The 31st plenary and annual general meeting of the Unity Schools Old Students Association holds today at Kings College, Lagos.
The theme for this year’s event is ‘Education, National Unity and National Security,’
The Unity Schools – also known as Federal Government Colleges (FGCs) and Federal Government Girls Colleges (FGGCs) – were established and are maintained by the Federal Government as a contribution to fostering both skilled human development and national co-existence in Nigeria.
There are 104 Unity Schools all over Nigeria.
Established in 2006, USOSA, an acronym for the network of former students of the unity schools, has a membership of nearly one million alumni drawn from all over Nigeria and active in all walks of life within and beyond Nigeria, many of them in the Diaspora.
PREMIUM TIMES is at the venue of the AGM to bring you live updates of the proceedings.
11.52: The AGM begins with a rendition of both stanzas of the national anthem.
A one-minute silence is observed for deceased Unity schools’ students and staff, followed by a rendition of the schools’ anthem.
Members of the first session are called to the stage:
Joseph Tegbe, the Chairman of USOSA Board of Trustees,
An alumnus of FGGC, Ogbomosho.
Albert Okumagba, the very first president of USOSA.
(FGGC, Warri and Kings College, Lagos).
Kabiru Nuhu, (FGGC, Kano)
Oluseyi-Thomas, the principal of Kings College, (FGGC, Ilorin).
Ibim Semenitari, immediate past MD of Niger Delta Development Commission (FGGC Abuloma)
Mohammed Kumalia (FGGC Maiduguri).
Rufun Jauro (FGGC Wukari)
Bimpe Zacchaeus (Queens College Lagos).
12.03: Mr. Oluseyi-Thomas says he received a call from the ministry yesterday to stand in for the minister.
“But I knew of the meeting about two months ago. Unfortunately we couldn’t release the annex campus for this event because of the matriculation holding there today.
“When you look back on the quality of education you had to what we have now, you’ll admit out association has a very important role to play in education.”
He says he was in FGGC Ilorin “from 1975.”
“I didn’t even know we have a national body like this. I was very happy when I was told about it.
“What we are having now is far different from what we had during our own time.
“I believe the ministry will be waiting for our communique.
Mr. Oluseyi-Thomas asks for permission to return to the annex campus is Victoria Island for the event there.
In his opening remarks, Professor Chidi Odinkalu says USOSA members are true Nigerians and the association has to begin investing in relationships.
“We knew the country before the country knew us.
“The biggest and best organisation is built with youth. We cannot take the energies of the young people for granted. We have to make sure they become the drivers of the next generation.
“There are things USOSAns must not be caught doing. We are built on the highest levels of integrity.
“From next year, we are going to retool.
“We have not gone to any governor. No minister has given us money. It’s members like you who have made today possible. Somebody who does not have a job gave me N1,000 for this event. We have lots of schools taking ownership for today’s activities.”
“We’ve had 62 schools register for this event, that’s the highest ever in any of our AGMs.”
12.57: The first plenary is titled ‘State of Our Schools.’
It is facilitated by Bimpe Zacchaeus and Prof. Yemi Fawehinmi.
The session begins with the screening of the current deplorable state of the unity schools. Some members shake their heads as they watch in despair.
Naija Smooth Talker, the MC and an alumnus, says, “If the state of our schools are juxtaposed with the products of our schools, you will agree with me that it will be a mismatch.”
The moderator for the session is Ibim Seminitari.
She says there’s a need to have a conversation around the state of the unity schools. “What can we do to make government address these issues?
“The matter of funding always comes up in discussions like this and we have to look at creative ways of generating funds.”
Prof. Fawehinmi says the schools shown in the video are “not our schools.”
“If they are our schools, they won’t look like that. Do our homes look like that?”
He says there’s a need to address who owns the schools.
“Except we own the ownership of the school, nothing is going to happen.”
He says Kings College old students, for instance, had a lavish dinner recently while the school was closed because staff were not paid.
He said Nigeria does not need to have up 104 Unity Schools.
“When I was in FGGC Ogbomosho, it was two schools per state.
“Can we sustain 104 schools? I dare say we can’t.”
He says when he was at Ogbomosho, there was no air conditions and he did “fertilisation of the soil in the bush,” but the quality of teaching was very high.
“All of us are who we are because we went to those schools. With the current state of the schools, can they produce people like us?
“As long as the principals are servants to the ministries, nothing will change. We need to have autonomy for those schools to be run properly. We need to have our offices in those schools.
“When a principal cannot determine the kind of students he wants, that’s not a principal, that’s a senior prefect.”
13.12: The second speaker, Mrs. Zacchaeus (Queens College Lagos), says “our secondary schools moulded us and made us what we are today.”
She says she couldn’t see the video from her seating position but watching the viewers’ reactions “says it all.”
She says teachers are not to be blamed.
“QC has 10 arms, each has 45 students. When we were there, it was five arms.”
She says the message from the ministry that old students should no longer have their secretariats inside the school means that “it’s not our school.”
She says she was part of the investigating panel in the recent Queens College sex scandal but the education ministry became involved and dismissed the panel.
“The teacher involved is still in school, so how safe are our children?
“It’s high time we take back our schools. It’s high time we bring back the glory of our schools.”
13.39: Mrs. Semenitari says the Unity Schools’ principals can actually decide how they want their schools to be run.
“Part of the beauty of the public service is that you can write a memo to say ‘no’.”
