Dr Ozuah, Alumni Associations and Our Public Schools – By: Chika Unigwe
It has 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 an American doctor, Dr. Phil Ozuah, had a tendency to give big. He donated $1 million to his alma mater, the University of Ibadan, for their hostel project. What an amazing human, and what a very lucky school. If the state of the UNN hostels is any indication – and why not, it’s a federal university like UI after all – then the hostels are in dire need of renovation. UNN hostels were already a mess back then (the toilets were so awful I used to hold all my stuff until I could go to a friend’s on campus) and apparently even more in mess now. Last year I saw pictures of some hostels on campus and it didn’t look livable at all. Just looking at the pictures makes me want to vomit. Maybe there is a wealthy UNN alumnus/alumnus ready to make a large donation to revamp the hostels as well.
Dr. Ozuah did a wonderful thing. My detectives (in a past life I wanted to be an investigative reporter) revealed the fact that for the doctor and his family, giving is a way of life. On his wife’s FB page (she’s also a doctor), there are photos of donations to what I presume are her local community in the Philippines, as well as several glowing testimonials on her wall of people thanking them for their kindness. They are a couple for whom living well means giving back (to their communities), and we would do well to emulate them. At the end of life, after all, everything one has dies with it. Cars, private jets, clothing cannot accompany you. They will go to others or be sold or thrown away and eventually deteriorate as material possessions. What is worth focusing on are the things that live after death. Or in the words of William James, “The great utility of life is to spend it on something that will outlive it.”
The Ozuah have chosen to focus on what matters, and for his generous donation to UI, Dr Ozuah even earned himself a private call from our very own Dr Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerians Commission of the diaspora (NIDCOM) who thanked him. and “said the commission is proud of him and his other colleagues who continually give back to their country.”
However, while it’s good to give back, I don’t understand why our elected officials earn so much and our public institutions, especially schools, are in a sorry state. The alumni associations, rather than providing additional support, are very often the ones who do all the work: take charge of investment projects, build classrooms; provide water; I even hear paying teachers in some cases and so on.
A few years ago, the alumni association of a public college in Enugu raised funds to build a dining hall in their school. The principal sent an SOS to the association with photos of students squatting on the floor, their plates of food balanced in their hands. How to manage a boarding school with insufficient basic infrastructure? The case of this school is unfortunately not uncommon. Ask the headmaster of any public school in Naija – even unity schools – for a wish list and you will cry. This would include everything from chairs to the sports complex. This begs the question: is there no funding for our schools? Or rather, what about the financing of our schools?
According to analysis of the 2021 education budget by BudgIT, “a civic organization committed to making the Nigerian budget and public data more understandable and accessible to all levels of literacy”, Naija is not allocating enough to the education. However, according to anecdotal evidence, that is to say, even what is allocated sometimes finds its way magically into the pockets of officials. The alumni association of a school in the unit which will remain unnamed have discovered that the money allocated to buy computers for the school was diverted by the director and used to create its own business center . Isn’t that wickedness? Deprive the students in your charge of lining your pockets. Na wah! To keep their money from wandering around, some alumni associations don’t just donate funds, they oversee the construction of all the infrastructure they have donated for themselves. Whether the funding is low or the money ends up in corrupt pockets, it is the students who suffer, and alumni associations often find themselves shouldering more than they should to ensure that their alma parents are well provided for.
To be clear: I think it’s good that alumni associations, especially of our public institutions, are passionate about helping their alma maters. Their help is even needed, but schools should not depend on them for basic infrastructure needs or for paying teachers’ salaries. That said, thank you to those alumni associations for keeping out. Thank you for your service because without you what is clearly a bad situation would have been much worse.