Joachim Ibeziako Ezeji
An ITHACA Journal ( published in America) dated, Thursday; May 9, 1957 had carried a story captioned “ Student Seeks New School For Nigeria”. The story then went on to report that a Cornel University graduate student had launched a one-man campaign to build a high school in his own country.
The report had told a story of how in January 1957, this Nigerian student studying in an American University had gone back to Nigeria and made an educational survey instead of a diplomatic survey he had initially planned; “I changed my ambition from the diplomatic service to education” he said.
The result of that survey showed that of the 100,000 people in his clan ( the soft spoken student is the only one who ever went to college), only about 25 went to high school, and they had to find a school far away from home. The tragedy then was that every year about 2000 to 4000 young boys and girls drift away to the cities to learn various trades and crafts. They had no formal educational training; as a result they were bereft of skills and thus remained unemployed and unemployable.
That African student after the survey became convinced that a combined high school and trade school with dormitories attached was a desideratum for his community and its environs. His vision also included making the school to also serve as a base for agricultural extension and rural development with an emphasis on self help.
The student then went all out to appeal to the conscience of the Americans through fund raising. A sole commitment and unparalleled determination enabled him to raise funds that eventually made possible the Awo-Omamma Education Project. This was conceived as an educational foundation; a unique complex of schools designed to provide high quality education at all levels, from kindergarten through primary and post primary, as well as vocational education at the post primary and tertiary levels.
The Awo-Omamma Education Project was also intended to serve as a platform to coordinate efforts towards the provision of fundamental development in Africa. Coupled to the foregoing objective was also the intention to provide scholarship to all well deserving children at the primary, and the post primary levels; as well as the procurement of other forms of assistance for indigenes of the area who needed such assistance to go to the United States of America.
Since its commencement in 1959, the institution has been an expanding and changing program. In 1960, the master plan was expanded to include a proposal to establish within the institution what would have been Nigeria’s first private university by 1985. Physical development and expansion of facilities continued up to the outbreak of the Nigerian civil war in 1967.
With the government take-over of private at the end of the civil war in 1970 the four schools, CGS, Herbert Macauley, Ransome-Kuti, and Stanford- ceased to exist in their original forms. In their place arose what is known today as the Awo-Omamma Comprehensive Secondary School, established in 1970 on the very site previously occupied by CGS.
Following the end of the civil war, efforts were continued in pursuit of the objectives and goals of the institution. Between 1980 and 2000 some of the old schools were reopened and some new ones were established at various locations under the umbrella of the Awo-Omamma Education Project.
Santana Primary (Boarding) School was reopened and a satellite campus opened at Ubachima, Awo-Omamma. The Hilton Institute of Catering and Hotel Management was established at the Palm Beach resort in Awo-Omamma to provide vocational education and training in tourism and hotel administration. The University Preparatory Institute (UniPrep), was established on the AEP’s upper campus to prepare students for the post primary and tertiary levels.
I shudder to inquire how many Nigerians especially those in government today still remember this illustrious son of Africa? For those with fleeting memory I make bold to once again introduce Dr. Benjamin Uzoukwu Nzeribe.
He was that African student who refused to be overwhelmed by the great opportunities he had. Today that vision of offering an impoverished people a path to self emancipation through quality education endures. I am sure his legacies will forever enamor the very few great minds around.
I had enrolled in one of those famous groups of schools, a primary school with boarding facilities in late 1980 and graduated in 1984 after a successful First School Leaving Certificate Examination. Life and times then in Santana was great. At the head of administration is the late Ms Ada Njoku (a.k.a. Aunty), who was a mother to all the kids.
It is imperative to remind Nigerians that Dr. B. U. Nzeribe could have as well diverted the funds he raised as is today done by those in government and NGOs against the spirit guiding the inflow of such funds but he never did. He believed in the course of what he proposed and followed it to the very end.
I am very sad that Nigerians have elevated 419 to the apogee through fake proposals, hence deceiving westerners and in the process retarding our progress as a people. We need to learn a lesson or two from the vision of Dr. Nzeribe. I wonder what the Nigerian government is waiting for before honoring this great statesman and philanthropist with a national honour? Are we merely waiting only for his passage before we give him the apposite tribute? Chief Dr. B.U.Nzeribe should be honored today that he is still alive and around.
However the greatest tribute we owe this statesman is to behave like him by using funds budgeted for common good for the purpose so made. We also have to ensure that all those group of schools are not allowed to die. They should all be made a model school with abundant funding by the Imo State Government.
The Nigerian people and government should not wait to celebrate this great man only when he is no more. I advocate that we celebrate and cherish this pride of our land by helping to preserve his legacies.
I am compelled to talk about Dr. B. U. Nzeribe because of his visionary compass as it affects the education of his people. A recent visit to Santana Primary School also unveiled a compelling need for action. Returning to Santana after 23years was like home coming for me. However I was sad that all the schools as built by Dr. Nzeribe have been grounded (?).
Though the schools have all now been returned to Dr. Nzeribe by the Imo state government; a pressing need for continuing financial support or funding by the government should not be shirked.
Both Santana Primary School and the Comprehensive Secondary School Awo-Omamma have seriously degenerated. Most of the class rooms in the schools are blown-off, some have their walls already fallen while grasses and weeds have taken over the entire place. The schools also lack simple conveniences like toilets. It was obvious from my visit that a mere return of the school to Dr. B.U Nzeribe after many years of government management without any cash backing defeats the objective behind the return..
Dr.B. U Nzeribe had an uncommon knack and love fort education. He is a man who believed so much in the power of education. He was greatly convinced that with basic education that poverty and diseases will be extirpated. He believed in Africa and the emancipation of its people through education. To make this practical and relevant he domesticated it as reflected in the Awo-Omamma Education Project.
To serve his people better and give effect to a better life for all, Dr. Nzeribe quickly returned back to Nigeria after his studies with a chain of certificates which included a Bachelor of Arts, obtained in 1955 from the University of Chicago; a Master of Arts in 1956 from the University of Stanford; a Ph.D from Cornell University (1958).
Unlike our current generation of politicians, B.U as he is fondly called by friends and well wishers joined politics with his avalanche of academic and professional exposure. Such an erudite background offered Dr. B. U. Nzeribe a great leverage in giving effect to his vision in practical terms.
In politics he rose to serve as a deputy speaker, House of Representative, Federal Republic of Nigeria in the first republic. And in great appreciation of his community development efforts B.U. got a lot of garlands from both the Roman Catholic Church and his community. Some of these include being decorated as a Knight of Saint Mulumba (KSM), and as knight of St.Gregory (Kt.SG). He is also the Ekwueme of Orlu, Uche ka Uche of Amorka, Omere oha 1 and Mmiri Na Ezoro Oha of Awo-Omamma etc.
To God be the glory for the life of Chief Dr. B. U. Nzeribe, a man who rose to become a giant amongst dwarfs.
Ekwueme, I know that you must be sad with ugly realities in our polity today. These were remote from your ideas and thoughts for us. Please never relent in advising and praying for us. I wish you God’s abundant blessing as you enjoy your retirement from public life. Cheers!