The Catholic Church is very much aware of its divine mandate in the area of education. According to Canon 7941, “The duty and right of educating belongs in a special way to the Church, to which has been divinely entrusted the mission of assisting persons so that they are able to reach the fullness of Christian life”. From the above, it is clear that the Catholic Church is not a stranger in the field of education. The Catholic Church is not an interloper. Education is part and parcel of its mission. The civil government must understand and appreciate the right and duty of the Church to educate its members and others who want to benefit from the teaching function of the Church. Part of the sad history of Nigeria and for which the nation is paying dearly, was the attempt by civil government to oust the competence of the Church in education. Monopoly of education by government starved education of its ability to give integral formation to the young. Government through its unfortunate policy educated generations of Nigerians without morality. Is it any wonder that most Nigerians do not bother about right and wrong? For the most, it is achievement, money, success, position without minding the means of attaining the end! No wonder Nigeria is groaning under the weight of corruption, fraud and other social malaise!
We are paying the price for neglecting and abandoning true education which the Church was giving for the concoction which the State was providing in the name of education. How could the government without the correct sense of values and direction give true education, especially with corrupt officials and ill-motivated teachers? The result was introduction of monumental fraud into the educational system. Bribery and corruption were enthroned; examination malpractices surfaced and were promoted; the seeds of indiscipline and corruption were sown and nurtured in the social fabric and today, every sector of our society is experiencing the disastrous consequences of mis-education.
The Catholic Church is on the other hand always conscious and conscientious about the finality of education. According to Canon 795, “Since true education must strive for complete formation of the human person that looks to his or her final end as well as to the common good of societies, children and youth are to be nurtured in such a way that they are able to develop their physical, moral, and intellectual talents harmoniously, acquire a more perfect sense of responsibility and right use of freedom, and are formed to participate actively in social life”. One cannot leave out any of the objectives of integral education without doing irremediable harm to the society. The result will be producing monsters, moral monsters! That is why some teachers (or cheaters) and children with the connivance and active support of their parents are more interested in passing examinations than in acquiring knowledge and competences. This has led to institutionalization of success in examination without knowledge in miracle or special centres! One does not need a prophet to tell us that this is a recipe for failure of the society! In spite of all appearances to the contrary, our society is a failed society! Why should thousands of Nigerians youths flee Nigeria in search of greener pastures? Why should thousands of Nigerians leave Nigeria for Ghana and other West African countries in search of education? The indices of a failed society are there for even the blind to see!
Many Nigerians have come to realize that a lot of things have gone wrong with Nigeria . Many have seen that the foundation is faulty. Some are calling for a Sovereign National Conference as the panacea for the ills of Nigeria. But honest Nigerians know that unless we get the foundation right, in vain will all our efforts in rebranding Nigeria be. The foundation is true education to ensure that we have new generations imbued with genuine sense of right and wrong, authentic moral values and commitment to ethical norms that make for personal integrity, social responsibility and promotion of the common good. It will be difficult to find a group that is imbued with the same sense of mission with which the Church undertakes education. For the Church, education is not a commercial venture. It is its raison d’être. To get education once more right in Nigeria, the Church must be allowed and empowered to do what it knows best and what it is mandated to do: teach!
And that is what Mr. Peter Obi, the Governor of Anambra State is doing. Mr. Peter Obi is an uncommon Governor in Nigeria. Most of his colleagues are busy playing politics with the destiny of the people. Most are engaged in palliatives which they call “dividends of democracy” and using contracts to siphon public funds. Mr. Peter Obi is concerned with giving the people of Anambra State what they need and not what they want. With ANIDS (Anambra Integrated Development Strategy), the Governor is attacking the development needs of Anambra State on all fronts. One of the principal areas is education because he believes that education is a primary tool for development. He is honest enough to realize that the State needs the expertise and commitment of the Church to revamp education in the State. That is why he did what other Governors before him were afraid to do. He returned all secondary schools and primary schools taken over from the Church. And again, he was sincere enough to apologize for the unfortunate takeover of schools which put education into morass. Unlike his colleagues, he saw the Church as a reliable partner in progress. He is willing to work with the Church to reverse the losses and repair the damages which the State had unwittingly inflicted on education. He promised to make a huge sum of money available to the Church to assist it to rehabilitate dilapidated school buildings while continuing to pay the teachers and other state employees in the returned schools.
The Governor has taken a bold step to revolutionize education in our State. He has thrown a big challenge to the Church. The Catholic Church in Anambra State under the leadership of Archbishop Valerian Okeke has wholeheartedly accepted the challenge of the Governor. The Catholic Bishops in Anambra State, namely, Archbishop Valerian Okeke, Archbishop of Onitsha, Bishop Hilary Paul O. Okeke, Bishop of Nnewi, Bishop Paulinus Ezeokafor, Bishop of Awka and Bishop Augustine Ukwuoma, Bishop of Orlu (for Uli and Amorka which are in Anambra State but in Orlu Diocese), have resolved to do their best to see that the good intentions of Governor Peter Obi are achieved for the benefit of the children of Anambra State. May God bless our Governor!
Our responsibility is to see that the returned schools and the schools which were built by the Church after the takeover of schools are maintained and managed in the best possible manner to yield the desired result. We have to ensure that the infrastructure and facilities are quickly reconstructed and rehabilitated. The funds made available by the government will only help us scratch the surface but we are very grateful for the gesture. We must not depend totally on government subsidy. We have to realize that schools are part of the pastoral mission to which church funds are to be applied. Indeed, the Church expects the Catholic faithful to foster Catholic schools, assisting in their establishment and maintenance according to their means (see Canon 796 §2). Education is one of the most critical and important area of investment. Indeed, investing in education is the wisest investment for one will be investing in the people who will transform the society.
