FUNAI PARENTS’ FORUM: ENGENDERING DEVELOPMENT THROUGH SUPPORT
The idea could not have been novel given that many other institutions at different cadres, have tried it out for the same purpose. But the uncommon passion and commitment; the fresh urgency in its execution and of course the almost unanimous agreement it has gathered among the university community, clearly sets it out as a unique initiative aimed at quickening the pace of development in the Federal University, Ndufu Alike Ikwo, otherwise known as FUNAI.
Unlike other institutions where this practice is in vogue, the authorities of FUNAI, though the initiators of the idea, are detached from the formulation and implementation of policies and programmes enunciated by the forum to accelerate the development of the University and offer a new lease of life to students of the institution.
Welcome to FUNAI PARENTS’ FORUM, a platform wholly committed to raising funds to assist the University in view of paucity of funds in public owned universities in the country. Worried by the absence of basic amenities that should aid students in the acquisition of knowledge on campus, FPF came in to bridge the gap. With a mission and vision encapsulated in the school’s anthem of producing only the best, Forum has set out to make the difference and serve as a model to other schools struggling under economic strangulation evidenced in infrastructural deficits.
However, both the parents and the students who are the major beneficiaries of this initiative have to thank the present management of FUNAI headed by Prof. Chinedum Nwajiuba for floating the idea and backing it with the support that has sustained it so far. Although the idea was mooted in December 2016 by the then newly appointed Vice Chancellor, Prof. Nwajiuba after a careful stock taking of the challenges facing the school viz-avis availability of finance, the FPF Board was actually inaugurated in January, 2017 and it commenced work immediately after it was approved by the University Governing Council.
According to the Chairman of the Forum, Prof. Sam Igwe, their mandate was clear: to assist the University in any area of need subject to the capacity to raise the funds. In other words, from the word go, there was to be a synergy between the FPF and the management so as to avoid areas of conflict and duplication of efforts. According to Prof. Igwe, the first task was how to raise the funds while the second was to identify areas of need and prioritize them accordingly. This is geared towards securing a better future for their children by offering them qualitative education in a serene environment.
It was based on that conviction that they sent a proposal to the management of FUNAI that every fresh man and woman should pay a security levy of N50, 000 while returning students pay N5, 000 each. Compared to the relatively low fees paid by students in FUNAI as against what private universities charge, that was just a token provided the management of the fund was transparent and the managers, men and women of integrity.
But they didn’t contend with the reaction of the students who felt they were shut out from the conceptualization stage. In fact, the President of the Students’ Union Government in FUNAI, Comrade David Okafor said their initial reaction was that of indignation because they were not initially consulted. According to him, notwithstanding that the students were the core beneficiaries of the scheme; they ought to have been carried along in the formulation and implementation of the policy. Comrade Okafor who described the scheme as wonderful, however, acknowledged that after a joint meeting with the FPF, the students were better informed and thereafter gave their blessings.
However, he noted that the students have made some suggestions on how best to carry them along for the smooth implementation of the scheme. He said the levy should be spread into two semesters for the new students and that under no account should any fresh student be denied registration or hostel on account of the nonpayment of the levy since they will all eventually comply with it.
Comrade Okafor was however very happy with what the FUNAI Parents Forum has done with the money so far realized. He said they have taken delivery of more than 100 seats provided by the body, thus ending the nightmare of sourcing seats by the students. He also confirmed the erection of perimeter fence around the vast areas of the school to enhance security, ward off herdsmen as well as checkmate land speculators.
While lending her support to the scheme, the Assistant Secretary of the Students’ Union Government, Comrade Iwu Ebubechi Felicita said the students were grateful to the school’s management and the board of FPF for the projects they have undertaken so far and urged them to do more. She however emphasized the need for students to be more involved in decisions concerning the administration of the fund since they were the major contributors and since some of their parents were not always around to make their own contributions during meetings.
However the coordinator of FUNAI Alumni Office, Miss Eucharia I. Nwonu who doubles as the secretary of FUNAI Parents Forum, explained that it was not the fault of the body that some parents don’t get directly involved in what is happening regarding their activities. According to her, whereas it was expected of every student to provide the phone numbers of their parents/guardians for easy reach, majority of the students default on that. In fact, she alleged that some students provide wrong phone numbers and in some instances give their own phone numbers in place of their parents, thus frustrating the efforts of the Forum to invite parents for meetings.
