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Do you remember your old school?

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Martins Oloja


On Saturday, February 22, 2020 I was a guest speaker at the 66th anniversary of an iconic secondary school in the old Okitipupa Division (South) of Ondo State, ‘Manuwa Memorial Grammar School, Iju-Odo in Ikaleland. The school, MMGS, (named after the father of Nigeria’s first Medical Doctor, Dr. Samuel Manuwa) is one of the schools, which later joined the AIONIAN Group in 1954. The AIONIAN Brotherhood (schools) of only four members actually began in 1930 by the principals of Abeokuta Grammar School (July 1908); the Late Rev. W.R.B, Kuye; Ijebu Ode Grammar School (January, 1913) by the late Rev. I.O, Ransome Kuti; Ibadan Grammar School (March 1913) by the late Rev. A.B Akinyele; Ondo Boys High School (January 1919) by the late Rev. Canon M.C. Adeyemi who first suggested the idea of the Brotherhood at a meeting held at St. Andrew’s College, Oyo. The four schools were the foundation members of the Brotherhood and the name ‘AIONIAN’ was derived from initials of the four schools, ‘AION’ with the last ‘IAN’ added to make it adjectival. Other members joined later at different periods.

By 1955, membership of the AIONIAN Brotherhood had grown to twelve (12) all in the former Western State of Nigeria. With the creation of Oyo, Ondo and Ogun States in 1976, the schools were coincidentally divided into three equal parts with four in each state. But Manuwa Memorial Grammar School joined in 1954 (66 years ago) on February 22, 2020. This is part of the untold stories of the foundation of growth of education as a weapon of country competiveness in Western Nigeria where missionaries played some key role in the beginning. Let’s leave that to historians.

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Anyway, I was at the historic school (MMGS), which government took over as they did to most missionary schools some decades ago and has been ruined by forces of darkness called unitary system nurtured by ‘soldiers of fortune’. Behold, beyond the speech I presented, I wept when I saw some glimpses of architecture in the ruins of MMGS, Iju Odo. The only new good pieces you would see in the school now are the new buildings and renovations of even water supply projects in the school. Even the administrative blocks and the principal’s office too are signatures of old students efforts. May the God of all grace bless the old students.

Incredibly as it may sound, one of the prominent old students is Olu Bajowa, a retired Major General and former CEO of the defunct Nigeria Airways, former Director General, Movement to Abuja Office, former Director General/Permanent Secretary Federal Ministry of Science and Technology who joined the Nigerian Army by choice with the certificate he obtained in MMGS as one of the 22 pioneer students in 1954. He (who will clock 80 shortly) was there live on Saturday February 22, 2020 when the old students reunited. He relived the untold stories of the MMGS and the pioneering struggles and discipline of even the first principal, Rev. Canon P.H. Wilson, a Sierra Leonean, the lecture I delivered is named after.

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Here is the thing, I just want to sensitise all of us in Nigeria to think about one thing this week without remembering iconic Chinua Achebe’s 1983 thesis about the trouble with Nigeria: ‘failure of leadership’. Let’s think about what we can do to help our old secondary schools where our journey to greatness really began. They may have all broken down. I mean did you attend an AIONIAN school? Were you in a Kings College? Were you in a Queen’s School? Were you in what they have renamed Unity Schools? Do you know what has happened to your own ‘St Andrew’s College, Oyo’? Do you know what happened to ‘Divisional Teachers’ College, Ode Aye, Okitipupa yours sincerely attended and learnt the essentials of English Grammar and Mathematics? It is now a Unity School. I want us all to forget about President Muhammadu Buhari and Minister (of Education) Adamu Adamu this week and reflect on what has become of our old post-primary schools. That was the message I delivered at MMGS, Iju-odo, in Okitipupa, Ondo State where the late Dr. Olusegun Agagu was born.

Lest I forget, former Governor of Osun State and now Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola attended the MMGS, Iju-odo (up to Class Four). He sent his representative to the Old Students Reunion last week. As part of his goodwill message read by his Special Assistant on Security and Special Duties, Aregbesola noted, “I want to assure you all that I will continue to cherish and value our school and be its good ambassador…My plea, therefore, is for us to support our alma mater through building new classrooms or renovating old ones, sponsorship of indigent students, provision of teaching aids and materials and appreciation of our teachers and other staff…”

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Now, let’s share excerpts from my speaking notes on the occasion where it was noted that General Bajowa (who now holds a doctorate degree) just rebuilt the school library he has pledged to equip and digitise shortly.
‘The age of stakeholders’ role in delivering education quality’.
(…Let’s remember to touch base, please)

