Catch Them Young and TotalEnergies’ Egi experiment

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Most Nigerian managers in TotalEnergies (formerly Total E&P) seem proud of an experiment that started many years ago in Egi area, the company’s main host community in the Niger Delta, has proved decisive. Total had done a lot of education and other corporate social responsibility projects in the communities but often did not see any legacies out of them.

One day, a London-trained educationist and top school proprietress, Emilia Ekama Akpan, founder of Showers International Christian High School, dropped a proposal suggesting a ‘catch-them-young’ scheme. The idea was that mopping up brilliant but indigent pupils of community schools in host communities would fish out the talented and gifted ones and separate them to grow. The second leg of the experiment is that mixing them with the children of the rich at top-notch schools would allow both groups feel what the other group feels and compete equally.

This seemed to prove so successful that Shell soon borrowed it. Today, they have Cradle-to-Career (C2C) scheme of over 80 ex-pupils per year that study in secondary schools meant only for the wealthy. Shell, too, is screaming because of the amazing outcomes. The excellent thing about the Shell version is that once the child comes in at JSS-1, no going back till university level. Total still struggles with a system that pushes the excited child off the ladder after tasting the wonders of a new life up to SSS-3. They post some of the outstanding results that most of the children of the rich do not get, yet, some of them roam about after graduation looking for university support. Some face the temptation of falling back to the ghetto.

At a point, Total was said to have even scrapped the scheme, but the communities and parents allegedly mounted pressure and the human kindness of the transforming IOC woke up and ordered it to resume. This revelation brought huge applause last weekend at Danjuma Drive where the 2021 graduation took place. The revelation that some of the Egi boys have smashed the Cambridge A/L and dusted everybody else in Nigeria caused higher applause.

Chairman of the occasion and retired Total engineer who worked in the strategic unit, Vincent Nnadi, said: “Catch Them Young was initiated because we (Total E&P) were spending much but no results. Now, we see results and impact because of Showers efforts in this scheme. Now, this has helped TotalEnergies to record first class university graduates from the host communities.

“Egi people are happy and are passionately asking that the scheme should continue. In fact, it is their first request to the company. Some children of the rich who studied at Showers far before the scheme was introduced went abroad, graduated very well, but came back to Nigeria to insist on becoming manufacturers. They are doing well.”

A serving manager added: “Mrs Akpan is a fighter. She brought this idea and Total bought it. It is now our flagship programme for communities.  We have recorded many positives from this scheme and the management has asked us to re-instate it. Lesson: Only a matter of time for a child’s talent to emerge. I am an example. The community children will explode if given same opportunity. Just give them opportunity.” He said the bright ones would get scholarships to further their education.”

Dwight Uma Ukpai, last son of the famous evangelist, Uma Ukpai, who graduated many years back, talked to the graduands thus: “Nobody told us about multiple streams of income then. Now, you have huge opportunity. Pursue what you love most. Character is everything.

“Parents, infuse character in your children, now; because character is everything. Grow to be a man, but it is not easy. Even some medical doctors who had other passions doctors are frustrated. A diligent man is the person who built up the stages of being a man. Work hard today, succeed tomorrow. Prayer makes the difference.”

Showers founder, E.E Akpan, added: “Dwight has said it all. Hard work is it, and knowing God is all. Making a child from zero to best is a huge task. We can see that best brains are roaming about for scholarships. I am proud of these ones (Egi young scholars); they will build a bridge.”

Adawari McPepple, MAN boss in the state, said: “Pursue multiple streams of income. When one closes, you hang on the other.”

Board chairman and one time Total manager said to be one of those that saw to the introduction of the scheme,  Anthony Akpan, said: “You graduands are now the new moral agents. So, your state of preparation is important. You usually come in as green horns but leave as strong moral agents. We now live in a new world of inventions and hitech, but can we engage? We are glad that even inventors are beginning to recognize there is a Creator, an Anchor. Welcome to this new world.”

(Column: Port Harcourt With Ignatius Chukwu, BusinessDay)

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