It used to be said that teachers rewards are in heaven. That in some sense informed the way their salaries were often the last to be paid after their counterparts in the ministries and other government departments would have been paid. But that is beginning to change. Teachers were celebrated last week as the World Teachers Day was observed globally with fanfare. Parents, other adults and students demonstrated appreciation for the selfless service of the teachers in various ways. Listening to several presentations on television, radios and reading the numerous good things said about teachers in the newspapers and on social media made one feel warm.
Take this one by the pilot of a commercial airline: “Dear passengers, this is your captain speaking. Today is an important day. I have a message for one special passenger named Selahattin Onan, who is a pilot instructor and helped many to start their flying career, but on this day, Onan happens to be a passenger on Turkish Airlines not knowing his students had set up a long-time surprise for him.”
The pilot continued: “For six years, I have been a pilot and part of Turkish Airline family. Much of that is due to the efforts of my teacher, Selahattin Onan, a long serving teacher who is with us on this plane today. It is a beautiful thing to be able to call your teacher someone who is like a father to you. He was a captain for 20 years, and for 10 years he was a guide to thousands of pilots, raising us like his children. I speak on behalf of his students right now in expression of our infinite gratitude and I am so eternally grateful; I am so glad that you were my teacher.”
At this point, Onan broke down in tears on his seat. The captain again said: “We first met during a flight, I was asking tons of questions. He then said to me, ‘Son, if you are this curious, why don’t you consider being a pilot. Happy Teachers Day, Selahattin Onan.”
His other students on the flight filed out from the back with a big beautiful well-arranged rosy bouquet and planted kisses on his cheeks in appreciation while he struggled to wipe off tears of joy. What a thoughtful set of students! I am sure he was not the only teacher in that employ, but he stood out among the others.
In the same vein, I remembered my cousin, Dr. Francis Chukwuemeka Opara, a consultant gynaecologist at Dalhatu Araf Specialist Hospital, Lafia, Nassarawa State, who never joked with the late Mrs Pauline Ihejieto, his Primary 6 teacher. Reminiscing about her one day, Opara said: “Mrs. Ihejieto was the most impactful teacher we had in Progressive Primary School, Emii in Owerri North Local Government Area, Imo State. She was the only teacher who passionately started extra-moral classes and would follow a dull pupil home to find out the reason for the academic weakness from his or her parents.”
Opara gave a vivid description of how Madam Ihejieto gathered and covered them under her wings like a mother hen protecting her chicks upon sighting a kite. One of such occasions was during the inter-school quiz competition among primary schools in the old Owerri LGA, comprising the present Owerri Municipal LGA, Owerri North and Owerri West. Schools in the urban area were paired with schools in the rural communities. When Madam Pauline learnt that her pupils would contest against Federal University of Technology (FUTO) Nursery/Primary School, her first step was demolish the seeming intimidation and fear stirred up in her pupils by the unequal pairing, as the two schools were not at the level of exposure and quality of learning.
FUTO Nursery and Primary School was more of an elitist school in the urbanised Owerri Municipal while Progressive Primary School was, well, located in a rural setting. Ihejieto, turning up her charisma, motivated her pupils, as Opara recalled: “Do not be intimidated, afraid or distracted with their clean school bus that will come to drop them. Do not look at their long neatly parked hair laced with smooth-matching ribbon; do not look at their sparkling white stockings, or their tiny framed reading spectacles. All that would be mere distraction and public show. Success does not lie in beauty but in the brain. All of you have one head, two pairs of eyes, ears and are mates. So, do not be afraid of anything. That gap she bridged spiritually spoke volumes and restored our confidence because we didn’t see such often in our local community school. It was also a transformation that spurred us into action. In the heat of the quiz, Mrs. Ihejieto was at our back to encourage us with signs and thumbs up as the competition progressed. Eventually we won that competition. Mrs. Ihejieto took us to School Road, a popular street in the town and bought ice cream before we returned to the village. We never had it that good until that day and the experience has remained evergreen in my mind.”
Prof. Kelsey Harrison is an eminent professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and was also the Vice Chancellor, University of Port-Harcourt in the 90s. According to his students now all over the world, “Harrison gave all his lectures as a sitting Vice Chancellor. One of his students, Dr. C. B. Ekeh recounted her own experience: “His name did not appear on the lecture schedule rather he would be given a list of his lecture topics. The Class Representative would go to his office, where he would look through his diary and fix date and time for our lectures. He recorded and treated those dates as ‘Appointment with Medical Students’. This was when the university was in Choba while the teaching hospital was far away in Port Harcourt town. It was a 45-minute drive, but Prof. Harrison never stood us up for once, all through the time we were his students.”
For Dr. Sam Amadi, former chairman, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and a former governorship aspirant of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the 2019 General Elections, the World Teachers Day was a welcome opportunity to appreciate Mr. Cyprian Nwosu who taught him at Owerri Grammar School, (OGS) Imerienwe. Recalling those years, Amadi said: “He showed me love and believed so much in my capabilities. It was early stages of my secondary school education and I had just become a born-again Christian; he became a big encouragement.”
Continuing, he also talked about his lecturers, who were of immense help to him during his doctoral studies: “Prof. Henry Steiner supported me at Harvard University with gracious scholarship and believed that I could become a Harvard success. Another teacher that impacted on me was Prof Michael Ignatieff, former leader of the Canadian Liberal Party who as Director of Carr Centre of Harvard’s Kennedy of School of Government granted me a fellowship and allowed me to be his teaching assistant and advised me to return to Nigeria instead of staying in the United States.”
Managing Director of Pro-Décor Global Nigeria Limited said of his teachers. “I owe a lot to the duo of Prof Douglas Opuruiche Anaele and Prof Benjamin Chidozie Okoro. These erudite academics revolutionized the vista thought and reordered my thinking for good in my days in University of Lagos.”
Mr. Annie Ekeh, a lawyer and Senior Partner at Selina Chambers said of his teacher: “I was spurred into action by Prof Akin Oyebode, my Jurisprudence lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos. Oyebode told me that Jurisprudence is the science of law and I agreed with him. My encounter with him taught me how to be a scholar. We wrote a test during the first semester of our final year, and I scored 14/20. He congratulated me and said I was one of the best and the highest because I analyzed from a natural point of view instead of copying what others said. He said that is how to be a scholar. I still have that script till date.”
The aforementioned teachers have earned high regard and respect from their students which is what the sought-after profession is all about. When qualified teachers receive kind notes that say, ‘Your sacrifices are not unnoticed; ‘You have made a positive difference in my life; You deserve a break, we appreciate you; I have not forgotten this one thing you said to me and you are the reason I accomplished the task,’ such gesture is naturally warms the heart. For years teachers have been the unsung heroes. Consider the shower of goodies that poured on Olamilekan Agbeleshe, popularly known as Laycon, winner of the Big Brother Naija reality show. Laycon is an artiste-rapper who won a mouth-watering prize worth N85 million, comprising a two-bedroom house donated by Revolution Plus, a brand new SUV from Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company Limited, one year supply of Indomie, N30 million in cash, among other gifts. Not too long ago High Court judges in Lagos State received brand new Toyota Prado SUVs from the Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
Getting such outlandish gifts has not been the experience of teachers. Notwithstanding this, worthy teachers who give out all they have also receive quietly and secretly from God especially in their own children. One thing they do not hear often which they need from us all is that heart-felt ‘Thank you’ which is a debt we all owe our teachers.