For the Love of Education


At its 2017 Sixth National Annual Dinner, Government College Ughelli Old Boys’ Association pledged to continue raising the standards of the institution that has bred prominent Nigerians in all walks of life. Nduka Nwosu reports

Although not the keynote address, the host- Lagos State governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s goodwill message did a re-set of the place of governance and the network of old boys associations in building a new Nigerian education sector. That was the 6th Annual Dinner of the Government College Ughelli Old Boys Association (GCUOBA), which held
at Eko Hotels and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos.

In his welcome remarks, President-General of GCUOBA, Professor Oritsegbemi Omatete, put it succinctly of the need for a private, public sector partnership engagement in funding the education sector and helping to elevate the falling standards of education in the polity. Ambode agreed. He did not fail however to stress why, for according to him, it is all about dwindling resources and competing needs, making it increasingly challenging for government to provide all that is required in public schools without support. “It has therefore become expedient,” he stressed, “for Old Students Associations to increase their commitment to their alma mater particularly in the area of infrastructure development and upgrading.”

Ambode informed his guests how his administration was going about this in practical terms, connecting it to the keynote speech of Chris Uwaje. “One other area we need to direct our attention, which the theme of this dinner is focusing on,” he stressed, “is the effective integration of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) in our educational system. This is extremely important if we desire to raise a generation that can hold their space in the rapidly changing and competitive global system driven by knowledge and technology.

In Lagos State, Ambode whose speech was read by his deputy, Dr. (Mrs.) Idiat Oluranti Adebule said, “technology education is an integral part of our Smart City Project. About a year ago, we unveiled the Code Lagos Initiative, which is aimed at teaching Computer Programming to students in Lagos State. Under this initiative we have a target to make coding communication accessible to one million students in the state by 2019.

“This is just one of the initiatives we are introducing in our school system, to position young people to take advantage of local and global opportunities in the 21st century.”

Beyond that, Ambode, an old boy of Government College Warri, the town where GCUOBA was first located, added that he strongly believed that old students as a duty call, should give back to the institution which contributed to the success they have achieved in life. “This is the whole essence of Old Students Associations, apart from providing a platform to reconnect, network and share experiences,” the governor asserted.Beyond that, Ambode, an old boy of Government College Warri, the town where GCUOBA was first located, added that he strongly believed that old students as a duty call, should give back to the institution which contributed to the success they have achieved in life. “This is the whole essence of Old Students Associations, apart from providing a platform to reconnect, network and share experiences,” the governor asserted.

It was interesting to hear John Abebe, President of St. Gregory’s College Old Boys Association, place his association side by side with Government College Ughelli Old Boys Association and its noble ideals of sustaining the quality education for which the college is known, adding that the old boys of St. Greg’s have also transformed the college to a campus that looks like an exotic foreign institution.

Meaning? Well he did not say so, but he was almost saying St. Greg’s was riding the waves and living up to the expectations of the founding fathers. Both institutions have suffered that moment in time when government took over the running of schools and left them in a shambles but with the efforts of old boys of various colleges across the country, a new dawn of quality education was in the making.

On the more serious issue of the evening, Abebe was humble enough to admit that his very good friend Alfred Okoigun who reminded all during the evening of humour he is a staff of Arco Group Plc, which he founded anyway, had attended virtually all events of St. Greg’s he was invited to with generous donations, and he Abebe was here to reciprocate those gestures and help raise funds for the continuous rehabilitation of the college infrastructure.

That was the heart of the matter, which according to Okoigun began many years ago when a group of old boys met to deliberate on what to do to help resuscitate the falling standards of academic excellence in the college with its infrastructure decay, an institution, which has given Nigeria nationally and globally world class citizens in every facet of human endeavour. That meeting chaired by the erudite Deacon Gamaliel Onosode, who was the worldwide President of GCUOBA, saw the evolution of a journey and an inner movement of the old boys striving to return the college to its lost glory. Onosode had admonished the Ancient Mariners or old boys, Omatete reminded all in his President General’s address that, “we cannot do it alone.

“We challenge those of us who are highly placed or well connected to influence policies that can turn around the fortunes of the college in particular and education in the country as a whole.” And so the journey of a thousand mile began with a few steps on the sands of time.

