From Felix Ikem, Nsukka
It was a huge irony recently as a lecture slated to discuss insecurity in the country by the University of Nigeria Alumni Association (UNAA) was clearly marred by insecurity.
The alumni association, as part of activities marking the 61st Founder’s Day of the university, staged the event, with the theme “National insecurity: A challenge to national unity and peaceful coexistence,” at the Nsukka main campus of the institution.
However, the event suffered a major setback following the absence of the guest lecturer, Valentine Ozigbo, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in the November 6 Anambra State governorship election, and several other guests, who cited insecurity in the South East zone as a reason.
In addition, some aggrieved members of the association also staged a walkout, raising issues about their ability to coexist peacefully.
Held on October 6, 2021, the lecture was part of week-long activities of the UNN’s annual celebration of the founding fathers of the institution, which was established on the eve of Nigeria’s Independence on October 1, 1960.
In his remarks, national president of UNAA, Ben Okoronkwo, said Ozigbo, the guest lecturer, called him and said he would not make it to Nsukka because of the security situation in the region.
Also, hospitality icon, Chief Obinna Iyiegbu, popularly known as Obi Cuban, who was to chair the occasion, and Prof. Charles Esimone, vice-chancellor of Nnmadi Azikiwe Univeristy, billed as special guest of honour, did not attend the event. Okoronkwo attributed their absence to the renewed killings and insecurity in the region.
He said the association would continue to imbibe the UNN mantra of teaching truth, preaching truth, as well as restoring the dignity of man.
He said the present executive of the alumni association would strive to ensure that the national secretariat project was started before the end of its tenure.
While Okoronkwo’s address was going on, a faction of the association, led by Mrs. Linda Agua-Onyekwelu, staged a walkout as a protest that the president did not recognise their presence when he established protocol.
The faction, consisting of about 150 members who had sat at the Princess Alexander Auditorium Hall, venue of the event, adorned in colourful uniform, almost left the hall empty when they stormed out.
Daily Sun gathered that the alumni body had been enmeshed in a leadership tussle, which split members into factions: one led by Okoronkwo, the incumbent president, and another by Agua-Onyekwelu.
However, recently, the chairman of the board of trustees, UNN Alumni Association, Abuja branch, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, and other stakeholders reconciled the two warring parties and directed aggrieved members to withdraw all court cases, as part of the reconciliation process.
It was also agreed that the Okoronkwo-led national executive council of the UNAA would continue in office till the end of its tenure on December 31, this year.
Speaking with Daily Sun, Agua-Onyekwelu said trouble started the moment Okoronkwo refused to recognise her and her group when he was to present his welcome address.
“Okoronkwo, who was called by the master of ceremonies to give his welcome address, recognised every other person in the hall, including the national officers of the association, but failed to recognise me and my own people, as if we are not members of the alumni or as if we are not there to grace the same occasion.
“It would interest you to know that I was his deputy national president from 2017 to 2019, then we were going to have election in 2019 and the presidency was to be slugged out between himself and myself. So, when he feared that he was not favoured by the members and he would not make it, he went and got a letter from the university’s governing council that split the alumni into pieces; everyone with me followed me as their president, people with him also followed him as their president. But when you look at the hall today, you can now know who is commanding the followership of the bulk of UNN Alumni Association,” she said.
Continuing, the 1988 UNN graduate from Geology Department also said: “About two weeks ago, I was the national president of UNN Alumni Association, but I willingly resigned at the instance of elders and stakeholders of the association that wanted to broker peace because my contemporary (Mr. Okoronkwo) refused to resign. So, I resigned to give peace a chance in the association. As part of the peace moves, the elders equally appealed to me to attend this year’s alumni founders’ day celebration with all my members so that we would have a full house. They had complained that previous alumni founders’ day had been shameful outings due to poor attendance by members.
“So, I mobilised my group from 26 branches in the country and you can see what happened today, as if we were the only people in the hall, you can easily identify us with our common uniform. I don’t know if Okoronkwo has up to 20 people in attendance, while we are over 150”.
When asked what she felt was the way forward for the association in the face of the smoldering crisis, she said that peace and unity would only return to the association if Okoronkwo resigned or his followers passed vote of no confidence in him.
In separate interviews with Princess Ngozi Dabrinze, a 1984 graduate of the institution from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, and Dr. Henry Ogunbamiwo, chairman of UNN Alumni Association, Osun State branch, a 1989 graduate of the institution, they confirmed that they attended the occasion in solidarity with the Agua-Onyekwelu-led faction.
They wondered why Okoronkwo would not recognise Agua-Onyekwelu with her members despite their numbers, but said that they will continue to put efforts together to promote their alma mater.
Elsewhere, the university honoured more than 43 of its alumni who had attained the positions of Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
The award ceremony, held at the Enugu Campus of the institution, was part of this year’s celebrations.
Vice-chancellor of the University, Prof Charles Igwe, said the idea behind the award was “to identify, honour and celebrate alumni of the university who have excelled in their career.”
He noted that the ceremony was the first in the series of cluster awards meant to bring the alumni close to the university.
Igwe expressed pleasure that the awardees turned out in their numbers to honour the invitation.
“This is a strong demonstration of your love for your alma mater,” he said.
The VC urged the senior advocates to come to aid of their alma mater stressing that age had affected the state of infrastructure in the premier university.
“At 61, our university is not only old but sick. She may not be on life-support, but she has an urgent need for critical care.
“She is, therefore, in need of various forms of medication, including surgical interventions”, he said, while urging the awardees to keep the university in their thoughts.
Pro-chancellor of the university, Chief Ikechi Emenike, said that it was unprecedented among Nigerian universities for the UNN to parade such number of SANs.
He said UNN had all it takes to be the Harvard of Africa and urged the alumni to work with the university administration to make the institution greater.
“We will reach out to the awardees and other alumni to help us address infrastructure deficit in the university,” he said.
Former VC of the university, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, who chaired the occasion, described the award as the icing on the cake of the founders’ day celebrations.
He urged SANs to take up endowment projects as a way of giving back to their alma mater.
Some of the SANs honoured were Chief Mike Ahamba, Dr Olisa Agbakoba, Prof Ilochi Okafor, Dr Michael Ezeugwu and Chief Nnaemka Nigige.