September 2, 2018

Old Umuahians convene in Atlanta

Old Umuahians convene in Atlanta

By Obi Nwakanma

Every year, in the last decade, old students of the Government College Umuahia in the United States meet under the aegis of the GCUOBA-USA, to advance the cause of their old school, and while at it, have a bit of fun. They rekindle old memories and ties, tell old jokes, and party, and of course raise some money for their old school. “At this stage of our lives,” mused Dallas-based Ejike Randy Nduka, “there’s much more to life than raking-in all the money. It is now, ikpurutu m’akupru tu.” It is the genuinely piquant way of describing the easy fellowship that has characterized this annual reunion of Umuahians in the United States, and it is growing stronger, going by the attendance in this year’s Umuahia convention in Alpharetta, Atlanta.

I drove with my family, alongside my friend Vin. Onyirimba and his little son, Wesley, and made it in good time for the reception dinner at the Atlanta home of Dr. Bato Amu, a vast spread of yardage among gated homes in the suburbs of Atlanta. Dr. Amu, among Atlanta’s more renowned physicians, is the immediate past Chair of the GCUOBA-USA Board of Trustees, and he laid out a sumptuous dinner welcome to “oldboys” and the “young girls” who mingled, and exhausted his wine cellar by 2:00 am, and moved on to their hotel rooms at the Hotel at Avalon, on Avalon Boulevard, Alpharetta, where the nocturnal conversations continued till way into the wee hours.

But it did not stop Umuahians from rising and shining on the dot of 8:00, the next morning to begin the more serious business of the day, which included a review of GCUOBA commitments, a school’s report, and the various chapter reports, and a report from the Fisher Trust, and the current project of transitioning the school from a state school, to the oversight of the Trust established to manage it, going forward. It was very clear that the GCUOBA-USA was going strong, but reports from Nigeria indicate that while the GCUOBA chapters in the “Home Branch” – Umuahia – had a new lease of life and is going quite strong, with branches in Aba, Port Harcourt and Lagos, still very active; the Enugu-Nsukka chapters are in abeyance, as not much activity has been recorded from them.

The Calabar and Uyo branches are inactive. The Onitsha-Awka branch is also inactive. Once active branches like the Jos, and Kaduna branches are no more. Abuja is dilatory. But the National organization of the GCUOBA remains proactive under the new national president, Mr. Uche Ihediwa, an Attorney, and Commissioner for Lands in Abia State, who was present at the meeting in Atlanta. A great challenge for the association was the problem of recruiting younger generation Umuahians to participate and become active in the affairs of the old school association. The current trend is that younger Umuahians feel a remarkable distance from the mission of the association and their connections with the older Umuahians who should be mentors to many of them, and who traditionally have been advocates for them, particularly on the career pathways. The increasing absence of Umuahians in public service may account for this, but it was decided at this meeting that both the National President of the GCUOBA, and the president of the GCUOBA-USA, and presumably of the GCUOBA-UK, must make more concerted efforts to seek out and recruit new membership, especially from among the younger generation of Umuahians.

It was also noted that circumstances, at least in the past twenty years, when admission to the school had been restricted to a narrow circumference of locality, may also be contributing to this dearth of broad membership.

But younger Umuahians, particularly those admitted from the late 1980s, the ‘90s, and the “Millennial Umuahians” of the years from 2000 are lagging in joining the oldboys association, in a most “un-Umuahian” way, and in ways that subvert the motto of the school: “to shine as one.” This is an open challenge to them to become “true Umuahians” and to stop “lagging.” In the long run, the Umuahia restoration project may redress these situations. But in the short term, to keep the tradition alive, old Umuahians were encouraged to sustain the ideals of their great alma mater in direct ways. A report from the Fisher Trust, delivered by the Deputy Chairman of the Trust, Mr. Emeka Ifezulike, Managing Director of the company of Chartered Accountants and Auditors, Ifezulike &Co, outlined both the current challenges, as well as the exciting developments with regards to the current redevelopment initiative of the Government College Umuahia. Led by an initiative of the GCUOBA, the Abia State government agreed to cede the Government College Umuahia to a registered Public Trust, the Fisher Trust, as the new trustees of the school, which removes the Abia state government as the managers and owners of the school. This move has not been without significant challenges, particularly by a few local interests who are opposed to ceding the school to an independent trust. A central mission of the new Trustees of the Government College was to return Umuahia to its original mission of providing the best education, with the finest boarding facilities for boys who would be admitted from across Nigeria and internationally, and thus prepare a new generation of leaders in all fields for the 21st century as Umuahia was once wont.

