Eighty-year-old Professor of Economics and former Commissioner for Planning and Budget in Bayelsa State, Prof. Gesiye Angaye, talks about his career with SIMON UTEBOR
Tell us about yourself.
I am Gesiye Angaye. I was born at Okoloba, Sabagreia in Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area of Bayelsa State on February 18, 1936. My parents were late Chief Tombeberegha Angaye and the late Mrs. Indoni Angaye.
How did you know your date of birth?
My parents documented my birth date. I lost my father at the age of four. I did not know my father too well. It was my stepfather, that later showed me my birth certificate when I was older. My stepfather, who is the first of my father’s siblings, married my mother according to tradition. I was brought up by my stepfather, Mr. Officer Angaye.
How was it like growing up without your father?
There were a lot of challenges. Growing up without a father was not an easy thing. But luckily, my mother was capable and my stepfather also assisted her. My mother was a hardworking woman and she took good care of me when I was young. She trained me up to secondary school level. She and my stepfather were able to do that. Even though I lost my father at the age of four, I enjoyed my childhood.
Which schools did you attend?
After studying up to Standard Four at St. Peters Primary School in Okoloba, Sabagreia, I went to St. Stephen’s School in Odi where I read Standard Five and Six and earned a primary school leaving certificate in 1950. After that, I attended a Teachers’ Training College. I obtained Teacher’s Grade 3 and Grade 2 certificates and started teaching. While I was teaching, I was able to obtain Ordinary and Advanced level certificates. Thereafter, I went to the nation’s premier university, the University of Ibadan, where I bagged a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics.
After that, I travelled to the United States of America for further studies. There, I studied for a master’s degree and PhD at the University of Pittsburg.
Where did you work after your study?
I have been a teacher all my life. It started in 1950 when I completed primary education. I became a primary school teacher in 1951. After university education, I returned to the University of Ibadan to work for three years from 1971 to 1973. And since then, I have been teaching. I first came to Rivers State, where I taught at the then College of Arts and Science for some years. From there, I moved to the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Later, I went to the College of Education and taught there for many years till I retired in 2003. Even after retirement, I was not tired. I am still a lecturer at the Niger Delta University, Amassoma, Bayelsa State.
What do you teach there?
I teach economics. I studied Economics for my first and second degrees. I also earned a PhD in Economics and became a Professor of Economics.
What can you recollect about the country before Independence?y
Before Independence, Nigeria was a peaceful nation. In fact, we, who are old enough to talk about the country’s past and present, will say Nigeria was golden before independence. We grew up with houses that had no iron or front doors. Now, we have become prisoners in our own houses. We are caged in. When we were growing up before 1960, there were no armed robbers and kidnappers. Life was peaceful and simple. But after independence, everybody wanted to make money within a short time and politics came. People began to assassinate political opponents and others. Corruption crept in. I will say before independence, life was peaceful, secure and people lived happily as brothers and sisters.
Do you wish Nigeria did not get her independence in 1960?
The independence was not bad. It is not the independence that caused all these problems. It is the way we took politics and money. Why should we be under the British for life? Independence brought good things; we became independent and ruled ourselves, but the rulers who took over from the British did not do well and that is why we are having many problems.
When would you say Nigeria’s problems started?
The problem of Nigeria started after the first military coup of 1966. Whenh the military took over, things started to fall apart. They also wanted to taste money. Instead of defending the nation, they desired to be millionaires and billionaires.
What can Nigeria do to get out of its current economic quagmire?
First, we have to elect people who are truly ready to rule the country selflessly because without good rulers, nothing will work. Then, the structure of the country should be looked into. If the structure is bad, even the rulers will have problems. We have to change the structure of Nigeria by restructuring it.
States should be responsible for the generation of revenues in their own states and pay taxes to the Federal Government to sustain federal establishments. It is because of this unitary situation that governors and commissioners do not want to work. But if we restructure the country and allow the states to control their own resources, every state will be struggling to produce, earn revenue and develop. When the states are developing, the country will develop too.
How many children do you have?
I have seven children; four boys and three girls. They are all doing well. They are all graduates. As an academic, I trained all my children to graduate and postgraduate levels. Among them, there are two medical doctors and one academic doctor.
When did you marry?
I got married at the age of 18 to Mrs. Alice Angaye (nee Ogiri) of Igbedi town on April 28, 1954. I met her when I was a primary school teacher at Igbedi in 1953.
Why did you marry so early?
There was always pressure from parents to get married as early as possible and produce as many children as God gives. We did only a traditional wedding. My wife was a loving, devoted, faithful and hard-working woman and we lived happily together for the first few years of our marriage.
But after some years, due to some issues, the marriage did not work and we separated. I got remarried to Mrs. Betty Angaye (nee Youdubagha) in 1973. She is a faithful, loving, kind, hard-working and a devoted Christian. Her constant and continuous prayers converted me to a committed, convinced, liberal and tolerant Christian.
What led to the end of your first marriage?
I think it was because I married too early. I married immediately after I completed Standard Six. I later got a scholarship to study in the US and my wife joined me. She stayed with me for some months in the US. When she came back to Nigeria, the marriage ended.
Why did it end like that?
By then, I was studying in the US and I was also catering for my wife with my meagre earnings. I just told her that we could separate and we did.
What kind of food and drinks do you like?
I do not take any alcoholic drinks. I only take soft drinks. Nowadays, I take water often.
What is the secret of your good health at 80?
The secret of my good health is God. With God, everything is possible. My mother died at 93 and I really loved her. She used to tell me that, ‘As you love me, you will live long and your children will love you too.’ And really, my children love me because I loved my mother.
What are you most fulfilled about in life?
I am fulfilled because I have risen to the top of my profession. In teaching career, professorship is the highest achievement one can attain. I am happy, not because I am above 80 years, I am happy because I am healthy. At 80, if I lie on my sick bed, you will not be interviewing me. It is all through the grace of God, not by my power. We have all done the forbidden things we should not have done, but through the grace of God, I am alive and happy. I am also fulfilled because I have good children and enough material means to sustain me till the end of my life.
Have you served in any public office?
Yes, I was a Commissioner for Budget and Planning in Bayelsa State. I was Chairman of Rivers State Broadcasting Corporation, Port Harcourt and Chairman of Nigeria Economic Society, Rivers State chapter, among others.
How would you describe the standard of education now?
There are times people use the failure rate in the West African Examinations Council and the National Examinations Council to measure standard. They said the standard of education has fallen. To me, there are different ways of looking at the standard of education. In certain areas they say the standard of education has fallen when they see a primary school leaver or a university graduate who cannot write or speak good English. If one examines what children know now regarding computer, one can say that the standard of education has risen in some aspects while it has fallen in other aspects. People should aim at acquiring knowledge. Parents and children should not rely on cheating to get certificates. Government should also provide the needed facilities for quality education. They should pay teachers promptly. How can one get good education when teachers are not paid? Many people are abandoning teaching because salaries are not paid promptly. Government should provide the needed infrastructure and pay teachers regularly to improve good learning and teaching.
What is your advice to married couples?
There is no perfect marriage. Every marriage requires tolerance, perseverance, endurance, love and the fear of God. If one loves God, fears Him and loves one’s wife, no matter the problems, one will be able to surmount any problem.
Marriage is love. It is give and take and couples must live with the fear of God always.
Do you have any regrets?
I cannot think of anything I could have wished to do differently. I became a teacher not by choice but because it was the profession available to me at the time. And luckily, I became interested in the teaching profession and it is the job I have been doing almost all my life.