By Promise Etim
According to a renowned humanitarian and United Nations Assistant Director of Education, Stefania Giannini, ‘’Education is the bedrock of a just society in the Post-COVID world’’.
In an era of limited opportunities coupled with economic and social imbalance, accessing funding for education is a key concern that has discouraged many from advancing their quest for educational inclination.
It takes extraordinary passion to provide platform for others to access education for societal growth. This is the fulcrum that motivated the Senator representing Akwa Ibom North East in the National Assembly, Obong Bassey Albert (OBA) to capture education as an integral part of his human capital development agenda. This article will attempt to analyse the impact of the several educational empowerment programmes that the Federal Lawmaker has instituted for his constituents and beyond.
First Phase of Scholarship for Undergraduates – 2016 At the instance of numerous requests from students of Akwa Ibom North-East (Uyo Senatorial District) extraction as at November 2015, Senator Albert assembled a team of experts to conceptualize a sustainable scholarship scheme for his constituents that will be devoid of political and other forms of inference.
No fewer than three thousand applications (3,000) were received and a qualifying examination was administered to more than a thousand that met the requirements of studentship validation and academic progression. The examination, which was held at the Government Technical College, Ewet Offot – Uyo in May, 2016 saw eighty one (81) beneficiaries emerge from what was adjudged by participants as a free and credible process. The number was however increased to one hundred and forty (140) when the benefactor advised that candidates, who scored between 55% and the established benchmark of 60%, should also be considered.
Asides from taking full responsibility for the tuition fees of the beneficiaries, the scholars mostly from the University of Uyo and Akwa Ibom State University were also placed on a semester stipend of ten thousand naira (N10,000), to also help them as upkeep. A recent appraisal of the scheme indicates that 75 of the beneficiaries had graduated as of the end of the 2016/2017 academic session, while 18 others joined by the end of the 2017/2018 session. Twenty-one (21) are expected to complete their studies by the end of the current academic session.
Between 2016 and 2019, the scheme has produced five (5) first-class graduates, with Ememobong Akpanekpo, an indigene of Uyo Local Government Area and Wisdom Ibokette from Etinan leading the line. Ememobong and Wisdom were students of the University of Uyo in the Departments of Computer Engineering and Civil Engineering respectively. Twenty-seven (27) of the graduates within the years in the review were students from Engineering based disciplines, twelve (12) from Clinical Science and thirteen (13) others studied Pharmacy.
Second Phase of Scholarship for Undergraduates – 2019 In line with the increasing number of requests received by his constituency office, and the need to replace those who were delisted from the scheme upon graduation, Senator Albert had in May 2019, mandated the management committee to initiate the second phase of the programme. The majority of the concerns as gathered from his constituency office were not from his constituents, but rather undergraduates from sister Senatorial Districts (Uyo and Ikot Ekpene), who individually and collectively asked for similar opportunities. These yearnings informed the decision of Senator Albert to ask that 70% of the beneficiaries be selected from his primary constituency (Uyo Senatorial District), while the remaining 30% shared between Ikot Ekpene and Eket Senatorial Districts.
No fewer than five thousand (5,000) applications were received, with 1150 shortlisted for the qualifying examination based on studentship validation and academic progress as key indices for section. The examination conducted at the Community Secondary School, Aka Offot saw two hundred and Forty-one (241) candidates skip past the 60% benchmark. Fifty-seven (57) of them were students of Clinical Science, Eighty-Four (84) in Engineering disciplines, Thirty-Three (33) studying Pharmacy, and the remaining Six Four (63) in other related disciplines, while Four (4) physically challenged students were granted waivers.
By projection, about 35% of the beneficiaries are expected to graduate by the end of the current academic session, while the remaining one hundred and Fifty-nine (159) will complete their respective programmes between 2021 and 2024. According to a recent survey of their academic progression, Thirty-one (31) of the scholars are within the first-class range, while more than 60% are in the second-class upper division. This is a testament to the fact that the scholars have justified their inclusion in the scheme and the need to be distinguished from others.
Other Interventions Asides from the established three hundred and eight one (381) scholarship beneficiaries, several others have also benefitted from other interventions. Senator Albert’s constituency office receives several requests for educational support daily. Preliminary data available suggest that more than Two Hundred (200) of such requests have been verified and attended to in the past six years. During his empowerment programme in April – 2018, Four Hundred and Fifty (450) undergraduates were given the support of Forty Thousand naira (N40, 000) each to help them take care of pressing needs.
In the area of training and capacity building, fifteen (15) indigenes of the State have been supported to proceed on Post Graduate Studies within and outside the country. Worthy of mention is the fact that most of the beneficiaries are in the academia, one of such, Dr. Ekom Okpo, a Lecturer who was at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa for a bench-work. Similarly, Victor Etim, Udeme, Ibanga, Aniekan Asanga and Asuquo Jackson are all at advanced stages of their respective Doctorate degree programmes in the UK. Also, the likes of Ukponoabasi Antia, Ashong Ashong, Aniefiok Umoh and a host of others have either completed or are on the verge of completing their Masters degree programmes.
Impact and Projections It is worth mentioning that the undergraduate scholarship scheme gulps about eighteen million (N18m) annually. For Senator Albert, counting the cost is least desirable, but rather key performance indicators such as accessibility to education, cohesive academic progression, and optimizing opportunities are noticeable footprints of the scholarship programme, which has ultimately written his name in the sands of time.
These and many more may have informed the decision of the Governing Councils of the Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic, Ikot Osura, and the Akwa Ibom State College of Education, Afaha Nsit to confer on him respective awards for Educational Philanthropy. Senator Albert recently was also honoured by the Student Union Government of the University of Uyo and the National Association of Akwa Ibom State Students, for his contributions to the development of the student community. In 2017, Senator Albert received an award of excellence for his impact in the educational sector by the Patriotic Service Platform, Lagos.
Just like Oliver Twist, I may wish to delve into the minds of Akwa Ibom students to join faith with them, requesting for a third phase of the scheme by the end of the 2020/2021 academic session, to enable more sons and daughters of the state key into this laudable initiative. This however is subject to the benefactor’s prerogative. Akwa Ibom people should see this gesture by Senator Albert as a huge sense of responsibility and the need to look at his antecedent for a higher calling.