Chief Robert Ayeno Pablogba has lived a very interesting and eventful life. He is still exceptionally strong and virile at about 90 years and still struts with a youthful swagger and engages in activities that defies his age. Shortly before his 90th birthday, he sat down with S’South Regional Editor, Shola O’Neil and spoke about his growing up in the village, his journey from youth, late education, teaching career and the wisdom of managing a polygamous family.
On growing up and the influence of Baptist missionaries. I was born in the village of Tsekelewu (Polobubo) about November 1927 to the Pablogba Okito Royal family of Olodiama, Warri North Local Government Area of today’s Delta state. I grew up with the tradition and custom of the Ijaw. We were so disciplined that our movement was restricted to the village and mostly in the compound. Our interactions were with different family members in the town of Polobubo. I did not know anything about education.
We were able to get into the limelight of education when Nigerian Baptist Convention’s missionaries got to our village in 1938 and established a church at Tsekelewu (Polobubo). It was then that I came in contact with Rev. Omatsola and others, who taught us how to read and write and we were able to study the Bible.
As we grew up, we came to understand that it is good to be educated. We were a little bit bigger than the school age but since it was a rural area, there was no age limit. At that time primary school period was eight (8) years – Infant 1 and 2, then Standard 1 to 6. Because our village school stopped at Standard 4, we moved down to Sapele and then to Baptist School Aragba Gbekoba in 1947. I finished class 6 in 1948 (at the age of 21).
How I became a school teacher
I couldn’t have become a teacher (after Standard 6). That was the time Urhobo College, Effurun was started in 1948. I did and passed the exam but on getting to my parents at home, they had no money to sponsor me to secondary school. The alternative was to go to a teachers’ training and I was employed as a teacher by the Nigerian Baptist Convention. I started teaching in Tsekelewu Baptist School in 1949. I taught for two years and went to Baptist Elementary Teachers College in Benin City, did my Grade 3 Course and finished in December 1953.
After the course, I was posted to Tsekelewu, where I taught for three years and later as the Headmaster of the school. In 1959, I was posted out of Tsekelewu to Ero-Abraka. I was Headmaster there for one year and later posted to Owerri Baptist School.
But because there was lack of teachers in my village – non native teachers were finding it difficult to stay there – I was called back to the village. I taught there till 1965, when I went to Delta Teachers Training between January 1966 and 1967. I got my Grade 2 Teachers’ Certificate and was later deployed to Ogharafe Baptist School, where I taught for two years as Headmaster. Then, there was a complaint by teachers in the rural areas that teachers in the townships ought to be changed. For those of us who were in the township for many years, it was automatic for us to leave for rural areas. I was posted to Okwagbe Baptist School, which I headed for one year. Then those teachers in the rural areas, who had been complaining, found it difficult to stay in the township and they protested again.
I was sent back to First Baptist School, Sapele in 1971 as one of the senior teachers. But there was need to further my education in order to enhance my pay. I went for an ACE course in Benin (1978 to 1979) to do Diploma. I was posted as one of the foundation teachers of Oriapele Grammar School (Sapele). Rupi was the Principal at that time and I was the Vice Principal. I was there for four years.
Retired, but not tired. My incursion into politics. After 35 years as a teacher, it was incumbent on me to retire. So I was retired in 1984. Since I was still young, able and willing to work, I got an appointment as a Customary Court Member in Warri Area Customary Court in October 1988. We had two members, the central man, a trained lawyer, was president, and two others, including me. We were there until 1999 when the military gave up power. Politicians came and those of us who worked during the military era were relieved of our offices. So I joined politics.
In Egbema clan, where I come from, I was one of the leaders who were elected. Sadly, if you are not in the ruling party, you are looked upon at as an enemy. But not minding that, we pushed ahead to see that the clan is in a good shape today in Warri North Local Government Area, where we have two principal tribes, the Itsekiris and Ijaws. Our struggle as one ward in the beginning has grown up to nine wards. We are seeing the progress and other things that are coming up.
