The respected Dr. Martin Jerome Okec Aliker brand was the best offer to set the pace for the celebrations to mark the 90th anniversary of Makerere University.
The Dr. Martin Jerome Okec Aliker brand reflects a professional and hard working individual who has excelled in all walks of life- a distinguished alumnus, scholar, influential business leader and entrepreneurial mentor, and one of our leading senior citizens. A person whose name rings a bell of dedicated service with an impeccable integrity, tested and proven business acumen making him one of the richest men in Uganda. Indeed, a source of inspiration to the young and old.
It was therefore a befitting gesture for the Makerere University Management and Makerere University Convocation to dedicate the Thursday of 2nd August 2012 to celebrating the successful career of Dr. Martin Jerome Okec Aliker as well as his enterprising skill.
Dr. Martin Jerome Okec Aliker was an ardent student right from Gulu High School to Kings College Budo. The lad who stood out from amongst his peers from the rolling hills of Acholiland excelled from Kings College Budo to enter Makerere College in 1948. He got a scholarship to the prestigious Northwestern University, Illinois where he earned a Bachelor of Political Science. Earning a Fulbright Fellowship at Northwestern University, Aliker graduated with a Doctor of Dental Surgery and later became a Fellow of the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of the United Kingdom.
Dr. Martin Jerome Okec Aliker is truly an outstanding alumnus of Makerere University, a pioneer African dental surgeon who set up the first Black owned private dental practice in East Africa; a statesman and an internationally accomplished businessman. He has done us all proud: from his Acholi homeland and region of Northern Uganda, to his country Uganda and East Africa, to his alma mater, Makerere University.
“To show our pride in Dr. Aliker as his alma mater, we have organized this honorary public lecture to flag off the Mak@90 celebrations,” the Chancellor said.
“It is important to recognize people when they are still alive. I salute Makerere University for recognizing Dr. Martin Jerome Okec Aliker-our role model-when he is still alive,” remarked Mr. Hannington Karuhanga, the Chairman Stanbic Bank Board.
The Chancellor, Professor George Mondo Kagonyera and the Chairperson of the Makerere University Council, Eng. Dr. Charles Wana Etyem nodded in approval.
Filled with joy, Mr. Hannington Karuhanga testified to the congregation in the University Main Hall that he had risen to prominent and influential positions in the private sector because of the mentorship he received from Dr. Martin Jerome Okec Aliker.
Dr. William Kalema, himself a distinguished scholar and prolific businessman in his own right, placed Aliker into the day’s theme, ‘the role of the academia in building a sustainable private sector’, by explaining how the dental surgeon, now in his early 80s has used his training for the benefit of others.
Dr. William Kalema said he was honoured to deliver a public lecture on a humble dental surgeon who had excelled in the art and science of business.
“His most direct impact, therefore, has been through corporate governance. In Uganda, Dr. Martin Jerome Okec Aliker’s name is almost synonymous with the highest standards of corporate governance,” Kalema said.
Kalema then went into extensive explanation of how corporate governance was the missing link between a successful enterprise and failure and explained that Aliker had made his mark in helping companies survive in East Africa.
“[Aliker] has contributed not through initiating or influencing legislation, but through his example and his active participation in directing and growing businesses, and through his mentorship of present and future business leaders,” Kalema added.
With this he listed 38 companies where Aliker has either been a director or board chairman and member since 1961. Many of these are companies of repute, for which his input has been invaluable for their survival and growth. Kalema explained that the Board Chairman is like a team coach – directing the organization without necessarily taking part in the operations.
“Just as the success of a football coach is measured by the performance of his team, so the quality of a Board is evident from the success of the company in terms of profit, growth, and reputation. Through his service as a Director, Martin has been contributed to the growth and profitability of the many companies,” he said before urging Makerere students and staff to emulate Aliker’s vast talents and qualities.
He concluded his remarks by expressing his concerns about the training of some of today’s students. He admitted a lot of the graduates are intelligent but their morals were lacking. “In this 21st century, I challenge the academia to take on the mantle and ensure that the high quality academic standards at Makerere University match the high ethical standards required in all spheres of life,” said Dr. William Kalema.
Focusing on the 90 year celebrations, Dr. Martin Jerome Okec Aliker’s delivered a moving keynote speech highlighting the historical evolution of Makerere, the memories of his life while at Makerere, the biblical quotation that justified the inclusion of women students into the university, the societal expectations of a university student then and the Makerere professors who were the highest paid Government staff and as a climax a caution to Makerere University to preserve the quality of higher education in Uganda.
He started by revealing that Makerere’s first name in 1922 was in fact Nyanja eradde which he says made no sense to him, before the authorities settled on Makerere. “Makerere began as a Technical school to train artisans ie carpenters, brick layers but not plumbers or electricians because in 1922 Uganda had neither running water nor electricity…,” said Dr. Aliker.
Aliker reeled off a memorable account of what it was like to be a student back then. Few had realized that most students were aged 30years when they got to Makerere. The school originally taught students up the equivalent of a diploma until 1948 when it became a university college, training students, who graduated with degrees from the University of London.
“The transition to a university college was not without trauma. Some lecturers were sacked and for the first time some of them saw a grown white man cry because his job had been terminated,” Aliker said to mild applause.
But if there was mild applause then, the biggest applause was reserved for his next offering when talked about how the first female students responded to being at Makerere.
“Their academic background was shaky hence a story is about to one of these adult students being asked by a curious person. She was asked, “What are you studying at Makerere?” to which she replied, “I’m studying adultery.”
The response elicited a long applause before Aliker could continue. Apparently just like today, students then lived in fear of end of year exams. Ultimately the first graduates finally got the university into a tiff with companies that sought to recruit them. According to the Principal then, Sir Bernard De Bunsen, the students had been trained to think not to be career holders.
“I did not educate my students to be bloody merchants,” De Bunsen is said to have told recruiters from the day’s major companies- Shell and Caltex.
Dr. Aliker gave a detailed narration on teaching- which was through the 1940s to 1970s- a respected profession. Dr. Aliker then questioned the rationale for lower salaries of university staff, explaining that this had not been the case in the past. Since its inception as a university college Makerere’s professors were the highest paid civil servants in the country until the mid 1970s.
“The reason why the British paid professors more than the permanent secretary was that the professors could always find work as a professor in other parts of the world whereas the permanent secretary can only hold that position in Uganda,” Aliker said to wild applause before adding his voice to numerous calls for a pay review.
He explained that income disparities between civil servants and the academia were the main reason the youth no longer aspire to become teachers or doctors.
From his rich and celebrated experience, Dr. Martin Jerome Okec Aliker is convinced that students in the universities are supposed to learn how to think. “This is why in the early universities, Philosophy was a very important subject followed by Mathematics. Both subjects cannot offer you a job but they teach you to think,” he stressed.
As he looks back on his life, Dr. Martin Aliker is philosophical about it all. "Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drugdgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world, Be careful. Strive to be happy." he said as he acknowledged the opportunity to present the keynote speech,labelling it his nobel prize.
"Mr. Chancellor Sir, the Vice Chancellor, thank you for honouring me by this occasion. Many a person dream of getting the Nobel Prize. Today, I humbly accept my Nobel Prize I cannot get a higher prize than this opportunity to thank my country which has given me so much and allowed me to grow and live the life I have. There is not a job I envy in Uganda. Iam Ugandan. I love this country."
To sum it up, one of the discussants congratulated Dr. Martin Aliker-a prince- upon being an exemplary leader, a distinguished statesman who had combined a great culture and modernity and can stand firm to claim his position in society.
Story by: Ms Ritah Namisango, Public Relations Office
The programe for the event