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Dr Ozuah, student alumni associations and our public schools

It’s been a week of heartwarming news on the Naija front. Our female athletes won big at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham (12 gold medals!)…

It’s been a week of heartwarming news on the Naija front. Our female athletes won big at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham (12 gold medals!) and a US-based doctor, Dr Phil Ozuah, trended for giving big. He donated one million USD to his alma mater, University of Ibadan, for their hostel project. What an incredible human, and what a very lucky school. If the state of UNN hostels are anything to go by – and why not, it is a federal university like UI is after all-  then the hostels are in urgent need of revamping. UNN hostels were already a mess back in the days (the toilets were so awful I used to hold all of my business in until I could go to a friend’s home on campus) and apparently, even more of a mess now. Last year, I saw photos of some hostels on campus and it did not look at all habitable. Just looking at the photos made me want to throw up.  Maybe there’s a wealthy alumnus/alumna of UNN willing to donate a sizeable amount to revamp the hostels too.

Dr Ozuah has done a wonderful thing. My sleuthing (in a previous life, I wanted to be an investigative journalist) uncovered the fact that for the doctor and his family, giving is a way of life. On his wife’s FB page (she’s a physician too), there are pictures of donations to what I presume is her local community in the Philippines, as well as several glowing testimonials on her wall from people thanking them for their kindness. This is a couple for whom living well is about giving back (to their communities), and we would do well to emulate them. At the end of life, after all, whatever one owns dies with one. The cars, the private jets, the clothes can’t go with you. They will go to others or be sold or discarded and eventually, in the way of material possessions, deteriorate. What is worth focusing on are the things that live on after one’s death. Or in the words of William James, “The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”

The Ozuahs have chosen to focus on what matters, and for his generous donation to UI, Dr Ozuah even earned himself a private call from our own Dr. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairman/CEO, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) who thanked him and “said the commission is proud of him and his other colleagues who continuously give back to their country.”

However, while it is good to give back, I don’t understand why our elected officials earn so much and our public institutions, especially schools, are in terrible shape. Alumni associations, rather than give complementary support are very often the ones doing all the work: taking on capital projects, building classrooms; providing water; I hear even paying teachers in some cases and so on. 

A few years ago, the alumni association of a government owned college in Enugu raised funds to build their school a dining hall. The principal sent an SOS to the association with pictures of students squatting on the floor, their plates of food balanced in their hands. How do you run a boarding school with inadequate basic infrastructure? This school’s case isn’t rare, sadly. Ask the principal of any public school in Naija – even the unity schools- for a wish list and you’ll cry. It’d include everything from chairs to a sports complex. It begs the question: is there no funding at all for our schools? Or rather, what is happening to the funding for our schools?

Per the 2021 Education Budget Analysis by BudgIT,  “a civic organisation driven to make the Nigerian budget and public data more understandable and accessible across every literacy span,” Naija isn’t allocating enough to education. However, according to anecdotal evidence, aka gist, even what is allocated sometimes magics its way into the pockets of those in charge. The alumni association of a unity school that shall remain unnamed apparently discovered that the money allocated to buy computers for the school was diverted by the principal and used to set up her own business centre. Is that not wickedness? Depriving the students under your care to line your pockets. Na wah! To avoid their money going walkabout, some alumni associations do not only donate funds, they oversee the construction of whatever infrastructure they’ve donated for themselves. Whether the funding is low or whether the money finds its way into corrupt pockets, students are the ones to suffer, and old students associations often find themselves shouldering more of a burden than they should in ensuring that their alma maters are well provided for.

To be clear: I think that it is good that alumni associations, especially of our public institutions, are passionate about helping their alma maters. Their help is necessary even, but schools should not be depending on them for basic infrastructure needs or for the provision of teachers’ salaries. Having said that, thanks to these alumni associations for standing in the gap. Thank you for your service because without you, what is clearly a bad situation would have been so much worse.


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