A school proprietor, Mrs Olufunke Wilde, talks about her life experiences, marriage to a foreigner and other issues of interest in this interview with TUNDE AJAJA
At 78 and as a retired principal, what have you been doing since you left service?
I run my own school now, though I have people who see to its day-to-day operations. Let me tell you the origin of the school; when I was a principal, I saw situations where some pupils were promoted so that they would not repeat the class, but by the time the O’level results came out, the performance of such pupils would be nothing to write home about. So, I started thinking about what I could do. After my retirement, I started my school to help those pupils who were not really doing well. I wanted pupils to be taught well and make it to the higher institution without troubles, so I started with Continuing Education Centre before I later started a secondary school. It wasn’t a money-making venture. In fact, I invested a lot of my properties in it and sold my things just to keep the school going. My husband had an abandoned property which he wanted to use as a hospital but he had to stop because four of our children were in the university at the same time, so we had to suspend the project. After about 10 years and it was feasible to go back to it (hospital project), he said he had lost interest. That was how I took over the property and turned it to a school, which was motivated by the need to be relevant and useful even after retirement.
When you were young, there would have been many lucrative professions at that time, what made you prefer the teaching profession?
I just felt I had to multiply myself and the best way to do that was to teach the pupils what I knew and that was by going into the teaching profession. There were so many lucrative professions, like you said; I could have been a doctor like my husband or a businesswoman but I had my fulfilment in teaching children and seeing them succeed. When you look at it like that, you look beyond the money; the joy of seeing them grow and do well in life fills your heart. But I must tell you that later on, those pupils started paying back. Sometime ago, one of the sets I oversaw when I was the Principal at Remo Secondary School, Sagamu, Ogun State, celebrated their 25th anniversary. They invited me and gave me a new sport-utility vehicle. Likewise, so many other sets have been honouring me with cash gifts. A particular set came to my small school in Sagamu and built a gatehouse for the school. A set came to celebrate my 75th birthday; they brought everything and we all celebrated, whereas, I didn’t want to do any celebration that year, but they did it for me.
Recently, your former pupils, at the time you served as the principal of Anglican Girls’ Grammar School, Ijebu Ode, about 37 years ago, invited you to be a part of their reunion and they showed you some love. How would you describe that experience?
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I was surprised when they came to invite me. First, I couldn’t even recognise any of them because it had been about 37 years. When they came, I was very happy and I felt really honoured that the pupils I tutored and could barely remember could come back to meet me. I praise God for that. The moment they gave me the invite, I put it in my diary and I made it an important programme that I would devote the day to it. I thank God I’m alive to witness the day. When I arrived, I was delighted as they all exchanged all kinds of jokes and it all reminded me of their school days. It’s a day I won’t forget easily. Interestingly, I was with them for just three years before I was transferred, but they were the set that really gave me a befitting send-off. For them to still remember me after 37 years, I feel God used me to do something great for them. When you invest in people, the benefits would certainly come. When I was in the school, the first thing I did was to build a wall round the premises so that intruders would not come in and peep at the girls anytime they were having their bath. We did many other things to make life easier for them. My advice to people is that when they want to go into a profession, they should opt for one that gives them joy; something they are happy doing. Money would come later. I ended up in public service on the level of a permanent secretary.
Did you leave teaching?
No, I didn’t. For about eight years, I was the President of All Nigeria Confederation of Principals of Secondary Schools in Ogun State. During that time, we were able to get the government to improve our lot, raise our salaries and put us on good levels. We were able to prove that since the highest level a civil servant can get to is permanent secretary grade, ours should also be permanent secretary grade. So, I ended up on that grade, after a lot of engagement with the government. We believed that the highest point of teaching profession should also be that of other professions in the civil service. So, I’m happy that today our principals are enjoying such an elevation in their profession. Teaching is not inferior to any other profession.
These days, when you say you want to be a teacher, some people tend to think you are settling for less. Did your parents agree with your choice of teaching or they wanted you to go for another profession?
My parents agreed on anything you felt happy doing; they were also educated. They didn’t question any of us on why we chose what we did, as long as you were happy doing it and wanted to be successful at it. I come from a large family, so our parents allowed us to have our way. My sister is a doctor, my brother is an engineer and I’m a teacher, proudly so. It gives me joy. My sister who is a doctor has her own hospital and she enjoys what she’s doing, so I would always place a feeling of satisfaction above money. We all have different things that make us feel we have succeeded in life. To some, it’s money; to some, it’s position and to some, it’s professional satisfaction; that you have left a mark. One of my students at RSS deals in properties and his company is now a household name in the real sector. If you are able to motivate your pupils and they reach great heights, that is a huge source of satisfaction. If I were in some other professions, I could have made more money but that number of people may not have passed through me and I may not have been able to impact so many lives. There is nothing I want in life that God has not done for me. With what God has done for our children, they are now in the position to look after us. You can be so rich and not have a settled home, but my husband and I are happy together. He’s 80 while I’m 78. The children take us abroad for holiday almost every year. Do whatever makes you happy and don’t start stretching your neck to see what your neighbour is doing. Just thank God for your own and be satisfied.
