THE ROLE OF OLD BOYS ASSOCIATIONS IN NATION BUILDING WITH EMPHASIS ON EDO STATE

The National President of ECOBA, Principal Edo College, Benin City, Chairman ECOBA of the Americas Chairman & Members of the Executive of the UK Chapter. Distinguished Ecobites and their Spouses,
It is a pleasure to be amongst friends and alumni of our alma mater Edo College Benin City. (ECBC). ECBCCCCCCCCC. The occasion of this annual dinner is timely, as it gives us the opportunity to reflect on ourselves, our progress, and the progress of our alma mater, our city, our state, our nation and our individual relationship with these institutions. I would therefore like to thank those who are physically oiling the wheel of the UK chapter of Edo College Old Boys Association (ECOBA) without which we would not be here today and for asking me to be the guest speaker of this august occasion of our 2006 annual dinner party.In 2004 in Detroit, Michigan I was present at the first ever Diaspora inaugural
meeting of Edo College Old Boys Association. We had consulted behind the
scene to make that meeting happen. I am sure some of you must have read the
minutes by the General Secretary, Mr Obasuyi on our ECOBA web site. During
that meeting, Obasuyi and Felix Omorodion contributed immensely as the
defacto Secretary and Chairman respectively. Their positions were normalised
and I recall moving that motion. When it was finally agreed that what we were
inaugurating was the North America Chapter, I knew we had to go back to the
drawing board.
Did we have to?
No. Thanks to our brothers on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Barrister Aihie
was the first to inform me that our brothers in the UK had put something
together he called the UK chapter. Today we are celebrating the second annual
dinner party. I was unable to attend the first annual dinner as Chief Launcher
because I had to give the toast at a childhood friend’s birthday celebrations.
Can we say a big thank you for the efforts of the organisers? The dichotomy
between the UK Chapter and the North America Chapter should be healthy. But
it is a call for a challenge; I mean a healthy challenge, as it will boost our
Nigerian National chapter considerably. The ultimate beneficiary will be our
alma mater and the national ECOBA.
Our alma mater contributed immensely to our development physically,
educationally, and morally. Our attitude to work and our general attitude to life,
which has contributed in no small measure to our success in life, derive
immensely from our passing through ECBC. Look around you in this hall and
you only see happy and satisfied faces; you will not be here in the first place if
you have not excelled in your area of endeavour in life. All these successes is
due to our grilling in our alma mater and our ability to absorb and effect
changes that made us better human being as we were being put through that
crucible in the preparation for life in the future. Gladly that future of our days at
ECBC is now with us. Do we look back with pain or satisfaction or do we
sometimes go into reverie and wish we were again back at school. On many
occasions, I have felt like going back to ECBC when there was no worry in the
world except completing assignments.ECBC was a town within Benin City with her system of laws and order, which
had to be obeyed. We were brought up to be respectful, to obey constituted
authority, to regard our fellow human beings as equal hence we frowned as such
terms as seniors or juniors amongst our ranks which were largely used in the
other schools. The care we received was not only academic but idyllic, physical
and sometimes spiritual. Our warm-men like elder brothers; gave academic
guidance; mine was the late Bishop Gordon Osagiede. May his soul rest in the
bosom of the Lord. Amen. The Head of Akenzua then Engineer Paul Idemudia,
later Azike and much later Dr Aimighemen. We looked up to some of the HSC
students Barrister Agho, Pa Igbinedioon from Eweka, Paddy Iyamu from Speer
House, Dr Edomwonyi also from Speer and Engineer Nosa Eguavoen from
Ozolua, Engineer Ogbeifun transferred to Nana House when the New house was
built.
I recall when Dr Henry Asemota (Akenzua House) made aggregate six, all in
my year changed gear in our swotting outfit and started work in earnest that all
in Five Science one (5S1) had a distinction at the WASC examinations the
following year. The question then was not if we would pass WASC
examinations but at what aggregate level?
What did we learn as Old Boys of Edo College?
Our grilling was to produce citizens of character and integrity committed to
social justice and service to humanity.
We were prepared not only to withstand the rigors of tertiary education but to
excel in our chosen career with the sky as the limit.
We were prepared to excel in academic activities and curricular studies to
enable us to become men of competence, compassion, conscience, and
consideration who will assume leadership roles in transforming the societies we
lived.
Have we been able to do that?
Have we not all checked out like Andrew when the kitchen became warm and
nowhere near being hot to greener pastures in Europe and America?
The combination of our checking out and the attitude of incompetent and
corrupt leaders have pulled back the march of civilization in our part of theworld for hundreds of years. Those who dared not look at our faces during
school days now bestride the narrow world of our state like a Colossus and we
like ‘mean men’ have to hide, finding ourselves in dishonourable places to
disguise our whereabouts whenever we go home to the land of our birth. Should
that be the case?
How do we reverse this trend? I mean how do we stem the decay?
When a civilization declines, it goes into reverse with all the wealth, power and
wisdom realised by its rise being discarded. The quality of goods and services
falls as the cost increases and this corruption extends into every aspect of
existence. Incompetence and injustice will reign as delusion triumphs and the
community dissolves into impotence.
Such a society is no longer engaged in creating a human heaven on earth, but is
earnestly constructing the very opposite where the worst people are rewarded
while the best are penalized, education system spread delusion and bureaucracy
becomes a liability rather than an asset and the courts promote injustice because
the richest buy justice.
However this trend will always be denied because truth will be vanquished by
lies as poorly paid reporters publish articles in favour of the highest bidder.
Even in this desert of decay, there are oasis of descent gentlemen like Edo
College Old Boys who will show respect to elders and senior citizens on the
highway or the office, they make it a ladies first in disposition before
gentlemen, they will correct children by smacking sensibly and with
explanation, abhor corruption and sharp practices and will answer to their
family name. At school I was called Ogbonmwan S like you were called
Idemudia, Osagie, Ero, Aihie, Ikifa, Ojebuoboh, Habibu, Akpata, Ayuba etc.
