By Professor Iniodu George
Public lecture delivered on the Golden Jubilee of Western Annang Secondary Commercial School (WASCO), Ukanafun at Local government council hall, Ikot Akpa Nkuk, on Saturday, 16th December, 2023.
WASCO is an acronym for Western Annang Secondary Commercial School; a post-primary educational institution located in Ukanafun; one of the 273 secondary schools in Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria; one whose history is a story of necessity; present, a story of circumstance; and future, a story of certitude.
In the morning of a certain school day in 1979, I was led by the hand as a child to the only secondary school in my community and environs. In no time, registration protocols were completed, I commenced a five-year academic trip; and at regulation time WASCO produced me.
Today, over 4 decades down the line, I’m back here in a rare opportunity to lead a discourse at the Golden jubilee of my Alma mater on the topic WASCO: the abandoned hen and her golden eggs. I commend the initiative of the organizers of this event and I am thankful that we have come back to WASCO, not as the eggs she laid years ago, but as chicks hatched from her golden eggs and now having acquired the qualities of an eagle. Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me joy therefore to address this gathering of the eagles!
The Metaphor of the abandoned hen and her golden eggs
The hen is the adult female chicken, Gallus domesticus, a domestic bird that originated from Southeast Asia and one of the most common and widespread domestic animals. The hen lays eggs whether or not she mated with a male. She exhibits broodiness, protects her eggs to hatching and provides parental care for her chicks, covering them against predators.
Professor Iniodu George, the lecture presenter
The egg is a most valued resource and significant in various spheres with spiritual connotations as a symbol of life; many cultures consider egg as a source of new life from inanimate object or as representing new beginnings, as found in ancient Egyptian, Chinese, Greece and Rome beliefs. In Christianity, it is considered a symbol of fertility, resurrection and eternal life (Alimentarium, 2023). Away from spiritual connotations, in biological development, the theory of Epigenesis which became popular in the mid 18th Century held that the egg contained the material from which the embryo is gradually built. Indeed, with few exceptions of parthenogenesis in lower life forms, the (fertilized) egg is required for continuity of life.
Having highlighted the significance of the egg, it is imaginable, how valuable a “golden egg” can be; but the Golden egg is not literally an egg with a shell or yolk made of gold. The expression is used to describe value. In business, it refers to something that is a very good source of money or business. In medicine, it is used in invitro fertilization (IVF) procedure to refer to healthy eggs retrieved from the prospective mother with problems related with egg reserve, miscarriage or advanced age with Dual-Stimulation Method (Bursa, 2023).
The Metaphor of the abandoned hen and her golden eggs captured in the title of this discourse derives from the popular fable The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs by Aesop, a Greek fabulist, slave and storyteller who lived in ancient Greece between 620 and 564 BCE. The tale gave rise to the idiom ‘killing the goose that lays the golden eggs’; with the morals that greed can lead to great loss. Over time, variants of Aesop’s fable have used other birds to convey the moral message.
Against this background, this discourse is therefore intended to examine the instances and circumstances of neglect of WASCO as an academic institution which has primed up and produced generations of highly rated human resources with massive positive impact on humanity; and the realities of the grave loss from such neglect.
- WASCO: HOW IT ALL BEGAN
WASCO’s history is a story of necessity; not just because it was the first post-primary educational institution to emerge in the whole of what later became Ukanafun Local Government Area of today; but also because it came at a time of utmost need to fill a massive vacuum.
Under the Regional structure of pre-independence Nigeria, the southeastern part was under the Eastern Region; and under the Regions were further administrative units which were divisional council areas. The modern Ukanafun was under Abak Divisional council area (Abak Division, which became Divisional council headquarters in 1958) as Western Annang County Council area, (headquarters in Ikot Akpa Nkuk); with other parts of the Annang land as composite administrative areas, including Northern Annang, Southern Annang, and Eastern Annang.
