He is a Vicar at St. John Anglican Church, Aperin, Ibadan is also the Vice Principal, Emmanuel Alayande Junior Seminary Diocesan Secondary School. The teacher and Priest, who turns 70 years on Thursday and also marking his 35 years teaching and moulding the lifes’ of young Nigerians, meet Reverend Olusegun Falana, who spoke with our correspondent; Excerpts:
Sir can you let us into your backgrounds?
I was born into a family of seven males because my father wanted a female child. The time was remarkable in the sense that we owe God the glory. My mother died at 52, while my father died at 62 and am here clocking 70. I see it as a grace from God. He deserves my thanks and praises. My education was not smooth, although I started well. My father was struggling to make sure that I was trained. He had great expectation for me. In those days, you train the first child expecting him to train others. But it’s not true to my own case. I had it rosy when I started. I was a very keen member of the Boys Scout. At Ibadan Grammar School, I was selected as the only Scout to represent Western State in Bliaratus, Scotland for a Scout jamboree. It afforded me an opportunity to visit Northern Ireland, Belfast, London, Great Britain. I was exposed. Through scouting, I met so many dignitaries in town. The Oluwoles, who are Anglicans and Medical Doctors. Ibadan Grammar School was a national school with students from different parts of the country. There were no ethnicities, nor religious bias. Sada from northern Katsina emirate was my junior in school. We stayed in the same hostel. I met students from Ghana, Kano, Baba Awolowo daughter, Tokunbo was in our school, so many dignitaries. Through Chief Oluwole I met with Ryokans. He knew my father was not that buoyant and even promised to sponsor my education. But the man died suddenly. Since then, I’ve been struggling with my education. I was posted to Ondo Anglican Grammar school in1971 by Venerable Alayande to teach Physics and Chemistry. But the appointment then was temporary. Just a year. After one year the appointment is terminated and you reapply at the School Board. I did this for many years. I taught at Timi Agbale… Later on I did Grade 2 teacher’s qualification even after A level, just to get a permanent job. My focus then was that if I could give years with Grade 2, other studies would be sponsored by the state government. I did six years after Grade 2, only to discover that government was not consistent. They said no more sponsorship. Go for your studies and leave our job. In fact, I had spent two years in NCE before they said that. Were it not for my wife, I would have withdrawn. She was very helpful; she brought food at weekends which would be finished by friends. After the NCE, I served in Calabar. It took another almost 10 years before I could graduate. But all along I maintained passion for worshipping God. I saw Him as only solution to the problem of financial handicap. I became prayerful. I was president Christian Student Fellowship. It was God who saw me through it all. The Christian students would give me food and all that. I have testimonies. I was to write my final year paper at Adekunle Ajasin University and there was no money. I thought of withdrawing again in 1977 but a colleague of mine encouraged me to go and see possible chances there at the exam. Along the line, the management found out mix-up in Account Department and said that the exam would no longer hold. By the time they wrote back that we should come back for the exam, I had cleared my fees. That’s how I could graduate. God has always been kind to me. He’s done a lot of things in my life.
Why did you choose teaching among other professions as a young man?
Thank you very much. I wanted to study medicine. We were three moving together in Ibadan Grammar school in those days. Two of them today are medical doctors. But along the line, I wasn’t able to make it. We read Physics, Chemistry, Biology at the school. But our biology result was delayed. Other friends went to Igbobi College and elsewhere to repeat the exam but I couldn’t because of lack of fund. It was daddy’s opinion that I should look for a job to train my younger siblings which I did. And along that line I wasn’t able to make ends meet. In fact, furthering my education after leaving secondary school was difficult. I was doing it instalmentally and I was training myself. The younger brother I trained graduated before me. Yes. My family and I were almost written, thinking I won’t be able to go further but God did it. It’s a kind of self training thing. I was at the University of Lagos in 1977 for Chemistry Biology Education, since I couldn’t do medicine again, but I withdrew again due to lack of fund.
You’ve been a teacher for 35 years consistently, with the benefit of hindsight do you feel fulfilled and accomplished as a teacher?
I became so passionate about teaching. It later became clear to me that it was God’s design because at St. Andrews College I had merit in teaching practice. At College of Education I had merit in Teaching Practice. It was merit too, even at the University level. I was about the best science student at the College of Education and I was to shake the hands with the governor, but it was manipulated overnight. They never read my name on graduation pamphlet as it had been “tipexed”. I still kept the pamphlet with me as souvenir. Since then, I knew something was going wrong with Nigeria.
What can you say about corruption in the nation’s education sector?
