Our personality of the week is Ezinne Mrs. Helen Agholor, an educationist to the core, a retired principal of several schools in Ika land, and a former Special Assistant to a former Commissioner for Women Affairs. Mrs. Helen is a grandmother and also the proprietress of one of the first private primary schools in Ika land. In this interview with Lawrence Uche, She shares her success story and family life and also addresses some societal issues.
Can we meet you madam?
I am Ezinne Mrs. Helen Agholor (Nee Omordia), JP, born into the family of Mr. & Mrs. Greg Omordia of Ogbeisogban Village in Agbor. I was born in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. My parents had 6 children; 5 females and a male of which I am the first child.
Early days and Education?
I grew up in Onitsha, Anambra State, attended Holy Rosary Primary School, Onitsha in 1955 and proceeded to a preliminary Teachers Training College for a one year teachers training course. In 1956, I got a teaching appointment immediately after my training at Eke near Elugbu. After a year, I proceeded to a grade three teachers training course (TC III) at Loretto Training College, Adazi, Anambra State. I finished in 1958 and got another teaching appointment to Holy Rosary School, Fegge in Onitsha, same Anambra State. After two years, I took another entrance exam to Sacred Heart College, Ubiaja, Edo State to train as a grade two teacher. At the completion of my grade two training in 1963, I was posted to Modern School, Umunede. In 1964, I was transferred to Agbor to teach at St. Benedict Primary School, now Alasi Primary School. In 1974, I did a diploma course at the University of Benin, (UNIBEN) under the Headmasters Institute, Benin and bagged a government scholarship thereafter to do a degree in Bristol University, Chietnam, London. It was a scholarship funded by the defunct Bendel State government. While at Bristol University, I studied Educational Psychology, Methodology and Curriculum Development and Majored in English Language. On obtaining my first degree; B.Ed. (Hons.) Educational Administration and returning to the country, I plunged into my career as an educationist fully.
How did you begin your career seeing that your education and career are interwoven?
I mentioned earlier that I got some teaching appointments during my Teacher’s Training days before proceeding to Bristol University in 1979. I was posted from Modern School Umunede to Alasi Primary school to Owessi and Eke Primary Schools in Kwale due to my husband’s posting as a principal to Kwale and became the Headmistress of the school. I was posted to Charles Burr Primary School, Agbor in 1977 as Headmistress and served until September 1979 when I went for my degree course in Brighton University. I came back in 1981 and did my youth service at Baptist Girls High School, Agbor. After my youth service in 1982, I was posted to Mary Mount College, Agbor as a teacher; four years later, I was appointed the Vice Principal of the College. I was the Vice Principal of Mary Mount College for a year before being posted to Abavo Girls Secondary School where I served between 1988 to 1993 as a Principal. It was while I was the Principal at Abavo Girls Secondary School that I ran my Master’s degree programme at the University of Benin where I studied Educational administration. In 1993, from the school, I was appointed the Deputy Chief Inspector of Education, Ministry of Education, Agbor from June to December, 1993 before I finally retired from the Ministry of Education.
Immediately after my retirement, I attended Sea-School leadership training. In 1974, I established Hedsons Nursery and Primary Schools, Agbor; one of the earliest privately owned nursery and primary school in Agbor then and still functioning till date. In 1999, I was given an appointment by the State Government as Special Assistant to the Honourable Commissioner, Ministry of Women Affairs, Social and Community Development, Delta State, Chief Barrister Theodora Giwa Amu (1999-2005)
Let us into your family background?
My father was one that valued education. He was an educated Account Clerk for UAC motors, Onitsha. He was a gentleman to the core. My family was not a very rich one, it was simply a humble but educated home. My mother used to be a petty trader, selling okra, bonga fish, snail and the likes. My siblings and I usually went straight to the stall when we returned from school and we all will return home around 5pm. It was only our brother that was allowed to go home straight after school.
I could remember when I wrote entrance exam to Loretto Teachers Training College, Adazi; there was no money to pay the school fee. My mother had to sell her only gold chain at 15pounds and gave me all the money for my transport and school fee. My mother was a woman that did not hide money when it came to her children’s education; she would pour out all her pounds and shillings on the table and tell you, “Take how much you need and return the rest.” She gave all she had to make my siblings and I educated and comfortable. From her, we got time, sacrifice and supervision in large quantity.
My maternal grandfather was the headmaster of African School, Onitsha. He mentored me and made sure all my siblings went to school.
Almost approaching 80, how do you feel?
