Mrs. Obiageli Mazi is a teacher at Sands Kyarimi Primary School II whom Governor of Borno State, Babagana Zulum, promoted from class teacher to assistant headmistress for being hardworking and dedicated to duty having met her at work when he visited the school very early in the morning some weeks ago.
In this interview, Mrs Mazi spoke on her feelings about Zulum’s generosity, relationship with other teachers, insurgency and others issues.
Recently Governor Babagana Zulum was in your school at 6:30am, met you that early and promoted you from class teacher to Assistant Headmistress for your dedication; how did you feel about this meeting and promotion?
I was excited by the Governor’s recognition. On that fateful day, February 7, 2020, as God would have it, I was at home but something within me told me to rush to school, although I’m used to going early to school every day. Despite the cool and hazy morning, I prepared and went to school. I arrived at the school exactly 6:28am. I was bringing out my items and setting my table for the business of day, but as God would have it, I saw some people driving into the school, they came with many vehicles. Our security man immediately rushed to them. The Governor asked him, “Who are you?” He replied “I am a security man.” He then said “what about that woman?” They started walking towards me. On seeing them, I started running, but the Governor said “don’t run, just move slowly.” When he got close to me he said “do you know me?” I replied “yes, you are our Governor.” He further asked “who are you.” I replied that I am a class teacher. He went further to ask “how long have you been teaching in this school?” I told him “31 years sir.” “And you came out as early as 6:30am to school.” I replied him that I have been coming to school very early.” The Governor then said, “We have to reward you. How much is your salary?” I told him N35, 000 and he went to his car and brought out N100, 000 and gave me. He didn’t stop at that, he also asked me what my qualification was. I told him NCE. He stated that “we must reward you.” He collected my contact and promised to call me. The next day, I was at home, it was on a Saturday I received a call and the person was asking me some questions, when I answered all the questions, I was later told that I had been promoted to Assistant Headmistress. This is the work of God because if I had waited at home for some minutes, I would have got to school after 6:30 when they must have left. It is the work of God that my dedication and hard work have been recognised. There was a time when our headmistress told me “this your hard work and commitment to work would not go unnoticed” and that one day I would be rewarded, that God would definitely reward me. My encounter with Governor was a testimony to that.
There is this saying that “teachers’ reward is in Heaven,” do you still believe in this?
My encounter with Governor Zulum has really proven that teachers reward is not only in heaven but surely also on this earth. For a Governor to recognise my hard work and reward me is really unimaginable and it has shown that teachers’ reward is not only on earth, but the one in heaven is bigger. Words cannot express my happiness. For a Governor to not only recognise my effort, but to promote me to assistant headmistress, a non-indigene for that matter, is a great thing. I am from Abia State, but this gesture further indicated that Nigeria is one and united; Nigeria is one, irrespective of tribe, religion or region.
How have you been fairing with your pupils now having been promoted to Assistant Headmistress?
I am really happy for the promotion; but I will not leave my primary one pupils, they are very dear to my heart. You know, I want to give them a good foundation because the foundation of any building makes it solid for long and it will not collapse. I told my headmistress that for the remaining four years before I retire, I would continue to teach my primary one pupils. I also told her that we needed to groom some teachers to take over from me, when I eventually retire so that we will continue giving our primary one pupils a good foundation. You can see we have many pupils in primary one in this school. We have six classes in primary one. In one of the classes we have over 80 pupils and the least in a class is over 50 pupils. We brought new teachers to assist me in teaching primary one. We have Malkam Abba and one other lady. See the register, we have many names. I will continue to be with my pupils, I will not leave them. We have to groom some teachers to take over from me when I retire in the next four years.
As an Igbo woman from Abia State, how have you man-aged to stay in Maiduguri despite the Boko Haram crisis?
It’s the work of God ooh! You know this school was in the heart of Boko Haram. During the heat of the insurgency, it was tough. Some time when we came out we had to stop at the military barracks because they were engaging the insurgents and they would ask us to go back home. Sometimes we’ve had to go back home. There was a time when I came out of my house, the soldiers were in gun duel with Boko Haram at Customs area. I live in Kumshe. So when we came out, some Civilian JTF said “mama stop here; don’t go anywhere, soldiers are engaging insurgents. So don’t go further.” We were trapped until they dislodged the insurgents. So it is the work of God. After the Boko Haram fighters were sent out of Maiduguri, they brought IDPs into our school at that time. I always sit at my table and sometimes I even bought some things for them as a way of assisting them. It is God that has been protecting us all this time. Our pastor, Pastor Solomon, used to tell us that God is in control and will protect us from Boko Haram. He gave us a veil to cover ourselves with. We have been praying. God has definitely answered our prayers. Sometime in 2014, I was asked by my people at home in Abia State to return home, that I should do interstate transfer. When I travelled home we even went to local education authority of my local government and we started the process of my transfer, but I had been praying to God that if it is good for me let God make my transfer happen. As God would have it, it has not worked and I had an encounter with our Governor and he rewarded me with N100, 000 and he also promoted me to Assistant Headmistress. It is the work of God!
How have you been coping with the Boko Haram insurgency, especially as a non-Muslim and a southerner?
There was a time, when we were coming back from holiday in Abia, our driver was rushing to arrive Maiduguri on time but we were stopped in one village near Potiskum because it was already 10:00pm and the soldiers had closed the gate. We had to sleep in that village. We slept in our bus despite the people saying that the area was the stronghold of the insurgents. Myself, other children in the bus and their mothers were praying and as God would have it, nothing happened to us. You see because of our prayers God took us out of that place safely. We were there from 10:00pm until 6:00am the next day when the gate was reopened. So, it is God that has been protecting us.
What advice do you have for your fellow teachers, especially the younger ones?
My advice to them is to be hardworking and dedicated to their duties as the rewards of a teacher is not only in heaven, but surely on this earth. Even last week during our verification exercise I told our younger colleagues that they should be dedicated and hardworking. One problem with youths of today is that they just want to be rich quickly. Once they get employed, they want to see themselves in bigger positions. There is no way that somebody who just got employed this year will be in the same position with somebody like me who has spent over 30 years in service. So they should be patient in keeping with the saying: “The patient dog eats the fattest bone.” Definitely when their time comes they will be rewarded accordingly. Even this verification exercise, for instance, was meant to improve the welfare of our teachers, but some people do not want it to happen because some of them have been on the payroll of the government for over 40 years and they don’t want to be caught. We have to be patient because this verification is for our own good. This verification exercise was started during the time of our former Governor, Senator Kashim Shettima, but it did not see the light of the day in the eight years he was in office. Now, our current Governor, Professor Zulum, reintroduced the exercise and we hope and pray that it sees the light of the day because it is aimed at improving the welfare of teachers and to create more job opportunities for our unemployed youths.
As an Igbo woman, how have you been relating with your fellow teachers who are mostly Kanuris?
We have been relating well. You can see everybody here calls me Mama and we have been joking, playing and relating well. I enjoy my relationship, not only with the teachers in this school, but with the people of Borno State in general. Where I live is in Kumshe and people, especially children, whenever they see me, welcome me. They call me Mama.
Are you thinking of going back to Abia after your 35 years of service?
Whenever we are chatting with our fellow teachers, they always tell me ‘Mama don’t go after your retirement.’ I often tell them I have left everything in the hands of God. If He destines that I should continue to stay in Maiduguri I would do so, everything is under God’s control.