Education: Senator Oba’s Enduring Gift for Akwa Ibomites

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Education: Senator Oba’s Enduring Gift for Akwa Ibomites

Udeme Akpan

I clearly remember not paying much attention as my course-mate ranted about having to meet his relatives anytime he had to pay his school fees. In my mind, I could not comprehend having to meet relatives anytime I needed money as a student.

According to Ubong, that is my course-mate’s name, he needed the financial support of several different ‘uncles’ and ‘aunts’ to enable him remain in the University as a student. I had always envied how he carried along, doggedly pursuing his academics despite his financial challenges which was all too glaring.

While other students had spare cash to involve in luxuries of parties, eating choice foods, even if for a while and engaging in frolicking, Ubong never participated in that. He was too busy chasing his sustenance.

However, I thank God that Ubong has since qualified as an Electrical Engineer and now works  with a multinational. He now lives the good life but as I reminisce, I can’t help but wonder at what would have been Ubong’s fate if he didn’t have ‘benefactors’. Or the fates of some others like him who were not so fortunate?

It is in this vein I’m saluting the intervention of Senator (Obong) Bassey Albert Akpan, who represents Akwa Ibom North-East (Uyo) Senatorial District in the National Assembly. While I have not benefitted directly from his largesse, as someone who I have been following, my heart goes out to all the indigent students from Uyo Senatorial District in particular and Akwa Ibom State at large, which he helps in providing good education for. And for that, I believe he should be commended and celebrated.

In a recent discussion of philanthropists, especially concerning education, his name kept bobbing up. There is a wise saying that goes thus: ‘Give a man a fish and you’ve fed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you have fed him for life.’ By giving indigent students opportunity to get an education is like sowing a seed – the result which is mostly bountifully. That exactly seems to be case of Obong Bassey Albert’s involvement in education.

As a successful banker before venturing into politics, Senator OBA, as he is widely known, definitely understands the reason for being not only lettered but also ‘learned.’ Hence, I find it not particularly surprising that he has invested in the educational lives of his constituents and Akwa Ibomites.

It was not up to six months after his inauguration as a Senator when OBA assembled a team of experts to conceptualize a sustainable scholarship scheme devoid of political and other forms of inference for his constituents.

No fewer than three thousand applications (3,000) were received, and a qualifying examination was administered to more than a thousand that met the requirements of studentship validation and academic progression. The examination held at the Government Technical College, Ewet Offot – Uyo, on 28th May 2016, saw eighty-one (81) beneficiaries emerged from what was adjudged by participants as a free and credible process. This number was later increased to one hundred and forty (140) when the benefactor advised that candidates who scored between 55%, and the established benchmark of 60%, should also be considered.

Asides from taking full responsibility for the tuition fees of the beneficiaries, the scholars, majorly from the University of Uyo and Akwa Ibom State University, were also placed on a semester stipend of ten thousand nairas (N10,000) to help them with upkeep. A recent appraisal of the scheme indicates that 75 out of the beneficiaries had graduated at the end of the 2017/2018 academic session,39 others joined by the end of the 2018/2019 session, 17 graduated in the last academic year,2019/2020, while the remaining 9 are expected to complete their programs in this current session, 2020/2021.

Between 2016 and 2019, the scheme has produced five (5) first-class graduates, with Ememobong Akpanekpo, an indigene of Uyo Local Government Area, and Wisdom Ibokette from Etinan leading the line. Ememobong and Wisdom were students of the Department of Computer Engineering and Civil Engineering at the University of Uyo. Forty-two (42) of the graduates within the years in the review were students from Engineering based disciplines, twenty-two (22) from Clinical Science, and thirteen (13) others studied Pharmacy.

That’s not all. In line with the increasing number of requests received by his constituency office, and the need to replace those delisted from the scheme after graduation, Senator Albert had, in May 2019, mandated the management committee to initiate the second phase of the program. Most of the concerns gathered from his constituency office were not from his constituents but rather undergraduates from sister Senatorial Districts (Uyo and Ikot Ekpene), who collectively asked for similar opportunities. These yearnings informed the decision of Senator Albert to ask that 60% of the beneficiaries be from his primary constituency (Uyo Senatorial District) and 40% shared between Ikot Ekpene and Eket Senatorial Districts.

