At a period when the cost of education has gone out of the reach of many, the Senator representing Abia Central at the National Assembly has for the second year running sustained his scholarship scheme for undergraduates in his constituency. As the programme entered its second phase, Emmanuel Ugwu captured the euphoria that gripped the 60 beneficiaries
Amarachi Duroha, a student of Microbiology, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture Umudike (MOUAU) knows what delayed payment of schools fees could do to a student’s academic pursuit. “I missed two courses last year because I did not pay my school fees,” she said with regret. Duroha said she was not allowed to write her examinations because she could not settle her fees early enough before the semester examination commenced. She told THISDAY that by the time she had struggled to pay the fees two of her courses had been written and so she missed them. The implication for the Microbiology student, who is now in 400-level, is that she has carried over the missed courses. This is an experience that the undergraduate from Ikwuano Local Government would neither want to happen to her again nor wish for any undergraduate.
Ikenna Nwankwere, a 200-level Law student of Abia State University, Uturu (ABSU) equally had a sad experience of delayed payment of school fees. Though in his own situation it did not lead to missing of his courses during semester examinations, Nwankwere said that he was always finding it hard to concentrate on his studies as long as his school fees remained unpaid. Similarly, Esther Okata said that “it’s been very difficult” paying her school fees at Michael Okpara University of Agriculture Umudike where she is studying Human Resources Management. Now in her 200-level, Okata, who is from a family of five said that her father died when she was three years old hence it has been really a struggle for her to pursue her education at university level.
The difficulties encountered by these bright but indigent students ended on January 6, 2017 when they became beneficiaries of the Senator T.A. Orji Annual Scholarship Scheme. The burden of school fees was taken off the shoulders of their parents/guardians. It was indeed a big relief for Duroha, Nwankwere and Okata when they were among the 60 undergraduates whose names that were added to the list of beneficiaries of the Ochendo scholarship scheme during the launch of the second phase of the scheme at his constituency office in Umuahia. “I feel very happy because by God’s grace, through our amiable senator my academic pursuit will now be a reality,” Nwankwere said, adding, “it has been very difficult but with this scholarship I will be able to pay my school fees. The scholarship is worth N100, 000 per annum and cheques were issued to the recipients along with certificates of awards instantly.”
The scheme was launched last year with 60 pioneer beneficiaries drawn from the six local governments that make up Abia Central senatorial zone. The beneficiaries are equally distributed among the six local governments, each given 10 slots. The local governments that make up Abia Central are Isiala Ngwa North, Isiala Ngwa South, Osisioma, Ikwuano, Umuahia North and Umuahia South. The scholarship scheme, according to the initiator, has a target of producing 240 beneficiaries in four years and so far it has reached its half mark of 120 beneficiaries after the first and second phases.
The sponsor of the scholarship scheme, Senator Orji said that the idea came to him during a deep contemplation after his inauguration as a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in June 2015. Orji, said that in that moment of sober reflection it occurred to him that instituting a scholarship scheme would make the most positive impact on the lives of his constituents.
According to him, apart from paving the way for somebody “to become something in life”, education also makes people to become good citizens. “If I could offer scholarship to people it would impact on them positively,” he said, adding, “We are not doing this to grandstand, we are not doing this to be praised. We are doing it to empower our people through education.” Orji, who was the governor of Abia for two consecutive terms of four years each, noted that the state has unquenchable hunger for education and has consistently been placing second in the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examinations (SSCE) conducted by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC). He said that the scholarship scheme would last as long as he stays in the Senate hence the beneficiaries should make the best use of the opportunity and excel in their academic endeavours. Before he flagged off the scholarship scheme last year, Orji had gone round his constituency and intimated the stakeholders of his plans to assist in meeting the education needs of his constituents as well as embark on other programmes he has outlined to bring democracy dividends to them. From the sidelines, the jubilant crowd shouted “Ochendo Global”.