Given names or pseudo names were unheard off. As we answered to your
family names, we never, ever did anything that brought disgrace to our family
names. We were taught to believe that marriage is permanent unless one partner
dies or betrays the other sufficiently for divorce. In my time we did not really
have a sister school until Idia college was established in 1971. We competed
healthily with ICC boys for Maria Gorretti girls and with Eghosa Boys for
AGGS girls. We heard then from the grapevine that these girls actually
preferred ECBC because we were described as being disciplined, being
gentlemen, having clout and having a lot of respect for these future mothers.
On our way from the Ogbe Stadium now Samuel Ogbemudia stadium one day,
we stopped to visit Ikponmwonba’s mother. I greeted her in English and sheanswered ‘ ẹrhe ovhiẹ ẹdo ukhin?’ I now genuflexed and said ‘la tọsẹ’ without
thinking. She jumped from her seat and embraced me like any mother would,
shouting ‘this is my son Oh!’ At the end, she gave her son Ikponmwonba five
shillings and gave me two shillings. She told us we were relatives and that we
should not ever quarrel. That incident has been indelibly etched in my memory
especially when Ikponmwnba started teasing me with la tọsẹ; that was home
and Edo College molding. Why should we throw our culture away without
effectively replacing it? Whatever good we have we should hold. Our culture is
our life, we should not discard it.
To stem the societal decay, we have to go back to our roots of honouring
academic and notable achievements, community service, sporting excellence,
exemplary and other service achievements rather than wealth obtained by fraud
and corrupt practices. We have to show transparency in our dealings and show
team spirit at work as well as play. We have to move our society from where it
is to where it has never been. That is from a familiar present to an unknown
future is a challenge that political leaders cannot meet alone. We have to lead
from the front.
We as old boys of the premier school in Edo State have to be in
the forefront of removing this decay in our system and act as
beckon for other old boys/students association in our state and
country of birth. We should therefore not sit on the fence; we
should engage in active participation in the political life of our
people. If something is good we should applaud it, if it is bad
we should criticise it. But we should do so constructively. To be
indifferent is no longer an option. We have to come out and
take our place in society building or we chance becoming a lost
generation forever with the link handed to us by our ancestors
broken forever.
To re-orientate our people, we have to start from school age i.e. catch them
young. ECOBA should be in the forefront of supporting high flyers to reach
their ultimate in life by supporting Best Students Scholarship award, support
sporting activities and team work by supporting the provision of materials for
team sports like football, volleyball, cricket etc. Competition improves
competitive spirit. Joy when you win and being cheerful when you loose. This
attitude will manifest in later life as a magnanimous winner at elections and a
cheerful loser as well. We should also support school clubs, the Red Cross, the
Boys Scout, the Man ‘o War Bay, Debating, Quiz and Science Clubs. Engaging
students in school activities removes their mind from nocturnal cult activities,
which has spread from tertiary institutions down to secondary schools level. If
possible we should go beyond ECBC and assist youth clubs, leadership andcitizens training, youth sports and all other youth viable activities and thereby
reduce the number of young men who end up as ‘bush inspectors’ youth gangs,
local thugs that act as clogs in the wheel of development in Edo State especially
in the area of procurements of land and erection of buildings in Benin City and
its environ.
ECOBA cannot achieve all the above alone hence ECOBA must
reach out to other old boys, old girls and old students
association at home and in Diaspora to have a meaningful base
to launch this drive for change in our society. If we do not
provide the answers to our problems, who will? My suggestion
is not new and every new theory encounters opposition and
rejection at first. The adherents of the old, accepted doctrine
object to the new theory, refuse its recognition, and declare it
to be mistaken. Years, even decades, must pass before it
succeeds in supplanting the old one. A new generation must
grow up before its victory is decisive. To understand this, one
must remember that most men are accessible to new ideas
only in their youth hence all our efforts must be directed to
students at their most receptive age.
Another evil that has grown massively in our society recently in addition to
corruption is tribalism and ethnicity. At Edo College we were completely
detribalised. Your age, size, tribe were grossly irrelevant. As we used to say
‘immaterial’. What were relevant were your academic prowess, extracurricular
activities and sporting excellence. Today some miscreants in our society have
brought tribe and ethnicity to the fore in every level of human endeavour to
further their parochial political desire; officials now ask where are you from?
My usual answer is that I am a Nigerian of Edo State origin. What relevance
does it make if I am from the south or north senatorial districts as all Edo people
are from the same quiver? As I have said elsewhere, quota system, zoning,
rotational positions such as being paraded in our state breed mediocrity. The
best suited and most qualified for a post should have that post no matter where
he or she is from. He should also see himself as representing all and sundry and
should be fair, firm and friendly. ECOBA should now go forward to translate
this detribalised attitude inherited at ECBC to our people starting from the
school age.I will abridge this speech so as not to spoil your dinner, as the dinner is getting cold. I hereby challenge all of us present to live by our house motto, Aim at the Highest (Akenzua House), The Best or Nothing (Speer House); Forward Ever, Backward Never (Eweka House), Forge ahead (Esigie House), etc
Having checked out like the proverbial Andrew, let us now like the salmon have a strong bond with our birthplace. Now that we have grown big and strong in the wilderness of the Atlantic Ocean like the salmon, let us return to our birthplace periodically like the salmon does to its original waterways several times in its life cycle and contribute our quota to the system that gave us life. Let us remember always that it is only in participating that we can effect desirable changes.
Once again thank you for the opportunity for this address.
© SEO OGBONMWAN. June 2006

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