Sunday, May 1, 2016 2:22 pm
By Soyombo Opeyemi
I do not know what constitutes the highest moment for the Wife of the Governor and founder of the Uplift Development Foundation, Mrs Olufunso Amosun, in the last five years. But one event has remained evergreen in my memory – the reception held in honour of the 20 Best WAEC Students in the 20 Local Governments of Ogun State after a two-week leadership training trip to the United Kingdom. The training was organised by the Uplift Development Foundation and the children were hosted by the Executive Council of the State in Abeokuta on Friday, December 7, 2012. It was a red-letter day.
A line from the remarks of the Wife of the Governor at the ceremony has continued to ring in my memory since then: “We had to write to the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) to obtain the authentic results of these children so that our initiative would not suffer any discredit.” For me, the clause “so that our initiative would not suffer any discredit” captures an aspect of the personality of Mrs Amosun, which is integrity.
An analysis of that statement, with the management of the Foundation, also indicates that she’s a consummate administrator, highly organised and forward-looking.
The entire programme, Uplifting the SSS3 Students, has profound ramifications. The initiative was the first in the annals of the State. In the words of Dr. Dalhatu Sarki Tafida, the then Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, who received the children on November 27, 2012,“This is a laudable initiative that is worthy of emulation by other states in Nigeria. Let me state categorically that this is the first time ever that students are being brought to the United Kingdom on educational merits. We have had student excursions here and there. But this is the first time students who have performed excellently well in their West African Secondary School Certificate Examinations are being brought to the United Kingdom for the purpose of leadership training programme. Ogun State is taking the bull by the horns in preparing our youths for future leadership roles.”
The 20 children, who secured the best WAEC results in the 20 local councils of Ogun State, were all from public schools. They were, essentially, from poor homes, and no one was certain what could, ultimately, have been their fate had Ogun State governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, not “renegotiated” the return of the mission schools. What we knew was that there were over 20,000 children that could have been thrown into the wilderness of life because of inability to pay school fees. But we should not make any mistake about it. Amosun, being a product of mission school, was never averse to the return of those schools to the Voluntary Agencies, as they were then called. He regards them as partners in progress. The argument was on time and timing. Where do we put those thousands of children from poor homes, those already in school and those yet to gain admission to primary and secondary schools since government had been in charge of the schools for several decades? So, he only pleaded for time.
Recently, I visited one of the schools as a private citizen. The government pupils, who could not be less than a thousand from my reckoning, pay N900 (nine hundred naira) each, but the mission pupils, who were less than two hundred by my estimation in that same school, pay above N30,000 (thirty thousand naira) each. The government children got free textbooks while the parents of the mission students had to buy the books in addition to payment of school fees. I recall vividly that the governor was persuaded by the PTA Executive in 2012 during a visit to the Governor’s Office to allow parents to contribute a token as part of their commitment to the overall development of the sector. The caveat was that no child must be sent home on account of inability to pay the PTA fee. “Education,” according to Governor Amosun, “is a social service which in the end serves the public good…”
The Uplifting the SSS3 Students scheme has been a source of inspiration for thousands of school children. Indeed, when it became real that the 20 best students would actually travel to the United Kingdom for leadership training, the news spread like a wild fire on a sunny day across communities in Ogun State. And the children, the target of this programme, began to nurse a day it might be their turn to travel abroad; one could feel the burning passion to excel in their studies. One of the most potent ways to secure the attention of children or their commitment to any cause is a reward system. In this case, Mrs Amosun’s Uplift Development Foundation is unimpeachable; it is exceedingly a success.
Among other laudable programmes of the Uplift Development Foundation is the focus of the Wife of the Governor on sustainable environment. Global warming is here with us; the effect of several decades of burning fossil fuels and deforestation. The greenhouse effect is getting stronger and the earth getting warmer. Recently, we experienced some heat wave in the country.
I recall that while growing up, we knew, in fact, could predict when harmattan would set in; we knew the period of rainy season and dry season. We knew when to anticipate heavy rainfall. The weather was predictable. But nowadays, nothing seems certain anymore. Harmattan sets in at an unexpected time; one is not exactly sure of the seasons and this has adversely affected farming, hence food production in the country. Indeed, our climate has changed!
I suppose it was in the appreciation of the powerful force children could become in the campaign against global warming that led Her Excellency not only to launch the Green Education For The Youth (GEFTY) but authored a book on Green Education. She has launched a state-wide campaign against environmental degradation and opened the eyes of residents to the innumerable benefits associated with going green – tree planting, use of clean or renewable energy and turning waste into wealth. Mrs Amosun organised a “Going Green” conference at the June 12 Cultural Centre, Abeokuta in April 2013. The two-day conference had in attendance renowned environmental activists, representatives of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, Nigerian Conservation Foundation and Friends of the Forest, among others. It was in recognition of her unflagging devotion to a sustainable environment that the Novona University, Ogume, Delta State recently conferred on her Honourary Doctorate Degree in Environmental Management Science.
Dr (Mrs) Olufunso Amosun, who turns 50 tomorrow, is The Golden Girl in the Golden Years of Ogun State. She attains the golden age at a period that could be pronounced as development renaissance in Ogun State, a throw-back to the golden years of the Western Region. The award of the Governor of the Year to Senator Ibikunle Amosun by the Vanguard Newspapers, among many other laurels, is also a testament to this.
Mrs Amosun is not given to frivolities. She is disciplined and knows her onions. She’s equally genial; indeed capable of disarming spontaneity, as revealed in one encounter with her a couple of months after my book presentation.
“Good afternoon ma. I was looking something up in my laptop and stumbled on your picture at that book launch; your dressing for the event…”
She cut in, “Really, was it of Ogun Standard?!”
In other words, did it meet the standard set by your oga, an international standard, global best practices, and a model for others? (Plenty of laughter!)
Happy birthday to Her Excellency, Dr (Mrs) Olufunso Amosun, The Golden Girl!
**Soyombo, a media practitioner, sent in this piece via [email protected]