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Date Published: 06/30/10

Remembering My Headmaster Father -Hopkins Walter Amachree (March 23rd, 1909 –June 4th 1999) By Onari Hopkins-Amachree

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The task of the excellent teacher is to stimulate "apparently ordinary" people to unusual effort. The tough problem is not in identifying winners: it is in making winners out of ordinary people. - K. Patricia Cross When I was growing up I reverence old men, in them I see my six footer headmaster father who is an embodiment of discipline, sincerity, honesty to a “fault”, hard work, respect, fearlessness, truthfulness and humbleness. In our present day Nigeria can I say the same of our elders, old men/women/leadership? Can we take the words of our leaders and elders to the bank and cash it? The questions is as pregnant as the unborn child, I don’t see yes as an answer without a pause to think through it, and probably someone will point to that here.

As I was growing up in the dusty brown hilly towns and villages of then Enugu/Nsukka/Abakaliki region --mostly dark in the night, in the 70’s and early 80’s my father as they will ascribe to him as an “mbamiri (literarily means world of water) man” , we did not have a lot but my father was a fulfilled man and fully a happy man and at rest with himself, confident, courageous, bluntly honest, generous and graciously and deeply committed and happy to do his job which is to teach future leaders that will carry the burden of our society.

He strongly believed that the future of the country will be shaped and structured via quality education for all, irrespective of one’s religion, tribe, ethnicity, societal status-poor/rich, sex or otherwise. As I see him every day during the work week as he hangs his lunch box on the handle bar of his Raleigh bicycle whistling happily some good hymnal, to go do his life time job to teach, I keep asking why on earth we are here instead of living in Port Harcourt. I never got an answer to that question, but the answer I realized later in life is that some other people benefitted immensely from his sacrifice and dedication to the call of duty—this reminds all us that before the bridge we cross every day was built, some other people sweated thoroughly to build that bridge that we use without thinking about the builders who made it possible.

He is a very courageous man. I remember in those days , when he have to lead other teachers and some of older pupil (who were caught up with the civil war and such behind in class), to go house to house in the interior villages to enforce compulsory education for school age children, even with or without the support of their parents. The passion of this man is unbelievable, even at the initial threat he got from the locals he continued to enforce the compulsory education that local chiefs and divisional council members cannot enforce. First he was a non indigene, two he is coming to their houses to enforce the government policy for compulsory education, after the initial resistance and threat, he was reverend and respected in the entire community and the schools that he taught become aware of the “mbamiri” man who make their kids to go to school.

His extra ordinary discipline did not leave out his kids either. I remember quiet vividly when I was just eight years and my father used me as an example for improper dressing, I was brought and made to climb a table for everyone to see me and he told the rest that is a typical example of improper dressing, was humiliated yes, but looking back now it is a message of seriousness and dedication, because from that day never did I dress improperly, that lesson took me through high school and beyond. As a young little boy, my name was so difficult for the locals to pronounce and most of the times, my school friends and foes will make fun of it that most often end up in a fight and I come home dejected, irrespective of the fact that I am nwa- headimasta. He will call me to the corner and tell me bluntly, your name is unique and should be proud of your heritage and never give in to intimidation and that I should be above the fray and educate them on the meaning of my name. This singular advice saw me through elementary school and high school against all sorts of bullying and intimidation. Was tribalism a factor, sure it was, with extra-ordinary courage and confidence my father survived and lived through it.

The man’s hard work was appreciated with mouth, and somehow his promotion was stunted at a certain period of his career, until sometime in 1982, former Governor Jim Nwobodo took a personal interest without even the man complaining to anyone and announced triple promotion to compensate for all the backlog promotions and recognized his hard work in then Anambra broadcasting corporation announcement. Two years later the man retired at age of 75 in 1984, same year I left High School and moved back to Rivers state.

His goodness have no boundary, as we are growing up as kids, we are more than 10 kids living in the same house and only three of us are his biological children living with him as our older one’s are adults living by themselves in Rivers state and then Bendel state, others are people sent to him by relatives, friends and some kids of the natives who want him to bring them up so that they can get proper education.

My father‘s deep campaign and commitment for quality education, responsibility, accountability, hard work, service to the community and discipline is very obvious in all he did officially and socially. The emphasis on bringing good name than gold home is his watch word and his last word as you carry your bag heading back to school is “remember the golden rule”.

The man did not own big house, big car, tons of cash, but what he has in character and commitment to his duty to teach has no bounds and rubbed off all those he worked with and those he came in contact with. His leadership as an educator produced so many men and women who are in various leadership positions today, if I am not mistaken, including the present Ebonyi State Governor Martin Elechi. He has immense influence in his chosen profession; he shaped it, tolerated it, loved it and delivered on promise to give these kids quality education. He stayed in this profession for more than 45 years shunning other opportunities that could give him more money, more access. He dedicated those 45 years doing what he strongly believed was the core and bedrock of the Nigerian society.

As a human being he is not infallible nor is he perfect, but he carried with him the strong believe that education will be the decider of society whether success or failure. Even today I am still wondering how this six footer “mbamiri” man ended up in the dusty brown villages of the Abakaliki, Ezza and Ikwo well before the civil war and even after the civil war, educating the Nigerian children with the limited resources at his disposal. I still remember vividly some of those villages can only be accessed by bicycle only and most of the bridges crossing their stream are tree trunk and I have in more than one occasion fallen into the stream with my bike.

Remembering this lovely headmaster father today June 4 th the 11 th anniversary of his last breadth on earth is like carrying the flag of his work to rejuvenate the educational system which in our present Nigeria is in comatose and needs urgent attention and needs to bring to the core of our society a leadership that works for the main street Nigerians. His believe in the education of the child call to question the leadership capabilities of our political office holders today to provide the leadership required to uplift our educational standards and quality – it presents a challenge and clarion call for our educational leaders to look inwards especially the quality of primary and secondary education which is the bedrock and fundamentals of any country’s educational system and at the core of the development index of any country in the 21 st century.

Papa, we have kept the fate, still walking in your shoes which are still too big for us, although we have faltered in many ways, fallen off the wagon many times , but your words of wisdom, deeds, sense of responsibility, kindness and exemplary life have kept us going even in the most difficult times of our nations wavy history; when the middle class in which you once proudly belong to has virtually disappeared in our nation, presently we have the deeply rich few who become richer and richer and the very poor who become poorer and poorer because the rich wants to continue to be rich no matter what happens to the majority. We have kept the flag flying and will continue to fly your signature campaign to give every child basic quality education no matter his /her background.

According to Tom Brokaw, “It's easy to make a buck. It's a lot tougher to make a difference”. Papa you made a lot of difference in the lives of many because you taught from your heart and not from just book alone and delivered selfless service to the communities where you lived in those difficult and challenging years of your life. Papa, continue to rest in the bosom of the Lord till we meet again. Amen! Owunari Hopkins-Amachree is an Information Technology professional, sent in this tribute from Phoenix Arizona, USA.

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