TO REBUILD AND RESTORE
Being the Text of a Speech Presented by Governor Alex Otti of Abia State during the Centenary Anniversary of Methodist College Uzuakoli on Sunday, December 10, 2023 in Uzuakoli, Abia State
- We have gathered today to honour the visionaries whose wisdom and thoughtfulness gave birth to this historic college, a school of many firsts. Our presence today in Uzuakoli, on this special ground, is therefore in celebration of history, and in honour of the men whose footprints within Methodist College Uzuakoli (UZUMECO) in the last 100 years defined the enduring legacy of this institution as a great citadel of learning.
- It is on this note distinguished ladies and gentlemen, that I heartily welcome you to the centenary anniversary of Methodist College Uzuakoli. It is great to see so many friends and very important leaders as we gather to celebrate UZUMECO and its fine fruits over the last 100 years of calm and turbulence.
- For those of us who followed the development of UZUMECO from afar, several decades after its founding, it is no surprise that this great school successfully weathered the many storms and upheavals of the last 100 years. Clearly, this is more than just a college, it is the spirit of a people, a culture of greatness and an enduring legacy handed down to us by our fathers. UZUMECO’s significance and place in history could not just have fizzled out because the seed that birthed it has over a thousand-year lifespan.
- It would be appropriate at this point to celebrate the Methodist Church for its foresight in setting up this College which also marked the beginning of secondary school education across the region now known as South East Nigeria. We are celebrating UZUMECO this afternoon for the simple fact that the men of faith who gave us this institution understood that the liberating message of the Gospel and sound education are inseparable.
- The Methodist Church’s approach to evangelism presents a unique model that must not be lost on contemporary leaders of the Christian faith in Nigeria. The development of the ancient town of Uzuakoli in the last century is deeply connected to the social investments made by the Methodist Church in Nigeria and we can find instances of this in the several health and human support facilities it established.
- The schools, hospitals and the centre for the cure and rehabilitation of victims of leprosy set up by the Church serve men and women from different communities across the country and the nation is infinitely indebted to the foundational leaders of the Church for its goodwill to the poor in various communities.
- The historic land of Uzuakoli also deserves our deepest gratitude on a day like this for its traditional hospitality. The Methodist Church, as well as several other faith groups, found a home in this land because the people are accommodating and kind, especially to strangers. The hospitality and peace-loving nature of the average Uzuakoli person is the reason an institution like UZUMECO has continued to thrive after more than a hundred years without extensive community aggression and disputes.
- In all, I am grateful to everyone who played one part or the other in making the first 100 years of UZUMECO eventful and I would like to remind you that the reward for a good job is more work.
- The last 100 years have been very rewarding and it is only proper that we celebrate and congratulate ourselves for making it thus far. It is also appropriate that we remember several contemporaries, teachers, principals and others who played key roles in our formation but have since gone to be with their Maker. We are obliged to remember them at events like this and in our everyday endeavours, and to honour their memories through kindness to those we encounter. May we never forget that within and outside this place, it always has to be “you first, I second.”
- I want to specially thank the Old Boys Association of UZUMECO ably led by Mazi Ugochukwu Okoroafor and all others before him for all they have done to keep the spirit and values of this institution alive, especially in the years when the government shamefully turned its back on the education sector, leading to massive decay and disillusionment. It is great that the Old Boys did not just sit back to watch things deteriorate totally but took the bull by the horn, mobilising critical resources to fix decaying infrastructure, supporting students with scholarships and doing everything they could to preserve the college and its legacy.
- Like I told your peers from Government College Umuahia and Sacred Heart College Aba at separate events not too long ago, the commitment of our people to development is made most manifest in the increasingly active roles old students associations play in keeping our legacy secondary schools alive.
- Over the last five decades, things have deteriorated so badly that education no longer counts as a priority for several leaders. This terrible culture of abandonment is the reason many of the institutions that pioneered human capital development in our land starting from the mid-1930s until the late1970s are mostly either totally dilapidated or converted to private property of connected individuals and their lackeys who build hotels and shops where we once had historical citadels of learning.
- I ventured into politics because it hit me at a point that doing nothing amidst the rot was a terrible choice. I am a product of the public school system and like so many of you, education was my ladder to prominence. I was pained to learn that the ladder had long been taken away for many children from poor homes and I could not just stand and watch. I jumped into the field with one commitment at the centre of my other critical agenda: we must return education to the front burner.
- Shortly after I was sworn in in May this year, I declared a state of emergency in the education sector and told my team that we must immediately make our mark in education because quality education is not just critical in our long term governance objective, it is central to everything we seek to do in relation to creating a mass of enlightened and conscious citizens who appreciate the duty each of us owes to those coming after us.
- Presently, we are committing billions of Naira to the renovation and rehabilitation of about 17 primary and 17 secondary schools in the first phase of our efforts at re-making our educational environments to promote quality teaching and learning. Thereafter, we will expand it to all public schools in the state. As we upgrade the schools, we are also upgrading teachers’ skills and the curricular.
- Our peculiar advantage as a people lies in education and there should be no limit to how much sacrifices that can be made to sustain that advantage. We do well in all fields of human endeavour but what many may not realise is that our excellence is rooted in the love of learning and practical application of what had been learnt.
- The task of restoring the glory of education in the state is quite demanding and the state does not have sufficient resources to accomplish all that we have set out to achieve. This is where every one of us, including captains of industry, philanthropists, thought leaders in the international development circles, no matter where we operate, must all step in to assist in the comprehensive resuscitation project in the education sector.
- We want the infrastructure in schools upgraded; students from poor financial backgrounds offered scholarships and very importantly, create a robust school-industry connection to equip our students with the theoretical and practical skills that will make them relevant in the global labour market upon graduation. I am working with my team to rebrand Abia into a major global hub for quality human resources and skills.
- Abia State must be repositioned to take ultimate advantage of globalisation. Our human resource export must be optimised for enhanced rewards and the most effective way to do that is by investing massively in the education sector. To this effect, I am prepared to formally engage the Old Boys of UZUMECO to identify areas of collaboration as we seek to rebuild and restore this institution to its glory days. As I had stated earlier, this schools still has more than a thousand years in it and we must work to reposition it as a premier centre of excellence in learning, and character formation.
- My message to all other old students’ associations remains the same: come let us work together for that is the only way to restore the glory of yesteryears. Government would do its part but as you already know, we have so much on our hands and we need everyone’s involvement. My door will always be open and it would be my pleasure to welcome everyone who has something to contribute to the intellectual and moral upbringing of our young ones.
- Thank you for listening. Long live UZUMECO, and may your history of producing bright stars for our world long endure.
Dr Alex C. Otti, OFR.