We were guests of the Old Grammarians Society, the quaint name by which alumni of the CMS Grammar School, Bariga address themselves during the celebration of their school’s 160th anniversary.
In the days leading to the celebration, they had made so much capital about being the first secondary school in Nigeria. As old friends in Nigeria’s education sector, it was with delight that the Baptist Academy Old Students Association (BAOSA) under our leadership accepted their invitation to propose the toast of their school and its alumni body.
So, as we sat in the hall, patiently waiting for the programme to get to the task assigned to us, we soaked in the gaiety of the occasion, epitomised in the hand-pumping, bear-hugging and backslapping of members, some of whom were seeing themselves for the first time since leaving school.
There was a lot to be happy about. It is not often that institutions live to be 160. It is not every day that old friends and classmates gather together to celebrate 25, 35, 40 and 60 years of leaving school as some of the celebrating sets were this June 7th.
As this gregarious lot lapped up the various celebrations comingling in the school hall, we noticed the noise decibel was so loud it was a chore hearing people seated on our table. As old boy after old boy was called upon to perform a task after the other, the din rose. The president of OGS, Adedapo Fashanu was not spared; neither was the chairman of the occasion, Modupe Alakija, nor the father of the day, Rt. Rev George Bako, as the grammarians were at their boisterous self.
And so when the microphone was passed to us to propose the toasts of the Federal Republic, the OGS and the school, we had a tough time getting them to listen to us; until….the master of ceremony, Akin Joaquim, provided us with an opener. Whilst introducing us, he had gone on about our school, the Lagos Baptist Academy, struggling with them on which is the oldest secondary school in Nigeria.
Now for those who know the history of western education in Nigeria, this is a point of bragging interest between the two schools. So, we thanked him for calling attention to two schools at the event, CMS and LBA. We noted that whilst it is true that CMS was established in 1859 as a secondary school, it is also correct that the LBA began in 1855 as an educational institution. Every student ought to know that CMS is four years younger than LBA as a school. The noise level scaled down.
Who is this naughty guest talking against the grain of the occasion?
‘Yours started as a primary school’, I could hear some voices scream.
‘When did you become a secondary school?’ another offered.
“Mi o rojo,” we muttered.
Now that we had their attention, we warmly congratulated them on the joy of the occasion, noting the great contributions the school and its alumni have made to the growth and development of Nigeria in various spheres, challenging them to do more so that the lost years when the military seized mission schools and wreaked untold havoc on the education sector can be further redressed.
We noted the cooperation and understanding among such legacy schools as CMS Grammar School, Lagos Baptist Academy, Obanikoro and Methodist Boys High School, Lagos as manifested in the common entrance examination jointly held for would-be first formers until the 1970s and the harmonisation of their positions in their dealings with government in the days of grant-in-aid. We called for a return of such cooperation so that the three mission schools and their counterparts such as St. Gregory’s College, Obalende and Igbobi College, Yaba can team up for collaborative programmes in deepening the values the schools were known for in sports and academia.
So, as we rejoice with the Old Grammarians Society for their landmark 160th anniversary, we look forward to working closely with their new leadership as well as colleagues in the aforementioned schools of great legacy. We hold that to rebuild the value systems in our schools and by extension in the land is a joint task that should be led by those who enjoyed the richness of mission school education.
As we look to more landmarks being celebrated in the education sector, we are convinced the defining quality of our conversation will not be which are the oldest schools, but which ones have the capacity to build a new generation of leaders worthy in character and learning.
That is a legacy worth bequeathing. Happy anniversary, CMS Grammar School, Bariga, worthy pacesetters since 1859.
Idowu is President, Baptist Academy Old Students Association (BAOSA).
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