Your Royal Highnesses, the Enigie of Esanland Invited Guests, lshan Grammar School, Uromi Alumni, Distinguished Ladies & Gentlemen.
As the Esan people, indeed the Edo, would contend, there is no human activity that is so important that it would be allowed to disrupt a hearty (and healthy) repast. Having therefore majorly concluded that observance, we - the representative alumni of lshan Grammar School, Uromi - welcome you all heartily, joyfully and contentedly to this momentous occasion.
This reception has a story behind it. Yes, it is to honour one of us. Engineer Basil Omiyi. But the story is bigger than that. When the vanguard of our Old Boys began rallying us for tonight's reception a couple of months ago, they resolved that it would not just be about organising ourselves to extol one of us, but the celebration of the apogee of our collective achievement. That concept was well informed. We will tell you why.
The dynamic people of Esanland had been bitten, as it were, by the bug of good education since the advent of colonial subjugation in the late l 890s, but they had been restricted to the attainment of only primary education - available rather restrictively in the triangular government schools located instructively in a duster- at lrrua (l904), Ewu (1905) and Uromi (l906). Up till the late 1940s, these (schools) were only complemented by three other Missionary Schools at Ekpoma, Uromi and Ubiaja, the Administrative Divisional Headquarters.
In other words, there were no secondary schools in Esanland; so, the products of those primary schools had no outlet for higher education nearby, for more than half a century! The trickle who did, managed to do so in faraway places like Benin City, Warri and Asaba when the means of transportation was mostly by trekking and the vehicular alternative was, not only scarce and rudimentary, but highly privileged.
It was in this vexed circumstance that lshan Grammar School (not ESAN GRAMMAR SCHOOL. the new name-change brought about by the government to reflect a cultural historicity) was founded by the people themselves, on the 24'h September, 1956, as the culmination of a long and frustrated agitation for a secondary school from both the government and the Missionary Authorities. The survival of this seeming child of circumstance had to be weaned, jointly, on the very meagre, physical and financial provisions of a fledging but determined local government authority and the strictness of a reluctantly partnering Roman Catholic tutorship and scholarship, in the first couple of the school's formative years.
Distinguished Royal Fathers, Ladies and Gentlemen, you can now see why we have taken your time to tell this pregnant story. Indeed, it is the recurring story of the acorn that grew into an oak (of huge branches), the birds of which have, figuratively, attained the heights of most human endeavours. Our Dear Guest of Honour this evening, Engineer Basil Omiyi, is a good illustration of this phenomenon.
Yes, we are in the vantage position to tell it as it is - unvarnished. Basil Omiyi graduated with the third¬-set students of our alma mater. But, please, journey with us in your mind's eye to the early evening of our school's resumption date in January 1960, the year of our national Independence, when a chubby but self¬-effacing teenager, clutching a locally-made metal box of his possessions alongside his immediate elder brother, walked into a so-called Dormitory.. .to begin schooling as a boarder amidst his equally wide¬-eyed peers. (Compare that child of remote memory to the one sitting with us now - arguably, comfortably corpulent and rosy-cheeked! Only we, his contemporaries, can still see the original outlines of him, even though he has seemingly shed his baby skin!)
As we were beginning to tell you, besides the vastness of our school premises, situated in a monk¬-like environment then, nothing in the surrounding sparse but rectangular buildings nor in the rural setting suggested or envisioned a great future, other than the rare opportunity of acquiring a rather mundane, second-tier education under the supervision of watchful Roman Catholic Priests and other teachers of predominantly the same faith. But see what God has wonderfully done with us: you can see around you tonight the proofs and importance of education - a dispeller/dispellant of ignorance, the source of knowledge and freedoms, and the enabler of all forms of acquisitions - spiritual, material, financial or social graces -regardless of the humble nature or source of its germination! (Indeed, among this horde of achievers, this assemblage of Old Boys, are the resplendent natural rulers now sitting before you!)
Our story tonight is about our school mate, Basil Omiyi. In our troubled, contemporary political times, when the executive leaderships of our various governments demand oaths of loyalty and allegiance from themselves to ascertain concordance and security in governance, we can assure you that the prevailing ambience of young Basil's period in lshan Grammar School was of self¬-worth and the building of trustful and life-long friendships. Though, at the time, Basil agreed to and took part in the usual student demands strongly, he never gave in to undue effervescence and agitation, nor to back stabbing-as he went about his academic and other responsibilities quietly. He was the true team player, but level-headed.
And so, as his school mates, what is our testimony about Basil; what did we see of him - the enduring traits of his personal character, which illustrate what he has turned out to be? We have made bullet points of our evidence, concerning this child of historic moments.
1) Even as noticeably big-boned as he was as a youth, Basil still exuded so much peace around him that one could never react aggressively towards him.