It’s a cankerworm that’s been bringing down educational development in Nigeria. I remember in our own days too. Parents would come to you. A parent came saying he wants his son to enter College of Science, Ibadan. I said you must have requirement like credit in Agricultural Science, Basic Science, Mathematics and English; and that we should wait for entrance examination result. They left my quarters. And on getting outside, the wife was asking the man, “how much did he ask for?” The husband replied “he didn’t collect any money o.” The wife said, “ha, the man won’t do the job you want him to do o. You better let’s look for another person”. All along, you discover that people, citizens themselves helped in bastardizing education standard in the country. They try to force in their children who may not be competent for one discipline or the other. Parents want to have a say in whatever a child becomes, whereas it is the school that should determine the best discipline to counsel a child to pursue. I had another nasty experience. When I was a chemistry teacher at Adelagun. During the morning devotion, we were trying to ask students to go to the assembly to know what to do for the day. As we were chasing out students for the assembly, a certain student jumped over the fence. At the back of the fence, he addressed me, saying, “baba, I’ve accorded you enough respect. What was Adedibu’s level of education? Why are you ordering me to come in? If you dare follow me, I’ll stone you.” I was shocked, because it seemed some other areas of endeavour in Nigeria have become highly remunerated than education. Education is no longer given right priority as it used to be. Another factor is the consciousness that even after school, there is no job. They don’t see education as lucrative or having anything to do with their future. These are some of the areas where corruption had really ruined the educational system. These days with all these mobile phones and gadgets, you can easily dictate answer to colleagues in exam halls not until quite recently when JAMB authority became aware and has been trying to tackle that. You can imagine how many people have been involved in that. There are fake certificates. Fake Grade 2, Toronto this and Toronto that all about. And it’s when you meet them, graduates that you know that corruption is in education.
Any hope that government would revamp the educational system in Nigeria?
Well….on hope. There’s an awareness. A disease known is half cured. Every Nigerian now sees corruption as something detrimental and negative. Now that we know, there’ll be a time when people who are competent will stand up to do something. These days, those who have skeleton in their cupboard are running hetter sketta because government of the day is trying to fish out those who are involved in official corruption but this is not really total. There’s so many areas of corruption unattended to. You and I can see many police officers taking bribes on our roads. We can’t do anything about that. The news is everywhere on how police extort money from the public. With corruption in judiciary, education, hospital etc where are we going in this country? But with the level of awareness, one day, solution will come.
Comparing what it was in your days, will you say that education standard in the country is improving or falling?
It is not improving. There graduates these days in Nigeria that are not seasoned but half-baked, especially when you talk in terms of your own area of specialization. When you are an employer of labour and you employ a science teacher to teach in the class, you’ll be embarrassed to see what he’s teaching because simple titration, practical in Biology etc will show how poor these graduates are. I served in Calabar and there was this graduate from Ahmadu Bello University, without O level and his English wasn’t that really good. He was teaching History but the grammar was not good, committing grammatical blunders while teaching students. That was years back and you can imagine that trend for years. It’s getting worse.
How far do you think government can go in solving these problems?
Right from school, qualified teachers should be interviewed before being recruited. There is what we call inspectorate division in education in those days and it was super. They will enter the class, monitor teaching. We need that again. It should start right from the school level to improve education. Education should not be politicized. There was a time in my career when we had to promote everybody automatically. Even when you see that the student had scored below 20 per cent and because there’s no classroom to keep repeaters you just push them on. It didn’t help the students at all.
As a clergy on one hand, how can church too come in?
Most of the schools owned by the church have been taken over by the government. The government is now in control. Moral teaching is no longer there. You just sing the national anthem and you start your work for the day without elements of prayers. It’s just in some schools now that priests go to preach and teach students words of God. I think there is a development now where government is trying to give back schools to the missionaries. In those days, St. Anne’s, Ibadan grammar School, St.Teresa College, Loyola College and Government College, Ibadan were the standard schools. But these days, there are religious sentiments, every denomination of Islam and Christianity wants to establish schools. And these are not really standard schools. If you go into any area of Ibadan now, you’ll find so many mushroom schools when you have a Grade 2 teacher teaching science in a secondary school class. The result is better known by two of us already.
What are your words of admonition to parents on aggressive attitude to get their wards successful in education ?
The Bible says teach your child in the way he shall go so that when he is grown up he shall give you rest. Right from home, parents should be able to teach their children in the way of the lord. Let them know what’s good and what’s bad. They should teach them fear of God and parents should be models to their wards. They should not give unnecessary assistance to their wards to get admission or to get more marks. Some parents believe that they suffered and their children should not suffer too. Some parents don’t want their children to suffer. And hardly can you pass through this life without challenges. Parents should allow their children to experience challenges and probably pray over these challenges as it teaches them strength. Parents should teach their children what to do in times of challenges and all that is a lawful and legal ways with fear of God. If the foundation is alright, the children would grow up to become good citizens and know how to face challenges.
What’s your memorable experience as a teacher?
Just recently, a group of students 85/86 set of Methodist Secondary School Elekuro, Ibadan invited me last year to honour me alongside other five old teachers who had helped to shapen their lives. I was surprised. At the event, the people had prepared well for the event. A bandstand and all that. Immediately I entered the hall, they started calling me my nickname in those days. I was asked to recollect their names which I did to tumultuous clapping. I was not yet a priest when I was teaching them. I never knew that such kind of day could come, maybe I could have done greater things to impress the children. I was only doing things I love doing. I would teach them extra lesson, never did I know they were noting it and that it would reflect in their lives. There are professors, well meaning Nigerians among them. They really impressed us. That’s almost 30 years away. The lesson here is that whatever you do today, do it with all your zeal and let posterity judge you.