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The confident headmistress who amazed the Governor

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For Ukeme Udofia, a widow, mother and headmistress of Christ The King Primary School, Uyo, Friday, 14th July 2023 will remain unforgettable. But the day began like any other day in her 22-year career as a teacher. As usual she woke up early, prayed and prepared food for her three children and dashed off to work.

She was there in time to oversee the clean up of the school compound by pupils before the usual morning devotion that followed. There was nothing to suggest the momentous events that was soon to unfold and perhaps alter the course of her life permanently.

The school compound itself was quiet and calm, without the usual noisy chattering of pupils, chanting of rhymes or commotion of playing pupils. Actually, the Third Term examinations were on-going and questions were written on every blackboard for visibly subdued and sober pupils to tackle.

Suddenly, a convoy of black cars crawled their way into the tranquil school compound and fierce looking policemen and plain clothes security guards jumped out of their vehicles to surround the black BMW car conveying the governor. This is a completely unplanned and surprised visit by Governor Umo Eno of Akwa Ibom State to this primary school, which is probably 500 meters away from the Governor’s Office.

Thirty minutes or so earlier, the governor, in the company of his deputy, Senator Akon Eyakenyi and the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Prince Enobong Uwah, had visited Senator Chris Ekpenyong, a former deputy governor of the state, in his Shelter Afrique residence. From Ekpenyong’s house, the governor stopped over in the same estate to condole with Chief Aiman Saimua, CEO of Amitec Engineering Limited, who lost his young son, David, after a brief illness.

Thereafter, the governor and his entourage returned to the State House.

The governor had stepped out of his car in front of the two-leaved glass entrance into his office. Suddenly, he took a look at his wristwatch and moved towards his car again. “I think we should go and see the condition of one primary school here in town, maybe the one near us here on Wellington Bassey Way. We need to quickly construct a model primary school that we can replicate elsewhere”, the governor said.

In five minutes, the governor was already standing inside a classroom in front of about 25 astonished pupils, who sprang to their feet simultaneously, startled and excited to see the man whose pictures adorn most streets and TV channels in the state.

“Good afternoon children! How are you?”, the governor greeted them. “We are fine, Sir”, the children chorused a perfect reply, as if they had rehearsed for the visit. Many other questions and answers were to follow.

The governor wanted to know from them what their needs are and what they would have him do for them and the school. This was a senior class. To be specific, this is Primary 5A. This pupils were smart and brilliant. Some told the governor they needed textbooks, while others said they needed new uniforms, etc. Their classroom had modern plastic chairs and colourful plastic tables with lockers. It’s a public primary school but this particular classroom looks better than some expensive private primary schools in town. “Don’t worry that you are in public school. I want you all to work very hard and take your studies very seriously because if you do that you can become anything you want to be in life”, the governor said to the applause of the excited pupils.

Outside the classroom, a lady who was introduced as the headmistress of the school was brilliant, blunt and bold in her encounter with the governor. She exuded the confidence of a falcon in flight. In her yellowish Ankara long skirt and blouse of the same colour, she looked and spoke more like a secondary school principal than a primary school headmistress. There was no trace of nervousness in her voice as she answered every question put to her by the governor. She escorted the governor around the school compound including some dilapidated sections of the classroom blocks that dated back to the 1960s.

“My intention is to knock down all the dilapidated buildings here and build new ones immediately the school closes for the long vacation. I want to also build teachers’ quarters in this same premises so that teachers can settle down in the compound as it used to be, to care, train and raise the children properly”, the governor said to Mrs. Udofia.

“That would be very nice, Sir. The staff and children will be very happy, Sir”, she said.

“But would you like to live in this compound with the children?”, the governor asked. “No Sir”, Udofia answered quickly and frankly to the surprise of the entourage.

“Why”, the governor fought back. “Sir, there is no electricity and no water in this compound”, she said. “I want to make this school a model school, a good example of what our primary schools should be. So we are going to provide electricity, portable water and security guards day and night here”, the governor said.

“OK, Sir. In that case I can live here in the staff quarters”, she replied to the laughter of the entourage.

“And Sir, this is the first time in history that a governor has visited this primary school and we are very happy and grateful to you, Sir. To make this school what a good primary school should be, please consider adding also a junior library, a science lab and a computer lab, please. Sir, this is because we teach our children the theory of many subjects. But when the children see the things we teach practically, they will quickly understand the subject better and excel in them”, Udofia said, waiting for the governor to respond.

The governor took a second look at her. “You are a very good staff… I met you on your duty post at past 1 pm, doing a very good job with the children… There are schools we would go this afternoon and we will not see the headmaster, headmistress and teachers to tell us these things… What level of officer are you?” the governor asked. “I am level 15, Sir”, she replied.

The governor turned to the SSG: “Can I promote this woman”? The answer was a firm “yes” not only by the SSG but by other government officials surrounding the governor.

“I am promoting this woman to level 17. Please do a good job of moulding these children. Take this promotion and stay here…continue to mould these children and be a role model to them… Nobody should transfer her out to the Ministry of Education because she is now level 17. I want her to remain here and oversee the model school and help build the future of these children”, the governor said, as the gathering crowd screamed in excitement. “Thank very much, Sir, for the visit and for the promotion. May the Almighty God continue to bless you”, a joyful Udofia said, smiling.

As the governor motioned to enter his car, Udofia made one more demand. “No, Sir, you must sign our Visitors’ Book before you go”, she said as she ran off to fetch it. In a jiffy, she was back with a green hard cover exercise book. Still standing by his car, the governor wrote with a red ink: “I visited CKS today to assess the state of our primary schools as part of my inspection tour of various facilities in the state. I am impressed by the headmistress’ conduct and have directed that she should be promoted to Grade Level 17″.

Off, the governor zoomed back with his entourage to Government House.

For Udofia, grace found her at the right place and the right time. Her life may never be the same again.

Usen is the Senior Special Assistant (Media and Publicity) to Governor Umo Eno

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