GATHERING OF GREAT MINDS IN AKWA IBOM
LAGOS – It was not quite unusual at the 12th “Teachers’ Award for Excellence” held recently in Uyo when 17-year-old Joel Aniefiok Josiah announced his interest in politics. In Nigeria, wherever, whenever and on whatever captains of industries and political office holders gather, the dominant issue of discussion, either openly or discreetly, is politics.
Notwithstanding that Joel set the ball rolling on politics, the organisers were able to keep politics at bay. Through and through, it was all about education – improving the standard of education, mostly in public schools in Akwa Ibom, and majorly through human capacity development for teachers.
The Akwa Ibom State governor, Udom Emmanuel, was represented by his deputy, Moses Ekpo. It was chaired by Mr. Aniekan Ukpanah, Managing Partner, Udo Udoma & Bello Osagie law firm. Six commissioners in the state, including Prof Nse Essien, the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Education, were in attendance.
Secondary school students aged between 14 and 17 from across public schools in the state constituted more than half of the participants. There was also select number of public school teachers. Scores of professionals turned up and stayed with students on same tables till the end.
Teachers’ award for excellence is a private initiative Inoyo Toro Foundation. Since 2007, it elected itself to “eradicating poverty through education”. The foundation is the brainchild of Udom Inoyo, Vice Chairman, Mobil Producing Nigeria (MPN), an affiliate of Exxon Mobil. Toro is Ibibio word for praise. The aptness of the word is evident in praises in for form of awards for teachers that have demonstrated excellence in the course their job.
In a chat with Sunday INDEPENDENT, Inoyo, who said the organisation is his “best investment in life”, rationalised the need behind setting it up: “Everyone complains about Nigeria not working and yet extremely very few Nigerians are willing to invest in doing the little things that will move the country forward, whereas we all have a role to play.
“13 years ago, with like-minded professionals, we decided to invest in the education sector in Akwa Ibom State, especially focusing on the ‘hardware’, the teachers. As accomplished professionals, we reflected on our individual journeys and came to the conclusion that our ability to compete nationally and even globally, is because of the quality of education that we all had.”
Aside Inoyo’s input, the vitality of the organisation is infused by scores of professionals across Nigeria, who, individually adopt public schools in Akwa Ibom through which they serve as mentors. Among them are Aniekan Etiebet, Managing Director of Data Sciences, Dr Dominic Ukpong, the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Health, Atiba Adegboyega, Kafayat Oluwa, Kufre Ekanem and Abimbola Desola.
Others are Modupe Bankole, Captain Mfon Udom, Clement Isong jnr, Uko Udom (SAN), George Akpan, Hawkins Bassey, Nkekere Udom, Udeme Nana, Abasumo Bassey, Michael and Kate Harrison Foundation, among many other individuals and organisations.
Imo Bassey, programme manager of the foundation, coordinated the event. He disclosed to Sunday INDEPENDENT that over N300 million has been expended by the foundation in training and awards to teachers since inception. She said the foundation derives strength for its sustainability through Inoyo’s passion for education.
According to Bassey, apart from being the founder of the foundation, “Inoyo advises and pushes for more to be done for students so that they have competitive advantage when placed with their counterparts in other states and schools.”
In his welcome remark, chairman of the Award Screening Committee, Enobong Joshua, an Associate Professor of Mathematics in the University of Uyo, emphasised that the purpose of the event is to “appreciate teachers and public school principals who have excelled during the year in the prime profession of teaching.”
Usen Udoh, Group Chief Human Resources Officer of Dangote Industries Limited, told Sunday INDEPENDENT that the works of the foundation “is an all-year activity”. Explaining further, Udoh, who is also a board member of the foundation said, “The teachers’ award for excellence is just a grand event for the year.
On the emphasis on training of teachers, Joshua said, “If the teachers are good, then the standard of education will definitely get better. It gives a boost and motivation to teachers.”
While commending the foundation, Moses Ekpo, the deputy governor, said: “The Udom Emmanuel administration is working hard to ensure that safety and standard of education are not compromised.” According to him, topmost among “the completion agenda” of the administration is human capital development with focus on teachers.
