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Interview

Despite Promotion, I Won't Abandon My Primary One Pupils - Obiageli Mazi

Governor Babagana Zulum of  Borno State recently paid an unscheduled visit to Shehu Sanda Kyarimi 2 Primary School around 6:30am and found only a teacher, Obiageli Mazi, 53, there. Impressed by her dedication, the governor gifted the level 12 teacher N100,000 and promoted her to assistant headmistress. Mazi, who is from Abia State and has been teaching for 31 years, tells KAYODE IDOWU how she came to the decision to always get to work early
Why were you in school as early as 6:30am on the day Governor Babagana Zulum visited your school?
It has been my promise to God and to the service which God has given me. When I was employed, I promised not to fail and to be punctual at work. I asked God to help me, and He has been helping me to keep to that promise. I have been getting to school early. My colleagues, headmistress and pupils know I always get to work early.
Sometimes, I get to work some minutes past six, and sometimes I get there some minutes to seven or past seven. It was the Spirit of God that moved me on the day the governor came. If I had wasted some time, I would not have had the opportunity of meeting with him. When I was sleeping, the Spirit woke me and urged me to go to work. I obeyed the instruction, prayed and had my bath.
I don't usually take breakfast, so I went to school. I got to school at exactly 6:28am. It was just providence that allowed me to meet the governor; he felt my time to be rewarded had come. Before then, the headmistress had instructed that the keys to the staff room should be given to me because I'm always the first person to get to school as teachers have to prepare for the day's job early in the morning.
On that day, I was at my table and had started writing when I saw cars driving into the school compound around 6:30am. I was shocked and thought to myself: "Who are these people?” It was the security guard that ran to them. They told him they were with the governor and instructed him to stand guard at the entrance and not allow anyone else to come in. The governor subsequently came in and one of those with him came to meet me. As he approached me, I stood up to greet him and he asked if I was the headmistress. I said no and introduced myself as the class teacher of primary one. He asked where I lived. I said Kumshe on Asheikh Jarma Street and he was surprised that I could come very early to school from there. He said he would tell the governor about it.
He told the governor and after the governor finished his supervision, he beckoned on me and I ran to meet him but he told me not to run. He said I should walk gently. He asked for my name and why I was there so early and I said it was my tradition. Then he said, "You must be rewarded.” He asked where I lived and my home state. After I replied, he said, "What qualifications do you have?” I said Nigeria Certificate in Education. He asked for my salary and I said N35,000. Then he asked for the number of years I had spent in service and I said 31 years. Then he opened his car and brought out some cash for me; I was speechless. I didn't know how to thank him or where to start. I was short of words to thank him. I will forever be grateful to him; it is only God that can help me thank him enough.
Why did you make the decision to be coming to school earlier?
It was just something between me and my God. I told God I would not be getting to work late unless I am not feeling well. My primary one pupils are not capable of doing things on their own like those in the senior classes, and I take them as my children. It is said that the right foundation should be given to people when they are very young and I believe in life that we will be rewarded for what we do.
If we do not train them well, I believe we are going to get punished. I want to give them from the little I know the Lord has given to me. I want to give them the right foundation. If I get to the office late, the children would just be playing about but when I am early, I'm able to control them and put things in order before classes would start. If I do not guide them to do the proper thing, their punishment will be for me and I do not want that.
In this area, many civil servants get to work late, have you at anytime felt discouraged?
As human beings, we are sometimes discouraged. The devil would want to discourage you. You may even hear a voice or your colleagues may even discourage you by asking why you are taking the job so seriously. They could ask: "How much are they paying you?” It is a commitment to sacrifice all for these children. The saying that teachers reward is in Heaven still stands. But one thing that I can attest to is that God will start from here to reward us. It is said that charity begins at home.
I will use this opportunity to talk to fellow teachers: we know our salary is poor and not enough. Even though I'm not married, I have been taking care of a lot of people and even after work; I still get involved in other economic activities. It has never been easy but with grace and encouragement from God, I have been shouldering the burden. The greatest reward I must say is that of the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. I always pray that God should help me and the children.
Do you feel you have been rewarded for your dedication?
Though I am very happy and appreciative of the reward and recognition by the governor, I believe that the greatest reward for us as human beings comes from God.
What was your reaction when you were told you were going to be promoted?
If you ask anyone here, they will tell you that I have always shied away from occupying any post. They used to tell me that I would be promoted but I would say I did not want it.  I would say I was comfortable working with my schoolchildren. I feel attached to them and feel accomplished when I am around them. But perhaps the Lord felt the time to move on had come and that was why he brought the governor. I believe it was God's doing and I return all the glory to Him and I also thank the governor.
