Alumni associations lift poorly-funded alma maters

BAOSA alumni

BLESSING AFOLABI examines the activities of members of alumni and old students’ associations in giving back to society

In a rich spectacle, ex-students of one of Nigeria’s oldest legacy schools, Baptist Academy, Lagos, rolled out the drums in October last year to celebrate their 166th founders’ day in a joyful atmosphere. They were present in their numbers dressed in their ipele (glitzy scarf) and caps made from a dazzling blend of the school’s colours.

There was a loud unanimous clatter of their slogan, “Up school” and a standing ovation as the president stepped to the podium to present his speech and bestow awards on deserving individuals. Music filled the air as the men now with grey hairs, who were once young boys, regaled one another with tales. Members in the Diaspora were not left out as they participated in the fun and games through a zoom call.

In September 2021, during the burial of Brigadier-General, Dominic Oneya, the ex-students of BAOSA also went en masse in their national colours and danced beautifully to the Urhobo music played. Their outfit attracted their sister college, Reagan Baptist Memorial Girls Secondary School and other attendees.

Mega interventions

Alumni associations are created to help graduates reconnect, network, create lasting relationships and give back to their alma maters by improving its human, infrastructure, and financial capital.

Recently, the University of Jos alumni association, Rivers State chapter, reunited with one of their classmates, Mr Minabelem Hilary, who has been mentally unstable for over 20 years. They picked him up from the streets of Bakana in the state and took him to a psychiatric hospital in Rumuigbo, Port Harcourt.

The South-South Zonal Coordinator, UNIJOS Alumni Association, Tonye Dagogo, told Sunday PUNCH that on Easter Sunday, some members of the association visited Hilary in the psychiatric home to present a cheque of N1m donated for his quick rehabilitation.

Also, the Oyo State Government recently handed over the management, operation, and development of the 93-year-old Government College Ibadan to its old Boys’ association. This followed the previous investments of over N2bn since 2017 and a partnership with the state’s government to rebuild the school.

The school had witnessed inauguration of multimillion-naira projects executed by three sets of the school which included the rehabilitation of the physics and chemistry laboratories, the SS1’s block of classrooms, and the Class Five’s block of classrooms. Besides, 12 pupils got scholarships through Dereck John Bullock Foundation and the association in addition established a N250m-intervention fund to help the school.

Similarly, students and alumni of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, recently embarked on an online campaign to seek support for the university’s ex-student union leader, Tunde Eso. The students and alumni circulated a pamphlet containing details of the fund needed on various social media platforms and opened a Gofundme account to support Eso.

Indifferent ex-students        

Despite the interventions made in institutions by old students and alumni associations, some ex-students opined that the associations were not performing well, especially in meeting the needs of their members, saying that focus was geared more towards institutions.

A graduate of English from one of the federal universities in the country identified only as Patience said she refused to participate fully in her old student association because the meetings centred only on fundraising.

She said, “I attended a private college and our president is the son of the proprietor. He is so particular about projects to be executed in the school yet no attention was paid to members’ welfare. I feel he is using the means to titivate his parents’ business. I will understand his position if the school is government-owned because the government may not be performing its statutory duties. The new anthem for my old school is “Do not forget your alma mater.” But has my old school not forgotten me?”

She added that money was raised for members holding special events, noting that her set was the third to graduate from the school and most of them were still young and trying to find their feet in life.

Patience said, “They are hosting a reunion soon but I won’t attend because there is nothing I am profiting from the gathering. It’s still about how to raise funds. The funds made so far were to furnish the school and not to assist members.’’

Commenting on the issue, an actor and skit maker, Mr Philip Asaoye, told Sunday PUNCH that alumni associations were good, especially in schools with strong ones where they create a platform for connections.

He said the reason for his unwillingness to join his alumni association was because he was snitched on by his classmates while in the university due to his popularity.  Asaoye noted that the attitude the ex-students portrayed during meetings was different from how they behaved outside because some felt one was trying to get close to them due to their success.

He said there was favouritism in the way some attended or contributed towards the events of other members.

He narrated how some members take undue advantage of the associations by scamming some members including himself. He noted that it was best to stay away from alumni and old student associations to keep his sanity, adding that it was always tough knowing the attitude of his former schoolmates over the years.

Asaoye said, “What is the point of having associations when we cannot help or patronise one another? One is only remembered when they need cheap things. We should not limit help to monetary gifts but create cordial relationships and help ourselves grow. I believe the motive of alumni associations is defeated by cliques and favouritism. But if we are real and sincere in helping each other, things will get better.’’

In a similar vein, a medical doctor, Musa Sodiq, said alumni and old students’ associations were ineffective and underperforming because they usually organise occasional meetings, hangouts and become quiet until the next meeting.

