Ahead of the 18th edition of the THISDAY Awards, where teachers at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels will be honoured, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar; former Chairman, Senate Committee on Education, Senator Joy Emodi; Registrar of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Prof. Dibu Ojerinde, and other stakeholders in the education sector have commended THISDAY Newspapers for its decision to recognise teachers for their contributions to nation building.
THISDAY Board of Editors has dedicated this year's awards to teachers because of the central role they play in imparting knowledge through education.
The ceremony, which will hold tomorrow in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, will be attended, among others, by former United States President Bill Clinton, who will be making his fourth appearance as the special guest.
Atiku, who described teachers as the noblest and the most important segment of any society, said: "Teachers are indispensable to nation-building. Even in the pre-modern era, they were the most respected of all citizens.
"Emperors and kings relied on them for wisdom in the resolution of the most complex of issues."
In dealing with the young population, he said teachers were like mind benders because they ensure that children grow into ideal citizens.
"Teachers are the makers of men and I am proud to be among the majority of our citizens who are good products of that process.
"Since teachers are widely considered agents of change, they need to be urgently drafted and fully factored in the task of changing our country from an underdeveloped state to a fully industrial and developed state," he added.
He appealed to governments and other private operators in the education industry to improve the welfare of teachers to energise and motivate them to make the society a better one, saying: "Without good teachers, there cannot be good education. Without good education, there can be no good society."
Emodi, now Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, who said the awards ceremony dedicated to teachers by THISDAY was "highly welcome and commendable," expressed concern that for a long time, the contribution of teachers to nation-building has been largely ignored and unrewarded.
"No teacher; no nation. The usual refrain that teachers' rewards are in heaven has been mischievously misinterpreted to mean that they don't deserve to be well rewarded and taken care of here on earth.
"But it simply means that you can never pay or compensate teachers enough for all their sacrifices and input to the nation-building process. We must do our part and leave the aspect of divine blessing to our teachers to God.
"I championed teachers' welfare with passion during my days as chairman of the Senate Committee on Education. I urged government to declare a state of emergency in the education sector.
"I challenged government to put its hand, not just where its mouth was, but also where its future lay. I am therefore happy that THISDAY is blazing the trail again in this area.
"At least, let us show our teachers that we care. Let us assure them that their efforts are not going unnoticed," she said.
Emodi expressed joy that the honour being done to teachers is a private sector initiative, saying: "The welfare and appreciation of our teachers should not be left to the government alone. THISDAY deserves kudos for walking the talk.
"It shows that it is not just enough to criticise the dwindling fortunes of education over the decades, but that indeed we can make a difference in our individual and private-sector capacities."
On his part, Ojerinde said: "Thank God the reward/award to teachers is no longer in heaven, but also on earth."
While stressing the importance of teachers, he cited an inscription he once saw, which read: 'If you can read this, thank a teacher'.
"If all Nigerians can embark on such an initiative of honouring teachers, the education sector will be better for it. I am happy that teachers are now being recognised, we need to reward them."
The President of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Mr. Alogba Olukoya, also welcomed the initiative.
He said: "The entire teachers in this country wish to express their appreciation to the management of this great medium. It is the right step in the right direction and it shows that the newspaper is appreciative of the efforts of teachers in this country.
"Yes, we may ask questions and say why only THISDAY out of all the media outfits in this nation? But we at the NUT believe that the journey of a thousand miles starts with just one step."
Also commending THISDAY, the Registrar, Nigeria-Turkish Nile University, Abuja, Mr. Kamil Kemanchi, said: "This is a giant step for humankind. I cannot think of a better idea to appreciate the fact that our future depends on education for which we need teachers more than anything. Thank you THISDAY."