A retired director of education in Lagos State, Mrs Fatimo Sanni, tells FATTEH HAMID about her childhood, career and challenges in Nigeria’s educational sector
You retired as a director of education in Lagos State. How would you describe the state of education in Nigeria at the moment compared to your era?
Our days were very tough and it was also difficult to get admission at the time unlike now that every Tom, Dick and Harry get admission into schools. Some pupils even want to attain success without preparing for it. In our own time, this wasn’t the case; you could not succeed without working for it. Your parents too had to work hard to give you a better education. But now, that is not the case; things have changed completely.
Many have blamed the retrogressive education system that we currently have in Nigeria on the lack of motivation among pupils. Do you agree that pupils are not as highly motivated to learn as they were in the olden days?
Many pupils are lazy. They are not ready to learn. They are looking for quick action. The majority of them are running after money. During our days, what did we know about money? We focused on our education. However, some pupils truly want to learn and do their best but the problem is from their homes. During our time, the level of discipline was high. Teachers at the time flogged pupils and that made them well-behaved. However, we have a different scenario nowadays; teachers are instructed not to flog or punish any pupil even when they err, so pupils are not ready to learn. As a teacher, you are ready to discipline your pupils but their parents go against it. It has gotten worse such that some parents go to schools to beat teachers. Pupils behave as if they were forced to learn. When you interview them, some of them tell you that after secondary school, they want to become tailors or hairdressers.
Are teachers in Nigeria highly motivated to work?
To some extent, yes. Teachers are paid salaries, so what can we say is not motivating us to work?
Having retired from the Ministry of Education, what is your educational background?
I had my primary education at Methodist High School, Ogbe, Abeokuta. Later, my mother moved to Lagos and I followed her and was enrolled at Central Primary School, Oniwaya, Agege, after which I proceeded to Abeokuta Girls Grammar School, Onikolobo. After her death, my maternal aunt brought me back to Lagos where I continued when (the late Lateef) Jakande started free education. Later, I attended Zulikha Abiola College of Arabic and Islamic Studies for my Nigeria Certificate in Education. The school is affiliated with Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, where I studied Islamic Studies and graduated with a second-class upper degree. At that time, I was the best-graduating student and I was given the Sultan Abubakar III Award for the best-graduating student in Islamic Studies. After that, I proceeded to Lagos State University, Ojo, for a postgraduate diploma in Education.
Was pursuing a career in education your original desire?
No. I wanted to study Law. However, my fiancé at the time, who is now my husband, already opted for Law so I decided not to go for that but rather education. That has been so far one of the best decisions of my life. As I always say, I’ll be a teacher till death.
Teachers mould lives and aren’t after money. It is said that a teacher’s reward is in heaven. However, right here on earth, we have been gaining our rewards because our children are excelling. Since the days of old, you won’t see the children of teachers becoming wayward. That tells you that right here on earth, we get our reward because we have invested our time, talent, treasure, and trust to train the children of others.
What was the highest point of your career as an individual?
I think that is the satisfaction that most of the pupils I taught made it into different varieties across the country.
What are you most fulfilled about?
When I get calls from my former pupils informing me of their successes, I feel fulfilled because I contributed immensely to their development and they found me worthy of being informed of their achievements. Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God), my biological children are doing well, the pupils I taught are also excelling, and I’m fulfilled.
Most teachers are known to be strict with their children. Were you also like that?
My children weren’t allowed to watch television when they were growing up. My children were always reading. There was no time for television until I saw that they were mature. Also, I didn’t allow them to go on the merry-go-round without a purpose. Most of my children were always at home reading their books when they were growing up unless they had important events to attend or Islamic programmes. I did not attend certain social events or parties, so how would they? There was no time for all that.
What would you consider the biggest mistake you made in life?
I don’t make mistakes and I don’t believe in mistakes because everything that happens is known to the Almighty and is what God wants you to learn. I see mistakes as lessons because they are what God wants you to know at the time.
Do you plan to return to school to earn more certificates as a retiree?
When my retirement was near, a friend of mine bagged a doctorate and I decided that I needed to also pursue mine so that I could cross into the university system to lecture. I discussed this with one of my lecturers at UDU who’s now a professor and he told me not to worry about it. He asked if I wanted to use my retirement benefits to pursue knowledge that I might not use. That was why I erased it (the thought of getting a doctorate) and decided to stick to my business. So, for me, I’m not ready to pursue anything again.
