GOVERNOR Owelle Rochas Anayo Okorocha of Imo State in Nigeria was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He was born into a poor family. And as he puts it, “I found out that I was born into a home that is relatively poor by all definitions of poverty. So, I understood from the onset that I had a task ahead of me and the name of the game was survival”. Okorocha had to work extra hard to make ends meet and he did this by combining education with street trading. He didn’t have a straight school experience while growing up. He was always involved in street trading at one point in time or the other during his young life. “Honestly, there has never been a dull moment in my life. In fact, I engaged in too many things just for the sole purpose to survive,” he’s quoted as saying in Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rochas_Okorocha
It was therefore very easy as an adult, to relate to the poverty that confronted him every Friday when he went to the mosque for prayers. By then he had become an accomplished businessman and his desire for political office had just begun. “Every Friday I would go to the mosque to help feed the indigent children, these are the ones we call the beggars. And one day my wife asked: ‘how long shall we keep giving them charity? We must empower them so that they can no longer have to beg on the streets…so that they can empower themselves. And that is the story of the beginning of the Rochas Foundation Colleges. They started from a mosque,” he explained in a television interview on the origins of the Rochas Foundation which he’s a founder and president of.
Recognising that poverty hinders the ability of millions of African children from accessing education, the Foundation decided it would not only offer food, money, and support to the poor but it would also offer free quality education. That was 20 years ago and today it boasts of schools in various parts of Nigeria and has provided free education for over 15,000 children in Nigeria and across Africa while admitting about 1,200 children yearly across its colleges. Seventy-five percent (75%) of these children are orphaned. “The qualification to come to these schools is that you should have no one to help you get an education. In other words, the child would have been at a school were it not for their family circumstances,” Okorocha elaborated. The Foundation was born out of a desire to see the less privileged, the hungry and the poor get off the streets and access quality education.
The Rochas Foundation is the umbrella body under which are the Rochas Foundation College of Africa (RFCA) and the Reach-Out-And-Touch programme which takes care of people in need of medical attention.
During it’s 20th anniversary celebrations in February last year, Governor Okorocha set a new target for the Foundation. The goal is to provide free education for 1 million children in Africa by year 2030.
Interviewed in one of the local Nigerian newspapers, the Director General of the Rochas Foundation Uloma Rochas Nwosu explained how they will reach, if not surpass the 1million target: “We are going to partner with lots of private schools who are making so much money from privileged children. Out of that, they should be able to do some CSR (corporate social responsibility) by picking at least two children from the street. If each of these schools, corporate bodies and influential people did that, then one million will not be difficult to achieve”.
Meanwhile Okorocha has called on every leader in Africa, and public and private institutions, to contribute towards this vision of providing free and quality education for the African child. According to him “Let education be free so that Africa’s children of the poor of the poorest can go to school”.
Former President Jacob Zuma heeded the call and in October last year, he visited Owerri City in the Imo State of Nigeria to forge the partnership with the Rochas Foundation. He too, like Okorocha, came from a poor family and had to teach himself how to read and write. The values of the Rochas Foundation resonated very much with his own as an individual and those of his Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma Foundation (JGZF).
In terms of the partnership, the Rochas Foundation College of Africa will offer free comprehensive quality education “to the poorest of the poor children, boys and girls aged 12 to 14 years regardless of religion, tribe or class from your country,” according to correspondence from the school.
In line with its Vision 2030 the ROCHAS FOUNDATION COLLEGE OF AFRICA is offering scholarships to five (5) less privileged children from each African country and those in the diaspora from secondary to University level.
The agreement reads:
- Here in Nigeria, we run a 6-3-3-4 educational system, hence the scholarship is for children aged 12 to 14 years who are through with their Primary/elementary six (6) education and are going into the secondary school.
- They will be going into their secondary education and as such they will decide the field of study of their interest prior to their University study.
- There is an opportunity to continue their university education with the Foundation University but only for they exceptionally intelligent scholars.
- The College is completely free, the Foundation will undertake the total care of these Children while in school; this will include feeding, clothes, toiletries, tuition, materials and many more.
- The travel cost will be incurred by the JGZF, the Foundation intervenes only when the beneficial country is not able to handle the travel cost
Speaking at the signing of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the two Foundations, Zuma shared with the audience his deep passion for education:
“Allow me to say a few words, why I have Foundation. I am passionate because I want African children to be empowered. My farther died when I was young, I do not know him properly and I took a decision that even if I did not go to school but I must be educated.
“I was arrested for political activities and I was in prison for ten years…. Education is critical in Africa so that we can deal with our affairs ourselves…. What I take seriously is imbibing in the culture of reading. And that is why I am in Imo State to partner with the Rochas Foundation of Africa”.
Zuma spoke of the importance of education and the need to remove all hinderances to its access. “I want to say this – our African continent has been undermined. We must empower ourselves and build the tools which will enable us to develop Africa. The only way to do this is through education”.
Okorocha and the Foundation view the partnership as part of its mission to not only expand access to free education to Nigerians but the African continent and the diaspora.
The cooperation between the Jacob Zuma Foundation and the Rochas Foundation is one of two partnerships the JGZF has with Nigerian educational institutions; the other being the American University of Nigeria which was signed in 2013. Founded in 2004 by Atiku Abubakar, Nigeria’s former vice president, the American University of Nigeria opened its doors to its first students in 2005. The university is located in northeastern Nigeria in Yola, the state capital of Adamawa state.The Jacob Zuma Foundation has sent 25 students so far.
Highest Honours Conferred On Visiting Presidents
During former President Jacob Zuma’s visit, Governor Okorocha conferred on Zuma the Imo Merit Award, the highest award in the State conferred on distinguished personalities who have made a difference in the development of their communities. A road was named after him and a statue unveiled.
Shortly after Zuma’s conferment, Okorocha bestowed honours on then President of Liberia Ellen Sirleaf Johnson during her state visit to Imo State in November 2017. According to local publications the Governor mandated the Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers to honour Johnson with the Chieftaincy title of ‘Ada Di Oha Nma’, literally meaning a ‘daughter that is pleasing to all and sundry’.
The title, according to those who are steeped in the Igbo Tradition, is the highest title ever given to a woman, much less a foreigner.
The Chairman of the Council, Eze Samuel Ohiri, who presided over the ceremony at the Eze Imo Palace, said the decision to confer the title on the visiting President was in consideration of her outstanding contributions to the restoration of peace in her country and the African sub-region.
The Statue of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf