• Saturday, June 15, 2024
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Okpalakunne, a super teacher, pens down

Gilbert Okpalakunne

There is time for everything under the sun. A time to go to school, acquire skills, work, and a time to retire. That was exactly what Gilbert Chukwudi Okpalakunne did recently, when he meritoriously retired as Director/Vice Principal Administration Araraomi Senior Secondary School, Sari-Iganmu, Lagos, at the age of 60 years.

But there are those who retire and get tired, or they were already tired before they retire. None of the above is the case with Okpalakunne, whose brain is as hot as it was 20 years ago.

Although his bias in education is Industrial Chemistry, he solves mathematical questions as if he invented mathematics himself.

No wonder at the event marking his retirement (pendown) there were an array of former students of his, who testified to his Midas touch in their lives in the area of mathematics. They spoke about how he mentored them and groomed them to the success story they have become today.

“I cannot but celebrate you Dr. Okpalakunne Gilbert Chukwudi as the Super Mentor God used to prepare me for my purpose with the hardest and strictest model to release the potential trapped inside of me through your prowess analytical and inventive abilities to solve any given problems per time without any room for excuses irrespective of the situation and circumstances.

“I am still ever grateful for that special mentoring you gave me far beyond the academics, despite the great pain it caused me then, but has generated in me a great gain thereafter to the glory of God,” one of his students wrote as tribute.

In Nigeria today, to get mathematics teachers has always been very difficult. Those who know their onion in this field are in short supply. Little wonder some of the guests at Okpalakunne’s event, particularly his colleagues, were lamenting his retirement, wondering if it was not possible for the Lagos State Government to reabsorb him, even on contract basis.

Some of them were also overheard lamenting the helplessness of talents in Nigeria, who despite their endowments, die in penury as a result of lack of support by the government to develop their skills and use their talents to benefit the country.

One of those who spoke with BusinessDaySunday on condition of anonymity said: “Gilbert is a hot brain. His type of person, ordinarily, shouldn’t be in the classroom. His types are those in special places inventing things for the country. I have known him for a very long time. He is good at Robotics, fire extinguishers, incinerators, and so many other machines.

“I would even recommend that the Federal Government should look for him and task him with important assignment in the areas he has developed so much competence. His inventions have been exhibited in many places, and he is widely recognised.”

A teacher, who said she worked with Okpalakunne for years, told our reporter that “Such a brilliant brain can also continue to add value to Lagos State for many years to come. I think, it should be very nice if they can take him back on contract. The education system needs people like him.”

Speaking with BusinessDaySunday, Okpalakunne said he was grateful to God for the enablement to serve humanity through his profession, adding that his greatest joy is seeing the number of pupils who passed through him, becoming successful in their chosen fields of endeavour.

“I am happy that I served humanity through my profession. By the grace of God, many of the students that passed through me are today successful in the chosen fields. I am fulfilled,” he said.

According to him, “The pendown/birthday celebration was organised for me by some of my past students. So, I am quite fulfilled.”

Asked what he intends to do now he is retired, he said: “I hope to go back to my Robotics; coaching students in Sciences, particularly, mathematics, Applied Mathematics, and any other thing that I think would help me. I would also like to go into partnership in the area of invention. I am also ready for contract jobs. I am all for anything that can keep me meaningfully busy.”

Gilbert Okpalakunne was born in Uga Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State on July 5, 1961 into the family of the late Mr. Simeon and Mrs. Caroline Okpalakunne.

His nursery school education was at NTA Akara Nursery School under the late Joyce Ezeriora between 1967 and 1969 during the Civil War in Nigeria. Immediately after the war in 1970, he was enrolled into Central School Uga. He graduated with First School Leaving Certificate in 1979 and also passed the Common Entrance Examination into Uga Boys Secondary School the same year. His Mathematical and inventive skills were discovered in the primary school as his teachers usually makes him to stand up in class for recognition and commendation, as the only pupil who used to score hundred percent (100%) in every mathematics examination.