Today with over half a billion naira contribution from the association, the college is on the path of even greater glory. That is if it tows the path recommended by Uwaje, also an old boy, whose keynote address dwelt on the need for GCUOBA students not to be contented with just being the best in the classroom. Quoting Prof. Abletor Sedofia from the University of Ghana, Uwaje added: “Academic excellence is overrated! I said it. Being top of your class does not necessarily guarantee that you will be at the top of life.”

Of course based on their individual, academic and corporate achievements, the Ancient Mariners have excelled in many departments of life. The parade of those present at the event chaired by Ambassador Christopher Kolade, former tutor of the college, who kept the old boys rocking on their chairs with his jokes, was eloquent testimony to the success story of the college. Kolade, the “15 minutes acting principal” of the college, once on the podium, made a huge contrast away from the old and retired corporate chieftain and former High Commissioner to Great Britain.

His rib cracking jokes reminded you of his days at the Lagos Business School, where his expository on Corporate Governance and Human Resource Management as well as Leadership and Conflict Management at the School of Media and Communication at the Pan African University, made practical business policy issues and Journalism an easy ride blended with fun and jokes. And was he elated that the boys he taught for the two years he was there had all but become great ambassadors? The 85-year-old Abeokuta Grammar School and Government College Ibadan Old Boy could not hide his joy with his sweetheart Beatrice beside him.

In the college Hall of Fame are such great names as Gamaliel Onosode who was Cadbury chairman, when Kolade was its chief executive, Amuka Pemu (Sad Sam), the Vanguard Publisher and Octogenarian, Omatete, Princeton scholar of Chemical Engineering and current worldwide President of GCUOBA, who runs the water management and allies services company Hapese, and has himself largely contributed to the advancement of engineering and science in Nigeria and the United States.

The parade of elder statesmen admitted to the Hall of Fame is best appreciated in the last list of Life Time Achievement awards led by Ambassador Daniel Omatsome from the Class of January 1948 down to Mr. Frank Longe of the September 1948 class and Prof Olu Akinyanju, with eight post humous awards including Alfred Opubor (1950 Class) and Senator Fred Brume of the Class of 1955.

Interestingly, Master of Ceremony and Ancient Mariner Henry Nzekwu, the medical doctor turned public relations consultant, reminded former Arik boss Sir Joseph Arumemi-Johnson Ikhide he was in the junior cadre and did not need special recognition, his eminent accomplishments in the world of business notwithstanding. Yet Arumemi-Johnson Ikhide got a rousing applause plus a handsome donation to the Mariner Magazine launch. Nzekwu remarked the college orchestra has made great strides over the years courtesy of an old boy who passed on May last year. The college band itself offered moving renditions of familiar tunes in its own style. Applause.

Omatete reminded the old boys the dinner was one way of raising funds to help revamp the infrastructure and other needs of the college where they were all honed as young men with a great eye on the future. “We the old boys of Government College Ughelli (GCU) are very passionate about our school because we have realised the ‘excellency’ of the education it gave us,” he noted.

He continued: “In addition we realised that excellent education is expensive and with the explosion in the number of secondary schools, government alone cannot finance high quality education. Those of us who experienced such high quality education, therefore, should assist government maintain it. This is exactly what the old boys have done in nearly two decades since we began the intervention to arrest the deterioration at GCU.

“In that period we have raised and judiciously spent well over a quarter of a billion naira at our alma mater. We have refurbished and resuscitated dormitories, the administration block, the Appian Way, the Assembly Hall, the Library, the Sick Bay, a Felix Esi ICT Centre with 60 computers, the Pavilion, the science and agriculture laboratories, electric power generator and a generator house, the sports fields and more while the Oleh and Obiaruku Houses and the metal and wood workshops would need to be rehabilitated.”

The other good news is that there are graduation robes now and an NGO, Africare with Shell are completing an all-weather tartan track for the college.

Expectedly, the alumni is worried that with such huge inputs in the rehabilitation of the college, the Delta State Government has not brought it into a Private Public Partnership (PPP) arrangement that would allow it be part of the school administration. It cited Government College Umuahia now being run by the old boys association. Omatete said experience had shown partnerships in education management produce the best of results noting that neither the proposal nor the implementation is new. “The British in operating government colleges had a board consisting of prominent private citizens. It was at such a board that Chief Mukoro Mowoe realising there was no large land available in Warri to accommodate the proposed full secondary school, provided the huge parcel of land one mile square at Ughelli, which is
now our beautiful campus.”

It was a night of fun, camaraderie, a re-union the old boys are looking forward to come 2018.