Oji: Government Must Drive Growth of Universities

The International President, Zenith Environmental and Social Protection Network (Zespronet), Boris Chukwuemeka Oji is calling for the funding of Nigerian universities beyond grants coming from the federal and state governments. Oji who donated an N80 million post-graduate hostel to his alma mater with family and colleagues, explains how, in a chat with Nduka Nwosu

Altruism, which is the moral practice of concern for the happiness of other human beings is the word that best describes the love for country, the motivating force behind the activities of Boris Chukwuemeka Oji, a descendant of the royal house of Arochukwu in Abia State. Oji is the Chief of Medicine and Chairman, Department of Medicine, Banner Del Webb Medical Center, Sun City West Arizona, United States. He does an annual pilgrimage back home to awaken the consciousness of his fellow Nigerians on the way forward, to move the country to the next level.

In each case he leads by example, first tasking himself, his family members, and his Diaspora citizens, alumni set and colleagues back home, to help him actualise his vision of the New Nigeria. All of Oji’s public-spirited campaigns flow from this understanding, that our positive inputs in others determine and sustain our wellbeing as children of God.

On August 13, Oji flew into the country for the annual conference of the Zenith Environmental and Social Protection Network  (Zespronet) and fund-raising dinner held at the Centenary Hall Ibeto Hotels Abuja. During the dinner, he told an assemblage of former and current Vice Chancellors from the Southeast, top government officials and corporate chieftains, that there was an urgent need to find ways of improving the wellbeing of Nigerians through quality and affordable education, good health, and environmental protection, among others. For Oji, collective effort, and self-sacrifice, create the narrow path to the actualisation of this dream living by example always.

At a time students of Nigerian public universities have been home for six months, where the striking lecturers are insisting the time has come for government to sit up and do something on the falling standard of education in Nigeria, at a time Nigeria has become the poverty capital of the world, nothing could have been more heartwarming than the Oji narrative of doing good for the sake of improving the lot of others especially in the educating sector.

Oji’s argument is that public spirited people, alumni associations, and corporate Nigeria should come together to the aid of public institutions at this critical moment of nation building adding, “Our society is as good as our public education institutions,” and this is the primary aim of Zespronet, which is the revival of quality education in the country through the coming together of good people who are concerned about Nigeria’s fallen standard of education.

Back in Arizona Oji, a former university lecturer at Abia State University (ABSU), quickly adds his voice to the ASUU/Federal Government impasse: “From my less vantage position, I think the current protracted ASUU strike is counterproductive and is neither to the benefit of our students nor the public education system. Put in perspective, in the current 2022 education cycle, the UK issued 8000 student visas to Nigerians but in the 2023 cycle, it has issued 62,000 student visas to Nigerians; that is only the UK; we do not have the figures from Canada, India, Ghana, South Africa etc.

“Trade unionism must be a balancing act. Rights to industrial action must not destroy the industry, in this context the universities, but ASUU, it seems, is unfortunately destroying its credibility as a union. Can we hold the leadership of ASUU and its NEC to the same scrutiny we hold our leaders? If the answer is yes, then how many of them have their children and wards in these public schools that have been thrown into indefinite strike?”

Oji is reminded that ASUU had held this government, and the ones before it to account, in keeping to its promises, which have been hardly kept. His response: “You do not get all you asked for in negotiations; you must balance the public good with your demands. I am not privy to Prof Emmanuel Osedeke’s reckless statement on state owned universities. If he did say what was attributed to him, which he has tried to walk back in vain, regarding state owned universities, then his associates need to re-evaluate his competence as ASUU President.

“Again, public education is paramount to the development of any country and that includes both state and private institutions. We have now seen the serious effects of this dichotomy whereby the private universities keep graduating their students while students in the public-school system have been home for almost a session now. Both the government and ASUU have failed these young minds.

“I love this country and I know that we are functioning below our capacity, not out of the making of the citizens, but out of the making of the elite and bad leadership,” hinting he might be home in 2023 as an election monitoring observer for the 2023 elections, hoping there would be a positive exchange of batons every Nigerian is looking forward to.