In these days that parents rarely have time to look after their children, what was parenting like when you were a young girl?
Many things have changed and what strikes me most is parenting. There is a lot of negligence by parents now. A lot of them don’t have the time to check on what their children are doing unlike in the past. And it’s due to things like materialism and job demands. Secondly, children have changed. Hardly do you find them reading nowadays; they are all glued to their mobile phones and it’s becoming more and more difficult for teachers to get the best from these children. Then, I would talk about the teachers themselves. The types of teachers that are coming in now are different from what we had in our own time. First of all, they are not as properly groomed as our teachers were. This constant change in the educational policy in the country has watered down a lot of training that our teachers were getting. When you have very good teachers, you would produce good pupils, but when your teachers are not well-groomed, they don’t have the opportunities of further training, and what will they impact on the children. We still have some very good teachers who are committed, but a lot are looking for how to get on financially. Things have changed but the joy I have is that more people are being exposed to education and with that everybody has a chance. There are good changes coming in. Access to the Internet and smart phones is an advantage as well, even though some people use them for bad things. It’s also important to state that government and the society are underrating the importance of the teaching profession and that is why some people look down on teachers and they don’t encourage their children to go into the teaching profession.
When you were small, what was it like raising a girl child, using your experience as an example?
My dad used to tell me that he didn’t want me to have friends that would be lurking around the walls. He would say if you have friends, including male friends, bring them home. The practice in most places was that no man should come but my dad encouraged me to do otherwise. I was free with him and we discussed a lot. I wasn’t that free with my mum. We were encouraged not to have friends that we could not bring home for them to know. My dad would say he wanted to know our friends and if they were not the type that could help us, he would tell us. Fortunately, I didn’t have many male friends; the one I had in Form Three was the one I enjoyed his company and he trained me to read. He was always coming with story books. In our own days, reading novels was a major activity, not partying. Ours was a reading age and our parents monitored what we were doing. They would visit us in school. I want to encourage fathers to be close to their children; they should be their children’s friends. I had a happy childhood, although we were nine. My mother had nine children and I was the fifth. But, with all that, we were still able to relate and they followed our progress till where they could before they both died.
Back then, it was usually families that were into farming that had many children so they could use them for labour, did your parents at any time mention why they had so many children?
(Laughs) I don’t know, but that was their choice. However, growing up with eight other children was good company; we had fun. We quarrelled, because I was the first female and I was like a tomboy. Anytime they were going out, I would always follow them. I went to a mixed school; Ibadan Grammar School, after leaving St Theresa’s College. One other thing to note is that these days we are training our girls but we have neglected the boys. When you neglect the boys, we are sitting on a keg of gunpowder, because all those boys that were not well trained are now giving the girls a hard time. So, we need to balance the training so that the girls that are well trained will not end up in the hands of untrained boys; husbands who cannot keep homes. That is why we are having broken homes all the time. We have a lot of untrained husbands who do not appreciate what their wives are. Some would even envy their wives for getting good jobs and earning good salaries. It shouldn’t be so.
You’re married to a foreigner; how did you meet?
My husband is British, that is the origin of the name, Wilde. He’s of dual nationality. His father was British but his mother was Nigerian, of Egba/Ijebu extraction. My mother-in-law had about three children but she lost two, so my husband was the only one who survived, that is why his name is Adesina Wilde. He was brought up in Ijebu Ode. The mother’s father was from Abeokuta while his mother’s mother was from Ijebu Ode.
How did you meet?
I had brothers and they attended Government College, Ibadan because our house was not far from the school and he too was a pupil in the school. Anytime he came to visit one of my brothers who was his college mate, he would see me, and that was how the friendship started. Again, due to my interest in reading novels, and he had access to a lot of story books in their school library, he would come with lots of story books to get my attention. Whatever he read, I read and we would discuss the books we read thereafter. We were friends for seven years before we got married. I was in secondary school when we became friends, through my days in the university and till I finished. By the time he proposed, we were both ready. I was about 23 while he was 25 when we got married.
Were your parents fully supportive of you marrying someone of mixed race?
My father was worried but my mother wasn’t worried because she knew what I wanted and she knew me to be a reasonable girl. However, my father kept asking what I wanted to do with a white person. He’s very fair like the Britons. I told my dad I would marry him but I assured him that I would finish my education.
Did you marry when you were still in school?
We married when we were both in the final year.
Why was that?
(Laughs) He was afraid that if I left school unmarried, somebody could snatch me away from him. He was going to work in Lagos while I would still be in Ibadan, so he felt the separation would be there. So, he felt we should do it.
Did your parents approve of it eventually?
Would you believe that when we got married, my mother didn’t know, neither did his parents know about it. His parents did not want the marriage because I’m Nigerian. We simply went to a Registry in Lagos. His mother wanted an English woman or an Egba or Ijebu woman whereas I come from Ondo. After about 11 years that we had been married, she (mother-in-law) then said she wanted to go and seek the consent of my parents legally. At that time, I had even had my four children. She said she wouldn’t want my children to be taken away without being legally married. So, they did it. She was really in love