Teachers Are Not Heartless and Moronic: A Rejoinder to Abdullah Musa
Abdullah Musa’s captivating title: “Talaka: A Mosochist of Some Sort” could catch, in a spectacular, yet deceptive way the attention of any serious reader. The piece published in the Daily Triumph of Monday, May 26, 2008 made an interesting reading. Even though I share some of the brilliant and bravura comments and fundamental observations he made, I still find it expedient to react to some of the uninformed, potty, unreflective and uncritical views he canvassed in the said article.
Let me say that, though I do not subscribe to Abdullah Musa’s weak concept of who a poor person (Takala) is, as he postulated in his piece, despite his copious references to dictionary to support his faint argument; yet, the poor could mean an ignorant, as Musa put it. Again, it is true to say poverty could be material or considered as “tuwo” and “miya” issue as he forcefully argued, but what Abdullahi Musa fails to reckon with is the fact that penury is in the mind, not necessarily based on material abundance. Mahatma Gandhi, the father of Indian nation and the Aminu Kanos of Nigeria were not rich in gold and silver sense, but the question to ask is: were they poor? In Musa’s view, only those who are educated are rich. Yes, education is one of richest gifts from God to man, but what Musa carelessly failed to fathom is the aphorism: knowledge without strong belief in God is like a sharp knife in the hand of a lunatic. Then if the truth must be told, the real masochist among us today are the privileged, the so- called Western educated elites like Abdullah Musa who are prepared to play the masters, while the rest of us lick their boots as their loyal servants, as if God ordains it in that debased, degrading way. That is why the pests they keep, in their gigantic houses, are more human in their eyes, than the rest of us. Shame!
Now to the main thrust of this riposte. True, it is sad to read dilettante writers like Abdullah Musa who proudly posit: “I am not poor, neither is the reader” which alludes to the fact that he was taught and educated by teachers. Yet his vitriolic pen carelessly discarded decorum and civility to the dogs to call our respected teachers “heartless” and moronic”, in his muddled piece. His words: “Public schools are meant to kill the potentials of the pupils. The teachers are heartless, possibly moronic.” For a supposedly, product of public school like Abdullahi Musa to recklessly rewards his teachers with such callous inanity, in a public discourse, is to say the least, irresponsible, shameless and plain irrational. A well mannered son, no matter his age, would not abuse his parents. Teachers are fathers of a nation. And in a sane country, teachers are honored and rewarded handsomely. Alas, not in Nigeria where they are daily vilified, intimidated, discriminated and assaulted by every Tom, Dick and Harry. An ugly incidence where a teacher nearly lost his dear life at Sokoto state recently to a gang of mobs hired by one mad hubby, is still fresh in our memories.
In case Abdullah Musa and his ilk have forgotten, teaching is as old as man, it is the noblest profession from Prophet Adam (AS) to date. As a profession practiced by all the prophets of Allah (SWT), and other great leaders of this planet earth, even those who never taste its honey respect not only the profession, but the teachers too. Hence the saying: “No country is greater than the foundation of its education.” And the bricks of building solid educational foundation, any where in the world, are the teachers! Little wonder, Nigeria, painfully neglects it teachers, in spite of the fact that three out of its four elected political leaders were from the classroom before leading the country, is in perilous mess today.
Sadly, only in a country like Nigeria, teachers who committedly prove to be loyal and patriotic to their country as a result of the glaring discrimination meted on them have become mere prisoners of poverty, neglect and disdain. From the glorious days of the Sardaunas and the Tafawa Babewas to the present deleterious days, teachers of this ingrate country, have been very assiduous, intensely committed and persevering, yet Nigeria, and majority of its teeming citizens refuse to reciprocate to them, in a most gracious and generous way. Instead the beasts among us assassinated the late Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and late Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto. In the 1960s, the Tafawa Balewas kept the flames of our national aspirations alive. They were selfless and conducted themselves as true servants of the people because they treated the country and its citizens with fanatical zeal of the true teachers they were; simply because they saw the success of the country more like that of their classes; and put the welfare of its masses at the forefront, as that of their pupils (students).
