died. Not all teachers get remembered. She will be laid to rest October 13th and 14th in Sapele. And all we owe her now is a decent burial and a celebration of the virtues of the quintessential teacher who gave her all as a teacher of teachers and a ‘producer’ of professors. During my first visit I wrote down a song that she had taught us: “When I was young, I went to school/ and my teacher put me on a tiny stool/ to learn to say my ABC and to count the sticks up to 1-2-3/ I counted those sticks very carefully and now I am a professor of a high degree.” Nothing could have been more poignant than that! May God console her family till we meet again at the resurrection!
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