What kind of reactions have you been getting from your colleagues since the development?
The reaction has been warm. All of them have congratulated me and have been saying I deserve it. The governor has equally sent our Education Secretary to bring to me the promotion letter and other things I need to function in my new office. But my commitment is to be working with the primary one pupils even after promotion. I am also committed to not leaving the children alone. I will be helping the teachers for primary one pupils.
When are you supposed to resume as assistant headmistress?
I have already resumed. The promotion took effect from the Friday when the governor made the promise. My letter of promotion was sent to me on Monday, the next working day. I have been given an office already, but I said I would not be using it because of these children.
How was your first day on the job as assistant headmistress?
I thank God; it was good. The teachers cooperated with me. I actually need the cooperation of all to function well in my new role.
Some of your colleagues may be jealous of you now, how will you deal with it?
Even if they are jealous, it is God who will calm them down. I will gently approach anyone who openly shows they are envious to calm them down. People have been coming to me and I have been telling them that what God has done for me, He will surely do for them. And my message to every teacher is that God will bring them out to be celebrated. People have been calling me from all over the country and even beyond our shores to congratulate me.
You are an Igbo woman living in Borno, how did you come to live in the state?
I came to Borno with my elder brother in 1975 when I was very little. I was in primary two then and in 1978 when I was in primary five, there was a riot and many of my people fled to the South-East. In the east, I registered and completed my primary education in 1979. I wanted to come back to Borno to continue as my brothers were here, but I was advised to stay back. I am an orphan and my grandmother whom I was staying with died in 1978. I latter became very ill and could not talk for over a year, so I had to be brought back to Maiduguri to be treated by my brothers. When I later got well and could talk, I was taken back to school. I attended a teachers' training college and after graduation, I joined the teaching service. When the government said every teacher should get a minimum of NCE, I enrolled and graduated.
With the state of insecurity in the state, how have you and your family been coping?
I have never been married but when the insurgency started, my people fled from this state. Some of them are in Damaturu, Yobe State and my brother that brought me to Maiduguri also left. I have been the caretaker of the house he has here. I have been living peacefully with everyone in my neighborhood. They have been caring and they have shown that they do not want me to leave them. It is God that has made me to find favour with my neighbours, who practise another religion. Sometimes, if they do not see me around, they will start looking around for me. God has brought me among Borno people; many of them are Muslims but they are very understanding. I eat with them and do everything with them.
Does that mean you never entertained any fear when there were attacks in Maiduguri?
In 2014 when they (insurgents) came to Kumshe in the night, we were fearful as human beings but I have been fine with God's protection and with the people giving assurances that nothing would happen to me. Some of them told me that if I was ever afraid, I should come into their house. There has been no problem. If they do not see me, they would be looking for me.
Now, do you take Borno as your home?
Borno is home now. We are all one. When I retire, I will still take Borno as my home and when I get married, whether here or in another place, I will still have this place in my heart. Borno is a home of peace, no matter what the devil has come to do. The peace we used to enjoy in Borno State must surely return by God's grace.
What advice do you have for other Nigerians about staying in the North?
The North is peaceful; we should continue to learn to live together in harmony. We should not quarrel or fight. We should fear God, live a holy life and work for peace and unity. Nothing will happen to disunite us; it is He who is above that controls all the affairs of men. We should equally know that the world is temporal but there is eternity awaiting us after death so let us work for the unity and harmony of humanity. Let there be love.
I am not an advocate of separation; I am not even praying for it. We are one Nigeria and we will remain one Nigeria, by God's Grace. We should give priority to working towards going to heaven. What would it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?
Whatever is happening in the country today, God will take control. We should pray for one another; we should pray for our President (Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari {retd.}) and other leaders. What is happening in Nigeria is not ordinary? The devil is fighting here and trying to pull us down.
Insurgents have attacked this school so many times, so we have had to run out of this place so many times. It has pushed many people to leave the job. I do not want Boko Haram members to die in their sins. Every time, I pray that God should touch them for they do not know what they are doing. May God touch them and make them to repent and stop these dastardly acts. If there is anyone sponsoring them, may God touch their heart too. It is not just about Boko Haram but all bandits across the country; they should all be touched to change and allow peace to reign in the country.
Courtesy Punch Newspaper

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