By Abdulaziz Abdulaziz
“What gives me joy is that I have many children,” says Mrs Decent Obiabumuo, who has spent over 30 years teaching in public secondary schools in Kano State, in reference to the generations of students she had taught across many schools in the state. “Teachers have thousands of children…my children are not only my biological children. When you see those you teach progressing, it gives you joy.”
Despite the often stirred ethnic fault lines in the country, the occasional ethno-religious violence that Kano has had in the years past, and government policies that directly discriminate against workers like her, this teacher of Igbo descent from Anambra State has spent the past three decades teaching in classrooms that hardly ever have any Igbo student in them.
Not only is she a teacher but Mrs Obi is revered by many of her students for the extraordinary dedication to her job and passion to see that her students excel in what she teaches – English language.
When the Kano State Ministry of Education advertised teaching positions in early 1991, Mrs Obi, then 32 with a young family, decided to leave the comfort of her home and a budding family business she was helping her husband to run, to join the barely attractive teaching profession. She joined other job seekers in the rounds of processes – interviews and aptitude tests – leading to the recruitment of the new teachers, at the ministry’s headquarters located at the last floor of the iconic Gidan Murtala building.
“When the result came out I happened to be successful. I was posted to Kawaji Boys (Government Day Secondary School, Kawaji) to teach English,” she recalled in an interview with Daily Trust.
That marked the beginning of a career and a fulfilment of a lifetime passion to impact knowledge.
For someone who was called ‘Teacher’, from around the age of 10, Mrs could be called a born teacher. As a little primary school people in her hometown of Oba, in present day Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State, she demonstrated love for impacting what she knew to others. For that reason her uncle gave her the sobriquet ‘Teacher’.
“I love teaching. I was teaching right from when I was in primary school, I was teaching other pupils. In the evening, my fellow pupils will come to my house and I will be teaching them to do their homework. My paternal uncle was the one who started calling me teacher; everyone was now calling me teacher without knowing that I will eventually become a teacher.”
Old roots with Kano
After young Decent finished secondary school in 1978, she was married off–in 1980–to Mr Obiabumuo, a young man with a burgeoning business in Kano, the burbling northern Nigerian commercial city. For her it was going back to a home she never knew. By coincidence of history, Kano was where she was born, in 1959, though she did not grow to know the place.
Her father, a staff of the Nigerian Railways, was transferred out of Kano before Decent could grow to get acquainted with her environment of birth.
“I was still a baby when he was transferred to Zaria. He was transferred from Zaria to Enugu, after some years in Enugu he retired and we went home,” she said.
Though she didn’t grow up in Kano, Mrs Obi said she grew up hearing her parents speaking fondly of the city and its people. It was therefore with excitement she followed her husband to start a home in Kano, in the late 1970s.
From knowledge quest to knowledge sharing
Despite getting married at the age of 19 and relocating from her home state to far away Kano, Mrs Obi did not lose her career dream of becoming a teacher. Two years later, she went to Enugu to attend the Women Teacher College (WTC) for her teaching training. She returned to Kano in 1986 and enrolled at the Federal College of Education (FCE), Kano, where she obtained her National Certificate of Education (NCE) qualification.
She spent three years at GSS Kawaji teaching English language at the all-boys school. The quest to upgrade herself and further her knowledge made her to go back to school for a degree in the field from Bayero University. Upon graduation she sought for a teaching post at the prestigious Kano Science and Technical Schools Board (KSTSB). She was hired in 1998 and posted to Government Technical College (GTC), Kano.
In January 2004 she was posted to Girls Science and Technical College but transferred in October of that year to Day Science College where she taught generations of students until her transfer to Governor’s College in January this year.
“For the fact that I love teaching, I never find it boring. And I don’t like missing school unless when I am not feeling fine or there is another engagement that makes it impossible to go to school. So, I enjoy teaching and I enjoy having students.”
For her, the goal was impacting knowledge: “What I want to achieve is to help the students.” This drive to have the students become proficient in the language she teaches, she said, has also contributed in making her still unable to be proficient in Hausa language unlike her parents and her husband.
Challenges and downsides
“There were many challenges,” she said recalling her days as a teacher with young family to look after. “The only thing is if your husband is in support of what you are doing you will not have much problem. Even if you leave school late, he won’t complain because he knows you are working”.
Mrs Obi said she had had times when she had to shuttle between classrooms and hospital ward when any of her children was on admission.
Despite giving her all to her students in a life of dedicated teaching, Mrs Obi is not without bitter experiences though she said she took the issues in their strides.
Ten years into her teaching career something puzzling happened which affected Mrs Obi and many teachers like her.
“I had gone home during the holidays in December. I didn’t know that something like that came up. When I came back I innocently went to report to school, on a day we usually go during the holiday. I was at GTC. On getting to the school the messenger told me not to sign. The man went in and brought a letter addressed to me. Meanwhile we went for promotion interview in December. So, when he brought out the letter I thought it was my promotion letter.” It was an unceremonious disengagement for her as part of a policy of the then government of Kano State to disengage teachers that were not originally from the state.
Rather than ruing over it, Mrs Obi said she laughed over her new fate and moved on, going back to help her husband with his business.
When a new government came on board in 2003, Mrs Obi, who declined entreaties to pick a job with private schools, was reabsorbed into the government service.
Despite the reabsorption, however, the challenges did not abate, she said. As a “non-indigene” she and others like her work on contract and do not get promoted. “The last time I was promoted was in 2008. But it doesn’t stop me from doing what I am supposed to do. I do my work.”
The joys of motherhood
The challenges notwithstanding, Mrs Obi said she draws a lot of pleasure and pride from her work as a teacher in these past 30 years. She recollected many instances where she was treated kindly by former students or ran into some who had become “big men” in different disciplines.
“If I go to AKTH (Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital) today, it would look like I am the mother of all those doctors that are there. There was a day I went there, I was not feeling fine. I was on the queue to collect drugs and the queue was long. I was standing then I saw somebody from the pharmacy beckoning his hands to me. He asked me to come through the door, into the pharmacy. I was wondering who it was. When I entered I saw that he was my ex-student. He is a pharmacist. He greeted and sat me down, in an air-conditioned room; see me, a poor teacher! He collected the prescription, and brought the drugs for me. Others were just looking at me, I am sure they would be wondering; ‘who is this woman?’”
Now at 63, Mrs Obi pushes on with her career in spite of challenges of age and other issues but for her she has no regret pursuing a career of her dream and giving her all to it.