It was lunch time at the Lagos Oriental on the first Sunday in December. If you dropped a pin, you would hear it. It was a rare gathering, not just of dignitaries but of people who were largely united by a common educational history. They spent their teenage years in the serene square-mile in Delta State known as Government College Ughelli. The gathering included Emeritus Professor John Pepper Clark, Prof. Olu Akinyanju, Prof. Ogbemi Omatete, Prof. Wale Tomori, Chief Joseph Akpieyi, Godwin Omene, Mac Ofurhie, Charles Majoroh and the oldest GCU old boy in Lagos, who turns 90 this December, Rev. James Brigue, to mention a few.
Why were they all so attentive? It was because they were keenly listening to the guest speaker, Chief Chambers Oyibo, an old boy (Class of 1955) of a “sister school” with similar colonial history: Government College Umuahia – whose reminiscences as he spoke on the subject of: “Old School values and societal progress,” took everyone back many decades in time. They could relate to every word he spoke. All silently pondered and wondered: “What really has happened to Nigerian values?”
Consider a few thoughts expressed: “At Umuahia, one of my juniors in Niger House was Nwachukwu Azikwe, son of the great ‘Zik of Africa.’ There was no way you would ever guess who his father was because everyone received equal treatment.” So, school was a leveller. Merit had its pride of place. You enter school strictly by merit and left with merit. He discussed the prefect system and the authority of masters and the power of the principal. He reflected: “At an early age we learnt to obey constituted authority.” Today, he sadly observed the collapse of our once lofty societal values. “War against Indiscipline,” which was a pointer in the right direction is three decades old. Today, “nobody obeys because the acquisition of authority is inherently flawed.” Nigeria must go back to basics – reflating its value systems – if it ever hopes to soar above its peers.
Earlier the event’s chairman, the pioneer managing director of Guaranty Trust Bank plc, Fola Adeola had words of commendation for the GCU old boys’ association for still giving back to the Alma Mater decades after. He recalled a recent personal experience. An old secondary school mate worked and lived in Canada but was very much in touch with his classmates through social media. A couple of weeks ago the news broke of the passing away of this mate. He described how deeply touched everyone was and the spontaneity of the response to raise funds for a befitting funeral. More money was raised than was required, he observed. On reflection, he said his colleagues were unlikely to support an old school project with such zeal. Adeola wondered “how much difference it could make if we could extend a similar level of generosity to develop the place where we spent our formative years.”
The event’s chief host, the President of the Lagos Branch of GCU old boys’ association, Colonel David Binitie (retd), was quick at reminding the audience that Lagos is the global flagship branch.
Not only did the branch in 2017, working closely with an educational charity, install solar power at the school’s Powell Archives & Reference Library enabling more than a hundred students enjoy 24/7 electricity in the reading rooms, it started a mentoring series. Some 63 outstanding students, over the last two years, 18 of whom were from GCU and 45 from five Lagos schools have benefited from the Inspiring Next Generation symposium, where role models fire-up the imagination and ambition of youths through experience-sharing.
The high-point of the event was the award of the S. B. Agodo Medal to a Distinguished Old Boy. The award this year went to Ambassador Blessing Akporode Clark con (Class of 1947). The Lagos Branch benefited from his leadership and wisdom, which ensured “the ship sails again.” In his absence, Prof J. P Clark received the award on his behalf.
The formal presentation of the Mariner magazine and the auction of a dozen art works help raise funds for the school and association. The Lagos Branch GCUOBA Luncheon not only marked the end of a fulfilling year, 2018 but left plenty of food for thought and for digestion beyond the immediate audience.
. Eromosele lives in Lagos and is an old boy of Government College Ughelli.