By Desmond Ogudu
Cross River State Governor, Sir Ben Ayade, has returned six primary schools to the original owners, the Catholic Church.
The affected schools, which are located in the three senatorial zones of the State, are Sacred Heart Primary School, Calabar; St. Mary’s Primary School and its convent school, Calabar and St. Peter’s Primary School, Ekpene Tete, Akpabuyo.
Others are St. Benedict’s Primary School, Igoli, Ogoja; St. Joseph’s Primary School Idum, Mbube, Ogoja, in the Northern Senatorial Zone and St. Eugene’s Primary School, Ochon, Obubra in the Central Senatorial District of the State.
Announcing the decision to handover the schools at the State Executive Chamber, Calabar, Governor Ayade said that the government was left with no choice other than to return the schools to their original owners.
The Governor said that he had no doubt that the church will bring standard to bear on the running of the schools.
According to Ayade, “The way and manner you have conducted yourself, government has no hesitation, in spite of our concern, but to give up the six schools at a go. It is also important that we look at the performance of the schools we are handing over today and see whether they have done well”.
Justifying further the return of the schools, Governor Ayade told the Archbishop of Calabar Archdiocese, Archbishop Joseph Effiong Ekuwem, that “Owing to our spiritual belief in you as a man of honour and a man that God has used to move mountains, who am I to say no when a man of God has made a request, who am I to say no to God?”.
“We have in honour of you and indeed all the churches, say that what belongs to God must be given to God”.
Lauding the Archbishop for advocating for the return of schools to missions other than the Catholic Church, the Governor said: “We want to thank you for speaking very strongly even for other churches, the Presbyterian and the Methodist Churches, and even encouraging us that we should, as much as possible, not be worried to give mission schools back to the original owners.
“I believe that it is in that spirit of the fear of God, the love and fellowship of mankind that you made the pronouncement and surely, your pronouncement will come to pass. And let me therefore recommend to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, that we are open to doing as much as we have done for other churches”.
Revealing that what he said is his unrealized dream of becoming a priest, Ayade intoned: “My childhood dream was to be a Rev. Father, and so I am sad that I am sitting here as a politician. But for people who have taken to celibacy in order that we are free, in order that we can make heaven, they have taken a life to teach and to preach and to stand for us and to sustain the root of clemency to assist us access God, by standing for us in our weakest spiritual moment”.
According to the Governor, “They are there to edify our souls and lift us to high glory. There is no other gift, there is no service on planet earth, that is more than such a huge selfless service and sacrifice”.
Re-echoing the sincerity of his administration in returning the schools to the mission, Ayade noted “That the government of Cross River State is unquestioning and has decided to do what is right before God, by handing over these schools back to the Catholic Church”.
“These six schools, therefore, rerepresent the symbol of our respect for the House of God, and I believe without any doubt in my mind, that these schools will be very outstanding and very distinguishing”.
“Our ultimate ambition is to support you to succeed. We are not in competition, we are in the process of building a better society for us all, as government or spiritual godfathers”.
“I believe that with this synergy, we shall ultimately provide a better education for our children”.
While thanking Governor Ayade for the gesture of returning the six schools to the Church, Archbishop Ekuwem said:
“Let me give sincere gratitude to the creation of all, the heavens and the earth, the God we all worship, for this State. Now that Your Excellency is handing back six of the schools in the three senatorial zones, made up of Calabar archdiocese and Ogoja diocese, I know this is still a process and I am looking forward to a day when all the remaining schools will be returned”.
Appealing for the return of the remaining missionary schools still under the administration of the government, Bishop Ekuwem said: “It is against this background that we plead first for my sister churches, the same church of God beginning with the Presbyterian Church, whose name I heard today and the request they have made, and those that have not asked and requested the State Government to give us schools”.
“So this is not just a Catholic thing, it is the mandate that God has given us, Presbyterian Church, Methodist and all the churches that form one body of Christ.
“I plead with government not to be worried about what is going to happen or what will not happen, we have been on board even before government came on board, we all remember that the missionaries established schools even at the time when the protectorate of the Northern Nigeria and the southern protectorate were not amalgamated in 1914”.
“I thank the Governor and ask that he trust us. In every relationship, for it to work, there must be bilateral trust”.