Unfortunately, since the exit of the Sardaunas and the Tafawa Balewas, this country is saddled with leaders who treat leadership as a game of mere frivolities, as Dim Odumegu Ojukwu would say. Our education system is in serious crisis today simply and squarely because of our collective wrongs of shifting culpability to the teachers alone. If we must fix the wrongs in our education sector aright, we must take the bold steps to elevate the status of a teacher, not just in terms of material benefits, but we must accord him the respect of a father like he really is! Again, those filibusters – within the federal and state civil services – delaying the immediate implementation of Teachers Salary Scale – (TSS) must stop biting the fingers that fed them, henceforth. The leprous treatment accorded to our teachers, in primary and secondary schools in Nigeria, to say the least, is the zenith of not only irresponsibility, but ingratitude! When a society seems to thrive on the deliberate neglect of its teachers - the actual people who lay the foundation of its greatness, that society in doomed to fail. When the collective wealth of the people is exclusively used to the privileged few and the bootlickers who are close to the governments – at all levels – to the detriment of the majority, our public schools must continue to be playgrounds for our pupils to muddy their bodies only’ because a school is a playground without highly motivated and spirited teachers. When a country decided to perniciously reject those with talents and fresh ideas on how to save our rudderless ship from a fatal collision with a mighty rock, only futile lamentations, such as the one Abdullah Musa takes delight in dishing out to the gullible public, would be our collective consolation, before the inevitable happens. We must save Nigeria from sinking deep and deeper into the sea of despondency. The time to act is now if the Vision 2020 of Yar’adua administration must avoid sharing the same fate of previous failures, and the first necessary steps to take is to stop the criminal pauperization of teachers, henceforth! In a country where the price of a bag of rice alone, like termite devours a wood, could eat up more than half of a teacher’s monthly salary such criminality is unacceptable. In a society where the earnings of an average Achaba or Okada rider par day is more than that of a teacher on grade level 13 and 14 is criminal. Leadership is a business meant for serious minds only. But alas, in Nigeria the reverse is the reality.
No matter how well articulated government policies are, would be turned a mirage if education is not properly prioritized. First and foremost, education is the vehicle for any meaningful and sustainable development. And the fuel and engine of that vehicle of education are the teachers. A tree would not survive a drought period without strong roots. The roots of a tree of education are the teachers, it is that plain. Let us stop deluding ourselves and face reality because in a clime where the best welfare packages, incentives and allowances and other emoluments meant to motivate the civil service and spur productivity among the civil servants are selectively and deliberately reserved for those the governments – at state and federal levels – and the society too treat as “ma’aikatan gwamnati” not “Malam makaranta,” doom must be the bitter fruit to harvest in that society. Even though, the experience teachers of primary and post primary schools have been passing through for decades, in Nigeria, are hellish, the likes of Abdullah Musa are not only indifferent, unconcerned and unsympathetic to the hapless teachers’ ordeal. Rather, the selfish ones have the nerve to rain vituperations and blanket aspersions to them (teachers). What a shame!
In those good old days, when both government and the society accorded a teacher his respect as a father of a nation, in our cities and villages, a teacher then was given a red carpet welcome any where he/she was posted. In those days, a teacher was consulted whenever there is any crucial decision to be taken that concerns the overall interest of the society. Parents and their children revered him like a king. The most beautiful girls in the towns or villages then were exclusively reserved for a teacher, all in appreciation of his contributions to the development of the society, and the country as a whole. But alas, gone are those good old days when teachers are given their due obeisance, why? The sad story today is too gloomy to paint in this piece, because the society no longer recognized teaching as important. It is not hyperbolic to say teachers are betrayed by the same people they labour to secure their today and tomorrow. Until the government and the people change their negative attitudes towards the teacher, and teaching as a profession, tales of woes would continue to be our collective fate, as people, and as a country.
For mischief makers, let me say, I am not in any way suggesting that teachers should not carry out their primary assignments with the zeal and zest of a game hounding its prey. No! What this piece is strongly advocating is a simple logic: that there would not be a farm without a farmer! No matter the amount of rain, only weeds will sprout in the farm if the spirit of the farmer is not motivated to weed the farm. If we anticipate a bumper harvest, it is only wise and fair to provide the farmer with all the necessary implements to spur him to action. And the farmer here is the teacher, simple.
A situation where primary school teachers are not promoted for eight years like the Benue state example or the discrimination meted on all teachers, in the same Benue state, and other states with the introduction of unhealthy policy that barred secondary school teachers from ascending beyond grade level 15 in the state civil service is unjust, criminal, irresponsible and senseless.
This and many other unjust policies across the states and the federal levels are the vain of education. It is true teachers are not saints, as such they could falter here and there. It is equally tenable to say the action and inaction of some teachers leave so much to be desired, yet it is not enough to call all of them “heartless” and “moronic” lots. Simply because teachers have an inbred responsiveness and inaudibility, as required by their noble job, it is not fair to shift the collective inadequacy of all on them alone. My words of advice to Abdullah Musa and his co - travelers are: Even a rabid dog never barks to his master. Teachers as senior citizens deserve some respect. As mortal beings, teachers are fallible as such their mistakes should be shown to them with utmost caution, mature language and diplomacy, because insulting them, is like disparaging one’s parents.
It irks the mind of any decent and sensible man to hear or watch how teachers are subjected to all kinds of humiliations and ridicules from the same people, the teachers burn themselves like candles to provide light to. Today, it is very common to hear even those who are jobless calling a teacher “mai autar sana’a daga ita sai sata,” and many other such unfair names. Only in a society that disrespects their teacher, and relegate them to the bottom of a pyramid of dignity and honour, you will hear highly desperate girls who couldn’t get the wealthy suitors to marry them, after years of futile search, at the end, many of them or their parents, without shame and decency, would say “Ni ko dan malamin makaranta ma na samu sai in hakura da shi haka.” What this implies is: our society, the people and the authority have connived to disgrace the teacher by paying his rare sacrifice with hostility and contempt.