I think our community has been developed, our community is one of the communities that produce oil in Delta State which helped us into DESOPADEC and others and we have another global which is formed by two Ijaw communities; the Gbaramatu and Egbema axis that has brought development to the communities. Our boys have been employed to work there for a given number of years, either two or three years and later change them.
Looking back, what’s your assessment of education today, and the future?
If you look at the education we had then and now, there is a lot of difference because the standard of education is getting lower and lower. In our days, when you were able to complete Standard Six, you are equivalent to some graduates now. Now, some people see teaching as a means of livelihood, but other people like us who are very interested in educating others, educating our children, we took it as a full time job and we taught them to progress and go higher.
The approach right now is that if you get to some rural areas, there are no benches, no building. Teachers find it difficult to go to the rural areas, saying they want to stay in the town. In the rural area, there are classrooms of six or more and you can only get one or two teachers who will go there because they want to survive. Many are rushing to the township to dwell, even when there is no job.
What can be done to reverse the trend
Government has a lot to do. If you look at subjects like History, in the higher school, it is not there. If you don’t learn history, how will you know the origin of your people? There are so many subjects that are overlooked and those are the subjects that gave us the background to develop up to this level.
Government must pay attention to infrastructure. You see pupils or students sitting on the floor, if the environment is not conducive, how do you think learning will progress? We need very good environment and teachers in the rural areas need adequate attention, better pay and other incentives, to do the job right. Government need to improve the quality of teachers and give them advance courses to grow.
Parents on their part must care more; they should not allow the teachers to do it alone. Some parents do not have that zeal and appetite to give their children proper care. Parents, especially those in the township, are engaged in their businesses or professional pursuits. Some mothers do not even bath their children in the morning before they go to school. The child eats whatever they see and go to school. So the encouragement must start from the parents.
Secrets to a happy, peaceful polygamous home?
The secret of my strength and youthfulness even at 90 is God. I had three wives; the third one died around 2002 and the two wives you just saw. God has blessed us with 13 children. My grandchildren are over 40 and my great grandchildren are about six. Keeping the harmony in a polygamous home is difficult. Even a man who has a single wife has some problem compared to a polygamous home. It is a very difficult thing, which you must balance up by doing to A as you did to B. Like the children, if you decide to send two or three to the university from one family, same thing should apply to the other family. If not you will have no rest. The idea was to train those at the fore-front and if they successfully graduate, they would take care of their younger ones.
Whether you are a monogamous man or polygamist, the extended family must be there. The extended family in the African tradition cannot be waved away. You have to bring them together and mix them up because you cannot cater for only your children; the family members will call you a witch, if you do that. That is the African way.
I have been fortunate to have trained some members of my extended family who have become a blessing to me. This house you are seeing, my nephew (Mr Edmond Doyah-Tiemo) built it for me and he has been taking care of me. He is a blessing to me and I am very grateful for that.
In my family there are some don’ts. I started to tell my children that everybody must go to secondary school and go higher. I wanted all my children to be graduates but it was not possible. I had over sixty percent (60%) who are graduates. Our children should strive to improve and meet up with the tide.
Life is not easy you, there must be ups and downs. Most youths nowadays want to do white collar job (Oyibo work). To the young ones, I say ‘let’s do something with our hands.’ Learn handwork that will make you to survive. Now, you cannot get graduates who are willing to farm. They feel the education they got is for work in the office and using biro.
Our young ones also want to be rich at all cost. You see a boy of 20, 30 years saying he wants to be a millionaire without work and doing unlawful things like bunkering, blowing up pipelines; but that will not take you anywhere. The only thing that can take you somewhere is learning handwork and not undermining anything. Government empowerment is not there because they will say we are going to empower but how many people shall we empower?
Thanks to the South South Regional Editor of the The Nation Online.Net, Shola O’Neil.