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He entered Uga Boys Secondary School where he met the former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Charles Chukwuma Soludo who was his senior by just one year. He was nicknamed Addis as a result of his prowess in Additional Mathematics. In 1981, Okpalakunne passed his West African Examination Council (WAEC) examination with Division One after narrowly missing Distinction.

In 1982, he was admitted into the Anambra State University of Technology. In the students’ union of UNITECH, he was elected the Clerk of the House of Representatives when he foiled the attempt to impeach the president of the Students Union. In 1986, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Industrial Chemistry.

Okpalakunne attended the University of Lagos for his Postgraduate Diploma in Education from 1999 to 2000. In 2002, he was admitted into the same institution for his Master’s Degree in Measurement and Evaluation where he passed with great point.

In 2005, because of his prowess in Applied Sciences and excellent representation of Nigeria in international competition, the Cosmopolitan University of the United States awarded him the honorary doctor of Sciences in Applied Sciences.

Career profile

His teaching career started at the United Secondary School, Apapa, Lagos 1986/1987 where he was posted for his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). He was subsequently employed on 17th July 1989 by the Lagos State Government and deployed to Ikoga Grammar School Badagry on 15th August to 17th November, 1989. He was deployed to Sito Gbetrome Secondary School Badagry on 18th November to 16th January, 1990. Methodist High School Badagry on 17th January 1990 to 18th November, 1991. Ansar Ud-Deen Grammar School Surulere; Community Grammar School Surulere; Ansar Ud-Deen High School Falolu and Araromi Senior Secondary School, Sari-Iganmu, Lagos.

Positions and appointments

Okpalakunne rose from Master Grade 11 in 1989 to Director in 2016. He became Vice Principal Special 2018; Vice Principal Academics 2019, and Vice Principal Administration on 6th January till his retirement on 9th July 2021.

Teacher as a mentor

He was appointed as teacher mentor by the Lagos State Government in February 2013 and was trained by Pearson International (Americans and Britons). Due to his excellent performance, he was nominated as a Master Mentor. He mentored in Surulere Schools, including New Era Secondary School, Lagos Progressive Secondary Schools and many other schools in Surulere. Okpalakunne was commissioned by the former TG/Permanent Secretary Peregrino, to prepare a simplified Pearson Training Manual for Surulere Teachers which he used to retrain other mentors.

Serial award winner

During the course of his service, Okpalakunne won several national and international awards. These include, Presidential Award of Excellence presented personally to him by former president Olusegun Obasanjo at the State House in the presence of governor of Lagos at the time, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. He was named the Overall Best Inventor in Nigeria by the National Inventors and Innovation Association, 2002.

Other Awards included, the Overall Best Teacher in Lagos State 2003; the Bournvita Overall Best Teacher Runner up in Nigeria 2005; the Bournvita 5th Best Teacher in Nigeria 2002; Mr. Productivity Award Ansar Ud-Deen Grammar School Surulere 2000; Mr. Productivity Award Ansar Ud-Deen Grammar School 2001; Gold Medal at World Eskom Expo Science Competition in South Africa and France, and Best Science Teacher Association of Nigeria Project Competition awarded in Kaduna by the Governor of Kaduna State in 1999.

Others are Best Overall JETS project in Nigeria awarded by the Governor of Plateau State, Nigeria; Best Overall JETS Project Competition in Nigeria awarded by Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT); Best Overall CASSON Project Competition in Lagos awarded by Senator Oluremi Tinubu, a former First Lady of Lagos State, in 2005, and UBA National Award by Senator Oluremi Tinubu, 2000.

Okpalakunne also received the Recognition Award presented to him by the then governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola in August 2007; He received Success Academy Award for Youths in 2002 at National Stadium; Best National Overall Project Runner Up in Enugu, presented by the then governor Chimaroke Nnamani of Enugu State, and the Best Science Product Association of Nigeria award.