For Love of School Sports: Ben & Tina Obiofuma Foundation – By Tony Eluemunor

June 28, 2020
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An event that would have benefitted a Delta state popular school but whose facilities are terribly rotten now, would have held this June in Houston, Texas, USA. The Ben and Tina Obiofuma Foundation had booked the hotel venue for a meeting of the diaspora Old Boys of St. Anthony’s College, Ubulu-Uku, now known as St. Anthony’s Model College. Invitees would have come from Asia, Europe and the Americas. The diaspora old students would then reach an agreement on how and which amenities the members would help provide for the school.

That was to have been an introductory meeting to prepare for a grand one that will hold not just in Nigeria, but be a reunion of the old students at Asaba or the school premises, at Ubulu-Uku, to concretise the resolutions and fund-raising to execute the assignments to be willingly undertaken by them, for the benefit of the school.

Yes, I was among those invited to come from Nigeria for that initial and preparatory meeting. Well, the Ben and Tina Obiofuma Foundation proposed, but Covid-19 disposed. Yet, that is only for now, because one day, an effective vaccine will be “achieved” and the disease will be beaten like many other diseases that have discomfited man but were vanquished in the end. Or who today is afraid of Small Pox? None. That is my own way of saying that if that summit of the Anthonian Diaspora will still be relevant in future, it will still hold, if not in Houston, perhaps in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, facilitated by Dr Meju Maxwell, the Principal Geophysicist at Petronas Upstream, Malaysia,  (Fortune 500 company with total assets of US$135.63 billion, 51, 000 employees and $62 billion revenue)  the latest wave-making incandescent brain and multiple award winner in the Geology world. Or by Professor Fidelis Oditah QC, SAN,  wherever on the globe duty could have summoned him to. Surprisingly, though both of them didn’t lead their classes at Anthony’s, they became simply the best wherever they went thereafter, thus becoming legends of a kind of that much-storied school. But Meju’s classmates remember him saying that his School Certificate exam result would surprise people; it did. He earned a Grade One and never looked back.  

Like Anthonians, Odita, from Ibusa, Delta state, a Barrister, is an authority on insolvency law. He is President of the Nigerian Branch of the International Law Association. He led his set at the Law school and made waves at University of Lagos, Akoka and Oxford University. Dr Maxwell Azuka Meju, from Ogwashi-Uku, was honoured by the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) headquartered in Tulsa, USA, in 2019, with the Reginald Fessenden Award, one of the highest prizes in exploration geophysics.

The award notification signed by the SEG 2018/2019 president, Robert Stewart, stated that the award was in “recognition of the development of the current cross-gradient joint-inversion method, an invention now widely used in academia and various industries. The method allows, for the first time, the combination of data from multiple unrelated phenomena to arrive at one consistent solution. This reduces uncertainty in decision making with observational data”.

My reason for writing this, is to applaud the remarkable ways the Ben and Tina Obiofuma Foundation has been trying to revive the glorious days of secondary school sports which ended in the 1980s.  The truth is that in those days, sports did not stop the outstanding schools from excelling in academics. It even appeared that the really academic power-houses of those days were, curiously perhaps, also sports-powerhouses. Even though I have not read any research into the correlation between academic excellence and sports superiority in secondary schools, I think it exists. But we should leave the hair-splitting involved in that for another day and another write up.   

For years now, the Ben and Tina Obiofuma Foundation have been making a great difference in sports development in Delta state schools. It has been supporting secondary schools in their bid to hold inter-house sports competitions, because it is from such places that outstanding athletes are discovered. According to him, it is secondary school sports that feed Jamaica with her Usain Bolts and the same can be done for Nigeria   Once they have picked schools that have met their criteria, they send their Foundation officials to such schools and get involved from the planning stages to the day of the sports event. They help to provide materials such as trophies, kits or sports attires popularly called jerseys, footballs, hurdles, basketball gear, goal posts, nets, and other sports items. Hey, the items donated by the Foundation which the students really cherish are the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals and gift items for the victorious students because that is what they get to take home and save as mementos.  Yes, a triumphant student in a race or football match, gets to keep his medal or gift as a souvenir but a trophy, no matter how gargantuan, will return to the Principal’s office eventually, no matter how long their victory laps would last.

Hey, those of you who have not attended any inter-house sports in recent years, would not know of this addition to inter-house sports or Invitation relay victory parade. The cups won are taken by singing and dancing students into the town for folks to put money into the silver wares as a way of congratulating them. Such never existed in the 1970s.

The last paragraph reminds me of one great thing that I almost left out. The Ben and Tina Obiofuma Foundation also helps in encouraging the secondary schools in a given area to attend the invitation-relays. As many schools lack school vans these days, it is difficult for them to honour the invitations from out of town schools to send their relay teams to compete in the four by 100 metres race. It used to be the last event in the days of yore … because it was easily the high point of any inter-house sports competition.

The inter-house sports events also enable schools within an area to know about their neighbouring schools, to allow great sprinters to know, and compete against, each other, start and conclude rivalries … and most of all, to widen the horizons of the student sprinters as well as their schools, and give both school and students more competitions to prepare for and so horn their abilities.  

