Ndali sat next to the glass window, watching the dark blue sky that would soon become a shadow of itself by the break of dawn. She observed, she was like the cloud that laid still like black pillows all around waiting to be transformed by the sun’s glory. It has become part of her morning rituals to just sit and stare all night, awaiting an answer from the sun. Her cousin, Ekene, who recently completed his housemanship had said she might be suffering from insomnia but she had ignored him because she felt he was too inexperienced to diagnose the cause of her condition. She was more than certain her problem was not just the inability to sleep but a deep long search for peace.
Though her gaze was steady on nature’s splendour in the bland darkness, her mind seem to travel in the space of time, flashing scenes of the new path she had chosen. She pressed her temples with her hands, trying to search her soul to trace back to how she suddenly turned into a zombie, a human robot. She could barely recognise the person she has become.
Ndali looked across the centre table where she had dumped all the textbooks, sheets of paper, and calculators. She had stayed up all night solving all the questions in the Mathematics question paper which was leaked out by an official in the West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) board, as usual. This was the fifth year the principal of the secondary school she works in had lured her into accepting the bribe allocated to teachers who ‘cooperated’ to provide answers for the students.
Since she was a science teacher, it was only normal for her employer, Mr Nsikan, to seek her assistance. He always made his definition of cooperation sound genuine and so harmless as though it was a humanitarian duty that should be awarded. He often said it was the noble thing to do in their state as teachers who wanted to see their students succeed.
“Miss Ndali, these children are like our own children. If they fail, all of us here will be seen as failures too. We will be considered as people that are not capable. So we have to make sure they pass all their exams,” Mr Nsikan had said the first time he invited Ndali to his office.
“I understand the pressure sir and I am willing to dedicate my time to prepare them for their exams. See I have come up with a solid plan that I know will work. I will make sure I revise lots of questions from the compiled past questions booklet, give them regular assessment tests and also prepare a mock exam before the main exams begin,” Ndali had replied enthusiastically.
“My dear, calm down. We have tried all those ones you are suggesting before and those set of students failed woefully. I was so ashamed to tell people I work here. In fact the state government almost closed down the school if not for God,” Mr Nsikan said and sneered.
“Wow! That’s serious,” she said.
“Very serious o! That’s was when we began to ask other schools whose students did better and we found out their secret,” Mr Nsikan said.
Ndali, in her confusion muttered, “what’s their secret?”
“Cooperation! They cooperate to help their students,” he replied and smiled.
“They cooperate, how?” Ndali asked, a bit perplexed.
“Miss Ndali, are you not in this Nigeria? They give their students answers to the exam questions! Especially those hard subjects like Maths, Physics, Chemistry. In fact, all the subjects because most of these students can’t handle those subjects by themselves. So they need to help. They need answers. Correct answers!”
“Eh? Sir, isn’t that examination malpractice? We could be jailed if caught!” Ndali exclaimed.
That day the Principal had succeeded in convincing her that it was not as bad as she made it sound. That it was their duty to ensure that the students passed the exams and the state government was in support of their approach towards the success of their students.
“In this our state, it is a taboo for students, especially government school students, to fail o! This is why we have to make collective efforts to ensure they pass well ,” he said and continued licking his mango in order to give more time for his message to sink into Ndali.
At first Ndali struggled to make a decision but after the first year when she ‘cooperated’, and fifty thousand naira was added to her salary, her conscience became numb to what she used to see as immoral. She gradually grew bolder and began to sneak in answers into the examination hall for students. It became a sort of business where those who had money to pay received more answers. Then she progressed to making arrangements with parents who needed someone to impersonate for their children in the JAMB examinations.
It all seemed like she had been flying on eagle’s wings until this morning when it suddenly became clear to her that she had been sinking all along, lost in an unfamiliar ocean. She could no longer boast of anything she ever stood for. Integrity and academic excellence she once believed in had become a thing of the past. Every time she stood in front of the students during the school assembly, preaching about doing the right thing, she always felt like a hypocrite. The constant feeling of shame was one no amount of money she had made over the years could shield her from.
Now as she watched traces of the orange sun arise, she knew today signified the break of a new dawn for her. For her, it came with the cure for the unrest and filled her with a certain kind of tranquillity. She felt it was life’s way of giving her a second chance to rebuild and restore what she had lost, her dignity.
* * * * * * * *
Ndali kept a stern face as she gave her resignation letter to Mr Nsikan, who was eagerly waiting for her in the examination hall. She watched in pity as the students rallied around for the mathematics examination which was scheduled to start in thirty minutes time.
Having read the letter, Mr Nsikan took off his glasses as though they were preventing him from understanding its content, “Miss Ndali, what is this supposed to mean? Is this the answer to the maths they are writing today?”
“I quit, sir!” Ndali replied.
“Ah ah! Ndali not today of all days when they have almighty maths na. Tell me you are joking, mbok!” Mr Nsikan said as he gave the letter a second look. “Why? What happened?”
Ndali began to speak at the top of her voice, making it audible for everyone in the hall to hear. “You know I’ve been asking myself the same questions lately. Like why did I take this job in a community secondary school in the first place? Why not an architectural job that would pay me better? So I looked back at my initial goal and my answer to myself was, I wanted to improve the educational system and most importantly impact young lives. But here I am, for the past five years, doing the direct opposite of what I had set out to do. All thanks to your so called cooperation!”
In an attempt to shut her up, Mr Nsikan tried to take her outside but she remained firm on the spot and continued to talk, “how can we boast of being teachers when our students can not defend what they have been taught? How can we say we are rendering help to these students by reducing their ability and self confidence? How can we rebrand examination malpractice with the word helping? Whatever happened to hard wok and diligence?”
She peered around impatiently like one who had lost her mind, “sir, on a normal day Eno can solve any mathematical question you give to her but all of a sudden she has become complacent about her studies because she believes answers will be provided for her. Look at Obinna, who is very sound in English Language has become so lazy about reading because he knows he will pass whether he reads or not. And that is the case for most of these students. They are not incapable of helping themselves but we have made them so. Rather than build them up, we have succeeded in breaking them with a sense of dependence. I’m sorry sir but this is not what I stand for and I quit!”
Years later, Ndali would start up a research centre to help students prepare for different types of external exams. She would go on to build her own school where hard work and excellence will be the watchword. She would eventually become one of those working alongside the minister of education and would transform the educational system in Nigeria.
Today, Ndali walked out of the school’s examination hall, leaving everyone in pandemonium. Even though a sudden string of uncertainty tried to take hold of her, she chose to cling to her conscience and believed she had done the right thing. There was a relieving sensation that swept through her being. It was as though a heavy luggage had been lifted off her shoulders, like she was made whole again. She exhaled and basked in the sun’s warmth on her face. This was true liberation for her.
Written by: Jennifer Chioma Amadi
“IT CAN ONLY GET BETTER”…