Age is a game of numbers. You are as old as you want to feel; some are 60 but behave 80 in character, some are 90 but act like 70. It is about your mindset. I don’t feel close to 80 at all. I still read my newspapers. I teach my pupils old poems and still relate well with young people.
Almost 80, and still looking strong, what is the secret of your wellness?
It is the mindset like I said earlier. Your life pattern is a key factor. The things I used to do before while I was younger, I had to curtail them; I reduced meetings and outings, always sit down to a good meal. Good feeding and nutrition is very important. Health is a gift and I thank God for good health. I also thank my children for not giving me stress in any way because stress makes one older than ones age. Most importantly, if one is no longer useful or relevant to his community, he begins to depreciate mentally, physically and socially. I attribute my wellness to God and my gene because in my family, we are healthy people and my late husband never gave me stress for one day. I always try to be happy, feed well, take care of myself, have peace of mind and be active.
You mentioned your late husband, tell us about him?
My late husband Mr. Festus Agholor was not a stressful man. A very good man and a very good husband to me. Whatever I am and whatever I have today was due to his encouragement. Anytime I think about him, our early marriage years together, his smiles, hardwork and very inspiring personality, it relaxes me.
You have lived more than 80% of your life span, are you scared of what is coming next?
Well, one can only be scared of what he knows about. How can I be scared of what I don’t know? No! I am not afraid of the unknown. Let’s not pretend that we don’t know that people don’t live forever. Everything is in the hand of God and everyman has been destined for one fortune or the other.
As an educationist, what impact have you made on the generality of the people?
I started teaching and impacting lives since I was sixteen. Everywhere I went, people often call me ‘Miss’ even my family members till today. I get calls here and there of people telling me, you taught me here, you taught me there and so on very often. Even my last holiday in Canada, I met an old student of mine. Many people have passed through me and it gives me joy to see that they are successful.
Becoming one of the first private primary school owners in Ika nation is a lot for me as I have through it, contributed so much to the progress of many children in Ika land. There was this Justice of the Federal High Court, from Anambra State; she was my kindergarten pupil many years ago. Many professionals have passed through me by the grace of God.
In those days, education was admired by lots of family but nowadays, money is the main focus. What is your view? SEE ALSO: MY ONLY REGRET… – Joe Orewa, former World Boxing Champion
Look at the society of today, it does not say anything more than money. If someone acquires money by any means, nobody cares about the source of the money; all they do is sing their praises. Hardwork is no longer recognized nor encouraged anymore; although not in all cases.
People with wealth who refuse to educate their children properly will have their children sell off their properties easily to people who went to school. Education gives you confidence and drives away the fear of the future, making you useful and relevant to society and yourself. I don’t subscribe to parents sacrificing their children’s education for anything. If they do so, they would age before their time. No parent would be justified for not giving their children basic education.
What would you say about dwindling moral and value change in the society?
This moral we are talking about has really collapsed and only God can redeem it. Some parents cannot even tell their daughters to change into more decent clothes before leaving the house because they also do not have a sound moral ground to do so. Some parents do not have the courage to instruct their children to greet or show respect since they have also lost value. Some Peer groups are now stronger than parents in controlling a child’s movement. Some School Principals have been made authority without power as they are being transferred or penalized when they discipline a child. In those days, the governments saw to it that the Principals were not intimidated but allowed to do their work with so much confidence. In those days, you could not put your short on your buttocks or not tuck in your shirts or come late and still be walking majestically to the school gate like I see students do these days.
Many students don’t even greet, except their eyes meet with yours. In those days, the sight of your teachers or Principal brought you back to your senses.
How can parents help solve this situation?
Parents are affected by money and that is a fact. A child comes home with money and he is not questioned but rather, celebrated. Although, some parents would question the source but would be carried away by the money and not take the right measures in cautioning the child.
Most parents do not make time for their children. No attention or supervision. They are always at meetings, markets, shops, parties and other places that keep them occupied. Most times, systems collapse due to broken homes. Parents should stop comparison and be contented and most importantly, spend quality time with their children at home.
Why did you study English?
Well I grew up in a convent around Rev. Sisters and was often fascinated by their expressions, my father worked with white men and was always speaking English, my grandfather was a headmaster all these factors drew me to love language and reading books.
Rate the teaching profession in Nigeria today?
In as much as I appreciate teachers who put so much effort to make our profession remain enviable, I also want to advise many of our teachers to always update themselves with the new teaching skills and methods and to be academically strong as one cannot teach what one does not know. Some teachers I have come across lately are still having these problems. Teachers should always prepare their lesson notes, prepare their minds well, ready to teach and appear in class smartly dressed. Teachers should not be in a hurry to teach, they should take their lessons with precision. I am in support of the new Teachers Registration Council’s declaration that stipulates that all teachers or aspiring teachers must write an exam before induction and registration. It should not just end at the exams; those who are not qualified should take the exams again or be retrained before they are inducted into such a noble profession.