Amidst the woes of imperialism was the advantage of Western education. However, the British administration did not establish government schools. Available schools were established and run by the missionaries, who grabbed the opportunity of the colonial conquest to establish churches and schools of both primary and secondary levels. The Annang counties had mission schools especially from the Catholic Mission; such as the Holy Family College, an all boys secondary school founded in 1942 in Abak (Eastern Annang) and the Teacher Training College (TTC) in Urua Inyang (Northern Annang).
Sadly, there was no secondary level educational institution in Western Annang. That reality stared at the people and was soon to hinder educational development in the area, as the zeal for further education after the primary level dwindled amongst the people. Standard Six or Elementary Six became the endpoint of educational pursuit for most people. The available option was travelling to attend boarding schools at very distant locations, either within and outside Abak Division or in other Provinces and Regions of the Colonial Nigeria. This was expensive and quite de-motivational. This problem lingered into the post-independence Nigeria, up to the outbreak of the civil war (The Nigerian-Biafran war: July 6, 1967 – January 15, 1970) and was obviously limiting progress in educational development in the area. The necessity for a secondary school was dire.
WASCO emerged as the brainchild of progress and development minded people of Western Annang, who, worried about the prevailing anomaly and its ugly implications on the future of their community, decided to come together under the umbrella of Western Annang Development Union (WADU). WADU, as the name implies, was a development association, which intended to drive the development of the area in every sense of it; but the establishment of a secondary school was a priority. They so advocated and mobilized funds for this enormous enterprise well before the advent of the civil war. According to Udom (2016), the initial funds generated for the project was lost in the despoliations of the war, but this was not to deter the determined minds of WADU, who regrouped after the war and in a general meeting of the Union on 28th April, 1971 resolved to resume the task of building a secondary school in Western Annang between April 1971 and January 1972. Villages, corporate bodies and working individuals were levied to this effect. Formal application for the establishment of the school was supported by all the four clans of Western Annang (Southern Ukanafun, Northern Ukanafun, Southern Afaha, Northern Afaha and Adat Ifang) through their representatives.
WADU’s resolution of April 28, 1971 was actualized. The Ministry of Education handed the school Approval to Open (ATO), which saw the commencement of WASCO on 13th January, 1972. WASCO thus emerged through community effort galvanized by WADU. The group that conceived and pioneered the establishment of WASCO comprised dedicated indigenes of Western Annang, some of who became pioneer members of the Board of Governors of the school: Chief J. U. Udom (Chairman), Chief F. A. Umoren, Elder Benson Etukudo, Chief M. B. Eyop, Mr. I. J. Akpan, Elder Ediongsenyene U. Udom, Chief B. I. Okokon, Barrister A. J. Ukpanah, Pastor J. T. Udiong, Chief M. O. Offong, Mr. T. A. Umanah, Mr. Wilson A. Udo. WASCO began academic activities at a temporary site, Central School, Ukanafun, 13th January 1972, with 59 students and 3 teachers. The first Principal was Mr. Solomon John Udom, who hailed from Mmanta, Abak (Udom, 2016).
- WASCO’S GOLDEN EGGS AND HER WORTH
Under natural conditions and where there is mating, the chicken egg is laid fertilized, hence it comes complete with the potential to produce life. However, eggs do not remain as eggs for life; they either hatch, producing a live chick, are eaten up as food or destroyed. If I were to metaphorise WASCO in a bird, I would rather call it the eagle; for I have seen the golden eggs of WASCO hatch into eaglets, grow into eagles and operate as the strongest bird of flight. This is to say that the products of WASCO are high flyers.
Two things come to mind when considering the products of an educational institution, but perhaps, one of them is the paramount index of rating. These are the number and quality; and the latter, the paramount index. Number of graduates would depend on number of students at a given time. WASCO started with 59 students. In 25 years, the population had grown to over a thousand. For a community school, this was encouraging. The population actually soared with time; before the security crises, which saw natives and non-natives scampering away from the area and schools deserted for about 2 years, the population had gone over 3,000. After the crises, it dropped to less than 1000.
