Why I hawk after serving for 35 years – 80-year-old retired English teacher

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Al-Amin Shettima-Bello, an 80-year-old retired English teacher who was seen hawking in Borno State, tells Bitrus Dogara why he chose that path after working for 35 years and retiring as a translator

What is your name?

My name is Al-Amin Shettima-Bello. My father was Shettima Bello, an Islamic scholar from Bama. My grandfather was Mohammed Abdegen. I am from Bama in Bama Local Government Area of Borno State.

How old are you?

I am 80 years old. I was born in 1941 in Maiduguri, Borno State.

Are you married?

Yes, I am married with 14 children. Seven of those children are dead while seven others are alive and are in various schools except for the younger child who is just two years old.

Where do you live?

I live in 777 Housing Estate along Maiduguri-Damaturu road in the outskirts of Maiduguri.

What is your academic qualification?

I have a Grade II certificate which I obtained from the teachers training school in Maiduguri, which is now known as Sir Kashim College of Education. I also underwent courses that qualified me as an information officer in the then native authority and subsequently as a transcriber and translator with the National Orientation Agency.

Which schools did you attend?

I attended Yerwa primary school in Maiduguri, before proceeding to another community primary school in Bama where I completed my first school leaving certificate in 1967. I attended a Qur’anic school where I was taught by Baba Shettima Mustapha Kuttayi, the father of former Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima. I attended the teachers training school in Maiduguri. It was later converted to a college of education where I obtained my Grade II certificate in 1972.

Is it true you worked  as a teacher under the Borno State civil service?

Yes, I worked as a teacher, first with Dikwa native authority headquartered in Bama for 11 years before being promoted to serve as an information officer of the native authority after which I was seconded to MAMSER, which later became the NOA, as a translator and transcriber.

When did you start working as a teacher for the government?

I joined the Dikwa native authority shortly after obtaining my Grade II certificate in 1972.

How did you get the job?

Back then, after my elementary education, my grandmother taught me trade business. I was a carpenter who specialised in making chairs for royalties like district heads, emirs and kings. So, I was in my workshop in Maiduguri when my dad, who was an Islamic scholar, drove on a motorcycle with a senior police officer who was then a teacher with Dikwa Native authority and intimated me with the possibility of studying further under a bond sponsorship with the Dikwa Native Authority and I immediately agreed. So, the scholarship bond compelled one to return to the native authority and serve for at least five years before venturing into other things. That was how I got employed as a teacher.

What did you teach?

I taught English. I specialised in oral English and phonetics. In fact, I have been engaged by Governor Babagana Zulum’s administration with specific instructions to teach the pupils pronunciations in English Language and that is what I have been doing in the last two years at the Central Primary School here in Maiduguri. I don’t get paid. I teach for free but I enjoy it.

When did you retire from the civil service?

I retired from active civil service in December 2007 but I still teach in a government school as a volunteer.

Why did you retire?

I retired after serving for 35 years. I retired as a translator and transcriber with the NOA.

What was your monthly salary before you retired?

My monthly take-home pay was nothing to write home about. I think it was barely N6,000.

Is it true you now hawk on the streets of Borno?

Yes. I hawk at the popular Monday market in Maiduguri. I hawk ointments for skin diseases, like rashes; joint pain, cold; and other antibacterial ointments for external use. But I don’t go round the streets of the market hawking; I station myself on a particular spot and display my goods for customers to buy.

Why did you choose to hawk instead of starting a bigger business with your savings or pension?

First, my pension is nothing to write home about as it can not even provide for my personal upkeep not to talk of my family. I have seven surviving children. My children are all in school and I pay their school fees. I feed them. I clothe them and their mother. I provide all the basic necessities of life for my family the best way I can and as such, I cannot afford to  rely only on pension or one source of income neither can I stop low to begin to beg for alms. I hawk because I need to provide for my family without waiting or depending on anybody.

Do you have any issues with your retirement benefits?

My retirement benefit has been paid but it amounted to nothing since I couldn’t use it to improve my status. The pension is the only thing I benefit from the government after serving for 35 years and it is barely enough to even feed a child of two years. Even the teaching I am engaged in, I have not received a single kobo as payment or allowance, so I don’t have any other connection with the government financially.

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