It was providence at work because neither Obiageli Mazi nor Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum knew what was in the offing. Zulum visited a school where Ms Mazi was a teacher and her story has since changed. JOEL DUKU met Ms Mazi and she told The Nation the exclusive details of her life and the meeting with the governor.
As Obiageli Mazi, 54, is like the patient dog that is eating the fattest bone. She has been in the civil service for 31 years and has about five years to quit the Borno State Civil Service and was not expecting much, but a dramatic encounter with Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum has completely changed her fortunes.
The Abia-born woman met Zulum on January 7. The governor found her at work at the Shehu Sanda Kyarimi Primary and Secondary School in Maiduguri at about 6.30 am and was impressed by her dedication to duty. He rewarded her with a cash donation and a promotion to the position of Assistant Headmistress.
“The whole world has seen me. People are calling me from all over the country. Even in America, people have seen me.
Thank you to His Excellency, our governor, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum,” Ms Mazi told our correspondent at the Shehu Sanda Kyarimi Primary and Secondary School in Maiduguri.
Ms Mazi wanted the reporter to conclude the interview on time to avoid a clash with her schedule.
She said: “My encounter with my governor was on January 7, 2020. I got here 28 minutes after six o’clock in the morning. As I was about to write my name in the time book, I saw them enter the school compound at 6.30.
One of them walked towards me and I stood up and greeted him. Then he asked me who I am, that whether I am the headmistress. I said ‘no, I am a class teacher for primary one pupils’. He said ‘Ok.
And you came early like this’. I said ‘yes this is how I use to come’. He asked me where I live. I told him Shielk Zarma Street, Kumshe. He now told me that they came with the governor. He said he would report my case to the governor and he left.
“Later, I saw the governor, His Excellency, Babagana Umara Zulum, beckoned on me two times and then I grabbed my purse and started running towards him but the governor said ‘no, no, no just come gently’. I then slowed down but I moved very fast and greeted him and his entourage.
“The governor then asked me, ‘what is your name?’ I said ‘Obiageli Mazi sir’. He said ‘who are you and what are you doing here?’ I replied that ‘I work here as a classroom teacher and I teach primary one’.
He asked me ‘where do you live?’ I told him ‘I live at Kumshe at Shielk Zarma Street. He now said ‘and you are here at 6.30?’ He now shook his head and said ‘you must be rewarded’ and repeated that ‘you must be rewarded’. He asked me ‘which state are you from?’ and I told him ‘I am from Abia State’.
He asked me about my qualification and I told him ‘I have my NCE’. He asked me ‘which year?’ and I told him the year. He asked me about my salary and I told him ‘thirty-five thousand’. He asked me ‘how many years have you served?’ and I told him ’31 years.
He now said: ‘N35,000, 31 years, you must be rewarded’. He said ‘do you know me?’ I said ‘yes, I know you, you are our governor’. H went to his car and brought money to me.
I knelt down a prayed for him that God will bless him and he said ‘don’t worry, you will be rewarded’. Another person from the governor came out and asked me about my phone number and I gave it to him.
“When I held the money the first time, I didn’t even look at it and when my sister Amaka asked me how much, I told her ‘maybe it is N10,000.’
I didn’t know it was that much until I got home and people started calling me everywhere in Nigeria. They told me that the whole world has seen me, even in America.”
The Women Teachers College (WTC) Nguru-trained teacher said she made a vow to God that she was going to give her best to pupils.
“I have been teaching the children in this school since I was employed. When I got this job, I made a covenant with God that I will do it to the best of my ability and with dedication and sincerity to teach these children until the time I will retire from the work.
I made that promise because God gave me the job when I did not expect it. I told God that under sickness or serious difficulties, I have been encouraged by people,” she said, adding: “I was employed on 1st February 1989 and later transferred to Jere. I have taught many people here.
Some of the pupils that I taught are even outside the country and many of them are scattered in this town. They always encourage me anytime they see me. They tell me, Aunty, keep it up, God will reward you and I feel very happy all the time.
“Like the English people will say that a patient dog eats the fattest bone. Look at me now enjoying the fattest bone. Even my principal and our mummy are always encouraging me to continue doing your work and one day you will be rewarded.”
She described her relationship with her colleagues as cordial.
“God has been fateful to me and the children I teach also love me so much. Even my headteacher has also been encouraging me and I feel very happy doing my work. Honestly, the cooperation that I have with members of staff here is massive. I thank God for everything,” she said.
Ms Mazi was orphaned at a very tender age. Her grandmother took her up and raised her with strong religious and moral discipline which, she said, has shaped her life.
“I was very little when my parents died. It was my grandmother who took me and raised me up until she also died in 1979. I grew up in a God-loving family with a strong moral background.
As a child, my grandmother never allowed me to be moving about. She always kept me by her side every time. She kept me around her to observe everything that she used to do so I learnt to be patient.
My grandmother had a small chair for me that she would keep for me to sit down and be observing her even when she is cooking. My grandmother used to pray for me to succeed in life,” she said.
Surviving Boko Haram
She recalled: “It was indeed traumatic coming to school about that time but God has protected us up to this point that we are and we praise His name.
There is a day I was coming to school and I reached the Gamboru market and Boko Haram started attacking and shooting. I just stood in the middle of the road and bullets just came and passed me.
The shooting continued and I ran and hid in one house like that until the shooting stopped.
“Many times they even entered the school and all of us would be running. But it is only God.
There is one of my Aunties, Madam Caroline Obi, who was teaching in primary school when Boko Haram attacked but God closed their eyes and they did not touch her. Mrs. Obi had a partial stroke and was later transferred out of this school. She is dead now. May God rest her soul.”
Ms Mazi, who has never been married in her life, hopes that her husband is on the way. According to her, she had a very serious ailment that almost claimed her life.
The ailment, she said, was responsible for the delay of her marriage. She is grateful to God for healing her from the ailment.
“Mazi is my father, I have not married. I was seriously sick and very close to the point of death. I thank almighty God for healing me and I am well today.
That sickness delayed my marriage but I believe my husband is on the way. I don’t want to marry anyhow person but God will surely bring my husband for me,” Ms Mazi said.
What her colleagues think of her
Some of her colleagues attested to the fact that her presence in the school at the time the governor visited was not a one-off development but a long-held tradition of punctuality.
Gamboru Primary School Headmaster Mohammed Buba Aliyu said Ms Mazi deserved more reward. According to him, “if you check the duty time book, she is always the first to come to school. Her name is always first in the time book.”
He added: “During the rains, during the hot Maiduguri sun and like this terrible harmattan, you will always see her punctual in the school. Whatever she gets is as a result of her dedication. She is supposed to be rewarded even more than this. She truly deserves it.
“She deserves anything that has happened to her. Any time you come to the school, she is always seated here with her register and her lesson plan always intact. She is very hard-working. We are saying this, not because she is here but it is the truth.”
Mariam Idris Hassan, who Ms Mazi taught in the school about thirty years ago, added that she is a source of inspiration to her.
“I see her as my mother. She taught me in primary one in this school. Now we are colleagues but I see her as a mother and a role model because of her dedication to duty.
Mama’s major concern is to do her job. She does not leave the children to engage in group discussion outside the class.
She is always teaching her children. We love her so much in this school,” Hassan, who is now an assistant headmistress in the school, said.
SOURCE: THE NATION