By Anthony Awunor
The strictest teacher I have ever met in my life is Mr. Paul Oji from Onicha-Ukwu in Ogbe part of Ubulu Uku in Delta State, Nigeria. Throughout my studies at the university level, no lecturer has measured up to the kind of disciplinary measures this wonderful teacher had put in place during my elementary years in primary school.
Mr. Oji was the Headmaster of Idegwu Primary School in the late 70s and he administered the school in a manner that nobody who was part of his very strict tenure could forget easily. His stay was short but made a lot of positive impacts to children in that Catholic school. In fact, late Orji was posted to the school at the very end of his career because he was almost due for retirement as at that time. He was sent to the school because the local government at that period, actually wanted to use him to right some wrongs in that primary school after he had helped to fix other schools around town.
As a disciplinarian, Mr. Oji had no patience for frivolities; the pupils and even the teachers therefore, feared him greatly. He had a very deep coarse voice such that any instruction from him could make a pupil run helter skelter.
During his time, late coming, absence in Catholic Church, not cutting of finger nails, wearing of tattered sandals and lateness to school were not accepted. Anybody who committed such “crimes” was severely dealt with. It was during Orji’s tenure as Headmaster at Idegwu primary school that I got to know that a teacher could also come late to school. Yes! Orji monitored them, scrutinized them and even punished them in his own way. In my presence, a teacher was sent back home by late Paul Oji due to lateness to school. The following day, that same teacher, an Ubulu-Unor lady came to school as early as 6am. That is the system late Oji adopted and it worked perfectly for him.
Funnily, parents who fight teachers for mishandling their pupils dare not do so to Mr. Oji. Once they get to know that Mr. Orji was involved, they quickly recoiled to their shell. This is because; this Onicha man is highly respected in all nook and cranny of the town. It was also widely believed that you cannot easily fault Mr. Oji in line of his duty.
The only way to penetrate Mr. Oji’s heart was to learn the Catholic hymns very well and sing them loud at the early morning assembly. Truly, Mr. Oji loved catholic hymns, especially when it is sung accurately and very loudly at the early morning assembly.
But I was not in Oji’s good books because i was not a good singer. The old man noticed it and called me up one day in front of the assembly to sing a particular verse of the Xmas carol. I think the hymn was “O Come, Oh Ye Faithful”. I came forward, face the school assembly and could not utter a word.
After that, he asked me to display my finger nails. I did and the dirty looking nails were not cut. At that point, I didn’t need anybody to inform me that I was in for trouble. He did not flog me but only asked me to go to his office and kneel down there with my eyes closed.
Usually, Mr. Oji may not beat a pupil but the professional teacher has a way of giving you some mental torture. This, he does by calling you names in Ubulu Uku dialect. I could remember vividly that this scholar called me names like usu, ngwusu, akpi, ozuai, o-ji-ukwu-eje-aba, etc.
At the village level, Mr. Oji was highly respected. Although, he was not a local man but had a very cordial relationship with the local people in the community. Even with his education, the gentleman still humbled himself in the midst of his kinsmen. He was very fluent in Ubulu-Uku dialect, an attribute most Ubulu-Uku scholars lack. This helped him to integrated himself fully and comfortably with his immediate community. If Oji wanted a chieftaincy title, he would have picked many of them from the late Obi of Ubulu-Uku, HRH Agbogidi Obi Edward Ofulue 11 as both elites had a good relationship and mutual understanding.
Writing about Paul Oji will take years to complete but the gist remains that late Orji was an epitome of discipline. Pupils who grew up under his tutelage, no doubt have the opportunity of succeeding in life. The next teacher in Ubulu-Uku that came close to Paul Oji in terms of discipline was Mr. I.E Akaraiwe. However, Oji was stricter in the sense that he talks less and does more to mold young ones into responsible adults. Apart from discipline, Mr. Akaraiwe had soft spot for women but our own Oji had no time for the womenfolk at all. His yes was yes and his no was no.
This late gentleman also had a House named Paul Oji House in St Anthony’s College, Ubulu Uku. Ironically, this house used to be the weakest House in terms of sports performance in the former Catholic College. UE was reliable told that Mr. Paul Oji almost disowned the House before he died due to their poor performances in virtually all categories of sports, year-in-year-out.
As we remember late Paul Oji today, our prayer is that God should replace such personality to Ubulu people so that we can once again, get the disciplinary measures we deserve in our various schools.
Truly, Mr. Oji iwas a disciplinarian to the core. He lived a responsible life which all of us need to emulate in order to make Ubulu a better place.
Adieu Pa Paul Oji!