The school already has the finest grounds for this with its broad expanse, its old educational and sporting facilities, all in decay, but still there, and perhaps needing to be either triaged or merely upgraded. As the Trust report indicates, work is currently going on in the compound under the charge of a Project Committee. One of the first, and immediate decisions of the new Trustees was to stop further admissions into the entry class since 2017.

A new Umuahia entry class will be admitted in 2020, under a new principal and new teachers recruited locally and internationally. Towards this, the trustees have secured the services of an internationally reputed Education Services company, one of whose advisors, a former Headmaster of Eton College, has just recently visited Umuahia. The Trustees report did raise a flurry of questions, but it was settled, that subject to all legal scrutiny, the partnership between the Fisher Trust and the Education Management Services provider be sustained towards a delivery of the restoration project. There was the sad report of the passing of the Metallurgist, Dr. Eddie Chukukere, ‘47 who wrote the school anthem, and Dr. Iwok Essien, ’56, an Atlanta based physician.

A quick, spontaneous “fund-drive” ensued as the “spirit moved” Umuahians, to conclude the meeting. That convention came to a close with the banquet, which began with cocktails at 6:30 pm that evening, and the keynote delivered by Dr. (Mrs.) Kema Chikwe, former Minister of Transport and Ambassador to Ireland, whose father, the late Nathan Ejiogu was a master at Umuahia in the 1940s, and whose five brothers went to Umuahia, after a brief welcome by the Nigerian Consul-General in Atlanta. Then came the dance. It was one of those moments when we felt the absence of our distinguished patron, Mr. Chike Momah and his wife, Arunne Ethel Momah, whose unfailing presences at Umuahian gatherings have often animated these gatherings, and who have often offered sagely wisdom, modesty, and quiet dignity to Umuahian affairs, but  who could not be present for urgent personal reasons.

Umuahians held them to the light. And Umuahians danced till the wee hours thereafter, to both new, and old school sounds. Among the oldboys present were Dr. and Professor (Mrs.) Eugene Ibe, Mr. Uche Ihediwa, Mr. Gabe Igboko, Mr. Lucius Nwosu, Mr. Greg Ejiofor, and Mr. Emeka Ifezulike, from Nigeria. There were of course, Mr. & Mrs. Onuorah Oji, Mr. Udobi & Ngozi Ikeji, Dr. Bato & Akunna Amu, Dr. Emma Okafor, Mr. Charlie Morka, Dr. Okechi Nwagabara, Dr. Osita & Chinwe Okpaloka, Mr. Obi Egedigwe, Mr. Randy & Angie Nduka, Dr. Cas Okoro, Mr. Ali & Seje Talib, Dr. Godswill & Naya Okoji, Mr. Reginald & Chelsea Momah, Mr. Enyi  & Dr. (Mrs.) Hazel Kanu, the Reverend Amadi & Desiree Onwuegbu, Mr. Okey & Prof. (Mrs.) Ihuoma Eneli, Mr. Onyema & Oma Nkele, Mr. Jay & Ngozi Oji, Dr. Marco Onuigbo, Dr. John Uyanne, Prof. Ike Ukeje, Dr. & Mrs. Oguguo Okoye, Don Egbuchulam, Dr. Ike  & Mrs. Nkanginieme, Mr. Acho &  Joy Ofo,  Chuma Nwokike, Nedum Ejiogu, Mr. & Mrs. Austin Uwakwe, Mr. GCU Okedi, Mr. Ed Ukaonu, Mr. Kanario Okoroafor, Mr. & Mrs. Vincent Nweke, Mr. & Mrs. Charles Ogbuehi, Ukay & Vicky Obasi, Mr. Serb Ibezim, Dr. Chuks & Chika Ibeku, Mr. Vin Onyirimba, Dr. Kingsley & Stella Umezurike, Mr. Mmeje, and of course, Mira and I. Next year’s convention is billed for the New Jersey/New York corridor.