It is disturbing to note as a result of these hostile attacks many competent teachers have since left the service while many ones are on the road to leave. And sadly, because of politics, nepotism and selfishness, such highly experienced teachers that left the classes are mostly replaced with incompetent ones.
In case Abdullah Musa is interested, let me tell him that those of us who join the teaching profession with a purpose are dignified to be teachers, in spite of the frosty condition we are subjected to painfully live with. It is more dignifying to be among the builders of a society rather than be part of those skinflints who corruptly and illegally suck the blood of the country like ticks. So, we are proud to be teachers! And we have no regret whatsoever!
True, teachers may be criminally forced to swim in the sea of abject poverty, due to the myriad of reasons highlighted above, what the Abdullah Musas must not forget is: No one has the monopoly of wit. Again, it is instructive to remind them that teachers are the custodian of knowledge; and their poverty, if any, is not that of ideas or knowledge. And one of the beauties of knowledge is, as Sunusi Lamido Sunusi would say, it empowers one to avenge insult or vitriol with the same number of stones (If not more) thrown to him. It is beyond dispute to say: “No two wrongs make a right”, but as my native Hausa people philosophically say: “Makaho bai san ana ganinsa ba, sai an taka shi.”
On the issue Abdullah Musa raised that our public schools kill the potentials of their students, I deem Musa is missing the point if he is accusing only the teachers as responsible. Let us say you visit your bank and the cashier to attend to you does not live up to expectation because he/she could not perform his/her duty. Then since he/she is not the one who appointed himself/herself: who do you think should take responsibility: the management of the bank, the cashier or the owners of the bank (shareholders)? It takes the whole three categories mentioned above, for a bank to function effectively. The same applies in the case of school. it requires all the stakeholders to put hands on deck to provide solid education. And these stakeholders if Musa needs to be reminded are: the government, the teachers, the parents, the rich, the private sector and the community, etc.
Talking about the Northern part of Nigeria as the hub of poverty, ignorance, disease and indolence as Abdullah Musa wants us to believe, my simple response to him is to ask: what effort is he putting to reverse the trend? Because we are sick and tired of flogging a dead horse. What we require direly is action either as individuals or as groups, etc. The North is backward today simply because our educated ‘Yan boko fail to lead the way to our economic prosperity, instead they continue to think, act and behave in the same manner with those who have never seen the four corners of a classroom. We should wake up from our slumber to hold the bull by the horn as the Sardaunas, the Aminu Kanos did. Lamentation alone won’t lead us on the road to sustainable development and progress. We cannot satisfy our thirst for prosperity by drinking from the pot of bitterness or shifting blames, as Abdullah Musa’s inanity tends to suggest by calling teachers as “heartless” and “moronic” while a “talaka” is to him a masochist. This is unfair and counter productive, because it will only fuel the fire of hatred among us!
To my fellow teachers, I make bold to say if we must unchain ourselves from the shackles of discrimination; and end our painful days at the lonely inlands of poverty, despair and anguish, we must collectively rise to foist the flag of our liberation. As teachers, we have filial duty to our country, in spite of its indifferent and unsympathetic attitude to us. The time to hold our leaders – starting with those at Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) to be prudently accountable to us, is now. In a nation with vast ocean of national and material prosperity, the days of our groining in silent must be over, through peaceful, but aggressive pursuit of all our legitimate rights. With the air of democracy blowing in our dear land, we must not throw away the chalk now, because the country has no future without us. What we must ensure: is the coming of a joyous daybreak that will end the frightful nights of our enslavement. The tide of our freedom is blowing; we must be the winds that must ensure its force and sustainability. But we must be guided, through out the struggle, by the fact that we are teachers; and as teachers, discipline, diligence and dignity must be the swords, spears and arrows with which we fight our war. Justice and fairness should be our new destiny and destination. As we march to our new palace of liberty, we must not mistake bravado with courage; nor should we allow our tormentors to cover our gaze with a veil of eloquent speeches full of empty promises. We must be wise enough to differentiate between right and wrong, truth and lie as well as honesty and deception. Or else, we shall be ready to continue to wallow in the valley of our present slavery. Our salvation is in our hands; so is our ruination! Our unity – genuine one – is the rope of our success. Divisiveness could only lead us back to the dark holes of despair and despondency.
Finally, on the ultimatum the NUT gave the federal government to start implementing the new Teachers Salary Scale before the 11th of June, 2008 or face a three day warning strike, as members, we commend the leadership of the union in taking such courageous action, even though, belatedly. They must be serious and committed because we are in the teaching profession like “Shi ga sojan Badakkare.” We are behind them! May God help and save our teachers, and Nigeria too.