Poverty almost denied me secondary school education – Nigerian Senator

Nigerian Senate Chambers
Nigerian Senate Chamber used to illustrate the story.

The Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio, has narrated how as a boy it was difficult for him to get into secondary school because his mother, a widow, was not able to sponsor his education.

“My dear late widow mother, may her gentle soul rest in perfect peace, had told me that it would be difficult for me to enter secondary school on completion of primary school because her hands were full with my siblings,” Mr Akpabio said on Thursday in Ikot Ekpene, Akwa Ibom State, during his investiture as the pioneer chancellor of Ritman University.

“But because of my love for education, I used to sneak into a nearby secondary school to mingle with the students and acquire education. One day, the security man spotted me and chased me and I ran for my life. I fell down and injured my leg with a deep cut.

“The scar is still there,” he said, in an emotional tone.

The senator said the school which he had the encounter wasn’t far away from the university where he was standing to be honoured as its chancellor.

He continued: “It was then, as I lay on the ground and bled and cried, that I vowed that if I had the opportunity, I would chase our children to schools instead of chasing them away from schools.

“God allowed that scar to remain there as a constant reminder of this vow. Chase them with the same ferocity the security man chased me.

“That scar has become a trophy for our children, for when God brought forth the opportunity, I, as the governor of this blessed state instituted the free and compulsory education of all children living in Akwa Ibom State.

“Run to school do not run from school!” the senator said.

Ritman University was among the nine private universities in Nigeria that was granted operating license in 2015 by the then administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. It is owned by a former senator from Akwa Ibom State, Emmanuel Essien.

Mr Akpabio said he knows what is expected of him as the chancellor of the young university and that he sees the university becoming the “Harvard of our nation”.

Mr Akpabio, 55, is one of the most influential leaders of the Nigeria’s main opposition party, PDP.

He was the third elected governor of the oil-rich Akwa Ibom State for eight years, from 2007 to 2015, and was unpopular for frittering away the state resources.

Although he is credited with the introduction of free and compulsory education at primary and junior secondary school level, Mr Akpabio presided over the collapse of classroom blocks and several other infrastructures in public schools in the state.

Also, poverty and unemployment remained high in the state during his tenure, despite billions of naira that accrued to the state as derivation fund from oil.

Several decades after his self-confessed struggles against poverty, Mr Akpabio, after his tenure as Akwa Ibom governor, has continued to be a man of affluence, funded with public money. As a senator, he receives N13.5 million every month as ‘running cost’, irrespective of what he gets as monthly salary and allowances.

Mr Akpabio, during his first term as governor, had told a crowd of people in Eket how terrible life was for him before he became governor.

“I was on the street, struggling with other people to eat, sometimes from the dustbins,” he had said.

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