Bu she was emphatic that the forum has received the overwhelming endorsement of parents such that many of them turn up for meetings and have even gone ahead to ensure that whatever levy is requested is promptly paid. Miss Nwonu further explained that the overriding objective of the Forum is to ensure that whatever laudable policies and programmes that the management of the school comes up with are supported not only morally but financially. She said there is probity and accountability in the administration of the funds with the forum having a free hand in its administration. She commended the parents for their positive attitude which is responsible for the execution of the projects so far undertaken by the forum.
Indeed, the Chairman of the forum, Prof. Igwe is emphatic that those projects would not have been possible without the cooperation of the parents and their wards. He said the Governing Council of FUNAI not only approved the establishment of FPF, but has through the management, been supportive of their programmes. Prof. Igwe explained that so far, the forum has provided 100 standard lecture seats for students at the cost of N3million and is currently building a 505 meters long perimeter fence across the campus. According to him, 300 meters have already been completed while the projected cost for the project is N10million. Also in order to assist the junior workers live on campus and enliven the place, the forum plans to build a 10 two bedroom bungalows for them. One of the bungalows, he said, has been completed at a cost of N7million, while work will commence on others this month. This will enable some interested staff have conducive accommodation on campus, making the campus a virtual community.
What would be the modalities for the allocation of the building when all are eventually completed? Prof. Igwe said that that was not the headache of the forum. “When we finish, we will hand them over to the management of the university. They will know how best to handle them” he said. But what he is certain of is that the concerns of the students as represented by their leadership are being addressed. He noted that since the students were integral part of the scheme, it was only natural for them to be apprised of happenings both in the generation and administration of funds by the forum. He noted that although the forum is relatively independent, it still consults widely with management, parents and students in all its operations. He acknowledged in particular the role of Students Union Government in the dissemination of information to their members, especially in the defense of decisions taken by the forum, and pledged to always work with them.
The SUG president, Comrade Okafor assured that in so far as the union is carried along in an open and transparent manner, it will help put the members in check. He admitted that some students were not too truthful with their personal data, especially phone numbers of their parents, but added that they were also students who cater for themselves and should therefore be rightly adjudged as parents and given all the rights and privileges due their parents. He however made it clear that no student was against the scheme, which he noted, was introduced by the present management for their (students) own welfare. He commended Prof. Nwajiuba and his management team for what he described as their open door policy of administration and urged them not to deviate from it.
In his reaction, the Dean of Students Affairs, Dr. Charles Nkem Okolie emphasized that although the Vice Chancellor initiated the idea, the parents were at liberty to accept it or not. But he was happy that they not only bought into it but have been enthusiastic in its implementation seeing the benefits accruable to their children. He said as a young university battling several challenges, it was virtually impossible for the authorities to cater for every of their needs, hence the invitation to parents to assist. “Now students no longer run around looking for blocks as seats to take lectures”.
He said many parents made remonstrations to him regarding the porosity of the university campus which made it dangerous for students to freely operate without molestation. Dr. Okolie noted that the parents saw the need for the fencing of the school and voluntarily undertook the exercise to the benefit of all members of the University community. He insisted that the authorities have no influence over the Parents Forum except to collaborate with them in areas of need as may be found fit from time to time.
On the initial agitation by students towards the levies agreed by the parents, Dr. Okolie attributed it to misinformation and ignorance. He said contrary to the submission of some of the students, the levies were actually agreed upon by the parents and not the school authorities. He said that in fact some of the students after being given the money by their parents feel reluctant to release same for the purpose for which it was meant. He was however happy that such misconceptions have now been cleared and that the students were enthusiastically embracing the scheme. Dr. Okolie who appealed to parents to take a closer interest in the development of their children assured that FUNAI was more than poised to make all her students the soaring eagles both while in school and outside. He said his office was ever open to take complaints, suggestions and other ideas on how best to strengthen the relationship between students and the authorities on one hand and between the parents and management on the other.
On the future of the FUNAI Parents Forum which has just marked its one year of operations with fluttering feathers on its cap, Prof. Igwe, the chairman said what has happened so far is just the beginning of a new tiding that will eventually sweep across other universities. “I believe that many more positive developments are in the offing in FUNAI through this body. But my advice is simple: “Watch and See!”
As we watch and see on how the parents of students of FUNAI and indeed the management are focused on not demeaning their humble beginning but are dreaming to capture the sky as Eagles through their accomplishments, it won’t be a bad idea if other parents take a trip to FUNAI to see how the human mind is doing extraordinary things in such a simple, ordinary and collective means for excellent result.