Being a wife and a mother, how did you manage your family and career?
My husband was a perfect husband and friend, who talked to me and advised me at every point. He was a teacher and maybe because we were teachers we had the same lines of thoughts, we often had one voice working together at all times. He never interfered in my career but often encouraged me, sometimes he will be the one to wake me up to do some things which I planned doing in line with school work or even remind me about my meetings with the women and other career-driven activities of mine. He was neither a bossy nor a pampering type; maybe this was why I could survive after his death as I had a balanced perception of marital life.
Even when I got the scholarship and admission to Bristol University, he virtually did all the processes for me, prepared all my papers, got the visa, paid my ticket fee, booked the flight and went with me to the airport. He played a good role in the upbringing of our children that I did not have to stress myself too much because he was a partner; we always came to a compromise and did not joke with ensuring that our children were well disciplined.
Some are of the opinion that women’s place is in the kitchen and bedroom, while some activists argue that they are equal to men, being a part of the Ministry of Women Affairs what’s your take?
Women’s place is not in the kitchen but a woman has a place in the kitchen, a woman who cannot feed her family would have herself to blame, a woman should be able to contribute to not just her family but the entire society, she should find a career path, take part in politics, run businesses and socialize and not be limited to the kitchen or bedroom. Saying women are equal to men is not true Women who say this are trying to imitate the whites, it is a very bad mentality. Men and women can never be equal. A man is the head and women should be submissive but not to the point of being foolish. Even financially, the men would still be the head so wives earning more should be submissive as well.
I was a teacher, I was into farming, I was a trader and also a mother and all these activities have time allocated to them, I didn’t miss my classes in school, between 8am-2pm I was always in school; as it was time to teach, the salary was meager then, so I got involved in trading after school hours, I sold cement and made profit. In the school empty land, I planted cassava, harvested and people will come to buy. There was a period we did farming at Mbiri farm settlement, supervised by the Obi of Mbiri and I won all the men to it, the Obi of Mbiri gave me ten rows of seed yam. All these did not interfere with my teaching work. When we came back, at night, we all cooked and had quality time together, it was only my husband who did not take part simply because he did not know how to cook. When the food is not ready yet and he was very hungry, he never bullied me. He would just take a drink and relax.
How did you meet your Husband?
We met in 1958, I was in the convent then, and we were not allowed to talk to men. My mother had a friend who often came from Agbor to Onitsha to buy things and when she came she often stayed in our house before going back. Most times when she came, she did not come alone as a politician that she was, there were always women that came with her and they all stayed in our house. Sometimes then they came and my mum was not back yet from market, I would give them food, make their beds and prepare water for them to bathe. This my mother’s friend would often say “this girl you will be my son’s wife” jokingly and we would all laugh about it. One day her son who she often joked about to marry me was a student at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and on his way to school came down to Onitsha and we got familiar, and became friends. He followed me to the convent and our security man shouted at me at the entrance of the school, “ Why are you walking with a man to the convent?” I immediately replied that he was my brother and the gateman grudgingly allowed us pass the gate. He accompanied me to the school many other times and the gateman called him and told him to stop coming or else he would report him to the authorities.
Eventually, whenever he came again he would not get to the gate, so that the gateman would not see him and bother him with questions and threats. We were friends for years and his mother loved me so much that she took my picture and hung it in their house to scare away every young girl coming around, seeking his attention. She would tell them pointing at my picture “that is my son’s wife and there is no space for another woman”. she simply did the match making. We got married on August 8, 1964. He was a teacher at Ika Grammar School then. Mr. Eneli from Obosi, the first principal of Ika Grammar School, admired us so much that he decided to buy me a wedding gown and my husband a wedding suit. I was only 25years old then, while my husband was 27years old.
Any regrets so far marrying Mr. Festus Agholor?
No, marrying him was the best decision I ever made in my life, even at death, he is still my friend.
Let us into your family?
By the grace of God, I have five children, four male children and a female , some are in Nigeria, and others are abroad, happily married with kids and all graduates. I have several grandchildren.
How have you given back to the society?