He added that he was not sociable in school which made it feel awkward in a group of about 100 people and could barely relate with five members.

He stated that he decided not to join his school alumni for members only to catch up, noting that such could put pressure on members to feign what they are not. He, however, said that he might join later for many of the associations created a platform for profitable connections and give back to their alma maters.

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He further noted that there was no patronage or referrals from colleagues for business opportunities, stating that the selfish society contributed to the failure of some of the associations.

On her part, an educationist, Magdalene Ogbe, said she was initially sceptical about being a member of her old students’ association until her friend convinced her to join. Ogbe told our correspondent that after she joined, she realised that there were caucuses who related based on the relationships they shared in school.

She said, “When we catch up and one does not mention that one works with a big company, they look at one with disdain. They use one’s status to measure one not knowing one could also be of help to other members. When they host parties, they select those they invite to buy their aso ebi.’’

Ogbe said she left her alumni associations because nothing productive was going on and her opinion didn’t count on critical issues.

Also speaking, a graduate of OAU, Mr Rotimi Ajagbe, said he was not aware of the activities of his alumni association because many of them were not carried along.

He stated that if the body was functional, they would be present during their convocation to inaugurate them into the body.

He noted that when he was the vice president of his departmental society, they tried to reach out to alumni but couldn’t get them.

Ajagbe said, “There is no form of collaboration or coordination. I am completely ignorant of what is going on in the association.’’

Efforts of old students, alumni groups

Several graduates from Nigerian universities and secondary schools have taken the alumni association as worthy projects and contributed immensely to its success. They operate at the national and state chapters with many former students freely joining to contribute their quota to the common goals.

The President, Alumni Association of the Federal University of Technology Owerri, Imo State, Ndubuisi Chijioke, said the aim of alumni associations was to create a community of graduates with lifelong relationships to support themselves and their alma maters.

On his part, the Publicity Secretary, University of Lagos Alumni, Lagos State chapter, Mr Adekunle Onikoyi, said the major focus of alumni associations was to propagate the image of the schools, support members and any course, project, or programme of their universities which needed funding not provided by the government.

The President, BAOSA, Akin Fatunke, told our correspondent on the phone that the school had achieved so much in the area of educational improvement of students and infrastructure. He added that a laboratory, ICT centre, and modern library had been enhanced alongside a multipurpose sports hall currently being built.

He noted that awards were given to teachers and deserving old students to compensate for their hard work and every year, graduates of previous years both home and abroad, awarded scholarships to augment the financial inability of indigent parents.

He said, “We provided some medical cleaning facilities and taught the students the importance of hygiene to their health. We have tried to inculcate values of integrity and chivalry into the children. Also, we support the old and retired amongst us.’’

On his part, Dagogo told our correspondent that the association had invested in human and infrastructural development by giving back to their institution.

He said contributions had been made to the ongoing alumni centre project in the university, adding that they mediated when there were issues such as the Jos crisis.

Dagogo further said that entrepreneurship programmes were organised for young graduates and unemployed members for skill acquisition in paint making, confectionaries, decoration, aquaculture, and information and communications technology with distribution of starter packs.

He noted that welfare packages for weddings, and child dedication were given to members irrespective of their level. He explained further that they networked with eminent Josites to provide job opportunities for those who needed jobs.

He said, “During the pandemic, my chapter gave out N10,000 each to Josites who had businesses that crumbled due to the lockdown. We also embarked on projects touching individuals outside the alumni clan by keying into important UNESCO recognised programmes where we doled out books worth N400, 000 contributed by members.’’

In his comment, Onikoyi said the alumni association of UNILAG had provided scholarships for brilliant indigent students and attracted funds for the building projects of laboratories and hostels. He noted that recently they supported the Nigerian University Games Association hosted by the institution.

He added that apart from supporting the institution, they assist their members by providing welfare packages, organising seminars, training on different areas of enterprise, and inaugurated a cooperative society to provide loans, investment opportunities, and business networking to improve their wellbeing.

Onikoyi stated, “We carried out free medical surgery recently for staff, students and members of UNILAG alumni. Over 100 surgeries were conducted with over 500 eyeglasses distributed amidst other health packages.”

In the same vein, Chijioke said that the association had supported projects, awarded scholarships to undergraduates and provided internship opportunities. He added that there was a lot of catch-up and reconnecting among members both locally and globally.

He noted, “There are mentorship programmes for students although it has not been functional due to the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities. Also, graduate and undergraduate internship programmes are promoted by alumni. Members who own businesses or are in top positions in corporate organisations are encouraged to take in graduate members and undergraduates who need industrial experience.”

He further stated that projects such as rebuilding of the university gate, staff lodge, book donation to the library, and an alumni scholarship programme with a cash price of N100,000 to the best students were executed.

