Ms. Ruth Howard, a retired teacher who spent 33 years working in Nigeria before returning to the UK, speaks about her experience in this interview with KUNLE FALAYI
You spent 33 years in Nigeria as a teacher, what do you miss most about Nigeria?
I miss my friends, the climate, food, and the relaxed and friendly atmosphere, and my time in Nigeria gave me the opportunity to be creative and use lateral thinking in my work.
What year did you get to Nigeria and where did you work first?
I arrived Nigeria in January 1962 and from then until August of that year, I spent my time trying to learn Yoruba. I was on the staff of St Anne’s School, Ibadan from September 1962. I taught Mathematics to A’ Level and later I became the Vice Principal.
I later moved to the Anglican Girls’ Grammar School, Ughelli (Delta State) as principal in May 1970 (just after the end of the Civil War). I was there for six years. After that, between 1976 and 1982, I was the principal of Idia College, Benin City. During my time there, I managed to ensure that every girl had a desk and chair and I also created a staff room large enough to accommodate all the teachers and enable them all to have a desk and chair of their own.
My last two years there were difficult due to the Bendel State Government’s policy of giving all primary school students places in secondary schools. We had five extra arms of class one, so we had to convert some of the dormitories to classrooms. The government provided text books for the extra students but failed to realise how many of the new intake were unable to read them. But we did our best to teach those who couldn’t to read.
I left for the UK in 1982 June with the intention of settling in UK as my mother was 76 and living on her own but she died in 1984. I did a year’s course in Birmingham working for a Diploma in Computer Education (A very new subject at the time).
I taught for nearly four years in England and then Scotland until in 1986, when Chief Emmanuel Adesoye invited me to be the pioneer principal of an International School he was planning to set up in Offa (Adesoye College in Kwara State). I jumped at the offer and with considerable relief, I returned to Nigeria in October 1986 and helped with the preliminary planning of the school, which admitted the first students for January 1987.
I finally retired in July 1999 after 13 years at Offa and returned to the UK. I was 65 by then, which was the maximum retiring age in UK and I didn’t feel I could continue to cope with the stress of relying on a hospital in Oshogbo when the roads at night could be so dangerous, as well as erratic power and water supply, etc.
Some European expatriates like yourself stayed back in Nigeria after retirement. Did you ever consider doing the same?
Expatriates can only stay in Nigeria if they have a work permit or get citizenship. I applied for citizenship but that is a long and tedious process which needed a lot of pursuing and my work did not give me the necessary time to do that. Those who volunteered to help me weren’t able to give it the time and effort required. So, I had to come home and settle down.
Who was paying your salary at the time you spent in the other schools before Adesoye College?
All qualified teachers were paid by the State Education Boards. We had a small addition of an expatriation allowance in lieu of pension.
What was your favourite Nigerian food at the time you were in Nigeria?
I love fried sweet potato. The sweet potato at Offa was far nicer than any you can buy in the UK. I also fell in love with fried plantain, pounded yam and egusi soup, moimoi and akara.
What was accommodation like working at the public schools?
I was provided with comfortable staff quarters in the compounds of all the schools I worked in.
Do you still get to eat those kinds of food?
I eat dodo whenever any visitor brings plantain for me. They are usually people who have shops that sell it near them. I still eat pounded yam I make by myself from powdered yam. I have had moimoi and akara once or twice when someone visited me and brought the ingredients
How many of your old students are you still in touch with?
Many of them still contact me. All the four schools have invited me to a reunion and ex-students have visited me in Moffat (Scotland), where I live.
What was it like teaching in Nigeria as a European in those days?
For me, it was much more enjoyable than teaching in the UK where I found the discipline very difficult to cope with and many students were not well motivated. I really enjoyed teaching Maths in Nigeria and so many of my students did really well when they left.
What was your relationship with your students like at the time?
You need to ask them. I think it was good as the fact that so many write to me shows.
Have you ever visited Nigeria since you left?
I have visited twice since 1999. I visited once soon after I left, which I enjoyed and then for the 20th Anniversary Celebrations (of Adesoye College) in 2007, which went off very well and I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, I took ill before I could visit Benin and the North and I was hospitalised. I had to be accompanied home by a nurse. I recovered very quickly after that.
How were Europeans like yourself treated by Nigerians at the time you were in the country?
We were treated very well. I was always shown the utmost respect both by the parents and staff who were always ready to help if they could.