By M. Babajide-Alabi
When Vincent Uzomah left his home in Leeds, United Kingdom on June 11, 2015, he had no idea he was going to encounter death face to face. A sharp dresser he is, I can imagine him adjust his tie in front of the standing mirror, say goodbye to his wife, Uduak, and off to Bradford, a neighbouring city, for his day job.
Vincent, a Nigeria-born supply teacher was posted to Dixon Kings Academy, Bradford to fill in for a short period of time. I am not sure he had a premonition of what was about to happen to him on the said day.
On the other side of Bradford, a 14-year-old boy routinely rose up from a bed, jumped into his uniform and shoes. He packed his bag the night before, but instead of putting his pencil case, he took along a knife, with the intent of murdering a teacher. He had bragged about this to his friends many times in the past. And it seemed he had a target now – the black supply teacher.
Fuelled with racial hatred and a brain that has lost touch with reality as a result of drug use, the boy had no feeling as he dug the knife into the stomach of Vincent, the teacher. Immediately after running away from the scene, he went on the social media – Facebook – to post an update about his “attempted murder” of Vincent. He got a few likes from his equally deranged friends.
Vincent, a few hours into his day was struggling to stay alive, as paramedics were called in. He had been stabbed for asking the student to hand over his mobile phone as it was against school policy to use it during school hours. The attack would keep Vincent on the hospital bed for days on treatment.
Fast forward to August 11, 2015, when he walked out of the Bradford court, with his wife in tow. He looked around at the reporters and photojournalists who had gathered outside the court hall to record his reaction to the verdict on his assailant. While the photo-journalists were all jostling for spaces so as to have very good pictures of him, it was apparent his thoughts were far away from the media activities around him. If one could guess the thoughts of Vincent, it would be of gratitude to his maker for keeping him alive to witness the day.
The joy of Vincent, his wife, well-wishers and the prosecution team on the extended sentence pronounced on the assailant could not be hidden. While nobody was overtly laughing or smiling out of place, it was however clear by their body languages that the 11-year extended sentence, consisting of six years in custody and a further five years on licence handed on the student was well worth it. Although the boy could be released on parole after only three years, this, definitely, was no worry on his mind.
To Vincent, a born-again Christian, his thoughts were for his assailant. He had not come to court seeking revenge, rather he had come expecting justice to be done. He had not come with the mind of long custodial sentence for this young boy who had just started life, but for a correctional measure that will put the boy “right” for the future.
He came out of the court with one thing on his mind. And that is to offer public forgiveness to the student that almost snuffed life out of him. While he cannot completely forget the events that left him hospitalised for days, he knew for the sake of his salvation, he could not hold this against the boy.
The 50-year old came out and to the surprise of all said: “As a Christian, I have forgiven this boy who has inflicted this trauma and pain on me and my family. Our prayer for him is that he will make use of the opportunities and support that will be provided to him to become a changed person who will make a positive contribution to the society.”
Vincent is a man I know very well. When I moved with my family to the city of Leeds from London a couple of years ago, he was one of the few Nigerians we first related to. A patriot, gentleman to the core, and a practical Christian, loving husband and father. He is a very courteous and well-liked individual, who does nothing but always strive to put smiles on peoples faces.
A few years ago, Vincent invited me and my family to a breakfast fellowship meeting in his home. A pastor friend of his, Dr Ferdinand Nweke had come to town and by his nature, he felt we should “benefit” from the words of this impressive preacher. While the meeting achieved the spiritual goal, it also offered a social bonding opportunity for the families present at the occasion. The following year, he invited us again to another programme hosted by Dr Nweke in Headingley.
You can, therefore, imagine my surprise at the news that someone could think of harming this quiet and unassuming gentleman. When the news first broke on the morning of June 11, I attached no importance to it. Sometimes in this part of the world, you hear some Breaking News, shrug your shoulders and mutter words of thanksgiving to the Almighty that danger is nowhere near your abode.
On the first Breaking News, there was no mention of the identity of the teacher. I shook my head in pity for the “teacher” who obviously was a victim of a product of a broken home or a product of a drug or alcohol inspired pregnancy. I put my mind into archive mode as I recollected how a few months ago, a teacher, Ann Maguire, was stabbed to death in Leeds by one of her students. The murder had happened in the glare of other students in the Leeds Catholic school while Ann was performing her normal duties.
The stabbing of Vincent has once again brought to the fore the dangers teachers face in the discharge of their duties. While it is easy to conclude that working with children is a safe job, the realities on the ground, especially in the advanced countries have proved otherwise. Every day, all over the world we read the news of unprovoked attacks on teachers by the kids they are meant to be imparting knowledge into.
While in the United Kingdom, it is the knife culture, in the United States of America, students go to schools prepared with guns as if going to fight in Iraq. In many of the random gun attacks in schools in the US, many teachers and students alike have lost their lives needlessly.
There is the need for extra protection in a society that is becoming increasingly dangerous. This is necessary when drugs are readily available on the streets, while wayward school kids get high on cheap drugs. The lives of the teachers are in the hands of “stoned” students.
Here is hoping that more efforts would be made by various agencies to protect the teachers in the classrooms. Obviously, the education of children would be affected when teachers start looking over their shoulders while performing their duties.
PUBLISHED IN THE SUNDAY VANGUARD AUGUST 23 2015 CLICK HERE