Stressing the need for synergy with the government, Prof Nse Essien, the Commissioner for Education, said, “All we need as government is collaboration and partnership with serious minded NGOs like Inoyo Toro Foundation to improve the quality of our education. He thanked the foundation for making possible what he described as “gathering of great minds”.
The government officials see the event as an added impetus to the maiden Education Summit in Akwa Ibom, which took place September last year with essence on re-examining the education sector with a view to addressing challenges affecting the sector.
On how the organisation was able to check infiltration of politics into its works, Udoh said: “The Inoyo Toro Foundation is completely non-political. It has no funding from government at any level. The Akwa Ibom State government supports it, but not through funds. It was not established in the status of collecting government funds. It is totally funded by private individuals”.
A striking scenario feature was Inoyo’s apparent incognito. Though well-dressed with a piece of well-fitted grey suit, offering the image of a protocol officer by ushering guests to their chairs put some sort of solemn confusion in a number of minds as to who is Inoyo. In fact, he did not sit at the front row reserved for top dignitaries. He made no speech. His use of ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ checkmate the hype his admirers would have gone with his name.
Indeed, there was no mystification of personalities. Unlike what is commonly the case, there was no tight security presence. No redline to separate the boys from the men, the well heeled and the low-heeled. Security details attached to few top government functionaries at the event were not overzealousness.
The event was classroom-like. The students were segmented into different tables. On each table, was their mentor. By sitting with the students on same table, the mentors added some finesse to teachers-students relationship.
Mfon Sunny Udom, Biology teacher and recipient of the ‘Excellence Award’, told Sunday INDEPENDENT that through Inoyo Toro Foundation, she had had self-assertiveness that she was not in a profession for the never-do-well. According to her, “It is something that has taken me up from where I was.”
Utibe Orok, a Chemistry teacher, who also won award, said the foundation “gives him hope of better standard of education in the public schools in Akwa Ibom”.
Ephraim Inyangudo, a Physics teacher, several awards winner, said the foundation has impacted “dramatically” on him in the way he teaches.
Inoyo is satisfied that “The impact on teachers has been revolutionary and for the students, who receive mentorship from highly accomplished professionals, they are just soaring.” Udoh derives joy that “The best compliment one can get is when somebody copies you. He mentioned that those from other states, who invested in the foundation, are mainly in it to copy the model to their states.
Using the foundation as a model, Ini Abimbola, a management consultant and guest speaker, harped on the need for attitudinal re-orientation by changing the narratives from Akwa Ibom.
Using himself and his generation as case study, Ukpanah, one on of the mentors, recalled with nostalgia that the quality of education they had greatly enhanced their ability to squarely compete with their peers across the globe. He said it was unfortunate that the same people, who had good training in public schools, could not send their wards to their alma mata owing to deteriorating standard.
However, the low point of the moment was when the master of ceremonies, Raphael Edem, inquired from some students what they want to become in future. Only four students intend to become teachers, and none wants to teach in public secondary schools.
Daniel Udeme Okon of Community Secondary School, Asuna Etinan, wants to be a teacher to teach the younger ones to become great leaders.
Mrs. Udom maintained that the crux lies on “where the government of the day places education”. She opined that “A teacher is still zealous, but for the very fact that a teacher is not given the kind of reward that he or she deserves, people leave and go for more lucrative job.”
When asked why he desires to join politics, Joel told the crowd that his desire was borne out of the need to change narratives of unfulfilled promises by politicians. He further told Sunday INDEPENDENT that he was uncomfortable with neglect of rural communities by successive government and that his ultimate aim was to become the governor of Akwa Ibom.
Joel, an Assistant Senior Prefect (for boys) at St Augustine Secondary School, Ika, his political ambition: “One of the reasons I want to join politics, precisely, to be become a governor when I get to the constitutionally required age, is to effect positive changes in infrastructural development because right now so many things are wrong with infrastructure in Nigeria.
Would Inoyo and others of his like-minds listen to the silent voices in stepping up effort beyond the organisation to bettering peoples’ lives in other edeavours?
Whatever would be Inoyo’s next step on issues of public interest, the foundation, while doing its best to better the lot of education in Akwa Ibom, has shown that politics is not everything.