(Our President, Mr. Aniekan Willie, has recently been engaging in media marketing of the activities of the Government Secondary School, Afaha Eket (GSSAE) Alumni Association. The essence was to further expose the body to public attention and thus attract support from spirited individuals, corporate organisations and even government agencies to help reposition our fallen alma mater. While tracing the origin and activities of the Alumni Association, he spoke with nostalgia of an institution that molded boys and girls, some of whom have become reputable and respectable personages today. Below is an excerpt of the media engagement)
INK: Mr. President, what motivated the formation of this association? And, could you please tell us about an event your association hosted some years ago, where you donated a car gift to one of your former principals?
Willie: Thank you. First of all, as old students of that institution, we were shocked to realize the level of infrastructural decay there. And we thought we could help. We then got ourselves together and decided to do something to change the story for the better. That was sometime in April 2015.
Shortly after we came together through a Whatsapp forum, we learned that one of our principal, a no-nonsense man who groomed some of us into who we are today, was about celebrating his 80th birthday. We recalled him as a man who loves to drive himself so it was unanimously decided that we get him a gift that he would remember; so we decided to buy him a car. It sounded like a tall dream at a time but we appealed to members and we were amazed at the number of people that responded and we raised a sizeable amount which was enough for us to buy him a brand new Hyundai car which was presented to him.
That sort of signposted the arrival of the alumni association and by December of the same year, we had our first reunion. The Chairman of the Association, Rt Hon David Lawrence, who was the pioneer president with myself as secretary and other members of the exco then framed an agenda for the association.
INK: What has been your focus since the formation of the association?
Willie: One of the things we did immediately was to intervene in the school through the upgrade of academic teachings by helping the students and teachers to set up an award and sponsorship programme, whereby we give an award for the best graduating students in every subject during their graduation ceremony and also use the programme to provide training and mentorship workshops to the students to help guide them through their academic pursuits.
In addition to that, we intervened in the renovation of classroom blocks. We are looking forward to doing more of that to help reduce cases of overcrowding in the classes. We also made structural interventions and we appealed to our members and fortunately, we were able to raise money and we executed the project though it wasn’t easy. But it is gratifying that as two weeks ago, the building was ready to be handed over to the school. It is a 16-classroom block which will help alleviate the population challenge.
The award and sponsorship programme earlier mentioned has been running for three years now and we also expanded that to include recognition of some of our old teachers who impacted our lives while we were growing up. That’s what we’ve done in the past three and a half years.
Two weeks ago a new administration came into being and I happen to head the administration and we said to ourselves that we’ve done much working within ourselves. Hence, there is the need to draw the attention of government and spirited individuals for partnership with us in areas like provision of manpower, classroom blocks, laboratories, etc. The environment is not that convenient for learning for the current students. Without such challenges, that school which I am a proud product of can produce more students of sound minds that will make this country proud.
I was joking with Usoro about his days working with Daily Times Newspaper and he revealed that he started working there with his Secondary School qualification and the same can be said about me as a worker with Exxon Mobil at the time. The education we had at that time secured me the starting point before I went on to acquire University education.
INK: How many years will the new administration run?
Willie: Three years.
INK: In a bid to alleviate the infrastructural challenge in the school, is the association considering acquiring another space within the school to erect new blocks?
Willie: We cannot do everything and you’ll agree with me that it is primarily the duty of the government to provide these classroom blocks and dormitories. But we can only intervene and do our own bit.
INK: Beyond the classroom blocks, has your association considered content development in terms of laboratory equipment and others?
Willie: Yes, we do…we have five priority areas that we decided as a group to take on in the next three years. One of the areas we are looking at is to intervene in the area of laboratories and the library. We are looking forward to partners joining us while we also chip in our own bit.
INK: So far what has been the response of the immediate community to these efforts of yours?
Willie: They’ve been really helpful; not financially, but they’ve been supportive and tremendous in terms of general goodwill. Although we’ve had a few encroachment and security issues, we believe the government will intervene.
INK: What are the other cardinal points of your administration?
Willie: Still on the issue of infrastructure, we cannot do it all alone rather we need the government of the day to assist us. Tomorrow we intend to meet with the Education Commissioner to also tell him this narrative and see how we can partner to address these challenges.
We have also expanded the sponsorship programmes by adding scholarship for the best graduating student. We are looking at improving the welfare of our members and also expand our membership base. We are exploring the possibility of an insurance programme to cover death, illness and disability support, etc. We have about 400 members and about 250 on our Whatsapp group and we want to expand on it.
Additionally, we also want to launch a website that will enable members wherever they are to key into whatever we are doing and also store historical records of what we’ve achieved over the past period of time and showcase the achievements of our students to inspire others and these are the things we intend to work on in the next three years.
INK: With so many private schools around, what is the association doing to rekindle the enthusiasm the school enjoyed back then?
Willie: That’s our sincere wish: to restore the pride of the place the school used to enjoy. I don’t think there’s any school around here, apart from Methodist Boys High School, that can boast of potent and vibrant alumni like ours. What we intend to do is to leave behind a legacy so that those that will come after us can build upon. We’ve produced many great people such as Prof Uduak Archibong who is a member of the British Empire, Chief Assam Assam, Eseme Eyibio to mention a few. We want to bring to the consciousness of people that this school still exists and the mentorship programme will help provide a safeguard for students against cultism and you will agree with me that the pressure is much on them compared to our days so we have to ensure they don’t get themselves involved in cult-related activities as it will destroy their future.
INK: You’ve not talked about sports
Willie: Of course, we have been helpful. During the last inter-house sports, our member (Chief Usoro I. Usoro) was the chairman of the occasion. And in the coming years, we are planning on introducing a championship as well.
In addition, we have a five-point agenda and one of them is infrastructural development and it is important to underscore that very point. Not long ago, we had 200 students in one class in that school but through our intervention in the provision of classrooms, it reduced to 145 which is still worrisome.
Despite this predicament, the school still churns out some of the best brains to the society nationally and in the state. You can only imagine how better they would be if they had the right learning facilities.
You can imagine a total of 4,538 students having only 42 teaching staff, including N-Power graduates which you know some of them are half-baked and in the end, it is these students that suffer. This is very worrisome.