Do you believe in early marriage?
Islamically, early marriage is good and in fact, the best. The early marriage I’m talking about is from the age of 25 for a female. I got married at the age of 27 back in the day because maturity had to be there. Marriage is not a bed of roses. There are a lot of things attached to marriage and you have to be wise enough before going into it. As a lady, you must be patient and have enough knowledge to live in your husband’s house because you’re not only getting married to your husband; you’re also getting married to his family. It is the same way that we have good people in families that we also have bad ones and they will come to test you. I saw a lot but I thank God.
As a mother, do you think young wives should also have children early or take their time?
Yes, they should give birth early. In fact, I preached that to my daughter. At the time she got married, she had this idea that she would struggle before getting money and all of that but I told her to have children first. I encouraged her that money would come when she has children because the struggle to take care of children is continuous and it is that struggle that Allah will bless. So, children first. When I had my children it was very rough in the beginning but I thank God because we had them. We struggled here and there and God blessed us.
What do you think has changed about marriage?
During our days, there was not a lot of exposure, there was no social media and all we had was ourselves. At that time, when a man and a woman agreed to be with each other, they planned their lives. For instance, when my husband and I were courting, he was a teacher and I was studying for an NCE. One day, I called him and told him that I would become a teacher and he would also become one. I wondered how we would take care of our children with our salaries. So, I told him to switch to Law and that was how he took the advanced General Certificate Examination at that time and Allah blessed it, and he became a lawyer. I remember that he wasn’t done with Law at the University of Maiduguri when we got married. I was, of course, through with my NCE programme at that time.
Thankfully, immediately after he was done, I was offered admission to UDU, Sokoto. When I graduated, I was already teaching and I attended LASU for a postgraduate degree in Education and continued with my life. That is my story but you would not find that level of perseverance, patience, and understanding in many female children today. At the time, we had the idea of being with our man, struggling together, and starting from scratch. But today, some female children want already-cooked food; they don’t want to struggle. They want a juicy life, and they do not want to manage. Maybe it is exposure or social media that influences them.
What would you admonish unmarried people to look out for when planning to get married?
I’ll go by the words of Allah in the Qur’an. He stated that when you’re planning to marry a decent lady or a decent man and you want a good home, you should look for four things: religion, family background, beauty and wealth. Islam is not saying that you should look for someone very wealthy; a lady should be able to discern that since the man is educated, the future is bright and such a man should be able to care for her and the children. The family background is essential when you are looking for a spouse. There’s an adage in Yoruba that states that a good spouse is sweet to get married to but what you should not have are terrible in-laws because if you have a good spouse and not good in-laws, they will instigate the spouse to become evil. However, even when your spouse lacks in one way or the other or wants to behave negatively and the family is good, they will be the ones to straighten the head of such a spouse. Lastly and the most important part of it is religion. You should look out for someone who is spiritually strong; I am not talking about someone who goes on and off. I am talking about someone strong because it is the most important. Even if the devil wants to whisper to their mind, their level of spirituality will subdue those negative thoughts and they will behave well.
There’s a culture of sharing bills among couples nowadays. What do you think about that?
In Islam, men have to do it (provide) but in our present world, one person can’t do it alone. Even in the days of old, women did more and trained their children, though it was difficult. We have seen cases where the men do not contribute to the family at all and we have seen where it is the women that don’t. There’s no single way to marriage; different things will be tried and it is the sincerity of purpose that matters and one has to be ready to submit to their husbands, persevere, and make sacrifices.
Aside from teaching, what are the other things you enjoy doing?
I’m a farmer and a businesswoman. I supply eggs and also manage a poultry farm where people come to buy eggs. Moreso, I’m a consultant on building materials and I also manage and build properties for people. I am content with all that I have and have no regrets. As I earlier stated, I only have lessons to take from events that happen in life.
How did you meet your husband? Can you share the experience?
We met through a gathering of the Muslim Student Society of Nigeria when we were young. At that time, we attended meetings and the Islamic Vacation Course of the MSSN at the time. That was how we met. Alhamdulillah is all I can say because looking back at it, it can only be God.