 An old boy of the prestigious Methodist College Uzuakoli, Oji passed out as best all-round student of his set in the Department of Optometry Abia State University (ABSU) at the age of 22 in 1996 and travelled to the US to study Medicine. “I read Medicine and did my residency at the Louisiana State University with a fellowship in Geriatrics, dealing with older folks.”

Oji did not forget his alma mater especially when it opened a School of Medicine. “When I left the country in 1996, I started thinking of what I can do to impact ABSU. In 2010, I approached the Vice Chancellor who had started a medical school. I started sending books for the Medical Library, spending $5,000 worth of books and journals annually for the past 12 years.”

As a distinguished alumnus, the university awarded him an honorary doctorate degree in 2018, the same year he founded Zespronet with his colleagues.

What brought Oji to the limelight was his setting up of Zespronet with his alumni set and the building of an N80 million post graduate hostel for ABSU where he contributed N65 million with members of his family including his younger brother Ebere who chairs a top oil company, giving him the support, he needed, with his alumni set, colleagues at the workplace and many well-wishers. “My family and I, including my younger brother, gave N65 million for that project. That was the only way the project would have been done, and in the name of the organisation.”

He had asked the university to name what he and his set could do for ABSU. That same year, the colleagues agreed to start an NGO capable of driving its ideals which included the building of an N80 million post graduate hostel.

The big plan is to impact as many tertiary institutions in the Southeast as possible, extending its philanthropic gesture to Imo State University (IMSU) where the Provost of its College of Medicine is an alumnus of ABSU. Beyond the educational institutions, Zespronet is actively involved in the campaign to keep the environment neat, whether in terms of climate change, tree planting in Abuja and Lagos and erosion prevention in the Southeast.

According to Oji, “Our plan in IMSU was to provide it a modern public rest system because somebody visited there sometime and noticed that was not in existence.”

Happily, the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) took up the responsibility by granting the university some fund to that effect while the Vice Chancellor asked Zespronet to consider donating a printing press to the university, “because a printing press would help the business unit of IMSU generate funds for the institution.”

The complex issue for Zespronet now is the arrest of erosion ravaging ABSU, IMSU and many towns of the Southeast. As he puts it, “I do not know how God will help us because it is going to be a huge project. Erosion runs from Abia to Imo, and Anambra states. The institutions are threatened by erosion; we want to tackle the erosion menace. These are things that state governments can do, but they are not doing them. Erosion is pulling down one of the female hostels. My association’s goal is to get expertise from the US; we are going to tackle that erosion through tree and shrub planting, and canal diversion. It is going to be huge; if you think N80 million was big, this one is going to cost more. We shall do it together with Imo and Abia state universities.”

For IMSU, where an alumnus had risen to be a Vice Chancellor, and an ABSU alumnus Professor Bond Anyaehie, as Provost of the College of Medicine, Zespronet donated books to help accredit the medical library, sponsoring the best graduating female medical student for two years running. “We give an award to the best graduating female student with some monitoring on her academic performance.”

Oji adds for emphasis: “We need to study the evolution of the developed countries whose success story is linked to its education system especially with public institutions.

“Most of the vaccines distributed globally are developed in these public institutions. For example, the US National Health Institute is domiciled in a public university. We should be studying all of this and see how research is carried out here, the relationship between the gown and the society. Harvard and most American universities which are not private, get sponsorship from different organs or bodies including the government, the alumni, and corporations.

“These schools are all public institutions. We had public universities that were good and outstanding but immediately we started issuing licenses for private universities, the government’s focus shifted, and those who had the resources gravitated towards the private and foreign universities especially with incessant strikes of Nigerian public universities fighting for decent infrastructure, students’ welfare, affordable school fees and accommodation, academic development, exchange programmes, research, and development, which received minimum national attention. This is the critical mass facing us as a people.”

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