No fewer than five thousand (5,000) applications were received, with 1150 shortlisted for the qualifying examination based on studentship validation and academic progress as indices for section. The examination held at the Community Secondary School, Aka Offot saw two hundred and Forty-one (241) candidates skip past the 60% benchmark. Fifty-seven (57) of them were students of Clinical Science, eighty-four (84) in Engineering disciplines, thirty-three (33) studying Pharmacy, and the remaining sixty-seven (67), including four (4) physically challenged who were granted a waiver, in other related courses.

By projection, about 35% of the beneficiaries would graduate by the end of the current academic session, the remaining one hundred and fifty-seven (157) will complete their respective programs between 2021 and 2024. According to a recent survey of their academic progression, thirty-one (31) of the scholars are within the first-class range, while more than 60% are in the second-class upper division. The above is a testament to the fact that the scholars have justified their inclusion in the scheme.

Asides from the established three hundred and eight one (381) scholarship beneficiaries, several others have also benefitted from other interventions. Senator Albert’s constituency office receives several requests for educational support daily. Preliminary data available suggest that more than Two Hundred (200) similar requests have been verified and attended to in the past six years. During his empowerment program in April – 2018, Four hundred and fifty (450) undergraduates got educational support of (N40,000) forty thousand naira (each) to take care of pressing needs.

In the area of training and capacity building, fifteen (15) indigenes of the State have been supported to proceed on Post Graduate Studies within and outside the country. Worthy of mention is the fact that most of the beneficiaries are in academia. Example of such: Dr. Ekom Okpo, a Lecturer who was at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, for a bench-work in 2018. Similarly, Victor Etim, Udeme Ibanga, Aniekan Asanga, and Asuquo Jackson are all at advanced stages of their respective Doctorate programs in the UK. Also, the likes of Ukponoabasi Antia, Ashong Ashong, Aniefiok Umoh, and a host of others have either completed or are on the verge of completing their Masters’ degree programs.

However, it is worth mentioning that the undergraduate scholarship scheme gulps about eighteen million (N18m) annually. For Senator Albert, counting the cost is least desirable as performance indicators such as accessibility to education, cohesive academic progression, and optimizing opportunities are noticeable footprints of the scholarship program, which has written his name in the sands of time.

These and more may have informed the decision of the Governing Councils of the Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic, Ikot Osura, and the Akwa Ibom State College of Education, Afaha Nsit to confer on him awards for Educational Philanthropy in May 2019 and July 2019, respectively. Senator Albert recently was also honored by the Students’ Union Government (SUG) of the University of Uyo and the National Association of Akwa Ibom State Students for his contributions to the development of the student community.

Apart from doling out money to students for their needs, Obong Bassey Albert also listens to them, coming down to their level. Watching him at a parley, I couldn’t help but admire how he engaged the students in discourse. While campaigning to be a senator, OBA had promised to intervene in the area of education. It is noteworthy that he is living up to his words.

Of course, while it is not directly in his schedule to canvass for such level of developments, methinks the senator is on the right path. Personally, I think it is worthy to having a lawmaker who not only influences law to suit his people and by extension, many others, but one who is concerned with even the ‘mundane’ of procuring funds for his constituency members to access a better life.

At the moment, it is no more a news that, on the behest of the people of Akwa Ibom across the 31 LGAs, OBA is on a mission to succeed the incumbent governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, whose tenure elapses within a year and six months. Surely, while I think others can aspire to that position, I must concur that Senator Bassey Albert is indeed loved by the people as his praise is being sung in nooks and crannies of the State. And from what I gather, the senator has a genuine love for his people, a love seemingly reciprocated.

Should he win, that victory will not be for Ibiono Ibom or Uyo Senatorial District, but for the whole of Akwa Ibom State because unlike some other political aspirants in our clime, OBA is indeed a man of the people.