Unity School alumni rise against insecurity, others

With a rich alumni made up of professionals from all walks of life, ethnic and religious leanings, old students of the 104 Federal Government Colleges, also known as Unity Schools, believed they have what it takes to address the country’s problems. They gathered at King’s College Lagos last Saturday to discuss the challenges they face in exploiting their potential. KOFOWOROLA BELO-OSAGIE was there.

Concerns about the poor state  of facilities in the 104 Federal Government colleges, also known as Unity Schools, the rising insecurity in the country, inequalities and lack of diversity, and the need to give back to the society dominated discussions at the 35th plenary of the Unity Schools Old Students Association (USOSA) last Saturday at King’s College Annex, Victoria Island, Lagos.

About 300 old students from 57 of the 104 schools being run by the Federal Ministry of Education (FME), registered their presence at the event, which had as theme: “USOSA Resurgence: Harnessing our Diversity for National Security”.

With the privilege of attending the unity schools set up to educate young people from various ethnic and religious backgrounds with the aim of promoting national unity, USOSA President-General, Lawrence Wilbert, said old students of the schools had an important role to play in solving the myriads of problems facing Nigeria.

He said: “This plenary is a perfectly timed convergence of Nigeria’s most ethnically and religiously diverse and enlightened community, and Africa’s largest alumni coalition, to carry out an objective analysis of the ills bedeviling our beloved nation, proffer solution, reignite hope across Nigeria and cause a new wave of inspiration across the land.

“This plenary is one of those special events, in which posterity beckons to a generation whose time is now.  We have gathered from across the length and breadth of our great country, saddled with the burden of a dispirited population, weighed down by the myriad of crisis facing our nation from different fronts, but yet fully aware of the responsibility placed on our shoulders since our early years as the first and last standing apostles of a strong, united and progressive Nigeria.”

In solving the nation’s problems while rejuvenating itself, President of the King’s College Old Boys’ Association (KCOBA) Alhaji Ibrahim Imam Kashim, said the USOSA must be ready to create jobs, participate in politics, and invest in education.

Kashim, who delivered the keynote address at the event, attributed the present state of insecurity in Nigeria to poverty caused by unemployment.  He said the problem of insurgency was rooted in the lack of investment in education, especially in the north.

He said: “I had consistently and accurately been predicting our current security challenges for about 30 years running.  While we drove in convoys to different LGAs in Borno during the 1990-1993 election campaigns, I noticed young boys of school age in their thousands chasing after our vehicles, shouting and screaming the few political slangs they had picked up.  I would look at my wristwatch and would notice that it’s between the hours of 10am and 12 noon: school hours! These are the hours when these children should have been in their classrooms.  It is no surprise then that 30 years later, we have a full-blown security crises in the entire north: Boko Haram, banditry, kidnapping, drug abuse, cattle rustling etc.

“I had the privilege of growing up in Lagos where I attended both primary and secondary schools in the 60s and 70s.  School enrollment was 100 per cent.  This is true for young boys in Ikoyi and Victoria Island as well as Maroko and Ajegunle.  The origin or social class of the child did not matter.  All school aged children attended school.  Furthermore, the mothers of these children where 100 per cent gainfully employed.  They ran canteens, stalls in the markets, shops and as teachers or nurses.  The men went to work every day.

“Sadly in the North, this was not the situation.  Children were not enrolled in school. The women folk who would have been strong drivers in the pursuit of education for their children were generally unemployed.  These women are the most poverty-stricken group in the country today.  Unfortunately, the men are also mostly unemployed.”

He urged USOSA members to use their capacities as professionals to create employment.

One of the panelists at the event, Air Vice-Marshal (AVM) Chris Chukwu (rtd), who spoke on the problem of insecurity, said there could be no development without peace, adding that  the government needed to stop the proliferation of arms. He recommended that the land and sea borders be shut and the government initiate an arms buy-back deal.

Another alumnus, Chukwu, said:”The government should declare a state of emergency on the land and sea borders.” He attended the Federal Government College, Kano.

Chukwu continued: “We are in an emergency; we are in trouble.  We need to have the political will.  The government should do a weapon buy-back policy.  When you close the borders, any illegal entry of arms, you deal with it.  Do you know that AK-47 can be got for as cheap as N40,000 in Borno?  The country can afford to pay as much as N200,000 or N250,000 to those with arms and buy it from there.  We recorded success with arms return of the militants in the Niger Delta.  They were not even paid; they were promised training and employment.”

In addressing the problem of insecurity, another panelist, Mr Idris Abba, said the economy must be improved.

“Insecurity is as a result poor socio-economy.  We have to ensure the socio-economic activities in our country are diverse and reach to all parts of the country.  When I was young, I used to see trucks loaded with goods in Borno moving to the borders.  But today, you hardly see them because of insecurity,” he said.

