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.
Full Text of the inaugural address by Senator Akpabio on his investiture as pioneer Chancellor of Ritman University, Ikot Ekpene, April 12, 2018
RITMAN UNIVERSITY: A NEW DAWN
I am honored – and humbled – to stand before you today and be inaugurated as the pioneer Chancellor of this great citadel of learning. The proprietor of this great University and the University Council, please accept my thanks for this great confidence reposed in me. I extend my thanks and appreciation to the entire university community for this expression of faith in me. I thank all Akwa Ibom people who, as co-travellers in our journey to greatness, have invested me with their support in the past and whose support I crave for us to launch again a transformational agenda for this institution.
Ikot Ekpene, alias Raffia City, is rich in history and culture. It was the first center of local government administration in West Africa. As you enter the city you come to a junction christened “Control Post” by British colonialists. This outpost was needed to contain our unconquerable, strong-willed, dignified and warrior ancestors, who resisted colonialism. The name “control post” has sufficed as a testament to the greatness of our pedigree. Today that name will find its loftiest honor as this institution becomes one of the “control posts” of excellence in university education in our country.
The proprietor of this University, Distinguished Senator Emmanuel Ibok Essien and I have a shared commitment to education and scholarship. He fanned the embers of his vision, which began when he started a nursery/primary school and molded it into this great smoldering firelight of knowledge. Asked what could be worse than being born blind, Helen Keller, who was born blind, retorted “to have sight and no vision.” Distinguished Senator, you have sight and you have vision. Your dogged and visionary journey to this cradle of knowledge deserves a hallowed place in our history, folklore and legends. We are proud of you.
Not far from this place is a school in which I ran the race of my life. That race was not on a track with spectators, it was in the bush for survival. 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. 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.
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!
I am happy that my successor His Excellency, Mr Udom Emmanuel has kept that vision alive in spite of the downturn in the economy. I am greatly impressed by his love for our children, his respect for education and his commitment to the Akwa Ibom project as manifested in his many projects and the tarring of the Uyo – Ikot Ekpene Road.
My joy today is that this University provides one of the avenues for the millions of children who are benefitting from that my race (through the free and compulsory education program), to take hold of their future and fulfill their destinies.
I believe that in giving me this great honor, you rise to the faith that we could deepen our mutual commitment to our children and education. That we could create a partnership, which would make Ritman University, a celebrated research centre for the discovery, preservation and communication of knowledge. To actualize this dream we should be bound by a shared love for education and a commitment to making a positive impact on the world. I, therefore, consider it a great honor to be invited to be part of this visionary team.
Your expectation is not lost on me. Any University Chancellor worthy of the honor is supposed to ethically and effectively assist the institution to meet its strategic intent, provide effective ambience for learning and maintain a pride of place in the pantheon of universities. By God’s grace we would rise up to this challenge.
I admit that the times are challenging for universities in Nigeria. Cultism has spread to secondary schools and eaten deep into the fabric of our society. Public universities agitate for more funding and are subject to frequent closures because of industrial actions. Pulling the public universities out of the morass they are in would need the dedicated efforts of everyone in the academia particularly the patriots who labour in our public universities, and all men and women of goodwill in our country. But the silver lining in this cloud of this deterioration is the private universities. This is where the hope of our nation lies for a transformation, which would not only spread to public universities, but would redeem them, and set our country on the road to academic glory.
So distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the dawn of that transformation began when Ritman University opened its doors. In the Good Book, an angel asked Zechariah, “What do you see?” And he replied that he saw a lampstand all of gold with olive trees by the side. The angel retorted, among other things, that he should not despise the days of small beginnings. If you were to ask me “What do you see?” I would let you know that I see uncommon transformation of Ritman College. I see the Harvard of our nation. I see a centre for inventions and innovations. Let me leave that picture with you as we set about to make it happen.
Thank you for your attention and God bless all of us.