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Arase: Opening doors to education, closing another to prison

Dr. Solomon Arase was the 18th Inspector-General of the Nigerian Police. While growing up in Owan West of Edo State, Nigeria, he took so many things for granted, including the education and life’s comfort that his late mom, Mercy Igbe Arase ensured he got. After watching her growing and gangling son for a while and beginning to realise how his thoughts were towards others, Mercy felt it was time to set him straight and placed him on the right path.

Taking education for granted

She told Solomon that he should never take being educated for granted and that he should, if possible, ensure that he assisted other youth from their communities to get educated. She stressed that just because Solomon was educated and getting further education did not mean that the out-ofschool children roaming the streets were not brilliant. Mercy said that those children had brilliant ones among them; just that life, opportunities, and circumstances did not offer them many chances. She explained to her young son that many were dogged by poverty and could not meet their basic needs and that the cost of education in Nigeria was a challenge for the majority. When Mercy died, those words kept resonating within Solomon, the need to help underprivileged children to get an education against all odds. It was as if he was hearing the voice of his mom from the great beyond until he decided to do something drastic about it. Solomon initiated the Mercy Igbe Arase Foundation in fond memories of his mom and her desire to assist the less privileged to be educated.

New foundation

However, this year, Solomon also launched another foundation, this time, the “Solomon Ehigiator Arase Foundation.” The Mercy Igbe Arase Foundation, in addition to taking care of tuition fees of beneficiaries, also takes care of uniforms, and textbooks, amongst other fees. The foundation awards scholarships to the indigent, but brilliant scholars from Owan east and west, where his late mom hailed from. Recollecting how the journey started, Solomon said: “My mom died about 17 years ago and before she died, she encouraged me, saying that it was because I was educated and had the opportunity to go to school, that I was lucky.

She said that there were a lot of children on the streets, who did not have the opportunity I had. She repeatedly told me that anything I could do to touch the lives of boys and girls in her community, I should do. “She said that it wouldn’t cost me anything. She left her assets to me, and I was her only surviving son. I looked at her assets and I remembered what she told me, that I should set up a foundation and assist children from her community in Owan east and west. I decided to start the foundation and with the guidance of my uncle, who is a professor, we incorporated it.”

Opening school doors

Solomon believes that when someone opens a school door, the person has naturally closed a prison door. This was among his major reasons for keying into his mom’s dream and embracing the idea of sponsoring indigent students. He also believes that no child was born a dullard and that all that was needed was a conducive environment for him or her to flourish. His words: “My family and I came to a discovery; that no child is born a dullard, all they need is an environment to blossom. We raised the bar; we said that the minimum GPA we can accept from a student applying to the foundation for a scholarship should be 3.0, which means 2.1. These young folks started ensuring they kept to it. Also, every year before they received their cheques, they would have to show their GPA. We maintained our standards and our scholars and beneficiaries became highflyers.”

Sponsorship programme

The sponsorship programme soon rose from five indigent students to 50. The sustainability of the foundation was not an issue due to Solomon’s ingenuity in its operation. “The first five sets of people graduated and among them, we had three medical students and two law students. As of February, this year, which makes it nine years of the programme, we’ve been able to have 50 university graduates in the system,” Solomon enthused. Among the beneficiaries is the thrilling story of the daughter of a security guard to Solomon, identified as Mr. Umar, who is from Katsina State.

The daughter is currently studying Economics at the Ambrose Alli University in Ekpoma, Edo State. How did a security guard, who is from the northern part of Nigeria and his daughter come to be beneficiaries of the foundation? Solomon recounted: “One day the daughter confided in my wife that she was going back to Katsina State to get married. The girl was just between 15 and 16 years old.

My wife asked her why and asked about her education. “The parents said that was the agreement between them and the family of the betrothal. My wife asked for the phone number of her betrothal and my wife called him. The man, to whom she was going to Katsina State to get married, accepted my wife’s proposition, that he should allow us to sponsor the girl through school. “My wife had told him that we couldn’t stop him from marrying the girl, but that he should allow us to sponsor her education.

We took her to a boarding school and left instructions that on no account should anyone take her away from the school without our permission, by then I was the Akwa-Ibom Commissioner of Police. After she completed her secondary school, she came out with top grades in the West African Examination (WAEC) and wrote JAMB and she also aced it. Today, she’s studying economics, and if not for the ASUU strike, she would have graduated by now. “Incidentally, the girl’s sister and brother are also doing well in school. The brother has a first-class brain and I just paid for his WAEC.”

Soft loans

Honourable Charles Idahosa also has something to say about the foundation and Solomon’s role. He said: “There was a time I told him that many of our young men and cousins, who were not well to do, needed assistance; I suggested that we should give them soft loans. He said it was all right; he asked how much was needed for the project, and I told him. Today, many of the beneficiaries are happy. We held a big family meeting and gave the loans to those in need, including people Solomon didn’t know.”

Police officers’ children

Further explaining the concept of the Solomon Ehigiator Arase Foundation, Solomon noted: “I am making provisions for children of police officers to also benefit, especially officers who lost their lives fighting crimes or insurgency and I know most of those children are bright. If they apply, I will want to incorporate them into the programme.”

Free medical check-ups

As if that was not enough, Solomon’s foundations had taken up the task of providing yearly free medical checkups for the elderly in communities. The yearly medical outreach and scholarship awards come up every February and people eagerly look forward to both occasions. According to Solomon, studies have shown that criminals thrive, and state security remained perpetually threatened in a state where there was a gap between policing agencies and the citizens. He added: “Therefore, there must come a time in the life of a state when all the citizens must resolve to engage with their law enforcement agencies and build a strong synergy to defeat a common enemy.

For us as people of Edo State, there is no other auspicious time for this than now. Our gathering here today, is, therefore, a clear and loud statement that the Edo people and their law enforcement agencies are now determined to close up the gulf that weakens our common resolve, forge a united front, and advance hand in hand as true patriots to confront the criminal elements that have been feasting our hitherto disunited relationship.”

 

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