Former minister of education and presidential aspirant made the disclosure as guest speaker at a book launch in Abuja on Thursday at the International Conference Center (ICC).
The 350-page book titled ‘ONYE-NKUZI: Teacher, Statesman, Icon of Education’, is a masterfully written historical biography on the life and times of Reuben Ibekwe Uzoma (RI), OBE, OFR, LLD honoris causa, first minister of education of former Eastern Region. In attendance were high-profile individuals who reminisced on RI’s immeasurable roles as a distinguished minister and passionate counselor with penchant for the education of the girl-child throughout the region and beyond, at the time.
Speaking effusively about RI’s indelible impact, guests repeatedly alluded to their encounter with the iconic counselor and how the unforgettable experience invariably affected their career choices, where they are still flourishing today.
The guest speaker was ably represented by co-convener of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) group-Aisha Yesufu. Ezekwesili used the opportunity to address the several challenges bedeviling girl-child education in the country. She also highlighted the need for a level playing field for children irrespective of gender, and disclosed that “for every time a girl isn’t in school, we are killing a talent”.
“I start with a story of a young girl who went to school in the morning without breakfast and would come back home in the afternoon not expecting lunch.” The former minster began. “This girl-child by the time she was eleven, all her friends were married off. The young girl is all grown up now. She got married at the age of 24 and was made fun of. She was abused and insulted because a lot of people saw her as an old maid because her mates who got married at eleven were already grandmothers. This little girl, even though she grew up in the ghetto, she knew she wanted to be up there in the world, she wanted education so much that she was never going to allow anybody take that away from her. Even though she was mocked, even though she was insulted, even though she was called all sort of names, and even sometimes her parents couldn’t understand why she wanted education…
“If you are going to break the shackles of poverty, it is through education”. She continued. “And today, I am pained that the education that our forefathers gave to us, that they made sure was meant for all of us, we are not giving it to the next generation. Education is the equalizer, is the unifier, it is the only reason why I am standing here before you and before this distinguished gathering. The voice that comes out of me today, if I had not got the education, it would have died.”
Ezekwesili continued, noting that, “for every time we see that girl that isn’t in school, we are killing a voice, we are killing a talent, and we are killing a medical doctor who would probably find the cure for AIDS. We are killing that one talent that is needed in this country to take us to where we have never even begun to imagine. As I read this book, I saw the history that we have that has been denied us. As I stand before you, I feel so sad that I never knew Sir R.I. UZOMA until today. And that is one of the injustices that have been done to us”.
The author of the book Dr. Adaoha Okwuosa, OON (Nee Uzoma) in her vote of thanks expressed profound appreciation to all attendees for making it a point of duty in honoring her father who was an ideal statesman. The book being a collection of a few wonderful machinations of RI, she expressed her overwhelming impression saying that she was “more than happily surprised” by the impressive support from friends and family members, adding that “the release of the book serves to unfold certain events in Nigeria that held out certain promises”.
Fielding questions from journalists on the current state of education in Nigeria, Okwuosa revealed her dismay and urged the government to do more in helping to restore the past glory. “I don’t know what has happened to education in the country”. She said. “In my time, we had swell time as students. We were well fed and the library was well equipped. I don’t know who is to be blamed but there is so much decay in educational infrastructure so much so where the state is involved; where government is involved. So much so that, the standard is now higher when it is handled by the private sector.
“Maybe, what happened was that the growth of schools became too much for the government to handle. Look at the school in Dapchi where there was the kidnapping case, I was ashamed to watch the CNN report because the equipment being shown—the beds; the girls were sleeping on cardboard papers on the beds. How can we say this is a technical school and we were showing it to the world? So, this is one of the books I am using to draw attention and also the condition of teachers. The titled of the book ONYE-NKUZI was the title my father had for a long time. He refused to take a chieftaincy title or any honor. He said “ONYE-NKUZI is enough”. They were held in awe; they were worshipped and respected. Whenever he was passing, they said “ONYE-NKUZI is passing” but now, look at what has happened to teachers”.
Some of the special dignitaries at the book launch comprised: the event’s Chairman- Minister of State for Education Professor Anthony G. Anwukah and his wife Justice Anwukah, former Minister of Education Dr. Oby Ezekwesili CFR (Guest speaker/presenter), former Commissioner for Education Imo State Chief Uzoma Nwosu-Iheme (Chief host) and his wife Justice Chioma Nwosu-Iheme of the court of appeal, Mrs. Josephine Anenih (Former Minister of Women Affairs), Mr. Oseloka Obaze, Ms. Ebeke Okeke CFR, Princess Nwoyibo Iweka, Mrs. Carol Ndaguba, Chief Gibson Chigbu who is the Lord Ambassador and ‘Akaraka’ of Nkwerre (Hometown of R.I. Uzoma), and others too numerous to mention.