I would say, I am more particular about the women, because when you lift a woman you build the society. My parents were leaders, my grandmother, Alice Ogbomor was a woman leader, my mother-in-law was also a politician and a woman leader, my own mother was a woman leader too when the government started better life cooperative society, I was the cordinator for the women here in Ika, I also joined the National council of women society (NCWS) in the local government area and was the president for five years, I moved to the state level and contested to be the president of the NCWS in Delta State, the Dein of Agbor, Dr Benjamin Ikenchuku Steve Omojafe, Dan Osifo and others gave me good support but I lost the election due to money politics that played out during that election. I became the first president of private school owners in Agbor, I was also the community treasurer in my residential area. My school, Hedsons Primary Schools that had been in existence for over 35years now runs a scholarship scheme for several indigent pupils that have graduated from the school and some others that are still pupils of the school, even till date, we still have pupils in the school who are fully or partially on scholarship and in the new term we will go to the streets and bring in more indigent pupils hawking on the street. I was also given appointment as S.A to the Commissioner of Women Affairs in Delta State.
What way have you touched lives of people?
I would not want to start mentioning names but I know that many people have passed through my house and tutelage and are doing well now. Some are in the country others are not. Some of my relatives, husbands relatives and even my siblings including helpers and maids in my house are graduates today others are even retired too. One of my house help in those days was the best student in Ika Grammar School while he was still in my house and he is now an engineer.
People say you have a close relationship with the Dein of Agbor and the current secretary to the state government, tell us about it?
Well, the Obi of Agbor, the father of the current Dein of Agbor, was a close and good friend to my husband. The use to play Tennis together, the Obi even got married to my husband cousin who by the way grew up here in our house, that’s the relationship my family and the palace shared.
For the SSG, Chiedu Ebie, the father was a good family friend to the Agholors; he grew up together with my children. They were playmates as his father was a very intimate friend with my husband. His father, Prof. Ebie John was a part of my husband biography and so was my husband a part of his too. We are simply close family friends.
Do you still have relationship and contact with some of your old friends?
Not many of them, there is actually one person I can never forget, she is Barr. (Chief) Giwa Amu Theodaora, commissioner for women affairs from 1999 to 2005, the P.D.P government including the former Governor James Ibori really helped me when I lost my husband. I owe them a lot of appreciation.
What are your Ecclesiastical contributions to the body of Christ?
I am a Catholic member, I was the first secretary of Catholic women organization (C.W.O) St Johns Catholic Church, I was among the pioneer members of Young women Christian Association (YWCA) I was a members of St Monica’s society, A group , (sweeping) group, St John Catholic Church Agbor.
What other associations were you a part of?
I was the president, Ladies Premier Association Agbor; chapter president, Inner-Wheel Club (wives of Rotarians), Agbor; members, Teachers Union Agbor; member, Association of College Principals; (ANCOPS) Ika South, Co-ordinator, Better Life Programme Ika South; Patron, Ika University Students in Nigeria, I am a Jerusalem Pilgrim (JP); member Orinionyema Cooperative Society, Agbor and member Ika Ladies Welfare Association Agbor. I was the president National Council of Women society (NCWS) Ika Chapter, I was the state research co-ordinator (NCWS) Delta State, I am also a member palace women Agbor, I am also a member Dein palace secondary school committee and a member bridge building committee Delta North senatorial district and project co-ordinator I million Naira hostel accommodation for (NCWS) Delta State in 2001. I am a member Idumuonyen ka mma
What would you like to be remembered for?
A woman who stood for other women especially the market women, I wish that before Gov. Okowa would live office, markets in Ika land will be of standard, I also would loved to be remembered as a good teacher who was astute in training children.
Ogbonno soup, semovita or akpu, fruits, vegetables and wines.
My grandfather, parents and husband
Lies, laziness and awkward dressing
Lively, truthful, diligent and neat people
I don’t like crowed, I don’t visit people often, I keep to myself and focus on the next achievement to come, I keep few friends.
What gives you joy?
My children and grandchildren, good music, discussing with few friends and meeting with the women
Listening to music, watching football, teaching, reading newspapers and traveling
How do you relax?
I watch films and make phone calls often and sometimes take to some of my hobbies
Compare the Boji-Boji or Ika as a whole the way it was in those days and the way it is now?
There are improvements compared to what it was. Yes, there is growth in the area. Though, it is not as fast as expected because of politics. This sharing if Ika South and Ika North East have brought some sort of development, everywhere around here was known as Agbor while we were growing up, until it became Ika Local Government and Later on split into Ika South and Ika North East. The split is assisting development and making governance easier, the unique aspect is that we are still brothers, speak the same language and also inter-marry. It was George Orewa and Barr. Ohen that clamored for the split of the Local government, the recognition of each area aids speedy development as we see different clans trying to develop very quickly.
BY UCHE LAWRENCE