Asaba town recently hosted the maiden Delta State Excellence Awards for exceptionally brilliant pupils and students of schools in the state, writes Omon-Julius Onabu who attended the ceremony

The Unity Hall at the Government House Asaba was filled to capacity recently as pupils, teachers and administrators drawn from different schools as well as parents and ministry officials witnessed the first-ever Delta State Award of Excellence in recognition of outstanding academic performance in private and public schools in the state. The ceremony, which saw the awardees carting away juicy prizes in various categories, was organised by the Delta State Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education and sponsored by an indigenous oil and gas industry player, Eroton Exploration and Production Company Limited.

The fact that the three winning candidates in the first category actually hailed from states other than Delta certainly testifies to the objectiveness of the selection process. Here, Broderick Michael of Obika Primary School Agbor in Ika South Local Government Area, Joseph O. Favour of Daugeregha Primary School Igobi in Warri South-west Local Government Area and Sunday Destiny of Rejoice Nursery/Primary Kwale in Ndokwa West, respectively, won the prizes.

The winners in the second category included Enameguono Aroesiri of James Hoope College Agbor, Odafe E. Prosper of Love Afofu Standard Seccondary School, Igbide in Isoko South Local Government Area and Nwaorie Nonso of Amai Secondary Community School, Ukwuani Local Government Area, respectively. Agwolofa Godswill (Ofagbe Technical College), Aladja Jerry Efenama (Ogor Technical College Oto-Ogor) and Anthony Erhoasere Faith (Ewu Grammar School Ewu-Urhobo) received the three prizes for Category ‘C’.

Winners in category ‘D’ and category ‘E’ included Raphael C. Nwajiaku, Afinotan Favour Mofetan and Etagene Oghenetejiri as well as Afinotan Favour Mofetan (who won two prizes), Kenneth C. Wisdom and Akele Ohiorenuan.

The recipients, who were full of praises to God for the awards also expressed appreciation to the organisers and corporate sponsors as they received cash prizes ranging from N100,000, N75,000 and N50,000 for the first, second and third positions in the various categories as well as plaques and a laptop each. Schools also received the sum of N50,000 in respect of each pupil or student from the school who emerged as an educational excellence award winner.

A specialised laptop also went to Master Oba Azubuike, a visually impaired student of Unity Model Secondary School, Agbarho in Ughelli who attained eight credits at the 2017 SSCE conducted by WAEC.

Also in the special category, Miss Orevaoghene Whiskey, who won First Position in 2017 National Mathematics Competition organised by the Mathematical Association of Nigeria (MAN), and Master Isioma N. Ifeanyichukwu who won the 16th Edition of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) National Quiz competition also carted home cash and other prizes in the special category.

Wife of the Delta State governor, Dame Edith Okowa, who was the special guest of honour at the event, charged parents and teachers to take greater interest in the proper upbringing of their children and those put under their care in order to mould good future leaders in the society. While observing that most of the winners were not from schools located in major towns or urban areas of the state, Dame Okowa alluded to the fact that preoccupation by frantic pursuit of money was increasingly undermining parental role in the moral and academic development of their children. She lamented that there were numerous distractions in the society today that tend to inhibit proper education of children of school age, asserting that it was wrong for parents to shift the responsibility of the upbringing of their children entirely to teachers and other caregivers.
Mrs. Okowa, who is also the founder of ‘05 Initiative’ and an accomplished educational administrator, observed that the task of raising children worthy in character and learning remains the responsibility of the community at large. “The upbringing of the child is not the sole responsibility of the teacher but that of the entire community. Today, we parents have generally left the upbringing of our children to teachers, and it is a very big error.”

She commended the organisers and sponsor of the novel awards – who she noted “have done what God and Heaven are applauding” – and cautioned parents as well as teachers to be diligent in their duties because they would answer before God for the way they handled any child under their care “whether as biological or foster children” because God is more concerned with not just prayers but the heart’s intent.

In his welcome address, the Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education, Mr. Chiedu Ebie, noted that the awards ceremony was aimed at promoting positive learning behaviour amongst learners as well as motivating them to be more productive and to strive for excellence in their academic pursuits. According to him, the initiative was a vivid expression of the three-dimensional attributes or process of quality education identified by education strategists, encapsulated in “inputs, transactions and outputs.”

“To achieve these, the collective will of all is needed because as the mantra of Universal Basic Education (UBE) goes, ‘Education for All is the Responsibility of All’,” Ebie pointed out. “Those who crafted the programme aptly captured the burden of education, which cannot be borne alone by government.”

He said that it was gratifying that the Support-A-School Programme (SASP) approved in July 2016 by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa had already yielded positive results, in terms of galvanising “public spirited individuals, friends of the state, corporate organisations as well as community based organisations (CBOs) and social groups with patriotic intentions to make modest contributions to the development of education in the state and complement the SMART Agenda of this administration. The bestowing of Award of Excellence to high flyers in academics at basic levels is another landmark achievement of the SASP, which is driven by the Department of Public Private Partnership of the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education.”

While commending the sponsors of the maiden edition of the Delta State Award of Excellence, Ebie said, “The brilliant idea may have become still-born if a reputable sponsor did not show up. Eroton Exploration and Production Company Limited came forward to make the maiden edition possible. Our sincere thanks and appreciation go to the Chairman, Mr. Onajite Okoloko and particularly to the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Ebiaho Emafo for facilitating the process and his presence here today.”

The Eroton Managing Director/CEO, Mr. Ebiaho Emafo, remarked that the gesture was part of the corporate social responsibility of Eroton Exploration and Production Company, and urged the recipients and other students to continue to make their parents proud by working hard and excelling in their studies as “education remains the bedrock of any successful professional career.” He nonetheless stressed, “Eroton’s commitment to positively improve lives in the local communities of its operations is the primary focus of its CSR (corporate social responsibility) programme,” saying apart from supporting education the company also provides long-term programmes towards the overall health and well-being of people in those areas.

The Award of Excellence primarily comprises five categories involving rigorous selection process through Cognitive/Examination, Basic Education Certification Education, National Business/National Technical Certificate, National Examination Council/Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) and WAEC/SSCE with a special class of recipients.

It is noteworthy that the awardees emerged through a transparent process based on the technical analyses by the different examination bodies, without bias for local government or state of origin, gender, religion and type of school attended. The relevant bodies simply sent the best three candidates who wrote their respective examinations in Delta State.

Going forward, the organisers assured that the academic excellence award would assume a bigger and more comprehensive form in future. This certainly stands to reason considering the apparent exclusion of teachers, school principals or administrators from the list of official acknowledgement of excellent performance in the state’s school system. While sparing a word or two for the awardees, parents as well as principals, staff and students, the education commissioner and chief host of the Award said, “For the purpose of sustainability, it is our determination to make this award ceremony bigger and an annual event.”