“I started school to stop those swindling my people”, says 90 year old Pa Tete Allen. You never stop learning until you die; and Pa Tete Allen is a true example of this saying. He has decided to go to school at the age of 90; a privilege that was denied him in his youth by his father. This is a true life interview of a wise man who believes that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
Excerpts of the interview by Vanguard, conducted in his sitting room at Ologoama with over 50 villagers, overflowing his living room to the balcony, front and back of his compound as spectators.
What was your childhood like in Ologoama and why did you not go to school at your younger age?
(Laughs) At my younger age, it was not possible for me to go to school because my parents were poor and could not send me to school. I went to cut palm fruits and also engaged in fishing to support my parents. Then, sending me to school was not on their agenda.
Was there a primary school in Ologoama at that time?
Yes, there was a primary school, but I had to help my father and, moreover, it took a very long time for me to grow in life. I was working for my parents and the consideration was not going to school, if you understand what I mean: my childhood growth was a difficult process; it took a long time for me to mature as a man.
But did you tell your father you would have liked to go to school at that time?
Yes, I told him but he simply told me he had no money to send me to school.
It appears that you did not pester him like other children whose parents sent them to school.
You know your father and the kind of person he is before you talk to him the way you like as a child. My father was not somebody you could talk to anyhow and when I told him, he said I should shut up, as education was not his priority. And when you see the way your father spoke to you about something as a younger child, you will know how you raise the matter concerning such a thing next time.
So, he did not even make a promise that he would send you to school?
Oh yes, I almost forgot, at a time, he said I should continue to work, that he would send me to school later. So, I continued to do fishing and cutting palm fruits, but I was not sent to school until he died.
How did you cope after his death?
I continued to struggle, I was born in the struggle and I had to struggle to survive and live. I married, had children and grand children as you can see.
How many wives do you have?
Did your wives go to school?
Why did you marry wives that did not go to school?
I love them
Now that you have started school, will they also go to school?
If they like, I will not force them
How educated are your children, where are they?
One of them is studying medicine in the university, some are in primary school
Who is training the one in the university?
I am the one training him
How? You are an old man. I don’t think you can still go for fishing again.
I am a fisherman and hunter, though; I don’t hunt again because of my age.
So what propelled you to start school at 90 years. It is not an age when going to school should be a priority.
As one of the elders of the community, if people bring document for me to sign, I will be shown where they put my name for me to thumbprint and they will tell me how much money they brought to our community, you know we are an oil community.
Sometimes too, people will come and meet me and say that the community has collected XYZ amount of money and, when I say I am not aware, they would tell me that I am not saying the truth because my thumbprint is on the paper, showing that we have collected the money.
Also, people will come and tell me that the community was paid N50, 000 and may be the amount is more than that and, because I did not go to school, I didn’t know what is written on the paper.
In fact, the oil company brings money to the community and what some of the youths tell me is different from what was actually paid to us; so I decided to go to school to be able to write my name and sign my signature and also to know what was actually paid to the community, not small boys coming to blindfold me at my age because I did not go to school.
Who did you tell when you decided you wanted to start school at 90 years?
I have two wives, I told the older wife and she said I could go if I wished to and that she would convey my plan to the younger wife. She actually did and my second wife became very happy.
Who else did you tell and what was the response?
I told my closest friend, Mr. Cameroon Isaih, and he said I was free to go if I wanted to. He told me what I was telling him was like a dream to him, that somebody of my age wanted to start primary one.
What was the reaction of your son in the university when he learnt that you have started school?
By son in the university has not come home since I started school in September
What was your first day in school like?
I wore my school uniform to the school and all the students gathered to have a glimpse of me, something they’d never seen before, but later they started playing with me.
What did the headmaster tell you the day you told him you wanted to enrol in primary one?
He was happy to receive me.
Can you spell your name?
No, I started only in September
So you never felt ashamed wearing school uniform at this age and going to the classroom to sit down with pupils that are like your grandchildren?
I never felt ashamed. Why should I when I know I decided to go to school?. I know that I am their grandfather but I want to read and have knowledge; there is no shame in acquiring knowledge at my age; people learn and acquire more knowledge until they die. The truth is that I know what I want to gain by going to school, so whatever is done outside that is like a distraction to me and I am not bothered by it.
So what is it like starting school at 90?
There is nothing special or spectacular, I am happy.
Who is your best friend in the class?
I have not got close friends yet but my classmates are free with me
Tell me how you see you class teacher?
He is doing fine; I have no problem with him
I was told you can read the alphabets, but not all. Can you read for me?
Yes, a, b, c, d, e, f (thunderous clap by the crowd)
What of numbers, 1, 2, 3?
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 10 (another deafening ovation)
Do your classmates tease you in class because you are too old?
They don’t tease me; they are even the ones teaching me things I don’t understand..
Are you the class monitor?
I am not the class monitor
I hear that you bring biscuits and other gifts to your classmates?
No, I don’t take biscuits to the school.
Have you been punished by your teacher for failing to do your homework or doing any wrong thing in class since you started?
What is the colour of your school uniform?
White and blue
Who bought them for you?
I bought the clothes and gave them to a tailor to sew for me
Who washes them for you?
What is the colour of shoes or sandals you wear to school?
You are wearing a wrist watch. Do you know how to calculate time?
What is the time now?
(He bends down to look at the watch on his left hand, adjusts his sitting position to see clearly )
The time is 10 minutes to 11
(The time actually is 11 minutes after 11.00 am. When Vanguard took a look at his watch, it was discovered he read the time well, but his timepiece was wrongly set. One of the youths was asked to help him set the watch correctly).
How are you coping with school work?
God created me very well, I am coping. I will be going to school until God calls me.
What time do you wake up in the morning to prepare for school?
I wake up at times by 5.00 a.m. And, most times, I am the first to get to school.
How many days in a week do you go to school?
I go to school everyday.
Does your teacher give you homework?
Sometimes, he gives me 1, 2, 3 to write at home.
Who pays your school fees?
The chairman of Nembe local government area, Mr. Sylva.
Since you don’t go to farm anymore, who feeds your household?
My wives are the ones that go to farm or do the fishing to fend for the family. I don’t go to farm again, but, sometimes, I follow them just as a way of doing exercise.
So, what has happened to your life since you started school, three months ago?
I am becoming more enlightened.
Are you the leader of Ologoama community?
I am the oldest man.
What has life taught you at 90?
Life has taught me good and bad things.
Can you be specific because the younger ones will like to learn from your words of wisdom?
What I will tell the younger generation is that passion is the key to anything one wants to do in life. Once you put your heart to do it and you are focused, you will do it.
Will you continue up to secondary school?
I will continue but you cannot cheat nature, you know I am old. For the first time in my life, I decided to start going to church because God has blessed me by the fact that I started school at 90 when some people at that age are almost like walking corpses. I have already gone to do thanksgiving to God because of his wonderful love for me and, now, I attend Anglican Church in my community.
How many years do you want God to add to your life to enable you complete your education?
I don’t want to live up to years when I will become a burden to my children. It is not good to live up to the age I will be helpless and a nuisance. So my prayer is that God should allow me to live only the years He knows I will not be a burden to anybody.
Vanguard has voted you as Man of the Year; do you know what that means?
Do you know that you are now a celebrity?
I know that people have been coming here because of me. Is that what you mean?
At 90, I am sure you have grown feeble; I want to know if you have retired from making babies or you are still active.
(Crowd waits with bated breath for his response).
I am still agile. I take coffee, I am not retired yet (very long uproarious laughter).