To be able to influence policy, Kashim underscored the importance of strategically grooming qualified USOSAns for political positions where they can influence policy to achieve the association’s objectives.

He said: “In any community, if people who have been educated, groomed and are best suited for leadership positions and decision-making for the community are unable to find their way into leadership, then the people that are least suited will fill the vacuum and take over leadership roles for the community.  For too long, we have been governed by those who have no business anywhere near governance.  But we, particularly our old students in USOSA, can no longer afford to be spectators in governance.  We must take centre stage.

“USOSA must articulate strategies to ensure that its members that are qualified for leadership roles get a chance to become involved whether as politicians, political appointees or government employees at all levels.”

Kashim also said the association must ensure that its members, who get to these positions, remain committed to promoting its ideals rather than operating like the corrupt leaders Nigerians have complained about in the past.

“Now the challenge is this, as our people grow in politics, governance and commerce, how can we be sure that they will be different from the poor leadership we see today? USOSA and its members must develop an ethos that is true tour ideals; true to the principles of the founders of our Unity Schools.  We must also be able to hold ourselves, our leaders and members accountable and live according to our values,” he said.

Speaking further on USOSAns participating in politics, Dr Amina Salihu, an alumna of the Federal Government Girls’ College, Bida in Niger State, said members of the group must not dissociate from politics but be ready to form a political party if need be.

“We cannot continue to say that politics is dirty and we stand apart.  We must engage; we must participate.  We need to change the narrative of our governance.  We need to have round pegs in round holes. It may mean joining political parties or starting our own,” said Dr Salihu, who is a Senior Programme Officer at Mac Arthur Foundation.

On her part, Mrs Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru, former Chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), underscored the need for Unity Schools’ alumni to stay true to the Unity Schools ideals wherever they found themselves as professionals.

Since attending the schools helped them to embrace ethnic diversity through living and learning with children of different faiths and socio-economic backgrounds from all over the country, she said such lessons should reflect in how they relate to Nigerians wherever they find themselves.

As head of FIRS, the Queen’s College old girl said she always ensured fairness when it came to recruitment.

“I remember the recruitment process of FIRS. What kept me going was what I benefited from attending Queen’s College and making friends with girls from other parts of Nigeria.  I refused to bow to pressure and ensured people from all over the country got equal rights,” she said.

Mrs Omoigui-Okauru also spoke of the need for USOSA to address the problems of non-diversity in-house, saying, “even as USOSA, we have not recognised our diversity enough.”

Kashim lamented that the diversity enjoyed by Unity Schools had gone as a result of corruption in the admissions process and insecurity that deter parents from sending their wards to crisis prone areas.

“The diversity is gone,” said the KCOBA President.  “It is as a result of corruption.  It is rigging.  Our admissions are rigged.  There are more students from Anambra, Oyo, Lagos, claiming to be from educationally-less disadvantaged states.  They just swear affidavits.  These days, admissions are sold.  I went to the Federal Ministry of Education and told them that admissions fraud must stop.  There is no state that does not have brilliant students.  This year, King’s College will not admit beyond 400 students,” he added.

Dr Salihu said admissions fraud could be addressed using technology.

“If we are able to use technology to develop a way where admissions could be tracked, then more people would be accountable.  We need to show that corruption is not inevitable.  We should acknowledge the few who despite corruption are making a difference,” he said.

Regarding diversity, Dr Salihu added that USOSA needed to confront the problem of diversity within the association on three fronts – geographically, gender-wise and generation-wise.  She said the leaders of USOSA needed to recognise those Unity Schools located in little known areas whose alumni can hardly be found and find ways to support the schools.  She also spoke on the need to address maginalisation as a result of gender; and thirdly, margnilisation stemming from generation-gap – in which the older alumni are those that get attention and dominate discussions in the association while the younger ones are left out.

Another panelist and an old boy of the Federal Government College (FGC), Ijanikin, Mr Olasupo Sasore,  a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said USOSAns should begin to celebrate their unity and relationships.

“We seem to think that countries are held together by economic power; countries are held together by the people who believe in themselves and work together.  We should promote what unifies us,” he said.

On the poor state of Unity Schools, the former alumni agreed that there was need for old students to invest in their schools and restore their facilities.

Mrs Aisha Oyebode, Chairman, Queen’s College Board of Trustees, said it was sad many USOSAns could not send their wards to the schools that made them proud today but invest in foreign schools.  She called for a change.

“We all went to public schools; and our education was paid by tax payers.  We need to give back.  We send our children to schools abroad.  Some of these schools have alumni who have made endowments that are as large as the budgets of some African countries.  Everywhere we go abroad there is a Nigerian standing out.  We are contributing to the development of these countries; these schools.  Each and every one of us has a moral responsibility to go back and restore their schools to what it used to be,” she said.

Culled From Thenation Newspaper

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