I read a curious report on the front page of this paper last week, titled Gbaregolor: Delta Secondary School where only two teachers, Principal Teach. In the report, a Hon Maxwell Urhodu who is Deputy Chief Whip of the Ughelli Legislative arm and leader of the Ughelli South Local Government area told the reporter who anchored the story that in time past, the community had written several letters to the state government about the issue but received zero response. According to the story, there were actually five teachers in the school before three were eventually transferred, to leave only two teachers and the principal of the school to teach from JSS1 to SS3.
Whenever there’s mention of the appalling conditions of teachers, particularly at primary and secondary schools, I get giddy with the sort of excitement that’s neither salutary nor exciting. I used to be a teacher, having taught from the lowest rungs to the highest echelons of intellectual output. I still teach, still write and still study to be approved worthy of that excellent calling. When I taught, I know what goes out of me - the physical, mental and psychological preparation apart, there’s the spiritual angle which derives from a connexion between a pupil, student and teacher. Teachers stands inlocoparentis to children in their custody and therefore do not deserve the infractions which our societies the world over inflict on them. Children are raw materials for tomorrow. Teachers convert these raw materials into our future.
But there was one man who truly understood this mystical role. His name was Abraham Lincoln, 16th POTUS. In a letter he wrote to his son’s teacher, Abbey Lincoln begged the teacher to try to teach the lad that ‘for every enemy, there is a friend. He will have to know that all men are not just, that all men are not true. But teach him also that for every scoundrel there is a hero that for every crooked politician, there is a dedicated leader’.
What is unfortunate for Nigeria however is that in our present circumstances, scoundrels and crooked politicians who peddle falsehood far outnumber those who think that ten cents earned is of far more value than the ten dollars easily chanced upon. We cannot lay the fault at teachers, even though there are a great many that do not deserve the cloak. Society has wittingly chosen the paths of mediocrity in our treatment and relationships with teachers and if mediocrity begins to run amok in our society, that certainly is what we deserve as a people. But part of what I think should be responsible for a lot of these humiliations and infractions of the teaching profession even by the products of that profession seem to be that a teacher is measured and evaluated more from the abstract considerations. Some say that to be a good teacher yourself, you will first of all have to ‘kill’ your own teacher. I have hardly understood that logic, have never ‘killed’ any of my teachers. I revere my teachers and I think we all should.
The man in the report who had written an SOS to the Delta State governments of yore is an archetype of reverence for teachers and his antecedents. We cannot say the same thing for a government which had consistently ignored SOS calls from a school. And just so to confirm a trend of government insensitivity towards certain aspects of education in Delta State I recall an experience with Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s predecessor. Sometime in 2012 or thereabouts I barely managed to get in touch with the then Commissioner for Higher Education about my manuscript, now a book on Amazon – SAT/TOEFL Essays – Lesson Notes Questions and Answers – not because it was impossible to publish but because I had great hopes that my book could contribute to the terrible perception of Delta state as home to militants and kidnappers. As a matter of fact, nearly all the students who were being sponsored on scholarship abroad were half-baked and could not write correct sentences. But the Commissioner – a nice chap of a Prof – declined to reply to my letter seeking my partnership with the Delta state government. Very much later after my book was published here and printed in the US, I got a terse text from him that Delta State is broke and was unable to assist with my venture, at that time when oil price was highest and when allocations were steady. About a week later, we were to read and see pictures of the governor dancing away a party, and ‘spraying’ lavishly.
But education and the custodians thereof are not the only things that seem to be falling apart in Delta state. I want to cite a Citizens Report Card published by the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, and the Leadership Initiative for Transformation and Empowerment, LITE, on Niger Delta Institutions in Cross River, Edo, Delta and Ondo States. On page 43 of that report, ‘it was revealed that 21% of the communities surveyed have no primary schools…but in the communities that have primary schools, 32% do not have a desk and chairs for pupils. In Warri North, Warri South and Warri South West alone, the number of abandoned, incomplete and substandard development projects sponsored by the state government is nearly 30 – comprising schools, health centres and roads’.
Fortunately for us all in Delta state, the man who is governor seems to have his job cut out for him. When he was a student at Ika Grammar School (we used to call it Ika Grammerica), Ifeanyi Okowa led one of the five boarding houses - Ikechukwu, Agoriwe, Mariere, State and Efeizomor – as prefect. He competed with other captains to position his house and the boys in his charge as first among equals. He went on to become a medical doctor, secretary to government, a Senator and now a governor. In all of these, Okowa has been tested, tried and can be trusted to take the educational system, and indeed the economy of Delta State out of the doldrums – and this is irrespective of the fact that oil prices are low. Governor Okowa can tap into the blueprint of the nearly moribund BRACED Commission to turn Delta around.