Being the Text of an Address Presented by Prof Joseph Akawu Ushie at the Reunion of the Alumni of Bendi Technical College, Obanliku Local Government Area, Cross River State, Saturday, November 26, 2022, at Bendi Technical College Compound.
Let me begin by commending the wonderful and resourceful organizers of this historic Reunion of the vibrant products of this great institution, the Bendi Technical College. I equally appreciate you, all the members of the Alumni Association of this great citadel of learning, for your vision and drive to initiate and pull through this idea of bringing yourselves back into one fold for the betterment of the institution and enhanced camaraderie among yourselves. I must thank you even more for the honour of inviting me to present this short address at this grand occasion especially when both the Bendi and the larger Obanliku and Obudu Local Government Areas, which have been the primary catchment communities for the Bendi Technical College, boast of persons with far more formidable credentials as public intellectuals than I. But as I wondered why you had to settle for me as the keynote speaker, it occurred to me that, perhaps, the only little merit that goes for me is that although I am not an alumnus of this College, my association with it since its inception has given me some privilege to talk about the institution with some modicum of authority.
The idea of the Bendi Technical College, located at Utendi, in Bendi, was conceived in the late 1970s by patriots of the Bendi nation under the auspices of the Bendi Development Association. Because some of these early activities took place while I was in Northern Nigeria, precisely in Sokoto State as a Radio Nigeria reporter (later renamed Rima Radio, Sokoto), I cannot give you all the names of the persons crucially involved with the initiation of the project. But I know that the College began in about 1978/1979, and since I soon relocated to the Cross River State (in 1979), and plunged deep into the stage of the project where I met it, I can hazard a few facts surrounding the establishment of this great college.
The first stimulus was the liberation of the establishment of secondary schools by the erstwhile Government of South Eastern State (later renamed Cross River State) when a son of Obudu, Dr Peter Ogem Ogbang, was the State Commissioner for Education. It was under his tenure as Commissioner for Education that secondary schools such as the one in Utugwang, the Begiading Secondary School, Ohong, and Community Secondary School, Sankwala, were established. Before this time, the only secondary schools in Old Obudu (now comprising Obudu and Obanliku LGAs) were the Government Secondary School, Obudu, and the Girls Secondary School, Obudu, which was revamped in about 1974 following the end of the Nigeria Civil War. The great sons and daughters of Bendi under the umbrella of the Bendi Development Association, then took up the challenge to also join these other neighbours in the then Old Obudu Local Government Area to also set up for the Bendi community a post-primary school of their own. By then the only known technical school in both the present Cross River North and Central Senatorial Districts was the famous St. Patrick’s Trade School, Ugep. In their wisdom, therefore, the Bendi community opted to deviate from the trend of establishing conventional secondary schools as done by all the other post-primary schools in the Old Obudu by going for a technical college instead. In order not to make the unforgivable mistake of forgetting some of the very important names that propelled this vision to success at this early stage, permit me to simply pass over the possible names in silence.
My personal involvement with the BTC began in 1979 when I was admitted to the University of Calabar as a year one student, and I immediately began rendering services as a teacher of English and Literature subjects at the College voluntarily during every holiday up until my graduation from the University in 1983. And even when I had done the National Youth Service and was employed as a secondary school teacher, I opted to be posted to the College while every other person sought to be retained in the state capital, Calabar. Of course, our elder brother, Mr. Utsu Linus Adie, wasted no time in facilitating my posting to the College once I explained to him that I wanted to be home to lay a solid foundation at least in English and Literature in the College. In the four or five months that I taught at the institution I organized evening and holiday classes regularly for the students at no extra cost and formed a debating club which came second among the post-primary schools in the Old Obudu LGA in the inter-school debating competition organized by the Old Obudu Local Government Council. I am glad to say that the most junior member of that team, and who was also in the lowest class is now Dr Godwin Amanke, the Cross River State Commissioner for Education while Omu Unwanede was the lead speaker as a form five student. It was from this College that I left in October, 1985 to assume duty as a Graduate Assistant at the then University of Cross River State, Uyo. But, in spite of this close association with the College, I do not take this honour and privilege of presenting this keynote for granted considering the great caliber of men and women from among whom you could have selected a keynote speaker.