2) He was never confrontational, even though he had a mind of his own if it was necessary to express it.
3) You were safe with him - in the sense that you'd never think of excluding him from any gr o u p activity.
4) And so, as the night follows the day, Basil never betrayed a cause, school mate or anybody!
5) He was a unifier; his every disposition attracted bonding and the Pursuit of common causes.
6) He was never apparently envious, nor did he hanker after any mates' possessions or position -a disposition that the Esan would call "Osemenkhian", meaning, in this context, peaceful co-existence.
7) He was diligent in whatever you assigned him. In other words, Basil never shirked his responsibilities. He worked so hard at whatever you expected of him that it took you still to relieve him!
8) Finally but not exhaustively, he loved the Mass and the Holy Sacrament of the Roman Catholic Church service, whose atmosphere accorded his quiet and equable disposition a kindred refuge. As the English would say, the fruit would always fall by its parent-tree, unless dispersed by an external force.
And so, it has surprised no-one at all that Basil, true to his school nurturing, has been able to sustain and develop the trait of quiet diplomacy so much so that he has succeeded to the enviable position of leading his colleagues in the work environment - which is why we celebrate today. We have the added pleasure too, unlike others before us, of celebrating not just his original appointment as the first African Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), but the recent dignified and corrective reversion to his complete assumption of office as also the Chairman of Shell Companies in Nigeria (SCIN).
Just in passing, it is remarkable nevertheless and providential to note that, coincidentally, it has taken about the same period of over half a century before the founding of lshan Grammar School for a product of the school, in the person of Basil Omiyi, to attain, thereafter, the highest position in the largest and greatest business of our colonialists! What an act of fate and recompense!
While profiling this historical milestone, we do not think it is overly necessary now to harp on the fact that after Basil left our alma mater with flying colours in 1964, he went on to bag a degree in Chemistry and complete a Post-Graduate Certificate course at the University of Ibadan in Petroleum Engineering. Such and other achievements have been retold by others ad nauseam, including his numerous postings and activities within the Oil Industry around the world. He still does, and we pray that God will enable him to excel and set the standard that his successors will eternally cherish to chart, Amen.
Now then, what bears retelling in his life is about the life and times of his amiable wife of inestimable value, May - nee Odu. This is our first opportunity of showcasing her in a celebration. To anyone who would listen, Basil has always let it be known that but for her, his life and home would not have turned into the enclave of peace and harmony that it has become. This Amazon of a fruitful mother, we salute you. We are told that her outer, visible winsomeness is a tiny reflection of her inner beauty. No wonder the exaltedness in which the Holy Books describe the good wife of her type; otherwise, it would be better for the unfortunate husband to hibernate instead in a mountain retreat! May has remained a strong church worker, and she reared their beautiful five 'children - two boys and three girls - in the fear and love of God for the more than 20 years of their marriage.
Finally, as we, Basil's peers, rightfully bring the curtains, as it were, down on the long drawn-out celebration of his life's epoch-making attainment, it is time to reflect on an aspect of our common heritage. Happily, we are aware he shares our collective concern and view of the issue.
lshan, nay Esan Grammar School, our alma mater, is, constructively, in its death throes in dilapidation - as if hit by a tsunami. Its famous expansive grounds, accommodating a front view the size of four standard football-playing fields, now not only affect but reflect the grotesque image of a shambling and dishevelled giant in desolation. The buildings have been reduced to virtual hatcheries of decay- unfit for any decent activity, even though Nigeria’s general state of anomie in education particularly, still enables the structures to serve as an outpost of learning in a wretched and largely fallow state.
While we recognise that most schools, especially pre Independence ones like ours, have been sustained by the efforts of alumni associations, as we have ourselves been doing, it is very clear that we are engaged in a losing battle, unless assisted by a massive and conscious corporate and other agency investments.
That is why, dear Basil, we appeal to you to bless us with your exalted position in industry. Indeed, you are a Daniel come to judgement.
Incidentally, next year, 2006, marks our School's Golden Jubilee; in regard of which we are particularly happy that your business covers the area in which our old school is located. We are also aware that a major plank of your company's corporate responsibility is-a long-running policy of sustainable development of the people as well as the environmental integrity of your operational area, which is our Niger Delta. It is in recognition of these facts that we charge you, therefore, to spearhead the necessary drive and actualisation of rebuilding our alma mater before your illustrious tenure ends. That will be the only common cause whose fulfilment will gladden our hearts joyfully, collectively! Your Royal Highnesses, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, the night has been usefully spent in merrymaking.
We thank you greatly for bearing with us while doing so, even for the little concluding acts that remain to be performed in honour of our school mate, Basil. God bless you all.