Teacher Who Was Paid Salary Complained, What Does He Want Prisoners To Do?

Teacher Who Was Paid Salary Complained, What Does He Want Prisoners To Do?

12 mins read

The story has been trending of the man who said that he was chased out of school because of a proverb he gave his teacher, prompting him to quit schooling. I read the story again this morning after it emerged two months ago. Well, it came at a time I was about settling down to write a piece I titled, ‘Bokoharaming University Education,’ in condemnation of the poor handling of university lecturers by the Buhari led administration. But, that story can wait for now, while we take a look at our basic education system.

The said teacher had given the students an assignment to submit five proverbs. He did as was instructed, only that among his proverbs was one that reads: teacher was paid salary and complained, what does he want the prisoners to do. Are they not serving the same government?

Well, I laughed my heart out when I read the story. I’m still giggling even as I write this story. Being a teacher, and coming from a home where both parents were teachers, I understand exactly the reason the man was punished. Although, I must also concede that such punishment would have been unnecessary, if the teacher looked beyond the character of the boy and his/her own prevailing situation. Not only are teachers under paid, they are also poorly treated. The situation is so bad that, in a gathering of a thousand ladies, one can easily identify which among them is a teacher. The kind of wig they wear; their low hanging blouse and malnourished bodies owing to poor wage, excessive workload and little rest all marks them out.

I’m using the female teachers in this description, because, men are no longer interested in teaching. I mean, with the exception of Lagos, and some oil rich Niger Delta states where an average teacher received up to N80,000, in states like Enugu, Ebonyi, and too many others, an average teacher received less than N35, 000. Before you shout, they are even better than their counterparts in the ministries and local government service – only that they are overworked. With this pay, they are made to resume earlier than the others, prepare lesson notes for about 4 or 5 different subjects or more depending on the time of vacation for the day. For such persons, it’s only natural to vent their frustration by complaining whenever they received the token that comes as salary. I hope you know that one must be able to provide three square meals for her children before she can think of buying quality perfumes and or even sanitary towels. Don’t mention those in private schools, some NCE holders are paid between N10,000 and N12,000. You could see the joy when N3000 is added to their salaries. Perhaps, this student’s proverb had a déjà vu effect on the teacher and she felt insulted by her student.

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Come to think of it, are teachers in Nigeria better than prisoners? Before attacking me, remember that I’m a teacher too. So, I suggest you view this story differently. I am talking!

Sometimes, prisoners are even better, because at least, they find time to play and eat free food. Sometimes, they also receive visitors who pray for them, wish them well and gift them money, amongst others. The reverse is the case for the teachers. Anytime a teacher received visitors, it’s to demand to know ‘what my child did to you’. For some of us, the only way to prove love to our little kids is to attack their teachers in their presence. I wonder how courageous the teacher would be to correct the child next time. At Parents-Teachers Association (PTA) meetings, teachers are at the receiving end too. Sometimes, they wish the date for PTA shouldn’t approach, because, many of them would go home depressed after the meeting. Can they quit? No! prisoners hardly decide their freedom, especially those whose fate have been sealed.

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Sometime ago, a woman came online to shame her son’s teacher for eating her son’s food. Worried that the son who doesn’t have appetite for food, no longer brought leftover food home, she queried the boy who informed her that his teacher helped him to finish it. The woman took the fight to school, to beat the teacher for sharing in her son’s food, a meal she orders for him specially. Confronting the teacher wasn’t wrong. Also, nothing wrong in politely telling someone how wrong it is to eat a child’s food. She took her camera with her. So, she captured the woman as she poured invectives on her. That singular episode and the fact that only very few persons condemned her action got me worried for days. Luckily for my mother, she never had pupils who came to school with food. In fact, she sacrificed everything for her pupils including clothing some of them. She was nne ora (mother general). We didn’t like it; it came with deprivations for us. I guess the only benefit was her burial three years ago. One could mistake it for the burial of a wealthy person, and again, anywhere my presence is announced in the community, you could see the seed of goodwill your parents sowed for you. That’s all. But, Enugu State government has not shown any commitment to pay any of her entitlements, nor the gratuity of her husband who retired 15 years ago. Is this not a prison story?

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My point is, the said teacher had the responsibility of feeding all the pupils at break period. Imagine inhaling the aroma of a well garnished jollof rice with all the orishirishi and solid chicken parts? For someone who has been feeding on agbado, and cassava for years, you would be lucky, if you didn’t fall into the food. forget discipline for now, it’s even a ‘criminal offence’ to present a tasty food to the poor and impoverished over and over again without allowing them to have a taste it. Many wealthy men have had their security polarized by their own security guards for this same reason.

I guess I loved the comment of one of the women in the group. She also had similar experience with her son’s teacher. But, she only felt privileged to be the one among over twenty flasks the woman would eat from. So, she thought it wise to prepare two flasks for her son daily- one for the son, the other for the teacher. Quite thoughtful!

I bet that this would endear her son to the teacher the more, with the implication that the child might be given special attention and extra tutorials. Narratives like mine are bound to be misconstrued. I can imagine someone right now, saying, “…and so what, so I should start giving my son’s teacher food?” Not at all, the point here is that we should be human enough not to underrate anyone earning an honest living no matter the short comings. You might be the reason someone has not committed suicide, or gone into crime. Nigeria is hard.

Back to my story, the teacher must have reacted to the fact that the boy reminded her of her failings and poor condition. No matter the situation, no one likes being likened to a prisoner.

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But, what the proverb meant was that both teachers and prisoners are kept by the government, though under different conditions. While, the teacher is free and can move freely, he is still a slave of the government. A slave by history is not allowed to complain, but, accept his/her condition as fate. So, the boy may have wondered why, such a person should complain ab initio.

The prisoners are also held by the government and treated somewhat like rejects by the Nigerian government. A visit at the prisons reveals the squalid conditions under which inmates are forced to live. All the prisons are overcrowded meaning that prisoners, with the exception of the ViPs are squeezed together. Some cells meant for 10 persons, for instance, could accommodate as much as 20 to 30 persons. Medical attention is not also readily available except when the situation becomes severe and near death. This was my personal observations and interaction with prisoners between 2015 and 2018 when I engaged in prison outreach.

Today, having successfully turned our primary and secondary school teachers into slaves and prisoners, the government has turned the harmer on university lecturers. The recent payment of N126,000 to professors after eight months of strike, is most demeaning. By this, the government has unambiguously through the Education and Labour Ministries, demonstrated its strong disdain for university education. It’s just a matter of time, male lecturers will abandon the classroom for female lecturers – just like in the primary and secondary education system. History has shown that women, being natural caregivers, can accept any condition just to contribute to the welfare of their family and the society – for this, they are easily exploited.

I just hope that someday, a university undergraduate won’t come up with a proverb that will scatter the system.


Dr. Onyike is of the Department of Mass Communication, Dominican University, Ibadan.

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Ifeanyi Ebenezer Onyike
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