10 August 2018

Nigeria: Changing Benue's Bloody Narrative

Benue State has been in the news for killings largely occasioned by herdsmen attacks. But something unique is happening to change that story: education! The Seed of Royalty Academy has embarked on tuition-free basic education for indigent school kids.

A couple, Dr. Moses Tyorumun Adi, and his wife, Diana, have embarked on a mission to change the bloody narrative of Benue State through education. They are offering tuition-free education to indigent pupils at the Seed of Royalty Academy (SORA International) in Gboko, Benue State.

The Benue indigenes are providing world-class tuition-free basic education for indigent school kids in Gboko, a fast-growing town in Benue. About 127 of the pupils graduated last month.

SORA

A first time visitor to SORA International in Gboko may mistake it for a private university. Its beautiful structures are imposing, and the facilities are world-class. A standby diesel-powered generator provides steady power supply. The massive school auditorium, with a gallery, is better than what can be found in most universities.

The school is on over 60 plots of land and currently has nearly 2,000 nursery and primary pupils.

President/Founder, Dr. Moses Tyorumun Adi's target is to provide fully funded tuition-free quality education to 4,000 pupils each academic session when the school's expansion is completed. Presently, the school has 637 pupils in the nursery section and about 1,200 in the primary section.

They only pay a maintenance fee of N5, 500, but with staff strength of 202, the fee is certainly not enough to pay a term's salaries, let alone the overhead costs that include the maintenance of over 12 buses that convey the students. The Adis subsidise the rest.

SORA International hires the best teachers and has a monthly wage bill of over N4 million. More than 100 children are on scholarship (for those who cannot afford the maintenance fee or are unable to buy textbooks).

So far, Dr Adi has made over N500 million worth of investment in the school and has never owed staff salary since inception. "The school is not aimed at profit-making," Dr Adi, also a Christian reverend, said.

High Standards

Despite being tuition-free, standards are high. Pupils of SORA International are as good as their peers in some of the best nursery/primary schools in the country. In the 2017 MAN Olympiad, a SORA International pupil, Stephanie Akange, came third overall at the state level of the competition. She was crowned "the Queen of Mathematics" in the state and came first at the national level.

In the 2018 Nigerian Tulip National Mathematics Competition, Terlumun Tersur emerged as the Gold medal winner at the national level. Also this year, two of SORA International pupils, Silas Doose and Abele Chivirter, came second and third, respectively, in the MAN Olympiad.

Last month, 127 pupils graduated from the primary school. Among them are two children of a serving House of Representatives member, Hon. Iorember Benjamin Wayo, who represents Kwande/Ushongo Federal Constituency.

On why he sent his children to SORA International when he could have sent them abroad or to schools in Abuja, the lawmaker, a one-time magistrate in the Benue State judiciary, said the standards at SORA International were as good as he could get elsewhere.

"I was a lawyer in Gboko and I found this property for Dr Adi. So, I've been part of the school since inception. I have no regrets whatsoever enrolling my kids in SORA International. The quality of teaching and moral education given the children is perfect," Wayo said.

An actress and radio presenter, Jessica Tsevende, whose younger sister also graduated from SORA International, was full of praises for Dr Adi and his wife, Dianna, who is the school's proprietress.

Tsevende said, "SORA International is a great school. I could barely solve some of the take-home tasks they gave my sister. If we were to pay N50,000 or more per term for her, I'd still consider it cheap considering the quality of education my sister got.

"Yet, she schooled here almost free of charge. The school does not appeal for funds. I haven't heard the owner call for support from politicians. He funds it all alone. At first I didn't understand why my dad chose the school. I thought the standard would be too low for my sister. But I was blown away when I first visited the school. It turned out my dad was right as my sister's Common Entrance result was amazing. She had very good grades.

"I believe the standard of teaching is very good and I must confess its high and better than what others have. Their facilities are outstanding. The President is doing a great job. I'm very impressed with the serene environment. To think that it's all almost free is just awesome and surreal."

Application Galore

The story is SORA International is well known in Gboko. According to the head teacher, Mr. Tyam Michael, the school receives more applications each session than they can admit. They can only admit a few so as to maintain the standards. "We have a crèche, a play group, Nursery 1-3 and Primary I to 6. The school is designed to accommodate a population of 4,000 when completed," Michael said. "That is why you can see the structures on ground and the on-going expansion."

