• Sunday, March 03, 2024
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BusinessDay

“You’re wasting your time!”

ojemie_new

When the phone rang that Monday morning I just knew there was trouble.

“Is that you, Mr O. J.?”

“Yes. Good morning.”

“If to say I be oyibo man,” said the voice, “I could ask you what’s so good about this morning.”

“Or, is it really?” said a lady’s voice.

“That’s awful . . . . So who are you?”

“Just a man.”

“Just a woman.”

“Are you husband and wife?”

“We’re just friends.”

“Well, Just Man, Just Woman, Just Friends . . . what’s on your minds this not-so-good morning?”

“We wanted to deliver a simple message,” they said in unison. “You’re wasting your time!”

“What do you mean? . . . . I mean, it used to take me an hour to get to work. But in the past few months the traffic has tripled, I don’t know why. Now it takes me two hours to get to work. But that doesn’t mean I’m wasting my time, does it?”

“We’re talking about your articles,” said Just Woman.

“Your weekly column on the back page of BDSunday,” said Just Man. “You keep spouting the same old rubbish.”

I felt my anger-index rising. Dear reader, please say that’s not how you feel about me . . . . I swallowed hard.

“Em . . . what exactly do you mean?”

“Your articles on education,” said Just Woman. “You miss the whole point.”

“What is the whole point?” I asked.

“You go on and on about whether primary and secondary school should be made compulsory . . .”

“Or free . . .”

“Whether Boko Haram could have been avoided if children in those states had gone to school with UPE . . .”

“Or whether polytechnics and universities should be equal or unequal . . .”

“But you don’t say a word about teachers . . . .”

“Oh yes, I was coming to that.”

“I thought you’d completed the series and moved on to other matters.”

“No, not yet . . .”

“So, like everyone else you put teachers last?”

“Teacher is the first word that should be uttered in any discussion on education,” said Just Woman.

“Are you teachers?”

“Yes.”

“And we’re going to teach you a few things you don’t know. First of all, after farmers and health workers, teachers are the most valuable professionals everywhere in the entire world.”

“I know that.”

“Since the children and youth are consigned to their care, teachers hold the nation’s future, and the world’s future, in their hands.”

“I know that.”

“But in this country, teachers are exceptionally undervalued and  mistreated.”

“I know that.”

“They are paid starvation wages, and they are owed salaries for months . . .”

“And when they retire, they are owed pension for years.”

“I know that.”

“Senior government officials regularly steal teachers’ wages and benefits . . .”

“They conspire with bank officials to pay the stolen monies to ghost workers and ghost pensioners.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Teachers should hold the nation by the throat, but they wield neither political nor economic power.”

“Why is that?”

“Because their operation generates no revenue. Education is not self-sustaining. It subsists on subventions from government or the corporate private sector or individual philanthropists.”

“You’re not saying that education is a sort of charity?”

“Far from it. Education is an investment, the most important investment any society can make . . . .”

“But it’s a long-term investment, something that short-term-ites—nations run by persons who elevate private gain above the common-wealth—in their collective suicide, disdain.”

“Big grammar. My goodness! You must be university lecturers.”

“We are.”

“I don’t think anyone is stealing university salaries or pensions.”

“That’s how little you know . . . But it’s true, our primary and secondary school teachers are the most vulnerable and miserable. I frankly don’t know how they and their children survive on months of unpaid salaries.”

“We lecturers have developed a survival formula.”

“What is the formula?”

“It’s called sorting.”

“I’ve heard about sorting. The worst thing that ever happened to Nigerian education!”

“It’s a cancer quite allright. A plague . . .”

“But we didn’t create it . . .”

“It was forced upon us . . .”

“It solves our financial problem . . .”

“Or do you prefer we quit teaching and go into politics where the nation’s money is carted off in the millions and billions in ghana-must-go bags?”

“Or that we quit teaching and join the armed robbers and kidnappers?”

“God help Nigeria!”

“Look, the second week of classes I simply announce that everyone must pay N50,000 or else they will receive a grade of D or F,” said Just Man.

“My own style,” said Just Woman, “is to appoint a Class Monitor who quietly collects the money so I can pretend not to know anything about it.”

“You do the arithmetic,” said Just Man. “I teach in two universities and one polytechnic, total of 10 courses per semester. If each class averages 20 students, my take is N10 million per semester or N20 million per year.”

“Usually there’s more students than that,” said Just Woman. “So, I can afford to pay my rent and own a car . . . .”

I took a deep breath.

“Is this what ALL lecturers do?”

“Not all, but many more than will admit it.”

Onwuchekwa Jemie