I am therefore appealing to all Parish Councils, all statutory organizations, organisations and individuals to contribute generously to the Education Endowment Fund of the Catholic Diocese of Nnewi. The Endowment Fund will be launched on Sunday, 26th August 2012. On that day, there will be Special Fund-raising for Catholic Education in Nnewi Diocese.
Parish Priests in carrying out their responsibility of arranging everything so that all the faithful have a Catholic education (see Canon 794 -2), should organize the fund-raising diligently and with a sense of duty. The proceeds with accurate record of contributors will be submitted integrally and promptly (in toto et quam primum) to the diocesan secretariat. I expect all lovers of God and of our children and all public-spirited men and women to give generously not only for the rehabilitation of returned schools but also for the construction of new schools according to the needs of the people. Definitely, education is expensive! We have tried ignorance and have discovered that it is more expensive and even disastrous. That is why every right thinking person should be ready to invest in education and more so in Catholic education.
I appreciate the efforts of parishes and various religious Congregations of men and women who have invested and are investing in education. The schools established with the written permission of the diocesan Bishop are Catholic schools and should contribute in no small way to the mission of the Church in the field of education. I encourage all who have established any school in the name of the Church to ensure high standards of morality and discipline, Catholic religious formation, academic excellence in facilities and environments that are conducive to the overall religious, moral and intellectual formation of the young. I also insist on their delivering affordable Catholic education in all these schools.
The Nnewi Diocesan Education Committee is to carry out a detailed survey of all educational institutions in the diocese with a view to ensuring that the diocese has adequate provisions for Catholic education. Schools are the principal means of imparting education to the young and old. We have to ensure that we have schools to meet the needs of the young and old. I have the responsibility as the diocesan Bishop to ensure that schools that impart education with a Christian spirit are available. Having looked at the schools which are available, I am convinced that we still need to have more secondary schools with boarding facilities. The Catholic Diocese of Nnewi has plans to establish St. Patrick’s College and Hostels at Nnewi as a first class secondary school for boys. St. Patrick is the Secondary Patron of Nigeria. He was instrumental as the missionary to Ireland in making Ireland what it was: Ireland of Saints and Scholars! We want to replicate this in our diocese. Work will begin on the project for this ultra-modern school as soon as we get the funds to embark on it.
We have also seen the need to establish professional schools, technical schools and other schools required by special needs (see Canon 802 §2). We have been planning to establish a School for Business and Entrepreneurship in Nnewi. Nnewi is an important commercial centre. We are painfully aware that many young people enter business with little or no formal education. We want to help such people to acquire sound formal and informal education tailored to their needs. The Directorate for Business Executives of the Diocese of Nnewi is actively engaged in planning and implementation of the project. We expect it to take off this year. We are also planning to establish St. Joseph Technical and Development Centre in Nnewi on a piece of land acquired by Msgr. Joseph Nwibegbunam of happy memory. We want to use the project not only to immortalise the ebullient and hardworking priest but also to inculcate the virtues of hard work associated with St. Joseph the Worker. This centre will train and produce middle-level skilled manpower. . In the next few weeks, we will establish a School of Modern Languages in partnership with Alliance Francaise. It will be a weekend programme to enable workers and others to acquire knowledge of French and other European languages. I commend these projects to God and to generous individuals and organizations for sponsorship.
I want to turn my attention to a very critical factor in education. The school system cannot deliver the right results both in terms of academic accomplishments and moral tone without a crop of dedicated teachers. Catholic schools could boast of such teachers before the government took over the schools and destroyed the teaching spirit. One of the greatest harms which government did to education was the destruction of the spirit of teaching characterized by love of the children and devotion to duty. Civil service mentality took over. Trade unionism added its own debilitating characteristics. Teachers began to lose the vision of their work as vocation and service. They were more after their remuneration and conditions of service than after the welfare of the children entrusted to their care. They would vote for strike on any pretext, especially in search for more pay and better conditions of work. Re-engineering and re-orientating the teaching staff are critical for the success of the new era of education in Anambra State. All teachers, especially those teaching in Catholic schools have to recover the nobility and dignity of the teaching profession. The beauty of this profession comes out in the fruit, the young people formed and prepared for life in this world and for the next life. No sane person can forget the dutiful and devoted teacher. I appeal to all our teachers to be part of the springtime for education in Anambra State. Those of you employed and paid by government must overcome the temptation of being just concerned with your pay and the government which pays you. If you are in a Catholic school, be sure that you see yourselves as people involved in the mission of the Church and then give your best to ensure the transmission of worthwhile knowledge, values, attitudes and skills to the young entrusted to your care. It is not a myth to say that teachers are in loco parentis, in the place of the parent. In reality, teachers should give the children and young people in their care the love parents have for their children.
Let me conclude by thanking Governor Peter Obi for his interest in education and for partnering with the Church in education. The partnership will yield great dividends for education in Anambra State . I thank government-employed teachers who have accepted the change and urge them to show dedication and discipline so that the schools will become true formative institutions. All hands must be on deck to realise the great vision which the Governor has for education in our State. It happens to be in line with the vision of the Catholic Church. Funding of our educational system cannot be left to the government alone. It is a task that we all must undertake with commitment and generosity so as to reap the fruit of the springtime for education in general and Catholic education in particular. Let us all come together to give Catholic education a boost in our diocese! May God bless our efforts and commitment!
Most Rev. Hilary Paul Odili Okeke
Catholic Bishop of Nnewi