However, currently, this number is picking up; today, there are 1,258 students on enrollment; with indications of further gradual growth. The current Principal General, Pastor Udeme Henry Akpan, should be commended for the resilience and encouraged to do even more. So, over the years the school has produced well over 40 streams of Secondary School leavers with the West African School Certificate (WASC), West African Examination Council Certificate (WAEC) or Senior Secondary School Certificate (SSCE), as the case may be.
As a bridge between the primary and tertiary institutions, the secondary school plays a vital role in the development of the nation (Nanbak, 2020). It is believed that secondary education provides the optimum setting to prepare young people for healthy and productive adult lives, including participation in social, political, and economic spheres; and in today’s global economy, countries need a significant number of their citizens to attain secondary education in order to acquire the specific skills and aptitudes necessary for an increasingly technology-driven market place (Jacob and Lehner, 2011).
Currently, WASCO maintains the two levels of secondary education under UNESCO’s International Standard Classification of Education, namely Lower Secondary school (Junior secondary school, JSS) considered as the final phase of basic education and Upper Secondary school (Senior secondary school, SSS), which is the stage before tertiary education. It is obvious that WASCO has in its lifetime fulfilled the objectives and achievements of this level of education. Products of WASCO have made remarkable strides in all walks of life, with local, sub-national, national, regional and global impacts in academics, journalism, law, medicine, engineering, business and economics, technology, industry, politics and government, etc.
- THE ABANDONED WASCO
By the Oxford dictionary, the word abandon describes a state of ceasing to support or look after; or turning ones back on something. So is WASCO abandoned?
To assess the status of an institution, it is considered key to appraise the quality it delivers and the available factors that militate against quality delivery. According to Qurat-ul-ain et al., (2022), the factors of quality education include the learning environment, teacher and teaching, curriculum and assessment. In this context we are examining some indices such as infrastructure and teacher/student ratio.
Building infrastructure decay in WASCO is on an alarming dimension. The main classroom block and science laboratory are deteriorating, while staff quarters, boys’ and girls’ hostels and dining hall are completely dilapidated and abandoned. There is no source of power supply. There is no source of water supply. The available classrooms blocks lack adequate seats. The library is not adequately equipped with needed books.
Student-teacher ratio for secondary school in Nigeria, as stipulated by the National Policy on education is 1:40 (FGN, 2013; Jacob and Ndubuisi, 2020). In this case, it is qualified teachers that are considered, whom UNESO defines as those who have at least the minimum academic qualifications required for teaching their subjects at the relevant level in a given country in a given academic year (UNESCO 2023a). At present, student population in WASCO is 1,258. There are 20 teachers; and additional 25 members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). Going with the number of ‘regular’ teachers (20), the current Student-teacher ratio is 1:63 and grossly inadequate; but 1:28 if the NYSC Corp members are considered.
However, in the midst of this infrastructure decay and inadequate student-teacher ratio, the government of Akwa Ibom State is bearing the wage bill; staff salaries are paid as and when due. In recent times, the school took delivery of science equipment, as one of the beneficiary schools in one of government’s selective intervention. I would therefore differ from the notion that WASCO is abandoned. WASCO is actually neglected; and the neglect is monumental.
It is not lost on me that education at the primary and post-primary levels is free and compulsory in Akwa Ibom State. This is well advertised even with a radio drama documentary. If it is not an irony, what then is it, that in the clatter of these advertisements, basic infrastructure and the very facilities that would aid teaching and learning are rotting away without regard? It is not lost on me that in Akwa Ibom State, out-of-school children, especially those found hawking during school hours are supposed to be apprehended and their parents punished, perhaps by prosecution, as dramatized on a regular radio jingle that runs on the State’s radio; yet there are no seats in the classrooms for the child to sit and learn should he be in school. If it is not an irony, what is it?
