Dr. Umez Message at the OPF Community Development Project Convention, Houston, Texas, September 22, 2007
Chairman, Members of the High Table, Honorable Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a privilege and an honor to address men and women with great knowledge and insights about critical issues we face. Your presence says a lot about who you are. Thank you very much for all the sacrifices you have made to be here at this moment.
I will begin by thanking our women, who proved beyond all doubts that behind any successful man, there is a good woman. They are magnificent, and their participation in this project spectacular.
I would like to thank the Executives and the Board members of Oji-River People’s Forum. These guys are tops. Their spirit of team work is unequalled.
I salute all the organizations that supported our efforts. They include, Achi Development Union (Southern California), Achi of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, Awgu County USA (Houston), Enugu Provincial Union (Houston), Houston Enugu State Organization, Ichie Cultural Club (Houston), Isuochi Progressive USA, Key Club of Houston, and Oji-River Community Association (Washington, DC). These groups proved that unity is always paramount and inter-group cooperation is dependent upon that unity well conceived. In fact, their support is better expressed in our language, “gidi gidi bu ugwu Eze” and “anyuko amiri onu ogboo ufufu.”
Thank you, my good friends for being our friends.
I. The Purpose of the OPF Community Development Project
I speak tonight about Oji-River Community Development Project. The purpose of this project is to confront two critical issues we face back home: health crisis and failing educational system. We ask you to support our effort.
To better understand the present condition of healthcare and education back home, let us reflect upon what healthcare and education used to be in Nigeria prior to this day.
II. Healthcare and Education in Nigeria [late 70s – early 80s]
In 1977, one month before I sat for my West African School Certificate examination, I had an appendectomy. In just two weeks, I fully recovered and successfully took all my examinations. My good friends, that was the good old days when Nigerian hospitals were better equipped, and doctors utilized better medical equipment to take good care of their patients.
With regard to education, Nigeria used to be high in rank when compared to Western countries. Those of us who came to the US in early 80s (or earlier) are aware that some courses we took in High School were essentially first year courses in American universities. For instance, our “Ad Math” paralleled Calculus I in American Universities. Mendelian law of Genetics (which I taught the final year students in Chukwurah High School in 1978) was among the major components in our Biology class at the Southeastern Oklahoma State University (1981).
All told, late 70s and early 80s became the era when Nigeria was “Nigeria” or in the words of Professor Chinua Achebe, “when men were men.”
III. Healthcare and Education in Nigeria Today
Ladies and Gentlemen, today, our healthcare delivery is a disaster. Education of the youth is almost nonexistent. Here are the chilling facts in a nutshell:
Presently, so many Nigerians do not have access to basic medical care. Potent medications capable of saving lives are mostly unavailable, especially to the poor. Many have no access to any scientifically proven treatments or drugs for various diseases and infections. As such, they rely solely on "konka-mixtures" of some sort by the native doctors whose medicines are scientifically untested, un-sanitized, and even dangerous to human consumption. In fact, some become sicker or even die after taking those medicines. Several hospitals are ill-equipped to treat their patients. As such, mortality rate among the masses in Nigeria keeps on rising by leaps and bounds.
Education – the engine of civilization – is no more a priority back home. Very few High School graduates can write well. Some university graduates still find it difficult to construct complete sentences. Worst of all, university education is just a mere dream to the poor. Succinctly put, “the scale of the problems” [confronting Nigerian education] “is enormous.” (For details, see Nigerian Vanguard, August 30, 2007).
IV. Consequences of failing Healthcare and Education
"All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth" (Aristotle). And, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world" (Mandela).
Fellow citizens, what is the fate of our “empire” today? Can people really learn when their health is in jeopardy? Can people bring positive changes to their country if they are never taught to read or write?
Clearly, our people back home are in desperate situations due to poor health and limited opportunity to education. Their cries of pain have awakened our conscience, and summoned all of us to this event. Without a doubt, we understand the urgency and the necessity of our collaborative support tonight.
V. Your Generous Support is Crucial
Here is how we see the situation: Our mission is your mission, our desire your desire. We all want a better Nigeria.
I have full confidence that you will make good your presence tonight because you understand the situation. In fact, none of us wants to see what happened to my parents happen to any child in Nigeria today. My parents were poor and uneducated. Neither of them could read nor write. I witnessed, just as some of you, the limitations illiteracy can put on those who cannot read nor write. The enormity of the limitations can never be overstated.
Help us to open the gates of hope and opportunity to our people. The helpless and the needy in our community need your support to walk through those gates.
Your support tonight is historic; you are making history right now.
Your support tonight is heroic; you are helping fellow citizens to have a better life.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am convinced that there will come a day when we will look back and proudly say, “We are the people who have done all these wonderful things for all these people.” Indeed, there is joy in giving.
Thank you for honoring our invitation. Thank you for your philanthropy. Thank you for your support.
May God continue to bless you!
Your Sincere Compatriot and Friend,
Bedford Nwabueze Umez, Ph.D.
President (2003 - 2010), Oji-River People’s Forum (OPF)
Above is a Welcome Speech I delivered @ the Launching of the Oji-River Community Development Project, Houston, Texas, Sept. 22, 2007. Our future depends on educated minds.
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