The Alumni as Weaned Children
Still to the prime organizers of this Reunion, I am further grateful for their granting me the liberty to shape the very broad idea they gave me into a topic, as it would please me. I did not hesitate in availing myself of this generosity, and hence, I have settled for a topic that is devoid of the usually cerebrally taxing dialectical and philosophical calisthenics and esotericisms seeking to resolve apparently knotty conundrums. The topic, therefore, is simply, “The Alumni as Weaned Children of an Alma Mater”. This topic immediately echoes the idea of an alumni association within a family setting. A family, depending on whether it is the western, nuclear or African extended type, typically has a father or grandfather or great-grandfather as head; a mother or mothers; children and cousins, nephews, nieces and a whole line up of blood relatives down the line, particularly in the African extended family setting where African communalism is the social ideological worldview, as against the corresponding western individualism with its typical nuclear family. Families, particularly biological families, are created through procreation which involves the implantation of an egg by the male in the womb of a female. The egg, in turn, undergoes a fertilization process and is left in the womb of the female for a period of, generally, nine months (except in some rare cases), during which the mother feeds and nurtures the embryo through its various stages until its delivery into the open world as a child. This most natural process, excludes the more modern form known as in vitro fertilization.
On its being delivered of its mother, the baby comingles and socializes with its siblings in the same home but in complex ways of filial love which shows up in the crying or sad mood of the baby when its siblings are in pain or trouble even if the pain is inflicted by the parents; in self-sacrificing love and passion; and in mutual defence and protection of one another from harm and the vagaries of life. Within the same family, too, there is, sometimes, sibling rivalry, which can be understood in the context of the Greek term, “agon” and its derives such as “protagonist” and “antagonist”. Very roughly, “agon” means position. So, usually, once the child is born, she or he assumes a position in the family. The first child who assumes the first position in the family is, hence, the protagonist, that is, the one in position. But once the second child is born, especially if the two children are of the same sex, the second child instinctively arrives in opposition to the first, and feels much of the time the need and urge to oust the first from the position. The second child, therefore, becomes the antagonist to the first child. A summation of these tendencies within the family, which include filial love, subtle or sometimes even loud rivalry, intra-family divisions and cleavages and, in general, such global, binding compassion that knits the family together sometimes even within a framework of occasional disagreements, is a reality of the family, nuclear or extended.
As the children come of age, they are weaned, one after the other, and each goes his or her way into the wider world to confront the realities of survival through the various flanks of human endeavour. Thus, some of the children become medical doctors, nurses, teachers, professors, politicians, motor vehicle repairers, engineers, soldiers, policemen and members of our various security agencies, clergymen, pilots, businessmen, even rogues, etc, while some often remain with the parents in the homestead. But in most cases there is always a nexus, a meeting point when and where all the family members get back together. It could be during festivals, felicitations, deaths and burials, or sometimes at the invitation of the parents to attend to a specific need or set of needs. In all these, certain things stand out. In addition to rearing his or her own family, each weaned child worthy of the name must keep in touch with his or her siblings and parents, run to them when he or she is in need, support them when they are in need, advise and encourage them, take care of the parents or guardians and encourage one another to contribute to the upkeep and sustenance of their shared parents and heritage so that the family lineage continues under the sun in perpetuity. That is when, in the Bendi lingo, it is often prayed that shiwhang shitiang shindea whundiour, shindea whudiongkpeh (May our lineage extend infinitely like the two forest climbers, whundiour and whundiongkpeh).
A typical alumni association shares all these attributes of the family in relation to its members and the alma mater except in one aspect: unlike the biological family in which both parents eventually die, the parents in an alumni association never die. As with the father or the guardian in the biological family setting, the parents and guardians of students feed their wards and children into the school while the school itself, as mother, takes over the nurturing of the offspring through gestation period up until birth. As with the biological family, the students are admitted in batches and sessions. As they dwell together under the same roof of the same dormitories or hostels, same school compound or campus, sharing same teachers and other school infrastructure, they go into lasting relationships; they sometimes quarrel, protect and punish one another, and, generally, become one another’s keepers. As alumni of Bendi Technical College, you might be familiar with the term “foxes”. Indeed, in our time in the neighbouring Government Secondary School, Obudu, we also had “vixens” since we shared the school with female students then. The various experiences and jokes and punishments, sometimes outright cruelty of seniors that we all encountered, have now fermented and become sources of the sweet memories we have been sharing as weaned children of the same parents. Of course, we cannot forget the annual change of government which usually entailed the naming of new prefects and the consequent contest between the protagonist-outgoing and the antagonist-in-coming regimes with the junior students being at the receiving end of the outcome of the sibling rivalry. Batch after batch, however, we all graduate and become alumni or alumnae while our schools or universities become our alma mater.
The name “alma mater”, as it today refers to training institutions, is of Latin origin. While the headword, “mater” stands for “mother” as opposed to “pater” or father (from where the Christians have derived the popular “Pater Noster” or “Our Father”), synonyms for the pre-modifier, “alma”, include such words as foster, nourishing, bountiful, nurturing. This sense of alma mater as standing for one’s university or school or school’s official song was first used in British schools in 1710. Simply, therefore, alma mater means a caring or bountiful, or nourishing or nurturing mother who produces the alumni (originally plural for male products, the singular being alumnus, while “alumnae” is plural for the female products, the singular being alumna). It is in this context that you who are gathered here today have to see yourselves as the alumni of one foster mother, the great Bendi Technical College, Utendi, Bendi. So, you are most heartily welcome as children of the same nourishing, bountiful mother.