‘…It is an honour and privilege to speak at the iconic Manuwa Memorial Grammar School, Iju Odo, marking its 66th anniversary at this time. We used to hear about this remarkable school when there was a country, yes a country that considered education as a priority social sector. But let’s go straight to the reasons we are all gathered here: What to do to ensure that the MMGS, Iju Odo doesn’t become another Kings College that can no longer maintain a good source of water supply, let alone good teachers and good laboratories. I think that all members of this Association should congratulate one another on the grace to be part of this meeting. I just would like to add that this year’s meeting should be considered a unique one that can address one question by Rick Warren, an iconic author of one of the books that would qualify for a book of the century: The Purpose Driven Life, ‘What on earth am I here for? We can quickly ask: what are we here to achieve as members of this union? Are we here just to fulfil some annual righteousness, eat, dine and wine, manage some rhetoric, clap to some goodwill messages, dole out some awards and draw up some PR stunt called action plans by a current executive and just go?

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I want us to understand one message this year: that, ‘Government no longer matters’ to us in Nigeria when it comes to funding education. Let’s not use this occasion to blast government. Let’s forget about Government of the ‘Federal Republic of the Nigerian Army’ as general Chris Ali, a former Chief of Army Staff, calls Nigeria in a book updated in 2011.

The conclusion of the whole matter is that Government can no longer help anyone in terms of development of education. It is no longer Government of the people, by the people and for the people. It is now a government of some people for a few people. But let’s not dedicate today to reading from the Book of Lamentation about how they have been against us from Maiduguri where Governor Babagana Zulum has been shouting about corruption of the military operations on ending Boko Haram insurgency, which actually began as a war on Western Education, to Port Harcourt, capital of River State where two brothers, Nyesom Wike, current Governor and his brother, a former Governor, Rotimi Amaechi are still fighting over who would control the political structure of the state, once called a Garden City.

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Let’s recall that we are now in a country where elected President and Vice President who could not boast of substantial investment in education ended their tenure with two good universities of their in their states – Ogun and Adamawa. Who can ask questions about how The Bell University in Ota, Ogun State and The American University of Nigeria, in Yola came about between 1999 and 2007? It is not yet time to ask questions too on why the Federal Government has been establishing tertiary education institutions, which they can’t fund anymore. It is just curious why they keep establishing more and more colleges of education, polytechnics and universities in all the states of the federation without concomitant consideration for quality and even global context rating.

In global rating of universities, of the top ten universities in Africa, most of the time, the best seven to eight always come from South Africa and the last three or two of the ten always come from Egypt. The deliverable from this reproachful data is that the best University in Nigeria – the most populous black nation on earth – is usually around No.30 in Africa. The other take-away from this grim data is that we can now understand the correlation between quality of education and development of any country. In other words, we can see clearly why South Africa is a member of the G-20 (economies) and the elite Club of global Emerging Markets called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and Nigeria is not. South Africa is the only member of these Clubs in South Africa. Nigeria is not. Now you can see why quality in education appears to be the only weapon of country and global competiveness, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).

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What is more, my brothers and sisters, this gathering is taking place at a time the most important political debate topic seems to be an idea whose time has indeed income. I mean here ‘Federalism’. We are only seeking a restoration of what we lost to the ‘Federal Republic of the Nigerian Army’ in 1966 when they struck down ‘federalism’ and replaced it with a unitary system of government. Recall that while dismantling the federalism structure, the ‘soldiers of fortune’ took over one of the sources of competitive edge called the University of Ife, (now Obafemi Awolowo University), University of Nigeria, Nsukka and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. They took over and destroyed them. The University of Ife was set up by Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1961 to be Western Nigeria’s laboratory for development in Agriculture and Tropical Medicine. Reason: the premier University of Ibadan set up by the colonial masters did not consider any Science Faculty in the beginning.

Similarly, UNN was set up by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe too at the same time as an American model of university education. ABU, Zaria was set up too as a regional university to compete with the West and all that… They were seized in 1975 and have been destroyed through poor funding and management. Recall this quote that keeps cropping up all the time: ‘If you want to destroy a nation, just spoil its education system’ (Asmara Shafqat). And this quote too from Uganda: Destroying any nation does not require the use of atomic bombs or use of any long range missiles. It only requires lowering the quality of education and allowing cheating in the examinations by students’. And this by a South African lecturer to his students: ‘The collapse of education is the collapse of the nation’.
• To be continued.

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Martins Oloja
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