He added, "There are 67 class rooms for the primary school. A class has a maximum of 30 pupils. We're looking for efficiency. The school is not built to make profit. The owner decided that this is what he can offer to the society. The cheapest fee you can find in other standard schools around Gboko is N10,000 or more and you cannot compare their facilities with ours.

"By the time the buildings are completed, there will be nothing like payment of school fees in SORA International. We have a total staff strength of 202, both academic and non-academic. So, what the pupils pay cannot be enough to pay a month's salaries let alone maintaining the school. Dr Adi pays us with his personal funds.

"I think it's only the building that is stopping him from removing the maintenance fee completely. That is his vision. Requests for admission are always much, but we cannot admit everyone for now. A dining hall is under construction and the aim is to provide the pupils with daily free meals as well."

Head Girl

The graduating Head Girl, Doose Olaitan, gave a moving speech that drew a thunderous applause from the packed auditorium. While decrying the poor attention paid to girl-child education, she paid tribute to Dr Adi and his wife for giving people like her a head-start in life.

"A look at the structures of this school will suggest to anyone that if the Adi's had been selfish as the others, this place would have been a five-star hotel in Benue, which could have been a safe haven for evil men to carry out their activities and defile young girls like me. They decided to stand out by building a proper foundation for us," Olaitan said.

Passion to Touch Lives

Dr Adi's dream is to make SORA International the biggest privately-owned Christian faith-based nursery and primary school in sub Saharan Africa "with the sole objective of providing affordable and accessible education for underprivileged children at minimal or no cost". A secondary arm, SORA Heights, with semester academic structure, has already taken off, with boarding facilities.

A philanthropist, Adi believes that life is about touching lives. His home in Gboko is a three-bedroom flat he built 20 years ago. He said he would rather add more structures to the school than build a mansion in his hometown.

On what drives him, he said, "It's to see children who are under-privileged have the best that life can offer that their parents cannot afford. This school was not established with the intention of making profit."

Speaking the financial burden of providing for the envisaged school population, he said, "God will provide for it. That's what I want- to be embarrassed by God. Anything that of God, he funds it; that's the faith I have. Once we provide the classes for the children to come in, God will provide the resources. We're looking at having a hundred classes."

Adi also speaks on his plans for the school.

"In the next two to three years, we may be close to about 3,000 pupils. In five years, it could get to 4,000. That's the ultimate. Once God prospers the businesses we're doing outside the school, and we see that the income can take care of the salaries and daily feeding provisions, then we'll start the free daily feeding," he said.

He added, "Every child that comes here will have free lunch, and that will be the happiest day of our lives. They will come to school not worrying about what to eat. There will be no tuition fees. As the Lord gives us profit in our businesses, we'll plough it back into this school. We'll invest in bonds, and whatever interests accrue will be ploughed into the school. This is so that even when we're dead, the school can continue to do what we started when we were alive.

"I spend over N4million monthly on salaries from my pocket. The total income per term is barely N8million. There are four months in a term. If every month we're paying N4million plus, then salaries alone are over N16million per term, not to talk of the diesel costs, medicals. We give God the glory. I'm proud to tell God I used everything I have for the good of the children."

Dr Adi said he was joyous seeing the pupils perform excellently. "That's what gives us joy. God wants to encourage us to continue doing what we're doing. We wanted to roof and deck two buildings. Both were to cost N25million. Where would the money come from? But as I talk to you, the money is coming in, and our promise to God is that it'll be used on these buildings. You have seen faith in action here. This is wonderland."

The proprietress, Mrs Adi, said she was in full support of her husband's acts of kindness. "Not at all," she said when asked if she ever thought the husband was spending too much. "We're in this together. The students are simply great. They are teachable."

On her experience running the school, she said, "There've been challenges, but the Bible tells me that with God all things are possible. So everything you're seeing here is through God's grace."

Dr. Adi holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Security Management and a PhD holder in Criminology from the University of Port Harcourt. He was formerly the Security Intelligence Manager at the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) during which he ensured that Shell was able to sustain oil production operations without disruptions at the height of the Niger Delta militancy. After leaving Shell, he went into business as a security consultant and investor. He is the Chief Executive Officer of Threatmit Security and Safety Consultants. He took over the moribund Benue State and Chemical Fertiliser Company, based at the Industrial layout in Makurdi and turned it around to optimal production capacity within record period of four months. It is now known as SORA Fertiliser.

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