Chijioke said that prior to the pandemic an online teaching platform for visual and remote lecturing was deployed for the first time oblivious that there was an impending pandemic. He explained that there was also support to lecturers for research purposes for preliminary funding before earning grants.

A Global Publicity Secretary, OAU alumni association, Akeem Amodu, said that the objective of alumni associations was to promote the academic interest of their alma mater and network for personal and collective development.

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He said, “Great Ife alumni have existed for over five decades and contributed to the development of the institution in terms of infrastructure and creating an environment conducive to learning. The platform and individual members have contributed to the development of the health centre, halls of residence, boreholes, installation of electricity, and solar panels in the university. We have generated funds through the alumni centre that has been ploughed back to the institution in various areas of academic, administrative, or infrastructural needs.’’

He explained that there were economic, social and political empowerment strategies achieved through seminars, workshops to educate and expose members to local and global opportunities.  Amodu added that members were encouraged to connect with their associations to benefit many things.

The projects are a global phenomenon and not limited to Nigeria. In 2021, American businessman, Phil Knight, donated $1 billion (N415bn) to his alma mater, the University of Oregon’s new research campus.

“Funding, coordination a major challenge”

Highlighting some of the challenges faced, Chijioke stated that they battled getting donations from uninterested ex-students rebuffing membership of the association for personal reasons.

He noted that the university still experienced difficulty in data collection of graduating students and such impeded their ability to get members.

According to him, they now have a database where graduates fill in their details during convocation to enrol into the association.

He stated that there was no discrimination despite the differences in levels of maturity, achievements, and success, saying that fresh graduates were urged to connect through social media platforms to achieve a lot through synergy.

Chijioke added that funds were generated through voluntary donations and affordable levies with accountability structure in place to ensure judicious use of funds.

He stated, “But the concerns lie with the university’s inability to manage charitable donations from the association and individuals as they cannot account for the virtual learning platform created and reports on the deployment of funds generated are not satisfactory.

“We are not saying the funds were embezzled but accountability is important. Trust and accountability deficits have hindered us from handing over the projects to them fully. It would have been the most efficient way because alumni members are occupied with their jobs and businesses and there is a structure in place in the institution that can take up projects seamlessly. It’s a societal problem but I hope it gets better.’’

Also, Onikoyi stated that inadequate funds had hampered their progress, noting that uninterested members, distance and differences in graduation years contributed to the challenges.

He said, “During our annual general meetings, men and women of calibre and top captains of industries are always present and this creates an avenue for networking and connections. Those unemployed should not shy away from associating but rather seize the opportunity to connect and grow.’’

He further stated that the funds raised from the association were properly managed and accounted for and they operated with transparency in terms of finance and other activities.

For BAOSA, Fatunke noted that the major challenge was funding, noting that there was a wide gap between the schools’ needs and funds available.

He said, “The Baptist Mission schools are doing their best but funding is below par and we have tried to mobilise old students who are willing to give. Also, collating data and mobilising old students is tough. We reintroduced the ‘Catch them young’ technique to get the data of students before they graduate. We do several follow-ups, career guidance, and support.’’

He added that old students’ associations were not created only for those financially buoyant. He said, “In my experience, I have seen mature and intelligent men who are not rich. We don’t discriminate on account of social status because competence is not necessarily about money. Integrity cannot be bought on the shelf. It’s something that is built.” He urged BAOSA members to see themselves as stakeholders and participate in lifting the school.

On his part, President, Federal Government College Keffi Old Student Association, Jerry Ombugadu, said that FEDKOSA was not living up to its responsibilities due to inadequate funding.

He stated that members consistently held hangouts at different levels in states to encourage networking and enhance growth opportunities, secure scholarship opportunities, and mentorship programmes for students. He, however, said that there were many things to be done by the association but he remained resolute and hopeful for growth.

He noted that they tried to discourage the act of show offs in meetings by emphasising less on titles, reducing dominance of a particular sect at meetings and getting members from different sets to participate in planning and control of meetings. He said, “I let them know those who do such have low self-esteem.’’

Similarly, Dagogo noted that low payment of dues and meeting attendance were challenges facing the association, adding that the lack of commitment from some members caused financial incapability and apathy to execute humanitarian services.

He said, “Ex-students should reach out to their alumni associations even if they are not financially stable yet. Leaders should ensure they create means to engage unemployed members and be given waivers from levies pending the time they are gainfully employed. Alumni associations are not just for partying or reuniting but for giving back to society. The activities should be all-encompassing and active.’’

He noted that leaders were responsible for the success of alumni associations, stating that if they got things right, their members would do the same. He added that leaders were expected to be focused, accountable, and have a creative approach to issues.

He recommended that leaders should avoid any form of corruption or misappropriation of funds, leave out sentiments and tribalism and be prepared to discipline any member caught trying to embezzle funds.

