Mrs Chibuzor Ori Bello is the proprietress of Lagacy Crest Global Schools, Nasarawa. In this interview with UJI ABDULLAHI ILIYASU, she talks about her passion for education and sundry issues in education sector.
How did you become an educationist?
After I completed my education, my father who was one of the African miners in Jos, asked me what I wanted to become. I told him that I wanted to become either a secretary or an air hostess. That was around five o’clock in the morning. He then asked me to go back to bed. After some days, I was invited for an interview by the SIM (now ECWA) missionaries in those days. After the interview, they gave me a letter of appointment and sent me to Kano.
I travelled with my mother in SIM plane. On getting to the Guest House, a white woman who came rejected me but I didn’t know. They only told us to go back to headquarters in Jos.
In Jos, I was told that the woman rejected me because I was not a trained teacher. So they eventually sent me to Kufana in Kaduna state where I stayed with a Nigerian head mistress for two years; that was in the early 1970’s. When my salary was paid, it was very small so when I asked why I was told that it was because I was not a trained teacher. I grew annoyed within myself. I then applied to WTC Enugu and WTC Kaduna. Both offered me admission. Being conversant with the North, I chose Kaduna. Unfortunately, it was the era of indigenisation. I was there from January to March and nothing happened. We wanted to make our uniforms and pay school fees but they asked us to wait not knowing that they would not take us.
In March, they asked us who were not Kaduna indigenes to leave. So I boarded a train to Enugu. WTC Enugu admitted me through a telegram, so I went and presented my telegram. And I started my pivotal training and finished after two years. I made all my papers and went back to Jos. In Jos, I was called for an interview and I came out successful and posted to Miango, Bassa local government education authority where I taught for some years. From here I got admission to National Technical College, Gombe (now Federal College of Education, (Technical), Gombe. There were only two of such schools in Nigeria by then. There I underwent three years of training. The school was affiliated to ABU Zaria. I sought and got admission to ABU for further studies at the Department of Technical and Vocational Studies, Accounting Major, because I read Accounting at advanced teachers college Gombe. In 1981, I graduated from ABU and went back to Gombe and got married. I was appointed to one of the schools in Gombe as a teacher. After sometimes, My husband and I went to overseas. Back from overseas, we returned to Gombe where I continued teaching. From Gombe, my husband got appointment in 1983 as a pioneer staff of the Federal Polytechnic, Nasarawa.
I joined him in 1984. I worked until I retired in May 2016. My husband died in March 2016. After teaching for so many years, I developed interest in children. In September 1985, former chairman, late Alhaji Tanko directed me to open the Federal Polytechnic, Nasarawa Staff School after going through my files and saw my CV. I spent 16 years in the school. They promised me that I would get my promotion and I should continue to write papers, but when subsequent rectors came, they did not look at that so I left the school in annoyance. But God knows why. In 2000, I came back to Accountancy department. I went back to training and became a professional accountant. I then went to College of Accountancy in Jos. After graduation, I came back to my department fully. I was made Head of Department (HOD) Accountancy. That was before my retirement. The polytechnic later gave me scholarship under the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) so I went to the University of Agriculture, Makurdi, where I graduated with MSc degree before I retired.
In September 2013, I opened Legacy Crest Global Schools, Nigeria. We have classes from crèche, nursery and primary. We are now in JSS Three. Our students will take their first basic examination this 2019/2020 school year.
How did you get the name Legacy?
In my life, I discovered that what you can leave for your children and your children’s children is education legacy. This day you don’t leave houses or millions for your children. But you can teach them how to catch fish instead of giving them fish to eat. Education legacy is the highest you can leave for a child now. Gone were the days when parents left houses and other physical assets for their children. Education asset is personal because no one can use your certificate.
Does opening a school in Nasarawa means giving back to the North what it had given you?
I was born and bred in Jos. My father married his wife and brought her to Jos. After our Primary Seven, my father told us to go back to our home state to know more about it. Unfortunately the war came. I did my secondary school in the South. After the war we came back. I was in Form Three when the war started in 1967 after crises broke out in 1966. When the war started my parents went back to the East. We are lucky that we survived the war.
I am advising Nigerians that it is better we stay together because war is not something you will pray to happen the second time. So I am now giving back to the community what I got from them. My entire gratuity from the pension administrators was used in building this school’s examination hall. I did not take one naira from it. We have to think what we can do for the community in which we live.
Nasarawa has been one of the most peaceful places in Nigeria. I live here for almost 40 years. About two weeks ago I have to fix the road leading to my school all alone. Thank God that recently residents along the road had volunteered to support me.
How do you compare education now and in the past?
Education in public sector was then better than what obtains now. In public schools now children do not even have chairs to sit on. In fact, a public school close to my school has been turned to a toilet, especially during the long vacation. No doors no windows there. People who live by the school go there to defecate at night. We don’t see such thing in those days. And the way teachers are being handled shows that government is no longer serious with the issue of education. In the past, governments were more involved and committed to education than now. The quality of education began to nose dive when the federal government introduced the Universal Basic Education (UBE). A child will fail in the current school year but he will be allowed to proceed to the next class. In those days with the system of weak pass and fail, a child who failed a class would be asked to repeat. If you have weak pass you could be allowed to proceed but they would monitor your progress. And if you finally failed you would repeat the class. If a parent complained he would be asked to remove his child or ward. But we just woke up one day and the government told the children who failed their examinations to proceed. By doing this, the child will continue to fail until he fails out of primary school. In secondary school he continues to fail until someone writes SSCE for him. In the university he cannot cope and became a nuisance to the society. I taught in a higher institution and I am talking from experience. This is what we will continue to battle with. It is not good for Nigeria.
In schools now, parents come and beg for the promotion of their children to the next class with excuses bordering on the child’s maturity, especially female children. I always advise parents that age and intelligent quotient are not the same. Some removed their children from Nursery Three and enrolled them in Primary Two. Now most schools are no longer having Primary Six. Parents should think of the basic foundation their children are getting but not money they pay. Government should not play politics with education. They should appoint those who are qualified to teach in schools instead of appointing teachers based on political affiliation or connection, which sacrifices merit and professionalism. Teachers deal with lives but not files. What a teacher inculcates in a child will remain there. So I think government is supposed to do more. Maybe it is failing because the school enrollment is higher than in the past due to population growth.
Will public schools function if public officeholders are barred from sending their children to schools outside the country?
My opinion is that we should not forget our Creator whether we are Muslims, Christians or pagans or whatever because our Creator has a way of filling the gap. If you have the means to send your children abroad so allow public education sector to collapse, you are just postponing the evil days. Nemesis will catch up with you. Children of those saboteurs usually turn out to be criminals. Though there is no law now to stop them. Poor children outdo their rich counterparts both in character and academic. I used myself as an example. My husband and I agreed that our children do their schools in Nigeria even for first degree.
I tutored my last child here and sent him to Abuja to test the ability of my school and he excelled. A time will come when few people will think of sending their children abroad. In the 1980’s when I visited my husband abroad, naira was stronger than the dollar.
I can allow my children to go to school but not where they can neither read nor write. School is like the home, you don’t have to wait for your husband before taking your sick child to hospital or before you eat if you are hungry. Buy the food and eat. If your husband comes he will offset the costs. If the home as an agent of education is scattered Nigeria cannot be OK.
What challenges do private school owners face and want the government to help out?
We want government to recognise us by giving us grants. We are paying taxes. Many students here are on my scholarship. I picked one boy from a business centre. His father ran into problem and he could no longer cope with is education. Fortunately the boy’s father was my former student. We also give free textbooks and uniforms to indigent students free of charge. This is my contribution to humanity.