Show me a man who prosecutes parents of out-of-school children, yet fails to provide basic infrastructure and facilities for education of the children; and I will show you a man who goes to equity with dirty hands.
A reflection of the political will to address education certainly reflects in government budgets. Our governments at both national and sub-national levels seem to have been consistent in budgeting below the UNESCO mark of 4 to 6% of GDP or 15 to 20% of public expenditure (UNESCO 2023b). Figure 1 illustrates a trend 5 years ago and the past two years in Akwa Ibom State (details are available in public domain, AKSG, 2023).
Figure 1: Percentage budget allocation to Education in Akwa Ibom State
Plates: The Rot in WASCO
- NEEDS ASSESSMENT
The following needs have been identified:
|New classroom blocks
|Hostels (Male and Female
|Science laboratory block
|Chairs and tables
|SOCIAL / RECREATION
6. THE REBUILDING PLAN: THE ROLE OF THE ALUMNI
The Alumni association in context is typically an association of former students of an institution. The main purpose is to bring former students together to maintain a connection with institution and fellow graduates. It should be expected that old schools would have huge population of alumni, having graduated many over time. WASCO Alumni should earn commendation for identifying with their institution at a period as momentous as the Golden Anniversary; regrouping as golden chicks from her Golden eggs. It is indeed commendable.
Looking at the trouble with WASCO in terms of the myriads of needs, one would say it is the responsibility of the proprietor of the school to cater for his property. However, willing stakeholders should play a role to recover the abandoned hen. The Alumni has a role; a supportive role. The Alumni is a corporate entity that derives its strength from the collective strength of its members. It can respond and support through what I analyse here as AID: Attract, Influence and Donate.
Attract: By attracting support to their institution using human net worth, in a globalised world where and when contacts and connections (networking) is fast becoming a most valued investment.
Influence: By influencing support to their alma mater using power/authority of members in position of authority; e.g. their members well placed in government or the multinationals.
Donate: By donating directly as an intervention where necessary.
One or a combination of these is vital; but all geared towards achieving what I call the Positive ‘R’ Effect: This includes to Respond, rebuild, reconstruct, rehabilitate, rescue, recover, revamp, restore, reinvigorate, rejuvenate…and so on.
There are two forms of support or response the Alumni should position for, namely tangible and intangible interventions:
These are the examples:
- Tangible interventions: Infrastructure (buildings, classroom blocks, internal roads, perimeter fence, power and water supply, etc. Educational materials (books, science equipment, computers/IT equipment, etc).
- Intangible Interventions: Scholarships/bursary awards to current students, knowledge building fora, sponsorship of educational events, admission opportunities to current graduates to higher institutions, research, etc, as they may be applicable, depending on the alma mater.
- RECOMMENDATIONS AND CONCLUSION
Access to education is an important index in assessing the sanity and development of a community. If WASCO is allowed to rot away, the people of Western Annang will again be denied access to education; and this would tell on the development and security of the area, especially now in the era of sophistication of societal ills. Of exigency therefore is the need for WASCO to be rescued. While the Alumni can prosecute its supportive role, the government must rise to its responsibility of providing access to education to its citizens, especially the youthful population, if a stable and secured society is expected tomorrow. Having borne the brunt of security crisis of such magnitude that resulted in the sacking of Ukanafun by unknown gun men, the desolation in WASCO is massive and requires conscious and calculated intervention to revamp it.
I call on the Akwa Ibom State Government to make WASCO a model Secondary school.
Government should strengthen the institutions responsible for educational policies and programmes.
Let me conclude by expressing my optimism. There is hope for WASCO. I look forward therefore to a regenerated WASCO. I look forward therefore to a revived WASCO. I look forward therefore to a restored WASCO. I look forward therefore to a redeemed WASCO. And I look forward therefore to a WASCO where greater men than us will arise from.
George is an alumnae of WASCO