Alumni associations globally play vital roles in the development of fellow alumni and their alma mater. These roles may be summarized as paying back to the institution for the nurture and nourishing the offspring received from it while they were yet on its anvil being hammered into fine shape for the larger world; or before being weaned into independent existence as adults. One reason for your gathering here today must be for the purpose of giving back to your alma mater in order to enable her to bring up your forthcoming siblings who are in the school, or who intend to study in the institution. Ultimately, too, you are gathered here to ensure the continued sustenance and existence of your family, your lineage, your alma mater, and in good state of health. As such, alumni are known to provide campus facilities, endowments, bequests, scholarships and grants as well as cutting-edge teaching and learning facilities in their alma mater. Equally important is the need for alumni to support one another irrespective of the diversion of your paths into different directions of existence and level of growth. On the need to support one’s alma mater, it seems to me that in the ranking of universities in the world today, just to illustrate, the same universities, particularly in the United States, which are usually among the best ten, are also the ones which received the highest support from their alumni associations in the 2017 fiscal year. According to the publication, The U. S. News (https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/the-short-list-college/articles/10-universities-with-the-biggest-endowments, accessed: 9 -2 – 2019), these US universities, which benefited from an average total of over $18billion, include, in the order of the support they received: Harvard (over $37b), Yale (over $27b) (Stanford) (nearly $25b), Princeton University (over $23b), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (over 14b), University of Pennsylvania (over $12b), Texas A & M University (nearly $11b), University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (over 10b), Columbia University (NY) (nearly $10b), and University of Notre Dame (over $9b). Here in Nigeria, too, very many secondary schools and universities have established very strong alumni associations. Two typical examples, and perhaps the most outstanding, are the Barewa College, Zaria, and Yaba College of Technology, Lagos. Through the network of connections among its alumni, it is almost no exaggeration to say that the products of Barewa College, for example, rule this country perennially.
Without a doubt, I can assert that the progeny of this great institution, the Bendi Technical College, have been largely successful. For instance, I had already tangentially mentioned Dr Godwin Amanke, who had been a scholar and is now the Cross River State Commissioner for Education. There are among us here today other great scholars of international standing such as the Associate Professors, Drs Michael Ushie (another very young student of mine who was a contemporary of Dr Amanke here) and David Lishilinimle Imbua. There are other potential professors such as Dr Julius Naligwu Ingwele and Dr Sylvester Unimuke, and the medical practitioner, Dr Aniake Beshel, a medical doctor now resident and practising in the United States. I have not forgotten another of my students, Mr Jerry Ageh, who is now an award-winning School Principal and President of the Bendi Development Association. One or two of the female students are Mrs. Theresa Aleka, a health worker of note, Ms Jaqueline Ogar, elder sister of His Excellency, Sen. Prof Ben Ayade, Theresa Imbua (pardon my ignorance of her marital surname) and quite a host of other female products of the BTC. Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive as I know of several other great products of this institution whose names are inadvertently missing from the list. On this basis, I do not think anyone among us here would question the fact that you, as the painstakingly groomed children of your alma mater, have come of age.
What must not be missed is that you who are gathered here and others outside of here who are products of this college are also products of a rare, noble, patriotic, altruistic community vision and mission which had translated into the College. Equally worthy of note is that, perhaps, apart from Mr. Utsu Linus Adie and his late elder brother, Mr. John Unimuke Adie, who were university graduates and among the pioneers in the College project, the vast majority of other pioneers did not have any notable post-secondary educational qualifications. They were mostly teachers and farmers and very junior civil servants one example being now Dr David Osakpa of Begiagbai village who, in his 20s, aligned with the vision among the older members of the bendi community. Yet, they envisioned and mobilized the Bendi community to embark on this project and sacrificially pursued it to its logical conclusion for the good of the larger world. But today we have products of this institution that are in the professorial cadre, and who are noteworthy politicians and businessmen, and it is in their era that this huge, robust dream is being allowed to lapse into oblivion; in other words, being allowed to die. The first question is: How much have these ones paid back into the development of this alma mater of theirs to advance the noble vision begun by their mothers and fathers who were not very formally educated, but who thought ahead of their time towards the growth and development of society?
