By Pelu Awofeso
One evening, after playing a round of golf in Abeokuta, an idea came to Kola Obadimu Jr: how about bringing back the art of debating to secondary schools? He tumbled the thought in his mind and then shared it with the management of ParkInn by Radission Abeokuta: the hotel bought into it without reservations.
“They thought it was a very good idea and requested for a proposal, which I had ready in a matter of hours,” Obadimu says at the seminar organised in May 2018 for the participating schools to round off the competition’s first season. “My joy is that we are having a ping back to what education used to be. With this competition we are showing that Nigerian children are brilliant and they can bare their minds on various national issues.”
And so the first inter-schools’ debate sponsored by ParkInn held–from November 2017 through February 2018–in the Ogun State capital with 20 schools participating.
Across the different stages of the competition, the students argued for and against a number of topics: presidential vs. parliamentary system of government; agriculture vs oil as preferable revenue generators; private universities vs. public; full autonomy for local governments or not; bicameral vs. unicameral legislature; boarding system vs. day schooling.
The debaters were assessed on: the content of their arguments, their style of presentation and how they worked together to deliver their points.
“The students debated the topics intelligently,” says Professor of Rural Development Communication Kolawole Adebayo, who was on the judging panel. “And more than anything else, the debate has opened up a can of discoveries in public speaking and performance talents in secondary schools.”
Adebayo commends the hotel for contributing to developing the aspect of education that will benefit the students long after they have left school: the skill of public speaking.
Victorotti Private Secondary School won the grand prize, which included an all-expense paid trip to Kenya. “Credit is due to the coach who prepared the students and the students’ determination to make the school proud,” says Makinde Akintunde, one of the school’s tutors.
Perpetual Aimufua (Babcock University High School) says the debate helped to improve her self esteem. “I have learnt that you can speak out and be heard by others.”
Aro Rasheed, SS2 student at Mercyland International School: “I have learnt that education is not just about what you learn within the four walls of a school–it goes beyond the classroom. Education is gaining knowledge in a particular fields, like carpentry or tailoring.”
To motivate the students even more, the organisers invited Bayode Treasures-Olawunmi to the seminar to speak on “The importance of reading to the Nigerian child”.
Treasures-Olawunmi made national headlines last March when he broke the Guiness Book of World Records for the “Longest Marathon Reading Aloud” by an individual. He did it in 122 hours (five days), beating the existing record of 113 hours and 15 minutes held by an Indian since 2008.
“The importance of reading as a diet in your daily life can never be over-emphasised,” he tells the teenagers, reminding them that the late Nigerian politician and one-time regional governor Chief Obafemi Awolowo was a keen reader. “That’s why we still talk about him long after he has passed away. The Nigerian child must make it a habit of helping to improve the reading culture of our youths. For to read is to know what to do, for to know what read is to know what to do. A man who does not know cannot apply.”
Kayode Aina, ParkInn’s General Manager, says this is just one aspect of the hotel’s CSR interventions. “We considered it an honour to be able to add value to our educational institutions this way,” he tells the media after the seminar. “By sponsoring this competition, we are thinking of long-lasting impact. Whatever we can do to make our society better, we will.”
Though Obadimu credits God for the idea of the debate he also links it to memories of a time in the recent past. “I recall that in the 1980s and 1990s the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) used to broadcast a programme called ‘Speak Out’. It was discontinued. With this competition, we are hoping to bring back to the airways something similar–serialising debates on television.”