Besides, Amodu said that since the inception of the association in Great Ife, available funds had been effectively used and could be accounted for.

He noted that the only problem was insufficient funds, adding that being people of integrity they wouldn’t engage in anything likely to taint the institution’s image in any way.

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The associate professor of politics and international relations advised that the situation in the country should propel everyone to take education as their business since it cannot be handled by the government alone.

He said, “ASUU is currently on strike and the bottom line is finance. In a way, there is some kind of inadequate funding of our institutions so we must offer private sector intervention for education by providing support through grants, donations, sponsorships, and scholarships.’’

He added that the country’s economic situation was impacting on the ability of members to make financial commitments, stating that it was the reason they beg their members to contribute money. He urged the government to develop the economy to empower institutions and graduates with adequate knowledge to meet global trends.

In his remarks, Chairman, Association of Nigeria Universities Alumni, Dr Wale Fasakin said the association was an umbrella body of universities alumni associations in Nigeria.

He noted, “We come together every quarter of the year to review the activities of the associations and find solutions to problems identified in relation to university communities and the education system of the country. We assist members in terms of employment opportunities and help them find their feet in society.”

He affirmed that many members were not interested in the activities of the association because of what they experienced before graduating from their respective universities. Fasakin stated further that such ex-students were unaware of the gains associated with becoming active in the association.

He stated that one of the challenges faced was bringing members together to contribute to the development of their alma maters as lack of funds hampered the association’s plan to give back to the universities.

Fasakin said, “Alumni associations depend largely on the subscription rendered by graduates which is grossly inadequate to do much. But despite that, a lot has been done by various presidents and their executives in terms of endowment funds, donations to worthy causes, building of structures and awarding scholarships to students.’’

According to him, workshops, seminars, and enlightenment programmes are organised to educate members of the associations and the management on the relationship that should exist between the members and their university communities.

He identified other areas to include importance of membership, and the necessity to give back to their institutions to create adequate synergy for smooth inter-relationship between them.

Fasakin suggested that presidents of alumni associations of various universities must be made a member of the University Governing Board to get acquainted with the challenges of the university in budget implementation to give the associations an insight as to how they can assist their institutions.

He advised that the university management should work jointly with the alumni associations to get the best from them. Fasakin added that a trust fund should be established by the associations for the development of their alma maters, encouraging members of the association to contribute to funding depending on each individual’s capacity.

 Institutions hail alumni associations’ efforts

The Obafemi Awolowo University has said that the alumni association of Great Ife had done a lot for the overall benefit of students and the uplifting of the university.

Speaking through the university’s spokesperson, Mr Abiodun Olanrewaju, the varsity noted that the alumni association built and donated alumni hostels to the university, adding that they contributed immensely particularly at the faculty level.

He stated, “The alumni of the faculties and departments of agriculture, arts, business administration, and college of health sciences have been assisting the university, their departments, and respective faculties in providing facilities to ease learning and make life easier for the present generation of students.’’

In his view, Deputy Director, Alumni Relations, UNIJOS, Mr Adoration Dashit, said the alumni association of UNIJOS has 26 chapters in Nigeria and the United States of America and has contributed to the institution as major stakeholders, intervening in times of crisis between the students and management and in promoting networking among themselves.

He said, “They have contributed immensely in terms of policy-making and formulation. Donations come in from the national body, through individuals and the organisations they work for, and from different classes/sets. We had a JOSITE who works with an international oil firm and obtained grants worth N50m for the institution used to build and furnish an ICT centre in our permanent site.

“Also, we got a grant of N30m from a commercial bank through one of our alumni to renovate one of our hostels and student centre. Another alumnus through her non-governmental organisation donated N1.5m to refurbish the Faculty of Natural Sciences.’’

Dashit disclosed that the 1992 theatre art set was the pioneer set that started donating to their department before other sets emulated. He stated that they donated stage lighting equipment worth N700,000 and books worth N300,000 to equip the departmental library.

He added that the Law Class of ’91 spent over N5m buying computers and books for the university and gave endowments to the best graduating students. “Early this year, they revamped one of the classes where they used to have lectures to standard,’’ he said.

He noted that another alumnus from the United Kingdom gave 1,000 books to the Faculty of Management Sciences and five incinerators worth N500,000 were donated by an ex-Inspector General of Police.

He said, “A Sienna car, several generators, whiteboards, and markers have also been donated. Recently, we launched the alumni centre project where we organised a dinner at the Shehu Musa Yar’adua Centre, Abuja, chaired by a former Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara with governors and senators in attendance. The project’s total cost was N400m and attracted donations and contributions from well-meaning alumni, sets and chapters and the substructure has commenced.

“Our alumni are doing so much for the institution and we can only highlight part of the numerous contributions they have made.’’

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