Another set of questions arise: As it does happen in the biological family setting in which the weaker members or siblings in need are supported; or where siblings aspiring to certain positions in society are supported; or where family members occasionally assemble to assess the state of the health of their parents, to what extent have you, the weaned children of Bendi Technical College, been supporting one another, helping the weaker ones among you to rise or stand, or giving support to the more successful ones among you to climb further the social and political ladder of society? How much effort and sacrifice have you put into the very vision for you to have a viable Alumni association worthy of its name? Permit me to go a bit personal here. In the evening of his life, my late father left us some words of wisdom. According to him, you do not ostracize a member of the family just because he or she is lazy. Laziness is not a banishment-attracting vice. What the lazy one among you deserves is support, encouragement, motivation and other forms of inducements or remedies. However, when the lazy one among you becomes evil or wicked or envious, you first warn him. If he or she persists in his or her evil ways, that would leave you with no alternative than to ostracizing him so that the family can continue in unity, peace and progress. How, then, have you been supporting the weaker members of your family here?
I have brought this statement here because, like fingers, we are not equal in the eyes of society. Accordingly, the stronger or more privileged ones among you owe the weaker ones the family duty of supporting and uplifting them. Similarly, the weaker ones among you also owe the stronger ones the duty of helping and supporting them most sincerely and devoid of envy or jealousy, all in the interest of the one family which gave birth to them and weaned them out into the world. In sum, you must learn from the experiences of the alumni of other schools in terms of support for, and solidarity with, one another in all their healthy endeavours, including in the orbit of politics irrespective of your political affiliations; after all, the allegiance to the family ought to be stronger and more permanent than that to any political party.
The next, and a very important question is: To what extent have you, as well-to-do offspring of the great Bendi Technical College returned to assess the state of health of your alma mater, especially in the light of the rapid changes in technology which have made it necessary that every such institution must have a state-of-the-art laboratory, computer room fitted with enough computers, a good library, including the now-fashionable e-library and excellent workshops befitting a modern technical instituion? What of the bridge leading to the school which politician after politician has promised to fix, yet the bridge has remained in its state of abeyance for these many seasons? The dilapidated buildings have become a typical politician’s farm in which he invests empty promises in exchange for the votes of the community. How about the younger ones still in the womb of your great mother? What kind of elder brothers and sisters are you if you cannot as much as provide scholarships to the best among them so as to motivate them to sustain your various legacies?
These are some of the questions and issues you ought to consider as you have now created this Reunion for your meeting as a great family. At no other time in the history of your alma mater does she need your urgent and crucial attention than now considering the successive governments’ criminal neglect of public schools, which had so properly baked us for service to our society and humanity. The schools have been so systematically murdered that they have become “no-go” areas for our own children in spite of how well they had nurtured us in character and learning. Or would you say you have not yet come of age when you have among you this intimidating constellation of political gladiators, intellectuals and professionals; civil servants who have attained the acme of their profession as successful businessmen; robustly blessed clergymen and military and security personnel? If you were to return, as it were, in your present levels of success to your alma mater, you would discover that she is now simply awaiting the forest to reclaim her from the community.
In the light of the foregoing issues and questions, permit me, my great sisters and brothers, to attempt the following suggestions:
- That you undertake to provide and or upgrade computer, library and laboratory facilities in the school.
- That you encourage the compilation of a comprehensive list of all the products of the school and preservation of the list in a somewhat permanent form for ease of reference.
- That you consider the possibility of providing at least one standard multipurpose building in the school which should be named after you as weaned children of BTC.
- That you avail yourselves of every opportunity to work towards the reconstruction of the bridge that has now cut off the College from the highway.
- You may also consider the propriety of having associate alumni members who may include individuals or groups that may not be alumni themselves, but who have satisfactorily supported the cause of many of your alumni.
- That in due season, you should set up a committee to visit the premises of the School to have a first-hand report on its current state, and interface with its current administration in order to identify the needs of the school.
- The late Mr. John Adie and I had discussed the prospect of the BDA building dormitories here for students who would be paying a token as rent to the Association. Perhaps the Alumni Association may think about this, too.
Ladies and gentlemen, an address of this kind must have some flaws. I would, hence, be very satisfied if it, at least, attempts to challenge you to realize that you have thus far not been sufficiently cohesive and helpful to one another as children produced by, and weaned from, the same mother institution. Yet, this has been so in spite of the wise observation by ducks that whenever they gather together as kindred, they would celebrate their togetherness by jerking their necks in pride as members of a common race. Then, above all, I would be satisfied if my haphazard presentation today would challenge you to remember your nourishing, fostering, bountiful mother, the famous Bendi Technical College, Utendi, Bendi, Obanliku LGA, your great alma mater, our pride.
Thank you for your attention.
Professor Joseph Akawu USHIE
Dean, faculty of Arts, University of Uyo, Uyo
Fellow, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA)