Hope Waddell Training Institute: How not to treat a national relic
In the world over, countries strive to protect natural heritage sites and historical relics. They keep their condition as close to pristine as possible. But this is not the case with one of Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu’s bunkers in the famous Hope Waddell Training Institute (HOWAD), Calabar, Cross River State.
Thirty-one years after the Civil War, it is lying waste and abandoned. When The Guardian visited the site of this abandoned vehicle, which the school management has declared a no go area for students and staff, it was overgrown with weeds. All the firing points (holes) in the bunker, however, could still be seen.
Surprisingly, there was nothing erected as barricade or safety measure to warn visitors of the dangers of getting too close.
Aside from the war bunker, Hope Waddell is also home to some other relics such as, the premier building built in 1894 by the Presbyterian missionaries that houses the first printing press in Nigeria.
During the Civil War, most of the structures at Hope Waddell withstood the series of bombardments from both the Nigerian and Biafra forces. Not even a block or wood of all the colonial prefab structures was cracked.
Mr. Albert Andinam, an old student of HOWAD, said, “the bunker used to be like a garrison for the then rebel forces on the Biafran side until the take over of Calabar by the Third Marine Commando led by the late Brigadier Adekunle.”
It is supposed to be the duty of the National Monuments Commission to integrate this landmark into the tourism circuit of this country such that it will be a reference point in Nigerian history.
Experts have argued that the primary mission of most history museums is to collect, preserve, exhibit and interpret objects of historical significance.
They note that over time, all objects will begin to deteriorate for a variety of reasons, such as environmental conditions, use and natural decay.
In order to maintain the objects in such condition that they will survive for the enjoyment and education of future generations, it is vital that museums practice proper preservation measures.
Knowing how to handle, display and store the artifacts in your museum’s collection can add a significant number of years to the life of the objects.
They also point out that proper preservation measures can help stabilise or at least slow down an object’s rate of deterioration, thus, extending the life of the object.
However, if an artifact requires repairs, major restoration, or major cleaning, or if basic preservation measures do not slow an artifact’s rate of deterioration, the museum should contact a professional conservator.
Incidentally, the National Musuem in Calabar is not aware of the bunker, as the Curator, National Museum and Monuments, Calabar, Anna Effiom said, “I don’t know about it but I know there is a place like that in Oron and Umuahia.”
She, however, promised to investigate to get more facts about it.
Trying to recall the Civil War history, Andinam said, “the school was forced to close during the hostilities, as people had to scamper home for safety. The school was like a melting point of all nationalities.”
Before the war period, the school had attracted nationals from Cameroun and other parts of Africa. Even the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first president of Nigeria, started his education here before he transferred to Christ the King College, Onitsha. But when the Federal troops liberated Calabar, in 1967, after some stiff resistance, the Biafrans fled and abandoned this fortress.”
A security man whose house is some distance away from the bunker, said, “oga this place has been like this for a long time and I was employed to come and see it. The Biafra people used it to fight war, and since then, it has been like that. The school authorities, on several occasion, had warned us not to go there, because anything could happen.”
The security man, who is in his 50s, declined to give his name, but said, “I don’t know what the school or government wants to do with the place. Left to me, soldiers or policemen should be invited to inspect the place and know what to do. May be they can destroy it.”
Principal of the school, Mr. Samuel Ikpeme, said the bunker has been there for years and “in fact, nobody goes there. There was a time people were not allowed to go nearer, because there might be a bomb. People hardly go there. This place, Hope Waddell, was devastated during the war. But fortunately, they could not destroy the school. Even bullet could not penetrate the walls of the buildings in the school. So that place was like a camp where soldiers hid. The area is dreaded for fear of bomb. Government knows we have Ojukwu bunker here, it is not hidden.”
He decried the neglect of historical sites by the Federal Government, saying, “any place government is taking over as heritage site, let it look attractive, because abroad, heritage sites are a beauty to behold. Government spends money to develop those areas, but here it is not so.”
Pointing at the fan in his prefab colonial office, Ikpeme said, “this fan in the principal’s office is about 80 years, the floor is wood and outside is not painted. You have seen the effigy of the man called Hope Waddell. He is the pioneer missionary that started work in the Calabar area in a way of evangelisation, so, his name was given to this school in his honour even though he is not the one that built it.”
The old colonial premier building and the printing press are abandoned with no activity going on there and Ikpeme said inside the old premier building is an old machine, the first printing press in Nigeria installed in 1920 and it published one of the first newspapers in Nigeria called Champion.
Ikpeme continued, “Hope Waddell is a regimented society, we have our culture and we maintain it to date. A school of this international standard is a global brand. By now, the school is over 100 years old. The relics you see here, some are historical, and some are inherited. One peculiar thing is the uniqueness of some of these items, the pattern they were produced are not common. They had a pattern and lots of the buildings are unpainted and are monumental edifice for historical or tourism attraction of the state like the oldest building here which we call the premier block built since 1894. It was brought in from Glasgow and assembled here. They follow in same colonial pattern that have not been adulterated.”
Missionaries from the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland founded Hope Waddell Training Institute in 1895. It is named after the Reverend Hope Masterton Waddell. In 1894, the first school building (the premier building), a prefabricated classroom block of corrugated iron sheets and Scandinavian pitch pine, was built by a Glasgow firm and shipped to Calabar where it was assembled in 1894. By March 1895, teaching had commenced. By 1900 the school had 42 students. Two were doing gardening, five printing, eight tailoring, five engineering, 11 carpentry and 11 banking.