Charity begins at home, so a popular saying goes. And so, the Foundation’s exertions for the love of secondary school sports, began from, (where else?) St. Anthony’s Model College, Ubulu-Uku, Ben’s Alma Mater. Ben Obiofuma, from Ibusa, Delta State, was an exceedingly gifted student who exhibited much sports promise in his junior classes, but because he entered the school very young, at age nine or ten he lacked the heft to compete against the big boys. He was a St. Kizito’s House sprinter and later a gifted Lawn Tennis player (he was once invited to the Afuze Sports Camp to prepare for a National Sports Festival – as a Tennis player) and an acrobat on the school’s Cultural Troupe. He and Mr. Joe Obi, who lives in Houston like Ben, formed an acrobatic hair-raising twisting and tumbling pair. Ah, they had attended an elitist Lagos private primary school together. Obiofuma has not forgotten how he cherished secondary school sports, and the promise they held for him then, and still hold now for others.  Once he and his wife’s interventions appeared on their Foundation’s Facebook page, it has been yearly inundated with pleas to “Come over to Macedonia to help us” I know that every Christian recognizes that quote, but as not every reader is a Christian, I  dare explain that it came from the Biblical book of Acts (of Apostles) Chapter16 verse 9; “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There was a man of Macedonia standing, beseeching him, and saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us”. They have been acswering such calls, even those made by private secondary schools.

The Foundation has so far aided several schools too numerous to mention here. Of course, the aides given are tailored to the needs of each school. In the case of St. Anthony’s the Foundation’s good example has been followed by several Old Boys of the school who now chip in here and there. In fact, last year, the Old Boys polled resources together to meet the needs of the school in the inter-house sports and the Delta state-organised state-wide football completion- which Governor Ifeanyi Okowa introduced. Yet, the Foundation still bought some trophies and sponsored some school houses with jerseys. A school teacher even told me that the Ben once bought gifts for the teachers as his own way of saying to them: “More Grease To Your Elbows”.  For this year’s, the Class of 1976 rallied their resources, announced a certain amount as donation towards the sports meet, but pledged to supply books worth N500, 000 to the school library.  

With the un-held meeting of the St. Anthony’s “Diasporans” (well, if diaspora and diasporic are accepted as English language words, why not disaporans?) this month in Houston, Ben Obiofuma had wanted to get the Old Students to step up intervention into the provision of more enduring facilities for that grand old school. Once, St. Anthony’s was a pace-setter, but now, it is terribly in need of, no, not just a face-life, but a life line. Its buildings are dilapidated and its once glorious library and laboratories are now eye sores. It was in 2016 that the school got pipe-borne water; the Old Students had gathered for the school’s 60th anniversary and decided to provide a borehole, water tank, dedicated electricity generator, etc. And they did.  A giant sumo pump sends water up from the impossibly deep water level at Ubulu- Uku, 640 meters deep down into mother earth and up into the 45 meters high water tank. That re-union committee was headed by Sir Okey Ofili, former Head of Service, whose younger brother, the late Peter Ofili (alias CKC), one of the glories of the school, followed in the example of the late Isidore Ofulue (1961 or 62 set) to emerge national secondary school sprints champion. But while CKC was just a sprinter, Ofulue (alias Eighty Miamia) was a national champion Pole-Vaulter and was in the national academicals football camp, too. Comrade Victor Uchunno was deputy to Sir Ofili in the planning committee and the event was mainly organised by the Asaba branch of the Old Students Union – with Tony Uzogo as President.       

Unlike the other Model Secondary Schools, that radiate the care the state has lavished on secondary education, St. Anthony’s has witnessed no new building since the 1970s. Oh, its former staff room, now the library, was rebuilt by Mr. Francis Atuche, an old boy of the school. He also contributed immensely to the water-provision project. But the classrooms have remained in their state while I last studied in them in the mid-1970s, except that the late Mr. Jude Okonma re-roofed some. Many who know the glorious history of that great achiever of a village school, would weep at its present state of degenerancy. But there is hope; I learnt that the Delta state Government of Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa has listed St. Anthony’s among those to be renovated this year; that was before Covid-19 landed on a hapless world. My appeal goes to the achieving Governor to find a way to still fund the needed renovations when feasible. I have heard (but I have not confirmed it) that Gov. Okowa was College Boy to Peter Ofili, when that remarkable sprinter went to Edo College, Benin-City,  for his  Higher School Certificate  course. If so, he must have given Gov Okowa some unforgettable moments, pure moments of magic… a magic that was brewed at St. Anthony’s College.

 Nigerians have this strange, even creepy belief, that behind every disappointment, there is a blessing. And the Covid-19 pandemic is proving this saying to contain some truth. Or, for goodness sake, who will say he does not know of an outfit that has laid out some form of generosity for the benefit of the needy, in any village or twon in Nigeria? And trust Nigerians, such acts of generosity in the age of coronavirus has attracted a term all to itself; palliative! At least, if it is not making Nigerians kinder, it may create more philanthropists out of the rich persons and corporations.

This is really important because philanthropy is a real part of a democratic society; with more change effect on a country.  I’ll explain: while charity focuses on eliminating the suffering caused by social problems, philanthropy helps to eliminate the social problems themselves. This is because philanthropy supports projects and endeavours that gives great benefits, such as libraries, scientific research, education of the poor through scholarships or sports development as the Ben and Tina Obiofuma Foundation is doing.  Yet, the Ben and Tina Obiofuma foundation opened shop years before Covid-19 began its warfare against humans. Yes, the foundation has actually distrubuted palliatives to the needy at Ibusa and environs as far afield as Ubulu-Uku, it has used its established facilities to help the Ibusa USA-based citizens to also distribute the palliatives they sent down. 

While charity is good, philantrophy, through a real foundation, such as the Ben and Tina Obiofuma Foundation, allows charity to be done systematically. And Ben Obiofuma and his wife Tina have shown that you do not have to wait until money starts gushing out from your nostrils before you should start giving back to society.  They may not be rich but they are contributing their humble quota towards societal upliftment and opening the field of dreams to teenagers they may never meet in life. For Ben Obiofuma, he is thus meeting a challenge posed by the motto of his Alma Mater, St. Anthony’s College,Ubulu-Uku: “Emerge et Edifica” (Arise and Build). 

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