Governor Okezie Ikpeazu was moved by the motive behind the Ochendo scholarship scheme so much so that he immediately announced the revival of the state scholarship board, which has been moribund. “Today will herald the Abia State Scholarship Board, he said. Ikpeazu, who was the special guest at the event, was highly impressed with the committee charged with organising the Ochendo scholarship scheme and diligently has been carrying out the assignment of selecting the recipients. He therefore announced that the Abia Scholarship Board should take its template from the Ochendo scholarship committee in order to ensure that the process of selecting recipients of the state scholarships “is free, fair and transparent and also have a place for the weak ones”. The governor said that the state scholarship awards would commence this year with 170 beneficiaries as 10 awardees would be selected from each of the 17 local governments of the state. While lauding the Abia Central senator for initiating a scholarship scheme to empower his constituents, Governor Ikpeazu added that the people of Abia Central and the state in general “are proud of Senator Orji, whose score card is very impressive in less than two years at the National Assembly. The Abia chief executive reminded the beneficiaries of Ochendo scholarship that since the burden of paying school fees and other expenses has been lifted off their shoulders it should not be a license for them to become careless or frivolous in their academic pursuits. “The beneficiaries should strictly apply the scholarship award to their educational needs and not bother their parents anymore,” he stated.
The committee chairman of the Senator T.A. Orji Scholarship Scheme, Engr. Emma Nwabuko, said that it was a great day for the 60 beneficiaries and their families who gathered for the awards ceremony of the second phase of the scheme. He described the initiator as education friendly who knows that education is very important in the life of every person. Nwabuko, who was the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs in the last administration of the state, explained that the opportunities were distributed equally to all the six component local governments of Abia Central senatorial zone, adding that applications were done online. He said that the committee strictly adhered to its mandate of selecting bright undergraduates who have difficulties in funding their tertiary education. Nwabuko urged Senator Orji to continue sustaining the scholarship scheme. The chairman of the occasion, Chief Chijioke Onwutebe shared the sentiments expressed by Nwabuko, saying that scholarship is necessary in view of the fact that there are many students out there who may drop out of school due to high cost of education. Onwutebe, who is also the board chairman of Abia State Community and Social Development Project (Abia-CSDP), said that he became what he is today because he was a beneficiary of scholarship award. He disclosed that he was an indigent student in his undergraduate years at the University of Ibadan, adding that “if not for scholarship I won’t be where I am today.” He advised the recipients of the Ochendo scholarship to make the best use of it in order to attain their goals in life.
A visually impaired student of Social Science (Education) of the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), Frank Mpama, who spoke on behalf of the second batch of beneficiaries of the Ochendo scholarship scheme, was so passionate about the scheme. “Please senator, do not stop this good work you are doing,” he pleaded with Senator Orji. He said that the scholarship scheme is a proof that the Abia Central senator has the interest of the masses at heart,” adding that “there are other things he (Ochendo) has been doing, assisting indigent ones.” Mpama asked for two slots per local government to be given to the physically challenged, saying that this category of people needed more opportunities to realise their life ambitions. This request was promptly granted by Governor Ikpeazu as he elected to sponsor 34 physically challenged persons to benefit from the Ochendo scholarship scheme. He asked the committee to select and add to the list of beneficiaries, two bright physically challenged persons from each of the six local governments in Abia Central zone, the target area.
To keep enjoying the scholarship award, the beneficiaries are required to maintain good academic records at the end of every academic session. This is a challenge the young men women have all accepted and vowed to overcome. “I’m prepared for the challenge,” Duroha asserted while Nwankwere echoed, “I’m very much prepared” to retain the Ochendo scholarship award. Mpama said that he would put extra efforts in his academics as physically challenged persons face more difficulties when competing with able persons for scholarship awards and jobs. Esther Okata too would not allow the scholarship award to slip out of her hand after a year. “I’m really going to prepare myself for the task ahead,” she said, adding that she would strive hard to keep improving on her grade point average (GPA). By keeping the beneficiaries on their toes, the Ochendo scholarship scheme is a tonic for the undergraduates to excel in their academic pursuits.