Lawrence Wilbert (FGC Ugwolawo), says there’s a need to remember why the Unity Schools were created in the first place.
“So I will not encourage a conversation around the sales of any of the schools.
“I will like to ask each and every one here present, what are we doing to improve our respective schools?”
The president of the FGGC Akure Old Students Association says when they started engaging the principal of the school, their WAEC result improved from 34 per cent to 89 per cent.
“We as old girls, we have taken it upon ourselves to ensure that education in FGGC Akure is at least 60 per cent of what we had.”
A former student from FGGC Kano says it was not possible to take over the running of the unity schools from the federal government.
Bimbola Tiamiyu (FGGC Ogbomosho) says Board members of USOSA must have a child or a grandchild there.
“And instead of going away during our leaves, why don’t we go to the schools and teach the students on not just the core subjects but other areas that would help them improve?”
A member from FGGC Onitsha says USOSA should organise a teachers training programme to identify ways to improve the teachers. She says in the Queens College sex scandal, the association failed the student.
“We are too disconnected from what is happening in the schools. We need to have people who directly know what is happening in those schools. As it is now, the government cannot run those schools, that’s the reality.”
Kunle Oladejo (FGGC Ilorin) says government should be reminded to provide infrastructure and rebuild the schools according to the laws.
“USOSA can sponsor a private member bill on this.”
13.39: Frank Nweke (FGGC Maiduguri) says it would be impossible to get the schools back to what they used to be.
“When I was in the cabinet, with Oby Ezekwesili, it was clear to government that they could not continue to run those schools.”
He says there were moves for groups to take over the schools and run them on mutually agreeable terms but there were serious push backs.
“Ten years later, we’re now back on the same discussion.”
14.15: Naija Smooth Talker sheds more light on an earlier statement that Kings College Old Students Association held a lavish dinner while the school was closed down for non-payment of teachers’ salaries.
“The dinner was held in the school. And it was at the dinner that the old students heard about the teachers’ unpaid salaries. Two weeks after the dinner, the teachers’ salaries were paid in full.”
The second plenary, on ‘Education, National Unity, and Security,’ is presented by Rufun Jauro (FGGC Wukari).
He says 19,000 education workers have fled the northeast since 2009. And over 2,000 mostly girls have been abducted.
Mr. Jauro says the association wants to introduce a short term strategy to provide a radio programme to help the children catch up on education.
He says USOSA can provide interactive pens – that enables children learn basic shapes – at IDP camps in the northeast.
14.37: The first discussant for the session, Amina Saliu (FGGC Bida) says a recent visit to her alma mater showed a majority of the students were from Bida town, Minna, Zungeru, and neighbouring towns.
“We need to stand back and do one important thing, do an audit of all the projects we had done in our schools.”
She says even though the association has friends in government such as the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Education, something should be done to nurture that friendship.
“It’s it about sending your child to school, it is about what is the future of my child.”
She says USOSA must find gatekeepers to work with.
“Our religious leaders are very strategic. There are leaders in the churches and mosques we can work with.”
She says USOSA needs to get their house in order
“We need to ask ourselves, what’s the most suitable method for mentoring?”
14.53: The second discussant is Mohammed Kumalia (FGGC Maiduguri), a former member of the House of Representatives.
He says funding national unity is one of the greatest challenges Nigeria has today.
“This country invested in us, and trained us to hold this country together
He says in the past, students would come by train from Lagos, Port Harcourt, and they who were in Maiduguri would escort them to the train station during school vacations.
“When Boko Haram began, they said it was a political tool against the government of Goodluck Jonathan. Unfortunately, many people believed it. Nothing was done until it spread all over the place.”
He says nobody should say western education is evil in Borno State because the state is a citadel of knowledge.
“The northern part of the country is the most educationally disadvantaged. and I hate to use that word ‘disadvantaged.’. Who disadvantaged you? We all had the same opportunity to send our children to school. This is the conversation we should be having.”
He says even though he lives in Abuja, he sent his children to school in Lagos because he wants them to grow up as Nigerians.
He says Boko Haram started because of bad governance and negligence of education.
“Government is not putting their money where their mouth is.”
He says there can be management contracts for the Unity schools to enable experts manage the schools.
15.30: It’s time for members’ reaction from the floor.
Mike Chukwu (FGC Sokoto) says if the continued existence of the FGCs can no longer be sustained, that of Nigeria should be prioritized.
He says his alma mater had not recorded above 30 per cent pass in the past three years examinations.
What we want to do in the northeast is to gather resources, those of us that can.
Prof. Odinkalu says of the 15 Unity schools in the northeast, five are closed, and only six are registered with the association.
“Potiskum and Maiduguri are operating; Lassa, Michika, Monguno are not operating.”
A former student says members should take over the invigilation of WAEC exams.
“Who wants to do pro-bono teaching? Who wants to do invigilation? We have to start that conversation here.
The session ends with financial supports from members to help the OSAs of schools in the northeast to register with the association.
Ms. Semenitari summarises the session by listing some of the action points: Agreement that USOSA needs to take proactive action, get government to claim ownership of the schools,insist on better policies and government commitment for more funding and using the northeast as a launch pad for active participation of members.
There is a 20 minute break for lunch.
15.50: Prof. Odinkalu says the plenary had ended and the AGM has begun.
It begins with the induction of the newest member of USOSA – the Federal Science College, Ogoja.
There will be a communique at the end of the meeting.
This concludes the live blog.